February 20, 2020

By Dr. Rachel Brown, NCSP, Senior Research Consultant

Intensive intervention is an important tool that educators can use to address the learning needs of students with significant learning deficits.

Often referred to as Tier 3 within a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) framework or a Response to Intervention (RTI) model, intensive intervention is an individualized and data-based iterative process that usually requires a significant commitment of school resources over a period of time.

This blog provides a detailed look at intensive intervention and its role in helping struggling students to get back on track.

What is intensive intervention?

When used carefully within the problem-solving process of MTSS, very few students will require intensive intervention. But, for those who need it, intensive intervention can create the conditions for their success in both school and life.

How so?

Most students, when provided with evidence-based Tier 1 core instruction, will make effective school progress. But some will not. These students would benefit from an intervention that is provided in addition to the core instruction.

In most tiered instruction models (MTSS or RTI), two distinct levels of additional instruction are identified—Tier 2 and Tier 3. Tier 2 is sometimes known as supplemental or strategic intervention, while Tier 3 is called targeted or intensive intervention.

Tier 3—intensive intervention—comes with its challenges, including finding both the time and the materials to provide either additional or replacement instruction for the students with the biggest learning gaps.

5 features of intensive intervention

Intensive intervention involves direct and systematic instruction in core learning areas, such as reading, writing, math, and social-emotional behavior (SEB).

The National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII) is an online technical assistance center for resources related to intensive instruction student supports. The NCII identifies five key features of intensive intervention. According to the NCII, intensive intervention is:

  1. A process.
  2. A sustained and ongoing level of support.
  3. Individualized to student needs.
  4. Data-based, with the use of progress monitoring and diagnostic data.
  5. Intended for a small subset of students.

Understanding each of these features separately is important for how well intensive interventions are applied. Let’s explore each feature.

teacher helping students on assignments

#1: A process

Intensive intervention is not meant to be just one lesson or one program provided for a student for a fixed period of time. Instead, intensive interventions are many processes of trying possible options, collecting data, and reviewing the data to see if and how well each option worked.

For example, if the first effort indicates that a student did not respond to the intervention, you don’t just stop there. Instead, as a team, you try again. Ideally, the first choice will work, but this isn’t always the case.

For this reason, school teams need to understand that students who have significant learning difficulties will likely require ongoing efforts to find the best solution.

#2: Sustained over time

Suppose you’ve tried many efforts and have found the right solution. Now, it needs to be provided and applied for as long as it takes for the student to reach his or her goals.

School teams should note that a student who is significantly behind his or her classmates will require dedicated resources in order to catch up. In some cases, the student might not “catch up” before reaching graduation.

For this reason, school teams must understand that intensive interventions require a serious time commitment.

#3: Individualized to student needs

Students might struggle in school for many different reasons. It could be because of social-emotional behavior needs, academic needs, or a mixture of both. Therefore, there are many possible solutions for each student’s success.

Students who continue to struggle in school after participating in the Tier 1 core instruction and Tier 2 standard protocol supports have learning challenges that cannot be met using universal solutions that work for most students.

For this reason, intensive intervention must always be designed for an individual student’s unique needs.

#4: Data-based

By examining student data, teams can find the most promising solutions for students with significant learning challenges.

Where does this data come from? Scores from both Tier 1 universal screening assessments (like benchmarks) and Tier 2 progress monitoring tools are the best sources of information that tell us about students’ specific learning needs. These data also tell us what has worked or what has not worked for students in the past. This is important because there is no benefit to repeating efforts we already know did not work before.

By examining individual student data, teams can identify specific learning needs, as well as rule out instructional practices that did not lead to improvement. Together, this information will shed light on possible next steps.

#5: Intended for a small subset of students

Because the combination of Tier 1 core instruction plus Tier 2 supplemental intervention will lead to school success for the majority of students, intensive interventions should only be required for a small number of learners.

This means that the increased resources and efforts to find solutions for students who require intensive interventions will be specific to a small target group of students. In fact, both statistical models and actual school data indicate that intensive intervention is only necessary for about 5% of all enrolled students in any given school.

Insights to move learning forward

Discover tools from Renaissance that support more effective Tier 3 interventions.

Necessary materials and programs to help plan intensive interventions

There are several materials available that can be used for intensive intervention, including research-based procedures, often accompanied by teaching scripts that incorporate direct and systematic instruction.

These procedures generally include the five following practices:

  1. Modeling, where the teacher demonstrates the skill to the students during a lesson.
  2. Guided practice, where the students try out the skill with a high level of teacher support.
  3. Independent practice, where the students use the skill with limited teacher support.
  4. Mastery, where the students use the skills spontaneously in the classroom for the target purposes.
  5. Generalization, where the students apply the skill to situations different than where it was originally learned.

Here is an example of this five-step process in action:

  1. A student watches as the teacher demonstrates using a pointer to guide the reading of a story.
  2. A student practices using the pointer with teacher assistance to read a story.
  3. A student practices using a pointer while the teacher watches from a distance and intervenes only when necessary.
  4. A student automatically reads an assigned story without any teacher help, using a pointer when necessary to help guide the story.
  5. A student selects and reads a story at home with the help of a pointer to guide the story if necessary.
teacher helping student on tablet

The amount of time required to implement intensive interventions varies. However, creating and using specific time blocks in the student’s schedule will optimize intensive instruction outcomes.

How to create effective scheduling for Tier 3 intensive interventions

The reality is that intensive intervention requires a serious commitment of time to be effective. As all teachers know, there are only so many hours in the school day. Students who require intensive intervention have—most likely—already participated in Tier 1 core instruction and Tier 2 supplemental intervention.

While adding more instructional minutes to a student’s current schedule might be one way to provide intensive intervention, it is unlikely that there are any more minutes available for such activities. Teams also need to keep in mind that prior intervention efforts did not result in the student’s success.

Given that there are a fixed number of minutes in each school day, and that prior existing interventions did not work, Tier 3 intensive intervention can and should be provided in place of Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction and intervention.

When intensive instruction is provided at the same time as, and in place of, the prior instruction, it is often called “replacement core” instruction.

Understanding staffing needs for intensive intervention

As mentioned, intensive intervention should be for a select few students. This is important because schools most likely cannot provide replacement core instruction for large numbers of students. But, for those students whose learning needs have not been met with the standard core instruction supplemented with intervention, using the time blocks allocated for Tier 1 and Tier 2 makes it possible to have enough time in the school day to implement intensive intervention.

Although using the replacement core instruction option is a great approach to intensive intervention for students who have not found success with the standard program plus intervention, teachers should note that this option requires personnel resources. In other words, additional teachers must be available to help provide this replacement core instruction.

When school teams and leaders examine staffing needs and teacher loads, they need to take this into account and consider which teachers will be assigned to teach the much smaller classes designed for students requiring intensive instruction.

Utilizing progress monitoring with intensive intervention

Intensive intervention should always be accompanied by regular progress monitoring. Given the fact that students participating in such interventions have very significant learning needs, the use of a progress monitoring tool should be much more frequent than with other students.

Consider how often physicians monitor patients with certain health conditions. These patients likely have more frequent visits with their providers and are tested more often. The same concept should be applied to how often students participating in intensive interventions should be monitored.

At Renaissance, we recommend that these students complete progress monitoring assessments either weekly or biweekly to best support their needs. Progress monitoring allows teachers to see how the students are doing at regular intervals, so they can best adjust intensive instruction and supports as needed.

Most importantly, interpreting progress monitoring data requires an accumulation of data over time. When teams utilize progress monitoring more often, they gather more data to review and can implement instructional changes more quickly.

Use Renaissance’s resources to help best create and implement intensive instruction in your school

Educators should be utilizing intensive instruction as a tool to address the learning needs of students with significant learning deficits. Although the number of students enrolled in a school who require intensive instruction is often small, these students deserve the best instruction possible to help them meet their learning needs.

Are you an educator in a school district that doesn’t implement intensive instruction? Your schools could be doing a huge disservice to a target group of students.

At Renaissance, we offer FastBridge and Star Assessments for both universal screening and progress monitoring within an MTSS framework. Both assessments help you to identify students in need of intensive intervention and to then determine whether and how well these students are responding to your intervention efforts.

To learn more about these and other tools from Renaissance to support K–12 learners, connect with an expert today.

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