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RtI Reality: Practical Application of Research (Part II)

The RtI/MTSS Triangle: Step Away from the Silo to Meet All Students’ Needs

By Joanne Allain, M.A.

In Part 1 of this blog entry, we explored RtI/MTSS as an instructional system or philosophy of education and the importance of its sustainability. Once the decision is made to move forward, we begin to build a structure for implementation.

Mysteries of the Pyramid

In this installment, we will discuss the interpretation and sometimes misinterpretation of the RtI triangle or pyramid. Researchers and writers commonly use a three-tier triangle to illustrate the degrees of intensity and services available to students in a multitier instructional system.

Joanne 1

The base of the triangle represents Tier I services, in which all students receive grade-level instruction through a system of teaching, differentiation, and reteaching. According to the literature, 80 percent of students will succeed with research-based first instruction, short-term differentiation, and reteaching.

The middle tier, or Tier II, represents short-term strategic services that some students (approximately 15 percent) will require to successfully negotiate grade-level work.

Tier III, the top tier of the triangle, depicts the intensive services that students who are significantly below grade level (approximately 3 to 5 percent of students) will need in order to increase their skill level to the point that they will be able to interact with grade-level material.

It is helpful to have a visual representation of services, and a triangle serves to reinforce the notion of increased focus and intensity from base to apex.  However, it also poses some problems through misinterpretation of the intent of the tiers when the model is taken too literally: (1) using the tiers to label children or assign a student population to a specific tier and (2) strict adherence to the percentages can result in denial of services to children in need.

The RtI/MTSS triangle represents the services across tiers that any and all students may need based on multiple data points. Data always determine the type of service designed to help students achieve at their full potential.

This is a critical point because the intent of RtI/MTSS is to provide instruction and intervention services to all students, not to exchange one label for another, resulting in “Tier I kids, Tier II kids, and Tier III kids.” The tiers represent the types of services that students need, not the students themselves. The tier services, from intervention to enrichment, are available to all students equally, based on data, not label.

In Logistics of Literacy Intervention: An RtI Planning Guide for Elementary Schools, I emphasize that the service tiers are “fluid not finite” and that each tier comprises a range of services designed to meet the assessed needs of a diverse group of students whose needs will change over time.

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) published a triangle that exemplifies this position. We do not have separate triangles or tiers for special education, English learners, students who receive Title I services, gifted and talented, or any other student population. All students are served within the triangle based on data, not label.

Joanne 2

Notice the triangle within the triangle. OSEP understandably focused on students with special needs who can receive services at any tier of the triangle, but we could easily add gifted and talented, English learners, and students who receive Title I services. All means all.

If we begin to make other triangles or tier-specific student populations, then aren’t we saying that all students with special needs or all English learners are the same and have the same needs? If Tier III, for example, represents intensive academic intervention, and we call Tier III special education, then it must follow that every student with an IEP requires intensive academic intervention. How do we reconcile this practice with the belief that we should label the need and not the child? If, instead of students with special needs, we have “Tier III kids,” we have simply traded one label for another.

It is much more likely that a student with special needs, a student without special needs, and an English learner demonstrate the same assessed need. If this is the case, why, in this time of constrained budgets, would we provide redundant services simply because the labels, funding streams, and silos are different?

If we recognize that the triangle represents a variety of needs and the services needed to ameliorate them, then we understand that using data and problem solving to determine appropriate instruction and intervention is the best way to serve all students.

Whom the Pyramid Serves

The second contention of this entry is that the traditional RtI/MTSS pyramid range demonstrating 80 percent of students successful with Tier I services only, 15 percent requiring Tier II services, and 5 percent in need of Tier III services, is not meant as a literal application in every school and district.

Think of the 80-15-5 illustration as the goal or the optimal configuration if first instruction is efficient. In this model, approximately 20 percent of students would need additional instruction and intervention to reach grade-level targets. The 80-15-5 triangle is the target, but perhaps not the starting point for many districts and schools.

The percentages depicted in the triangle do not intend to convey that only 20 percent of students are eligible for intervention services. Yet, sometimes the triangle percentages are applied literally, resulting in denial of intervention for many students in need.

We cannot implement a one-size-fits-all RtI/MTSS plan. Each district and school  must start where they are, as defined by data, to develop a successful system. Districts within a state and schools within a district are unique. Even within the same school districts, it is common to find a range of performance from school to school.

Hopefully, we have progressed from the one-size-fits-all instructional models of the past. The following trio of triangles, from Logistics of Literacy Intervention, is more reflective of the variation in the degree of needs and services in schools across the country.

Joanne 3

The good news is that the optimum configuration can be realized if we embrace the philosophy of RtI and provide intervention to all who need it. All children mean all children—all of the time. We don’t have a fully operational system if only some needs are being met.

Ultimately, we must recognize that any visual representation is inadequate to represent the rich diversity among our students. The triangle is a guide, a way to help educators and parents understand the variation of services that may be needed to meet the needs of all our students.

We move forward with the knowledge that we are meeting those needs with standards and data-based instruction and intervention. Our end goal is that all students reach their full potential and are able to compete in a complex world.

In Part 3, we will discuss assessment in an RtI/MTSS system and how more is not always better.

Joanne Allain, M.A., works with states, districts, and schools across the country to develop, implement, and coach customized RtI systems. Her career experience at both the classroom and district level provides the perspective of a practitioner in real schools with real students. She is the author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention: A Planning Guide for Middle and High School and Logistics of Literacy Intervention: An RtI Planning Guide for Elementary Schools as well as coauthor of RtI: The Forgotten Tier: A Practical Guide for Building a Data-Driven Tier I Instructional Process. You can contact Joanne at Joanne.Allain@3tliteracygroup.org

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RtI Reality: Practical Application of Research (Part 1)

By Joanne Allain, M.A.

In 2001, the federal government finally required that educators be accountable for the achievement of all students through the requirements of No Child Left Behind.  In 2004, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, gave us the permission and structure to do so through Response to Intervention, or RtI (aka, Multi-Tier System of Supports, or MTSS).

RtI is defined as  “… the practice of (1) providing high-quality instruction/intervention matched to student need and (2) using learning rate over time and level of performance to (3) make important educational decisions” (Batsche et al., 2005). One might argue that this is what we have always done in education, but unfortunately,  many students only received assistance if they qualified for special education services. Others got what little assistance teachers could provide in between the myriad of “educational priorities” that changed with each election.

In my practice, I consult with districts and schools across the country to turn RtI/MTSS research into practice. While adhering to the research is necessary and beneficial, it can also create unintended obstacles when applied in its literal form.  Response to Instruction and Intervention is so critical to the advancement of our educational system that we must discuss its practical application as it pertains to our individual settings.  To that end, I am pleased to share a series of columns that will explore, clarify, and provide options for educators.

While implementing this research-based practice, it is important to keep in mind that, just as children learn differently, each RtI/MTSS implementation is unique to the educational community that adopts it. Data are always the key. If the data say the model is working, then it is!

Let’s begin with the very concept of RTI/MTSS.

RtI/MTSS is the way we educate students, not just one more thing to do!

Depending on the district or school, the very concept of RtI/MTSS changes. In some schools, it’s a time of the day, or RtI time. In others, it’s a class or subject, as in I teach RtI. In yet others, it’s something we do to students when they struggle too much and we have to put them into RtI. In many cases, RtI/MTSS is another new initiative or just one more thing to do. Thus, it is subject to the swing of the pendulum and the budget ax.

Multiple interpretations of RtI/MTSS suggest that we may need some clarification.

Response to Instruction and Intervention is a philosophy of education or a “unified system of education … (that) places primary importance on meeting the needs of all students” (Faust, 2006). This philosophy envisions a system in which all students reach their potential through a system of structures, supports, and safety nets carefully designed to meet their instructional needs, whether they struggle or exceed expectations. Educational institutions that embrace this philosophy create a series of supports that focus on instruction and intervention driven by student data, not adult preference. It is the system and/or structure under which all educational plans and resources—both human and financial—serve children.

To visualize the concept of RtI/MTSS as educational philosophy, I consider a favorite graphic organizer, “Blueprint for Writing,” from the comprehensive literacy intervention LANGUAGE! by Dr. Jane Fell Greene. Designed as a house with a roof, walls, pictures (details), and foundation, this organizer offers a compelling visual of a fully implemented philosophy.

Everything education occurs under the roof or philosophy of RtI/MTSS—academics, behavior, and planning all converge to ensure the foundational goal of student achievement and school improvement. This means that every instructional plan we make, every dollar we spend, every resource we allocate, and every class we schedule is based on student achievement data through a structure that provides a multi-tiered system of supports.

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 4.00.54 PM

Graphic Organizer: LANGUAGE!, 2004

Content: Joanne Allain, 2012

In an RtI/MTSS philosophy, data-driven instruction and intervention are the way we do business. As depicted in the graphic organizer, all planning, decisions, and allocations revolve around the needs of children.

Adopting and implementing an RtI/MTSS philosophy not only allows for innovation and improvement, it demands them—as long as student achievement data guide all decisions. In his article, Faust (2006) describes fully functional RtI as  “… a unified system [that] serves students rather than creating ‘silos’ where students go to receive interventions and support based on a disability label or other risk factors.”

Words count. How we talk and think about RtI/MTSS has significant impact on its priority and place in our educational system. Is it the flavor of the month, or the way we educate our children?  How do we ensure that RtI/MTSS will withstand the passage of time and changes in personnel and funding?

We strive for an educational system that serves all students, all the time. At the center of an RtI philosophy is the belief that we “label the need and not the child” (Lyon & Fletcher, 2001), label the instruction and not the teacher, and label the resource and not the funding stream. I believe we are ready. I know our students are.

Stay tuned for the next blog post: “The RtI Pyramid: What does it really mean and how does it apply to my school or district?”


Batsche, G., Elliott, J., Graden, J. L., Grimes, J., Kovaleski, J. F., Prasse, D., et al. (2005). Response to intervention: Policy considerations and implementations. Alexandria, VA. National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

Faust, J. (2006). Response to intervention and problem solving: An administrator’s perspective. In Case: The News Letter for the Council of Administrators of Special Education, 47(4), 1–2.

Lyon, G. R., & Fletcher, J. M. (2001). Early Warning System. Education Matters, Summer, 2001.

Joanne Allain,MA, a national consultant with 3t Literacy Group, works with states, districts and schools across the country to develop, implement and coach practical, customized RtI systems, instruction and intervention.  Her career experience at both the classroom and district level provides the unique perspective of a practitioner in real schools with real students. Joanne is the author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention; A Planning Guide for Middle and High School, Logistics of Literacy Intervention: An RtI Planning Guide for Elementary Schools and RtI: The Forgotten Tier; A Practical Planning Guide for Building a Data Driven Tier 1 Instruction Process. Joanne can be contacted at joanne.allain@3tliteracygroup.org .


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Mary Poppins Gets It

Teachers Can Learn a Few Tricks from Fictional Nanny

Guest Teacher Blogger – Winner of the 2012 Sopris Learning Blog Contest!

By Michelle George

On the long holiday weekend, I thought I’d take a break from grading papers and planning units to watch an old family favorite, Mary Poppins. My choice was “practically perfect in every way.” You’ve heard the old adage, “You learn everything you need to know in kindergarten.” Now I have a new one for teachers: Mary Poppins gets it when it comes to educating kids.

First off, you’ve got to love any woman who can pull off that stark, buttoned-down look and still appear pleasantly attractive. Beyond that, she is an excellent illustration of what it takes to be a teacher who can reach kids and change lives.  Stay with me, and I’ll explain.

Mary Poppins has mastered the balance between a warm, personal and a productive, professional relationship. She clearly loves Jane and Michael, but she’s not their friend. After all, someone has to tell Michael, “Close your mouth; we are not a cod fish.” That takes love and a bit of authority.

As teachers, we need to find that balance as well. Numerous research studies have shown that the student/teacher relationship is instrumental in student success. Successful teachers sincerely care about their students. The challenge is that a teacher must care more about her students than about what those students think of her. Being a friend and a teacher doesn’t usually work. Nearly every person you ask can tell you about their most influential teacher, and that person is almost always someone that showed genuine caring while earning respect … just like Mary Poppins.

Right after Ms. Poppins floats in and befuddles Dad, she heads up to meet the children. She calmly opens up her carpet bag and begins making the nursery her own. As teachers, we can take our cue from her in two ways.

First, make your classroom and your teaching your own. Share some of your personality with your students. If you’re bored teaching the material, imagine how those distracted kids in front of you are feeling. With the advent of the Common Core, we are freer than ever to choose content that we are passionate about. It’s the process that is key. For instance, I teach essay writing using topics that interest both me and my students. I’m feeling more at home already.

The carpet bag reminded me of a second way we can settle into our classrooms. As a first-year teacher, I had a mentor who often referred to her favorite teaching strategies as her “bag of tricks.” She frequently claimed that, whenever her students were struggling with a challenging concept or just struggling to stay focused, she would pull out one of her “tricks” and keep the class on course.

After 19 years, I now have a few tricks that I rely on as well. I use music in my classroom to manage work time and transition time. I use games to practice concepts and content that students need to commit to memory. My tricks are actually research-based teaching strategies. I didn’t make them up; I learned them from high-quality professional development classes. I wouldn’t enter any new class without my own “bag of tricks.” And just like Mary Poppins, my carpet bag is seemingly bottomless. Every time I attend a training or take a class, I add to my bag of tricks. Student engagement is a moving target; if you want to keep ahead of your students, you must keep adding to the bag.

So now Ms. Poppins is really getting comfortable in her new surroundings. She looks around, and the nursery is a mess. Mary has a couple of choices. She can jump in and do the work herself, but that doesn’t teach the kids anything, and that is her purpose after all. She can also sit herself down and tell the kids to get to it. (We all know how well that usually works.) Instead, she steps back and takes the time to ensure that this newest project is successful. She says, “Well begun is half done.” Brilliant!

How many times have you headed into a class when you had a pretty good notion of what you wanted the kids to accomplish … you were just a little fuzzy on the details of the process? I’m sure none of you has ever launched in without being prepared, but I have a time or two. (Of course, it was early in my career.) Every time that happened, I learned the hard way what Mary Poppins knew all along. If you lay the ground work ahead of time, the process will go much more smoothly, and the final product will be much more satisfying.

Here is a recent example of beginning well. My students write an essay each year for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Patriot’s Pen contest. This year the topic was, “What would you say to our Founding Fathers?”

Before we began the inquiry unit, I asked the kids to share with each other who they thought might be considered a “Founding Father.” When I started hearing names like Lewis and Clark, and Albert Einstein, I knew we had some work to do.

After some time planning and gathering resources, we spent several days building a knowledge base. We listened to podcasts about some of our revered leaders, and read short expository pieces on those early years of our nation. We read first-person accounts of the dilemma those men faced when choosing the dangers of independence from England. I even found a great music video that some teacher with genuine talent and too much free time made that sums it up in a very entertaining way. We also read, Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution, by Jean Fritz and Tomie dePaola, to better understand the compromise required to forge a united nation.

Preparation for the essay contest took time—more than I thought I had available. But if we hadn’t done the scaffolding, building knowledge and understanding, my students might have been thanking the father of the theory of relativity for our country’s beginnings. After the research, my students easily wrote their essays with specific details and intriguing analysis. I’m thankful to Mary Poppins that this particular job was “well begun.”

Well, I’m already over my length limit, and Jane and Michael haven’t even met Burt yet. Mary Poppins has a lot more to teach us as teachers, so I’ll stop here for now and finish up the movie in my next blog. As Mary says, “Enough is as good as a feast.”

Michelle S. George is a language arts middle school teacher in Orofino, Idaho. She has a B.A. in English and secondary certification in English, reading, and journalism. Michelle has been teaching seventh and eighth grade for 20 years, and still loves going to school—as a teacher and a student. She has published a variety of lesson plans and written several award-winning grants.

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Sentences: The Busy Bees of Text

By Nancy Hennessy

I wonder how many of you conjured up images of yourself diagramming written sentences as you read the title of this blog. Some of you may have even cringed a bit (a hint of grammar sometimes has that effect).

I vividly recall Sister Marie Edwina’s class and the innumerable sentences I diagrammed for English (the term language arts had yet to be coined). Assured of a good grade, this task  was high on my list of academic favorites. However, unlike the author of Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and the Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, I missed the point. Kitty Burns Florey (2006) got it, explaining “… once they were laid open, all their secrets explored—those sentences could be comprehended.”

While diagramming itself may not play an essential role in your instruction, its goal—building an understanding of how parts of a sentence contribute to meaning—should.

The Importance of the Sentence

The sentence lies at the heart of communicating thought and meaning, whether you are the writer or the reader. The rules of our language, syntax AKA grammar, allow for the creation of an infinite number of sentences that serve as the “worker bees of text” (Scott, 2004). The relationship that exists between syntax and semantics cannot be overlooked as educators work at developing students’ reading and writing proficiency. Even the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), with a bit of detective work and inference, acknowledge a role for sentences in writing and comprehension.

Connections to Writing

We, as teachers, recognize that writing proficiency is dependent on multiple processes and skills, and that the translation of ideas into syntactically correct form is central to conveying intended meaning. The nitty gritty aspects of parts of speech, the notorious sentence fragments, and the nuances of the simple, compound, and complex sentence are all too familiar to those who teach students how to write.

We have also had experiences with the havoc a sloppy sentence can wreak on the meaning of a composition. Many of us have worked with good writers who “know how to think about word order and its relationship with the ideas they are trying to express” (Scott, 2004). We also know struggling writers who often have difficulty using different syntactical structures to express relationships among words within and between sentences. An increasing emphasis on writing proficiency, including a student’s ability to express understanding of reading, should prompt us to explicitly teach students how to translate thoughts and ideas into sentences.

Connections to Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension similarly demands the integration of multiple processes and skills, many of which overlap with writing. One critical component of language processing, necessary for constructing meaning, is the interpretation of sentences. As readers recognize and retrieve the meaning of individual words, they also need to “work out the syntactic structure and sense of the sentence” (Cain, 2010).

As teachers, we have worked with “good readers” who know how to “work with the words” within sentences to identify the ideas and then, to integrate them to make sense of the text. We have also witnessed an inability to do so in some of our students. While the focus of comprehension is often on the text, we need reminders that “sentences one by one communicate the ideas that eventually add up to gist” of a text (Scott, 2004).

Reading comprehension instruction often overlooks sentence comprehension. Kate Cain (2012) tells us the foundation for discourse comprehension rests on an understanding of word and sentence meaning and, when flawed, can be a potential source of comprehension difficulties. While we understand how word meaning (semantics) contributes directly to comprehension, similarly recognizing the role of syntactical structures (parts of speech, phrases, clauses, types of sentences, and cohesive ties) is essential.

Some may be cringing again as I connect syntax (AKA grammar) to comprehension. Rest assured, I am not an advocate for teaching students syntax from a “mechanical” or “memorization” perspective. Rather, I advocate that educators consider how to integrate semantics and syntax instruction by considering respective contributions to meaning. For example, I would not teach parts of speech and their role in sentences without connecting their function to meaning. We know that nouns are “namers,” but they also answer the questions “who or what.”

So, let’s revisit the idea of diagramming sentences.  This, along with other explicit sentence-based activities—such as sentence combining and anagrams—can be used to foster sentence composition and comprehension, but only if we, as teachers, are clear on the purpose: to facilitate the student’s ability to extract and construct meaning. The bottom line is that sentence instruction should always focus on how syntax is used as a vehicle for conveying meaning.

One more thing …

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that both writing and reading proficiency require much more than developing the ability to construct and comprehend sentences. At the same time, I hope that I have conveyed that sentences are the busy bees of text, have been underappreciated, and require attention—particularly as you design and deliver comprehension instruction.

Nancy Hennessy, M.Ed., LDT-C, is an educational consultant and past president of the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). She is also an experienced teacher and administrator. While in public schools, Hennessy provided leadership in the development of innovative programming for special needs students, a statewide revision of special education code, and an award-winning professional development initiative. She is an international presenter, national LETRS trainer, and coauthor of LETRS Module 6: Digging for Meaning: Teaching Text Comprehension (Second Edition) with Dr. Louisa Moats.


Burns Florey, K. (2006). Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and the Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences. Boston, MA: Harcourt Publishers.

Cain, K. (2012). Reading Development and Difficulties. United Kingdom: John Wiley Publishers

Scott, C. (2004). Syntactic contributions to literacy development. In C. Stone, E. Silliman, B. Ehren, & K. Apel (Eds.) Handbook of Language and Literacy: Development  & Disorders (pp. 340-362). New York: Guilford Press.

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Who Will Be The Next Edview360 Blogger? You Decide. We’re Counting on Your Vote!

The presidential election is over, but there’s one more important vote for you to cast this year. We need your help to choose the winner of our 2012 Sopris Learning EdView360 Blog Contest.

Please review the Top 3 blog post entries by December 21, 2012, and decide which one speaks to you. You’ll hear more from the winning entrant next year as a paid blogger for Sopris Learning’s EdView360 blog. To vote go to www.soprislearningcontests.com.

Happy blogging, and good luck!

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Adolescent Literacy, Part II: Content Literacy and the Common Core

By Joan Sedita


A major tenet of the Common Core State Standards for literacy in grades 6-12 is that content teachers outside of the English/Language Arts classroom emphasize literacy in their planning and instruction. One of the architects of the six major Common Core literacy shifts (Coleman, 2011) is that students should learn through domain-specific texts in science and social studies classrooms. Rather than referring to the text, they should be expected to learn from what they read. The title of the literacy standards, Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, makes it clear that content teachers are key to ensuring that students have college- and career-ready literacy skills at graduation.

The most recent research on effective instruction for improving the literacy skills of adolescent students supports this emphasis on content literacy instruction. In the report Academic Literacy Instruction for Adolescents, Dr. Joseph Torgesen and colleagues (2007) noted that, in order to meet adolescent literacy goals, all teachers must be involved, especially since most middle and high school students spend most of their time in content-area classes and must learn to read expository, informational, content-area texts with greater proficiency. The report states: “Although reading strategies might be taught explicitly in a designated reading support class, students are unlikely to generalize them broadly to content areas unless teachers also explicitly support and elaborate the strategies’ use with content-area texts” (p. 12).

Reading Next (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006) identifies 15 elements of successful programs designed to improve adolescent literacy achievement in middle and high schools. Six of these elements directly address content literacy instruction: direct, explicit comprehension instruction; effective instructional principles embedded in content; extended time for literacy; text-based collaborative learning; diverse texts; and intensive writing.

In 2008, the Institute of Education Sciences published the practice guide Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices (Kamil et al.). The goal of the guide was to present specific and coherent evidence-based recommendations that educators can use to improve literacy levels among students in Grades 4–12. The report made five recommendations about improving practice, three of which directly address content literacy instruction: (1) provide explicit vocabulary instruction, (2) provide direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction, and (3) provide opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation.

Regarding content writing instruction, Writing Next (Graham & Perrin, 2007) summarized the results of a large-scale statistical review of research into the effects of specific types of writing instruction on adolescents’ writing proficiency. The report identified 11 elements of effective writing instruction, all of which represent instruction that can be embedded in content classroom instruction for all students: (1) writing strategies, (2) summarizing, (3) collaborative writing, (4) specific product goals, (5) word processing, (6) sentence combining, (7) prewriting, (8) inquiry activities, (9) process writing approach, (10) study of models, and (11) writing for content learning.

Content Literacy Alignment to Common Core State Standards

It is important to note that the Common Core literacy standards complement rather than replace content standards in subject areas. Content teachers need to keep literacy achievement goals in mind along with coverage of content information. Which Common Core literacy standards are most associated with content literacy instruction? That is, which 6-12 literature and informational text standards should content teachers be most focused on? Here are my suggestions:

Reading Standards

  • #1 & #2: Students should be able to determine what texts say explicitly and to summarize them, make logical inferences, and cite textual evidence to support conclusions.
  • #4: Students should be able to interpret words and phrases as they are used in text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings.
  • #5: Students should be able to analyze the structure of text, including how sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of text affect meaning.
  • #8: Students should be able to synthesize and compare information from print and digital sources and critically evaluate the reasoning and relevance of text evidence.
  • # 10: Students should be able to read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently. 

Writing Standards

  • #1, #2, & #3: Students should be able to write effective arguments, informative text, and narratives.
  • #4, #5, & #6: Students should be able to use the writing process and make their writing appropriate to varying task demands, purposes, and audiences.
  • # 10: Students should write routinely over extended and shorter time frames.

Language Standards

  • #4:  Students should be able to determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and reference materials.
  • #5: Students should demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
  • #6: Students should acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level, and demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge.

In addition to the specific standards listed above, I think it is also important for content-area teachers to understand the focus of the Common Core on making sure students develop comprehension skills to understand steadily increasingly complex texts. Students must learn to read and learn from complex text because this is the demand that will be placed on them in college and career. For too many years, content teachers have avoided using text as the vehicle to learn information because student literacy skills were not sufficient. I like to use the metaphor that content teachers have been giving the students fish, but not teaching them how to fish. It is important for content teachers to understand that the Common Core asks that they not simply use more complex text but rather do the more difficult task of teaching students how to read and understand subject-area text.

Joan Sedita is a founding partner of  Keys to Literacy, a literacy professional development organization that focuses on adolescent literacy. She is also author of The Key Comprehension Routine and The Key Vocabulary Routine.  

About Joan Sedita

Books by Joan Sedita: Keys to Literacy


Biancarosa, C., & Snow, C. E. (2006). Reading next—A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Coleman, D. (2011). Common core instructional shifts. Retrieved from: http://engageny.org/resource/common-core-shifts/

Graham, S., & Perrin, D. (2007). Writing next—Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., & Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A practice guide (NCEE#2008-4027). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

Torgesen, J. K., Houston, D. D., Rissman, L. M., Decker, S. M., Roberts, G., Vaughn, S., et al. (2007). Academic literacy instruction for adolescents: A guidance document from the Center on Instruction. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.

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REMINDER: Be a Paid Education Blogger! Ends Soon.

By Sopris Learning

Sopris Learning is looking for passionate educators to share their views with an online community of colleagues through our EdView360 blog. Enter by blogging about your choice of three given topics and submitting of a short video explaining why we should hire YOU! The public will vote, and the winner will write for EdView360 at $100 per blog! Click Here for contest details. END October 21, 2012.

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Be a Paid Education Blogger! Enter Sopris Learning’s Blog Contest

By Sopris Learning

Sopris Learning is looking for passionate educators to share their views with an online community of colleagues through our EdView360 blog. Enter by blogging about your choice of three given topics and submitting of a short video explaining why we should hire YOU! The public will vote, and the winner will write for EdView360 at $100 per blog! Click Here for contest details.

Categories: Assessment, Family, Funding, General Education, Literacy, Math, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Academic Coaching: Making it Work!

By  Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D.

Are you working as a coach? Are you a classroom teacher who receives coaching? If so, you are part of a growing trend! Many schools today have coaches who work with their teacher colleagues to help improve the academic and behavioral outcomes of students. Academic or instructional coaches work in the areas of reading and math, as well as science, social studies, history, etc.

Coaching is becoming widespread, even in these challenging economic times. This may be due to the fact that teachers are being asked to significantly raise the bar on student achievement with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), or to help schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), or simply because educators are deeply committed to helping every student be as successful and ready as possible for college or a rewarding career. Regardless of the reason for the growing popularity of coaching, teachers need support to achieve these ambitious goals, and coaching is acknowledged as a process that can bring effective professional development into the classroom with individualized and sustained support (Hasbrouck & Denton, 2005; 2010).

However, coaching is not always successful. Some teachers resent having someone in their classroom “telling them what to do.” They might be concerned that a coach could be serving as “a spy for the principal.” Coaches have expressed concerns and even discomfort about their role: should they be acting as supervisors and evaluators of their colleagues? Is it their job to “fix” teachers who are struggling?  In my work with coaches over the past several decades, I have found a key to making coaching work is to carefully define the role and the tasks that a coach should undertake (and—those they should not!).

Role definition for coaches begins with getting clarity about what kind of coaching is going to be implemented. There are many models for coaches to follow, such as Cognitive Coaching™ (Costa & Garmston, 1997), peer coaching (Showers & Joyce, 1996), and instructional coaching (Knight, 2007). Some coaches may approach their work using models that originated in school psychology (consultation) (Kampworth, 2003) and special education (collaboration) (Cook & Friend, 2003).  Although they may use different strategies, the purpose of all these models is to provide effective professional development and support to teachers with the ultimate goal of improved outcomes for students.

To create the coaching model that I developed with Dr. Carolyn Denton—called Student-Focused Coaching or SFC—we drew on the research on coaching, collaboration, and consultation, as well as on our own practical experiences in the field.  SFC is an eclectic, responsive model in which coaches work to provide services by taking on three key roles: (a) Facilitator, (b) Collaborative Planner, and (c) Teacher/Learner.

The coach as facilitator literally helps “facilitate” or support the work of skillful and successful teachers. And as we all know, there are a lot of them out there! When coaching is viewed simply as a process to “fix teachers” what would a teacher likely start to think when the coach walks into her classroom? “Uh, oh…what have I been doing wrong?” and perhaps resentful that “the coach thinks she knows more than I do.” Coaches who help and support teachers are both valued and valuable!

SFC coaches also learn a process called “collaborative planning” where they work shoulder-to-shoulder with a peer colleague to help them devise a successful strategy to help a student (or group of students) with academic and/or behavior concerns. Coaches in this role are truly partners with teachers, sharing a focus on student success.

All teachers need to have the most up-to-date and effective strategies available to them. They need both the knowledge of these tools and the support to learn how to implement them effectively in their classrooms. A coach, serving in the role of Teacher/Learner can design and provide trainings to their fellow teachers (as the “teacher”) and provide follow-up support in the classroom, but should remain open to acquiring new information and widening their own set of effective teaching tactics by continuously looking for ways to be a “learner.”

What are some of the things that a SFC coach should not do in their role? The primary restriction is that no SFC coach should ever be involved in the evaluation of their peers—in any way, shape or form. Coaching must be kept completely separate from supervision and formal evaluation in order for it to be fully effective. Making this separation clear to all parties (the coaches, the teachers receiving coaching, and the principals) is an essential but too often neglected step in defining the role of coaches in the classroom.

Coaching is very challenging, and, when someone is asked to take on this role, it is essential that they have clarity about what the role entails. Teachers who receive coaching also deserve to know what the role of the coach is and what their own role is when they work with a coach.

When we keep our focus on the success of every student, we can achieve great things.


Cook, L. H., & Friend, M. (2003). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Costa, A., & Garmston, R. (1997). Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools, 3rd Ed. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Hasbrouck, J., & Denton, C. (2005). The Reading Coach: A How-to Manual for Success.  Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Hasbrouck, J, & Denton, C. (2010). The Reading Coach 2: More Tools and Strategies for Student-Focused Coaches.  Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Kampworth, T.J. (2003). Collaborative consultation in the schools: effective practices for students with learning and behavior problems. Upper Saddle River. N.J. Merrill.

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Press

Showers, B., & Joyce, B. (March, 1996). The Evolution of Peer Coaching.  Educational Leadership, 53 (6), p. 12-16.

About Jan Hasbrouck

Books by Jan Hasbrouck: The Reading Coach

Categories: Professional Developement, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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