A Middle School Principal’s Perspective: A Multi-Tier System of Supports for Writing

As any principal new to a school will tell you, it takes some time before you can get a full grasp on the myriad or programs taking place in your new home. You also need to take some time to learn about the school before you begin to look to change anything. This can be even more of a risky proposition when you take over in a school that is performing well. Needed changes in this scenario are not usually that evident.

One of the first things that I noticed when I became principal of Lionville Middle School was the strength of the special education program. Not only do we have a Multi-tiered System of Supports that is available to all of our students who may need it, we also have the ability for students to move between most of the tiers supported by thorough progress monitoring. The teachers who implement the program work along with our academic advisor and administrative team to make these decisions. (I discussed this Academic Intervention Team (AIT) process for identifying students in an earlier blog post.) Essentially, the team has both formal and informal conversations regularly to talk about students. The regular meetings are held every other week to review student progress. However, most of the changes within tiers are made based on progress monitoring from the teachers who are implementing the intervention. They consult with one another and have the freedom to move students within tiers and submit changes to our schedulers. Once the parents are consulted, any recommended changes can be made overnight.

It may help to point out that our English/Language Arts (LA) program is split into two classes for 6th and 7th grade. The regular program includes a LA-Writing class and a LA-Literature class. This was put in place for a number of reasons, but mostly to move away from the Language Arts block classes that were held previously. From what I am told, these block classes were not popular with many because the scheduling meant the LA teacher would only get to see half the kids on their team Our Learning Support program reflects this new split LA model for our students who need intensive, Tier 3 supports so they can receive direct instruction for both Literature and Writing.

Let’s begin by talking about our LA-Writing program. If the AIT team decides that a child needs our most intensive level of support for writing, then they will be placed in Foundations of Writing, which is a special education course reserved solely for students with IEP’s. The class meets daily and mirrors the regular program as much as possible for the students. In addition, the Learning Support teacher who provides the instruction is properly certified to teach Language Arts. Perhaps the only downside to this setup is the lack of clear exit criteria for the students. While there are certainly benchmarks and progress monitoring that is reflected by goals in the Individualized Education Program, we do not currently have a definitive exiting process for the class. This is a goal for the next stage of our system.

The next tier for writing is a class we call Supported Writing. This course is set up just as it sounds. Students attend the regular education writing class in the lowest level section. A special education teacher or paraprofessional also attends the class. While the primary role of this person is to assist the students with IEP’s, they frequently help any student who requires it. This safety net not only gives the child additional support, it also gives the case manager a set of eyes in the class to watch out for issues that could arise. From time to time, students will completely exit the special education support in the Foundations of Writing ;class and move into the least intensive level of instruction in the regular, Tier 1 writing class. In each of these occasions that student is still scheduled to attend the Supported Writing class just to help them transition.

In my next post, I will go in to our LA-Literature/Reading program. It has significantly more options to consider and has also had some recent “tinkering” since I arrived.
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General Education Students?
Mr. Ross,
I greatly appreciated reading about a tiered system that allows for specific writing standards to be addressed. My school currently works with a blocked amount of time for LA and reading because the common core standards are aligned together rather than separate. Yet, your comments completely validate the other approach that that schedule. I have wonderful readers that struggle with basic sentence structure and vise versa, so then I am forced to choose a data standard to focus on for my RtI class. Either language or reading, where as the other content areas are very specific in their intervention time.
The students that I am mostly concerned with are not the students with IEPs. Most of my students that have direct services have similar skills in both sets of standards whereas my general education students are in the most need for properly modified tiered programs.
I realize students with IEPs are the most easily identified as needed additional support through RtI, but I am more concerned for the students in the middle of my class that struggle with individual skills throughout our curriculum.
How do you approach those students within your tiers?

Mr. Ross,
I found this article very interesting. As a comprehensive student support resource teacher, I am working with a middle school currently implementing a schoolwide writing program. They practice full inclusion, but I liked the idea of having a "struggling writers" section (co-taught by general and special education teachers), and a section for more advanced writers. I also appreciate your point of having a specific exit strategy.
I think I will propose that the schoolwide writing project be integrated into the RTI team. That way, we can make it part of our routine each month to review data and progress in the writing classes, and make changes if necessary.