A Teacher's Perspective on RTI in EC/Preschool Settings

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    As an Early Childhood (EC) teacher I have had an opportunity over the last several years to learn about the process of implementing RtI in the preschool classroom.  I have taught for nine years in an inclusive classroom, teaching a combination of typically developing children, children with special needs, and at- risk students.  I have seen firsthand how many children benefit from our core curriculum and instructional practices and how more intensive intervention is necessary - and essential for some children - to develop strong skills.  In addition to participating on my school’s Instructional Leadership Team, I have obtained a graduate degree in Early Childhood Leadership and am currently pursuing a degree in Educational Administration.  My educational and experiential background has provided me with an opportunity to view the RtI initiative through the eyes of an aspiring administrator as well as a teacher.  We know that RtI is essential to achieving student outcomes in the EC/preschool setting.  Now, as educators, it is our job to work together to find a way to put it into action.

    Why do we need to implement RtI in the EC/preschool setting?

    The answer is quite simple.  We are in the midst of a shift in the world of early childhood education.  This educational shift is urging teachers to move from creating an environment of incidental learning to an environment that promotes more intentional teaching.  This change may be evident by changes taking place inside and outside the classroom, such as modifying the planning process to focus first on selecting the skill that needs to be taught and then selecting the lesson/activity to teach the skill, or by providing more structured, skill-based learning activities at the classroom centers.  While the students still engage in play during center time, the presence of skill based activities throughout the classroom is becoming much more evident.  All students receive instruction from the standard core curriculum, otherwise known as Tier 1 instruction.  However, research shows and all teachers know that there are students who need more intensive instruction than others to achieve expected student outcomes.  This intensive instruction can be delivered through Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions.  Through implementation of the RtI initiative we have an opportunity to provide the support and differentiated instruction needed to facilitate student success at the EC/preschool level.

    Where do we start?

    RtI at the EC/preschool level currently looks different than what we see at the elementary and secondary levels.  One of the differences is the greater number of research-based curriculum programs available for Tier 2 intervention at the elementary and secondary levels.  Elementary and secondary education allows for more direct instruction through Tier 2 intervention programs.  There are very few intervention programs available that are appropriate for the EC level.  However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t start the process with what we currently have available.  We can start by taking steps to provide Tier 2 intervention by modifying skill-based learning activities that are a part of the Core Curriculum.  The first step to prepare for implementation of RtI is to develop specific skills related to the curriculum that are expected outcomes for all children who attend your EC/preschool program.  Specific skills should be selected from all areas of development (language arts, math and science, social emotional, physical development and health) and should align with both the Core Curriculum standards and the Illinois Early Learning Standards.  These skills then become the foundation from which to measure student achievement and progress.  Developing specific skills as part of the core curriculum provides consistent expectations for instruction and student learning, as well as a guideline for data collection/assessment of students.  This allows us to monitor student progress and provides an indication of which students are not responding to Tier 1 instruction and may be in need of more intensive Tier 2 instruction.  If we can gain an understanding of each student’s learning style and rate of learning, we can pass this information along to the elementary schools and help them be better prepared to provide appropriate instruction at the Kindergarten level.

    How do we implement RtI in the EC/preschool setting?

    The RtI process begins with a change in the way teachers think about planning for instruction and data collection/assessment.  In the past, teachers collected data as a way to assess student learning.  However, the process often stopped there.  Now, RtI provides us a means by which to take things to the next level.  Implementation of RtI encourages teachers to use their data to drive their instruction.  More specifically, analyzing student data is now a tool that can be used to plan for instruction at all tiers.  Based on student data, the teacher can identify skills that need to be taught as part of the core curriculum as well as skills that may need to be taught to specific students through more intensive tiers.

    How are our program staff members creating changes to use data to drive instruction?

    Our first step towards using data to drive instruction was to increase consistency of instruction across the program.  We started a transdisciplinary process of selecting specific “target skills,” which align with the Illinois Early Learning Standards and Creative Curriculum checklist, with the support of Lynette Chandler from Northern Illinois University.  These “target skills” became the focus of our core curriculum.  By narrowing our focus for instruction and data collection/assessment based on our “target skills” we were able to achieve more consistent instruction across the program.  We also created a system for consistent data collection/assessment on the “target skills” using common assessment forms and a data-binder.  In addition, staff participated in staff development for training around the problem-solving process provided by the Illinois ASPIRE (Alliance for School-based Problem-solving & Intervention Resources in Education) state-wide initiative, funded through IDEA.  We then began putting the problem-solving process into practice and supported staff with the use of professional learning communities.  Working together in Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) has encouraged teachers and related service staff to work together to analyze student data, identify instructional needs at the classroom level, and implement tiered instruction as needed. 

    Is RtI appropriate at the EC level?

    This is a question that is often asked of EC educators, and an important one at that.  When changes take place in education it is important to weigh the risks and benefits, in order to determine what is best for students.  In my opinion, RtI is and can be very beneficial to many students.  As a teacher, I have always been aware of the students who were achieving curriculum expectations, those achieving beyond expectations, as well as those who were struggling to achieve.  I have always differentiated my instruction to provide additional support to the students who were struggling, as well as additional support to the students who achieving beyond expectations.  However, now with the implementation of RtI I am provided with additional resources, research and support from related service providers to help me analyze my data, implement Tiered instruction, and monitor the progress of students.  I don’t believe that RtI requires me to engage the students in “skill and drill” type activities, but that through intentional planning for Tier 1, Tier2, and Tier 3 instruction I can provide appropriate skill based learning activities to help each child receive the support they need to achieve the expectations.

    I think it is important to recognize that implementation of the RtI intervention model at the EC/preschool level is an on-going process.  Each year our school makes improvements in our efforts to put practices into place that ensure that teachers are using data to drive instruction.  These are exciting times for the field of EC, with increasing acknowledgement of the importance of learning in the early years.  We have an opportunity now to align our practices with those of the elementary and secondary levels, and implement use of the RtI initiative to ensure that each student is receiving the differentiated instruction needed to achieve success in school!
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