How to Screw Up Student Learning Under RtI

  • Response to Intervention Special Education
  • 28 July, 2016
I am a classroom teacher (grade 3) and a follower of your blog.  I also have an M.A. in Reading. Last year our new principal told us that our RtI students do not need to be in the classroom during grade level instruction. I strongly disagree. I think that these students benefit from scaffolded grade level instruction and benefit from the kind of thinking and reading the class is being asked to do during this time.  Am I wrong to insist my students be in the room during regular reading instruction? If so, please set me straight.  
 Dear Perplexed:
The point of RtI is not to REPLACE classroom reading instruction, but to supplement it.

RtI is used to help determine if a student might be suffering from reading/learning disabilities. The reason that student would be referred for intervention support would be because of some concern about the student’s daily progress.

Consequently, we ADD a targeted intervention to the teaching the student is receiving in order to determine whether it promotes greater progress.

If you use the intervention to replace regular instruction then that student would not receive a more intensive and extensive learning experience than what was already provided. All you would be doing is just trading one treatment for another. Not the idea of RtI and not an approach that has been successful in raising reading achievement.

Using the brief intervention to interrupt or replace the longer classroom instruction means that you won’t find out if the student would respond to the extra tuition, because no extra teaching is offered.

Big mistake to pull kids out of their classroom instruction for an intervention unless it has already been determined that they child requires a special education placement (in other words, the student hadn’t responded to the regular teaching plus the intervention). However, even special education programs—depending on how serious the learning problem—may be used as additional teaching rather than replacement teaching.

I definitely side with you in this. I think your principal is making a big mistake—both undermining kids’ learning progress and making it impossible to determine whether the student has a learning problem.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Gwen Flaskamp Apr 06, 2017 05:17 PM

Hi Dr. Shanahan,
I completely agree with the message in this post that teachers need to provide students with scaffolding to navigate difficult texts and not just use a "have at it" approach As a reading specialist and instructional coach, I find that some teachers don't understand HOW to do this, though, which is probably why situations like the one you described in your article occur. Would it be possible for you to follow up with this post, taking teachers through some of those instructional strategies supported by the research that would enable a child to be able to work through rigorous texts? I think most educators understand the why behind choosing rich, grade level pieces at this point, but they don't necessarily understand how to do it.

Thanks so much for your consideration!
Gwen Flaskamp 8/4/16

darcy williams Jan 11, 2018 10:31 PM

I think your may need some intervention herself! Research has proven, over and over, that the greatest factor in improving reading instruction is for students to increase their time spent on reading. We are doing more harm that good by pulling students out of the reading block, especially if the teacher is delivering high-quality reading instruction. I am an elementary principal and I am half through our first year of getting rid of the packaged reading program and implementing a balanced/readers workshop model. The gains my students have made is INCREDIBLE!! However, this sort of initiative requires embedded professional development, teacher support and resources.

What Are your thoughts?

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How to Screw Up Student Learning Under RtI


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.