By: Julie Johnson
By now you’ve heard not only the acronym MTSS (multi-tiered systems of support), but also about the Tiers of instruction within its framework. MTSS is full of moving parts and can be difficult to understand. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on what Tier 1 is.
Tier 1 is high-quality classroom instruction coupled with universal screenings and in-class small group instruction. Within Tier 1 all students take a universal screening assessment and receive high-quality instruction, both of which are delivered by qualified personnel to ensure a student’s difficulties are not because of poor or inadequate instruction.
Screeners are given periodically (usually 3 times per year) to establish baseline data for both behaviors as well as academics, to identify struggling learners that might need additional support. One way to provide that support is through in-class small group instruction provided by the classroom teacher.
So what does all of this translate into for middle school? Establishing a strong Tier 1 requires team collaboration. Whether it is grade-level, content or a combination, it takes a team to stay on top of the needs of students. A good way to accomplish this is to devote time (weekly, twice a month or monthly) as a team to discuss students who are showing signs of needing added support. In identifying these students, you need a way to keep track of them. One method for doing this is to keep a running Google document where students discussed are added along with strategies tried and progress monitoring data to show what’s working and/or what is not. In addition, this is a place to keep notes on parent contacts. It is important to assign roles within teams to allow for organized, productive discussions. These can be roles such as facilitator, note-taker, time-keeper, resource officer, etc. Establishing these roles up front will keep your meetings moving forward and keep everyone on track.
Maintaining this as a running list allows the team to circle back to students, analyze collected data and brainstorm other ideas and strategies to try. Being a running document also allows for the addition of students who may present as needing additional support further into the year. This document also serves as the start of a body of evidence should a student eventually need to move to the next Tier.
I know, this all sounds great, but when do we find the time for these critical discussions? As a former middle school assistant principal with a block schedule, one plan per week was devoted to these meetings. When that is not an option, before and after school, for part of a staff meeting and as part of professional development days can also work. Get creative, but make sure you find the time for this crucial Tier 1 activity. The more students we can successfully support at Tier 1, the stronger the school as a whole.
Below is a link to a list of Tier 1 strategies that we use in our district.
Tier 1 strategies
Julie Johnson is the MTSS Specialist for Weld RE-4 School District.