Reaching the Whole Child

Mark Wittman

by Mark Wittman, kindergarten teacher in Shelby County and member of the Tennessee Teacher Ambassador Network

Previously I featured a middle school teacher and looked at best practices from her school and district (Raising the Bar ). This month we will be taking a glimpse inside the Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2) practices taking place at the elementary level. We will meet an elementary school RTI2 facilitator and glean some best practices from her and her team.

  • District: Cleveland City School District
  • School: George R. Stuart Elementary School
  • Student enrollment: 360
  • Educator: Julie Turner
  • Role: RTI2 Facilitator

Data-informed Instruction

The term “drilling down” is used within the context of RTI2 to describe the process of finding exactly where to begin instruction with students in Tier II and Tier III intervention. It was within the context of drilling down that Mrs. Turner noticed a trend between kindergarten and first grade.  The trend was that students were leaving kindergarten doing fantastic but they were dropping drastically in the fall of first grade.  Mrs. Turner, under the supervision of the RTI2 coordinator for the district, conducted analyses and found that the phonemic awareness portion of the universal screener was potentially not catching students in the early grades who required more phonemic awareness instruction, specifically phoneme segmenting. 

Mrs. Turner turned to the research of Michael Heggerty, author the Heggerty Curriculum, which has a focus on Phonological Awareness.  She located additional diagnostic assessments that could be used to identify the gaps with 2-5 grade students, but the assessments were especially beneficial to kindergarten and first grade students. The nature of this additional information provided a better understanding of the specific phonological needs of students that the universal screener, EasyCBM, was not catching. Two areas that stood out were the need for intensive phonological study and the need for rhyme production, and these findings helped Mrs. Turner with the instructional planning required to accommodate her students.  

District Support

Mrs. Turner stated, “The support of our RTI2 program at the district level is crucial to its success.”  She pointed out that the district supports RTI2   by providing schools with full time intervention providers and assistants to work with students receiving Tier II and Tier III intervention. It was a bold move to make but such an investment frees up the classroom teachers to focus on instruction for all students during Tier I. The classroom teachers can group students to ensure “students receive Tier I instruction that meets their changing needs”.    Teachers use common formative assessment data collected within the classroom, as well as other benchmark data to assist with planning for students receiving Tier I instruction. 

Cleveland City Schools has made intentional steps to ensure a productive RTI2 process. This district’s support is obvious in that they provide schools with a full-time instructional facilitator/coach whose focus is Tier I instruction and an RTI2 facilitator whose focus is Tier II/III instruction.  The RTIfacilitator’s role includes making sure that fidelity checks are completed, data analysis and meetings occur monthly, and all other tasks relating to intervention implementation are covered. 


There is collaboration that takes place not only between the building instructional facilitator and RTI2 facilitator, but also at the district level. It is during monthly district RTI2 meetings that they look at data from school across the district share what’s working well to meet school RTI2 goals, and discuss areas that need improvement. All facilitators work closely with one another and keep student needs at the focus of all meetings. Mrs. Turner shared how she has been sharing her school’s use of a data wall with other RTI2 facilitators to ensure reporting and monitoring of all students.. Ms. Turner shared how she uses her data wall to monitor students across multiple forms of assessment such as universal screening, running records and common formative assessments.  This type of wall provides a better picture of the comprehensive academic needs of the child and is useful when planning instruction and intervention during PLCs and RTI2 data meetings.  Teachers also participate in the collaboration process as they review student data and make data informed decisions in their classrooms.  .

In conclusion, these takeaways highlight some RTI2 best practices that help teachers and leaders ensure the comprehensive academic needs of a child  are being addressed, make data informed instruction including but not limited to interactive data walls, ensuring district support, and ongoing collaborations are vital to the success of RTI2 across the state of Tennessee. 

Informing My Practice
I look forward to using the additional screeners that Mrs. Turner discussed from the work of Michael Heggerty.  As a veteran kindergarten teacher, I have noticed within my own district a drop in performance between kindergarten and first grade. I anticipate digging deeper into the research that I have been able to locate by Mr. Heggerty and work with my district’s RTI2 team. I will also continue to collaborate and share ideas that are working within my classroom with others and continue to seek out collaboration partners. No matter what grade level we teach, we can all strengthen our RTI2 practices.

Next month I will share a snapshot into a Tennessee high school’s RTI2 practices and how one educator is meeting the needs of high school students. I will share best practices that are being used for RTIimplementation in  high school.