Can the SLP Help Make RtI Part of the Educational DNA? Y-E-S

By Wayne A. Foster, PhD, CCC-SLP/A

Author of The Role of the Speech-Language Pathologist in RtI: Implementing Multiple Tiers of Student Support

Is there a role for a speech and language pathologist (SLP) in Response-to-Instruction/Intervention (RtI) beyond the application of special education services (Tier III in a three-tiered model)? Some will say that an SLP can play a (limited) role in the application of pre-referral interventions. I wrote this book to argue that there is a very special but previously poorly defined role for the SLP. In fact, in the absence of support for the RtI process by those who understand the principles of child development, it is likely that RtI will fail to thrive.

Response-to-Instruction or Intervention (RtI) makes great sense as a system to support struggling students in America’s K–12 educational system. In short, RtI refers to the application of academic and/or behavioral support that is linked to the student’s functional level within a given domain and is provided at an appropriate intensity and frequency. This support is monitored for effectiveness and modified as needed. The ultimate goal is to close the gap between a student’s functional level and the level needed to progress in the standard curriculum.

While RtI makes sense it is relatively rarely implemented with the fidelity necessary to generate the type of success needed to help it become part of the DNA of the educational process. In many schools RtI never takes root and where it has been implemented it is constantly under threat of being dismantled in favor of more traditional educational processes.  Today it seems no easier to implement and sustain a multi-tiered system of student support (such as RtI) than it was two decades ago. Why is it so difficult to make a multi-tiered system of student support work?

One answer became clear to me at a 2008 workshop on literacy I presented to the kindergarten through fifth grade teachers in a moderate-sized school district. At this training session the developmental progression of literacy skills was outlined via a series of slides. The initial slides associated the development of language to the development of early phonological awareness. With each slide the teachers could see how literacy skills transitioned and ultimately led to the ability to comprehend lengthy, complex, and abstract text. They were fascinated and most admitted that this was the first time they had ever learned about the development of literacy over time (and grades). The teachers in the room clearly understood the standards of their grade level curriculum but were not aware of normal patterns of development for literacy. In fact, far too many educators have not been trained in the patterns of child development for language, literacy, mathematics, or behavior (including socio-emotional development).

Implementation of RtI demands knowledge of development. How is one to address the needs of a student who is functioning in one or more domains well below a grade-level curriculum? One answer is that you must meet the student at their functional level with an intervention that helps close their developmental gap.  This requires a rather detailed knowledge of development. In workshop after workshop  I realized that general educators across America had not been adequately trained in the language of development. I came to the conclusion that there exist two major educational languages spoken in America’s public schools—the language of curriculum and the language of child development. Unfortunately few educators are fluent in both.

In most tiered systems (such as RtI) the initial application of support is provided through differentiation of instruction within the general classroom. Many educators understand this differentiation to mean appreciation of different learning styles (e.g., visual versus auditory versus tactile/kinesthetic) and how to modify instruction to allow students to access the curriculum via the learning style that maximizes their learning potential. This is a correct view but differentiation also means assisting a student who may be delayed in development of skills. Differentiation can mean breaking down instruction into smaller steps and providing meaningful feedback. If differentiation is not successful then individual or small group interventions are applied and monitored for progress (Tier I in the RtI model). If this level of support is not sufficient, then a more intense, frequent, and individualized intervention may be necessary (Tier II in the RtI model).  Think about what this requires on the part of the professional. First, they must identify where in the developmental progression the student is functioning. Second, they must select an appropriate treatment (i.e., intervention) that moves the student forward. Third, they must monitor progress and know when the appropriate skill level for the child’s age is attained.  This is a developmental perspective, clearly more of a developmental perspective than a curricular one.

If RtI is to work in a school those professionals who understand child development must support those charged with implementing the early Tier I and Tier II level interventions. RtI will flounder as an educational paradigm if there is poor integration of the two languages and poor coordination between the professionals who are fluent in those languages. Unfortunately, that has been the case in many of the schools I have visited over the past decade.

School-based SLPs are highly trained in the realm of child development and are well positioned to provide support of the RtI–multi-tiered system of student support. The major reason for writing The Role of the Speech-Language Pathologist in RtI: Implementing Multiple Tiers of Student Support was to provide a description of the differences between curricular and developmental perspectives and explicate the role of the SLP in making RtI successful without dramatically increasing the workload of the school-based clinician. Further, there did not seem to be a resource available that could help an SLP better understand their own educational approach (development) much less come to a strong appreciation of the general educator approach (curriculum).

Speech-Language Pathologists Climbing the Steps to Mastery

Lydia_Kopel

Speech-Language Pathologists Climbing the Steps to Mastery
By Lydia Kopel
Co-author of IEP Goal Writing for Speech-Language Pathologists: Utilizing State Standards

Facing the mountain
As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), you are forever tackling a huge mountain called language. There are peaks at the top that you are trying to help your students/clients reach. Do you ever find yourself working on a skill with a student/client who does not seem to be making progress? That peak didn’t seem so far away, but along the way, you encounter twists and turns, making it around one corner only to face an obstacle around the next bend. Frustrating, right? On the inside you’re screaming, “Why can’t he get this? How can I approach this in a different way? What am I doing wrong?”

You’ve set your goal(s) for this individual carefully choosing the target skill(s). But, did you think about prerequisite skills? Prerequisite skills are all the skills that lead up to the targeted skill; the building blocks. Every skill has several prerequisite skills; each prerequisite skill has prerequisite skills. With language learning there is a great deal of scaffolding – one skill builds upon another skill, builds upon another skill, and so on. Let’s look at an example related to the skill of the main idea.

To be able to identify the main idea when it is not stated in a text, one has to have success with many other language skills. These include being able to answer factual questions, determine important details from unimportant details, determine how the details go together in the sequence of events, and be able to draw inferences. Of course, each one of these skills has even more prerequisite skills! And it doesn’t end there!

Each target skill also has several steps to mastery. With the same example of the main idea, we probably shouldn’t expect that a 6th grade student will learn the prerequisite skills outlined above and be able to identify the main idea and supporting details from a grade level text in one year. It is more likely that additional scaffolding and instruction will be needed at various steps. The student may first need to identify a supporting detail when given a choice of three and given the main idea in a 5th grade text. Maybe then you can move them to identifying three details that support a given main idea in a 5th grade text. With further scaffolding, this student may move toward identifying the details in a 6th grade text when the main idea is unknown. Going through these prerequisite skills and steps to mastery can increase an individual’s success and decrease therapist and client frustration—making for a much smoother climb up that language mountain.

Peaks and valleys
We all encounter those individuals who have splinter skills.   They have some of the language skills in the developmental continuum but are missing others. There may be no specific order, no rhyme or reason, to what they can and cannot do. If we can tap into the skills that haven’t fully developed, we can help increase performance on the target skills that are lacking.

Let’s look at the semantic skill of compare/contrast. Perhaps you have a client who can label pictures of nouns and verbs. He can tell you the color, size, and shape of single pictured items. He may be able to use comparatives and superlatives. However, he can’t sort items by attribute, identify things that do not belong, or state category labels. His describing skills are limited because he breaks down when more than one item is pictured together in a scene and more than two descriptors are expected.  Would it be reasonable to expect this client to state how two or more items are the same or different? It seems like there may be numerous gaps in his semantic skills that would be imperative to the skill of compare/contrast.

Reaching the peak
As an SLP, do you have students/clients who are lacking some of the necessary prerequisite skills? Taking the time to figure out what prerequisite skills are needed can lead to success with the target skill(s).   Take a step back and work on the missing skills. Sometimes we need to go backward in order to move forward.

When setting goals, consider the amount of prerequisite skills needed and how fast you anticipate the student to progress. Is your anticipated target skill too high? Maybe you need to aim for a smaller peak. Maybe the goal needs to be one of the prerequisite skills. Take it one step at a time and you’ll soon find the individual standing at the peak.

Prerequisite skills, goal writing, and much more are discussed and outlined in the book IEP Goal Writing for Speech-Language Pathologists:  Utilizing State Standards. Check it out!

Please visit our blog Living the Speech Life and feel free to contact us at livingthespeechlife@gmail.com

Lydia Kopel and Elissa Kilduff

Living the Speech Life

Are Your Services Educationally Relevant?

Jean BlosserSchool Programs in Speech-Language Pathology 5th Edition

Jean L. Blosser, EdD, CCC-SLP
President, Creative Strategies for Special Education
Author, School Programs in Speech-Language Pathology: Organization and Service Delivery, Fifth Edition, Plural Publishing, 2012

Educational Relevance—What an Important Concept!
Does a child’s disability impact his or her performance in the classroom? If yes, would services such as speech-language intervention, occupational therapy, or physical therapy make a difference? Should those services be intensive, provided face-to-face or via technology, or integrated into the classroom? The primary question is, if therapy services are offered, will the intervention provided make a difference in the student’s classroom performance, ability to access the curriculum, and/or ability to reach his or her potential?

These are huge questions that administrators, educators, clinicians, and parents ponder every day. When school teams evaluate a student, they seek to determine how the disability may be interfering with the student’s learning. Key educational areas that may be affected are academic, social-emotional, and vocational performance. If everyone agrees there is an adverse effect on educational performance, the student’s eligibility for services is confirmed.

How Do We Guarantee Educational Relevance? Continue reading