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Trend Watch: Response to Intervention and ELLs


Two trends in professional development that are sweeping the country—Response to Intervention, or RTI, and the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, or SIOP—will converge during a summer institute in Long Beach, Calif. The workshop is a sign that how to carry out Response to Intervention, an approach in which educators try various interventions before determining if students need to be evaluated for special education, for ELLs is a new hot topic on the horizon.

Jana Echevarria, a special education professor at California State University, Long Beach, and MaryEllen Vogt, an associate professor of education at the same university, are offering the workshop August 13-14 in Long Beach, Calif. Register here.

While these women have expertise in special education and reading, they are better known across the country for having created SIOP, along with Deborah Short, a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Linguistics. That's a set of 30 strategies based on research that regular classroom teachers can use to teach English-language learners.

Every time I turn around, it seems, I hear of some school district that is providing professional development in SIOP. The strategies include giving students a chance to practice speaking English, building on students' background knowledge, using visuals and gestures, teaching with both a content objective and language objective, and making vocabulary development an intentional goal of every lesson.

Echevarria told me in a phone interview that, in general, "ELLs will probably perform better in a more engaging interactive setting than a traditional teacher-dominated one."

She says the workshop is intended to help educators understand what special considerations need to be made for ELLs as they move through the three tiers of RTI. If teachers are using strategies such as SIOP to reach ELLs in the first tier, which takes place in the regular classroom setting, educators may find that a second tier, where short-term interventions are used either in the regular classroom or a separate setting, is often not necessary. The third tier of RTI may or may not be in a regular classroom and is considered special education.

The workshop's goal, says Echevarria, "is hopefully to get districts to think about how they can meet the needs of ELLs and look at modifications to their standard RTI protocol."

She's written a research brief discussing RTI for English-language learners that will soon be published by the National Center for Research on the Educational Achievement and Teaching of English-Language Learners, or CREATE.


There are some wonderful applications of educational research to teaching and learning related to ELL students. A much better use of that research can be accomplished if objective observational data is collected in the classroom to track two areas - fidelity of implementation of the best practice and effectiveness of the intervention.

For example, finding out if students do get time for increased use of academic language is great feedback to the teacher as he/she tried to implement a more student centered atmosphere. Likewise, tracking the data on the number and level of student question will give an objective indication of the level of student engagement.

We need to move beyond the observer checklist and impression of what's happening and collect real data. There is one tool that makes this quite easy - the eCOVE Observation Software (www.ecove.net). It is a collection of timer and counter tools that can be used to track both teacher and student behavior. Having that real time data available will make the in-classroom efforts more effective.

I agree wholly with the comment that ESOL students need an interactive environment rather than a teacher centered one. All students do. But I am wary of using RTI which is to evaluate student for disabilities, for ESOL students. A week or so, there was an article on a SIFE student of mine who was often thought to be learning disabled by others. Many discussed using RTI techniques on her, especially in the math area. Difficulties in Math are often used as examples of a learning disability in ESOL students because it thought to be devoid of "language". If RTI had been used on Mimi during middle school, and people considered it, she would have failed and possibly been diagnosed with a learning disability. It is very difficult in SIFE students and in many students, to determine where the miscommunication in learning lies. RTI is used to diagnose disability, not to "intervene" in language development.

One Math product for ELL students that is based on SIOP is HELP Math: http://www.helpprogram.net.

The product recently won the Codie Award as Best Instructional Program for Special Needs Students.

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