Supporting All Learners

"Supporting all students' by Rachel Wilser (

Image credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc, 2017. All rights reserved.

Meeting the needs of all learners can be challenging.

By Rachel Wilser

Greetings, teachers! By now, it’s mid-October. It’s likely any honeymoon phase you enjoyed with your students is over. You’re getting into the real work of teaching, and potentially through at least one data cycle. It’s also likely by now that you have, or are getting, a good sense of the students who are falling outside of Tier or Level 1: the students who will need some extra support or help from you. But how do we identify these kids, and what do we do, as classroom teachers, once we’ve identified who they are? (For the purposes of this article, I’m only considering students who are in need of extra support and have NOT yet been identified with an IEP or 504 plan.)

First, let’s talk about how we’re identifying them. It’s by using one of my favorite teacher tools: data. Now, listen, I 100% think there are situations where people are overusing or abusing data. But you can’t get any support for your Tier 2 or Tier 3 learners without it. Probably wherever you’re teaching and whatever grade level you’re in, you have set grade level goals and assessments during the year.

Once your first round of assessments are finished, you probably have at least some data to back up your concerns. Generally, there are guidelines for each grade constituting levels of concern. For example, if you’re teaching first grade, you can reasonably expect that most of your students would be coming in around a level C. It stands to reason then, that students below a C would be “on your radar.” A B level reader would be a moderate concern, while any readers below level B (A or AA) would be a significant concern. You’d want to come up with plans for those students as soon as possible to try and pull them up. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I can’t emphasize enough how important tracking data is in these instances. If it ultimately turns out that students need to be referred for special education testing, you need data to qualify them. Anecdotes and notes won’t suffice; you need numbers and data.

Second, let’s talk about what we do with these students once we notice that they’re behind. Generally, you need six weeks of data to show that an intervention is either working or not working, so you need to create goals and plans that you can live with for six weeks. Don’t go over the top or reinvent the wheel. For example, if you had a student who’s showing similar misunderstandings to a student you’ve had in the past, use that intervention plan that you’ve already created (with modifications to be appropriate for the current student), instead of creating a whole new plan. Teaching is already hard. We don’t need to make it harder. The goal of gathering six weeks of data is to get an idea of which interventions are working and which aren’t. And I know this is really difficult, but if you have any intervention that isn’t working PLEASE talk to your grade level special-education teacher before you change it. It generally isn’t a problem to gather six weeks of data showing no change. What can become a bigger problem is changing the intervention every two or three weeks, because then it takes much longer to gather six weeks of data.

Finally, when you’re creating intervention plans for students the simplest way to do this is by considering the minimums. Here’s what I mean: if you have a student in fourth grade who still struggles to add two-digit numbers, think about what they CAN do (can they add two-digit plus one-digit; can they multiply single-digit numbers?) and then think about the skill gaps to the grade level standard. Is the gap a misunderstanding of multiplication, or a misunderstanding of place value? Once you know the answers to these questions, set a six-week goal and a time to check in (or assess) each week with that student. This goal will be created just for this student, and should target a gap in their skills or knowledge, such as “Student will solve single-digit multiplication problems accurately in 5 out of 7 trials, administered weekly.” In addition to this goal, you’re also delivering targeted support or instruction to this student to help them demonstrate progress towards these goals.

Meeting the needs of all learners can be challenging, especially when they are so diverse; however, it is the moral imperative of teachers to help their students when they can.

Rachel Wilser has spent the better part of a decade in classrooms around the country — in private, public, charter, elementary, and middle schools. Now, she chases twins and drinks coffee while planning her return to the classroom.

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