By: Rachel Brown, Ph.D., NCSP
Time is a precious resource in schools. In order to use the available time the most effectively, school personnel need to develop and use carefully planned daily schedules. In most schools, there is a master schedule that is set before the start of each school year. Deliberate planning of the master schedule to include time for interventions is the best way to make sure that interventions can happen each day. Both elementary and secondary schools can set up master schedules that provide time for tiered supports. In addition, such time blocks can be used for enrichment and acceleration activities.
Each school’s master schedule has a large influence on the daily routines. Whether the schedule has accompanying bells or not, the time slots allocated for certain activities generally determine what happens each school day. In order for an MTSS to offer effective interventions, there must be time slots in each day when the lessons can be provided. For this reason, the recommended starting point for setting up effective schedules that will include tiered supports begins with planning the master schedule. In most schools, there is a master schedule committee made up of teachers, administrators, and perhaps others personnel such as related service providers. This committee is charged with developing a schedule that will make it possible for all required activities to happen each day. Setting up such a schedule is not an easy thing because there are likely to be differences of opinion about how much time is needed for each activity and the time priorities. For example, classroom teachers might think that reading and math instruction must be the top priority, but physical education and music teachers will likely want sufficient time too.
In order to create effective master schedules that allow time for interventions, some priorities must be set. In order to make decisions in a fair manner, it is very important that the members of the master schedule committee represent all stakeholders in the school. Certainly, classroom teachers and administrators must be represented, but other staff such as specialists who are there part time, bus drivers, and cafeteria staff could be valuable members as well. Once the composition of the committee is determined, the next step is to establish priorities for the coming year. In some cases, the district or state might have already decided on certain priorities that need to be applied. In other cases, the committee will need to do this work. Some general guidance is to have core academic instruction earlier in the day, especially for younger students, and to have enough transition time between activities so that switching tasks is not impossible. The time allocated for Tier 1 universal core instruction provided for all students must be determined first because it is the foundation of an effective MTSS.
An MTSS recognizes that some students will need additional instruction beyond the Tier 1 core instruction. Tier 2 intervention includes additional lessons provided regularly to help students meet learning standards. In order for Tier 2 intervention to happen, there must be time for it built into each school day. The intervention time can be called “skills block,” “intervention time,” or “extended learning.” The Tier 2 time can be used in different ways and does not have to be exclusively for remedial instruction. For those students who have met or exceeded learning goals, this time can be used for enrichment and acceleration. In this way, creating daily time blocks for individualized extra instruction is beneficial for all students. Tier 3 intervention is much more intensive and typically includes either adding more time to Tiers 1 and 2, or replacing the core instruction and intervention with a different, more intensive, core program. Since there are not any more minutes in each day to provide replacement core instruction, it should be scheduled at the same time as Tiers 1 and 2. The specific details for schedules that support MTSS at the elementary and secondary levels are somewhat different.
In elementary schools, students are with the same teacher for most of the day. Nonetheless, having a school-wide master schedule that includes students of the same grade participating in core instruction at the same time can support an MTSS. Grade-wide content instruction blocks provide the opportunity to group students by skill level for certain instruction. For example, if a school has five second grade classrooms, the teachers could group the students for reading instruction according to five different reading skill levels. Then, the teachers and students would go to their assigned rooms during reading instruction.
In addition, some elementary students benefit from Tier 2 “skills” blocks by having daily extra time to learn and practice lesson material a second time each day. As noted, advanced students can complete other activities during “skills” block. Elementary grade Tier 3 intensive intervention can be provided through an additional 30 minutes beyond Tiers 1 and 2, but this can be difficult to schedule. Instead, if a replacement core program is used at Tier 3, it can be provided during the combined Tier 1 and 2 time blocks. The 2004 version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows schools to use up to 15% of IDEA money on instruction for students without disabilities who need intensive support. Special educators can teach Tier 3 students alongside students with individualized education programs (IEPs).
Setting up schedules that support an MTSS at the secondary level requires the same attention to the master schedule, but also some other considerations. Middle and high schools usually have schedules set up in fixed time blocks when students attend specific courses. The required courses that students take during the day are the core curricula for secondary students. In order to provide Tier 2 additional instruction for secondary students, the daily schedule must have that time included. The best model for including Tier 2 intervention time is to build in daily “lab” courses that students take either as electives or as required by teachers and parents. Such labs are best taught by veteran content-area teachers who have strong knowledge of the material. In the lab, these teachers pre-teach or re-teach knowledge and skills covered in the students’ current classes. Such instruction is highly individualized.
Similarly, Tier 3 secondary intervention is highly individualized. One of the challenges of providing intensive Tier 3 courses at the secondary level is how to do so in a way that will count for credits at the high school level. In addition, secondary students who need Tier 3 intervention are generally very far behind in academic skills and require longer classes. For this reason, secondary Tier 3 classes should be at least 90 minutes each. If such classes are designed to cover both remedial skills and credit-bearing standards content, they must be much longer (e.g., at least 120-150 minutes). In schools where the master schedule includes shorter time blocks for classes (e.g., 45-50 minutes), the best practice is to schedule back-to-back double or triple blocks so that enough time is allocated for the instruction. Some secondary students might take very few or no electives in order to catch up and meet standards in core academic areas. Intensive scheduling must be balanced with each student’s interests and needs for preferred courses.
In order for an MTSS to be effective, there must be enough time set aside in the daily school schedule for lessons at different tiers of support. The best way to establish effective schedules that support MTSS is to start by having a representative master schedule committee that is dedicated to allocating time in relation to identified priorities. Once Tier 1 core classes are scheduled, then additional daily Tier 2 intervention time slots are added. Such time slots can be used for a variety of individual student learning needs that include both catch up and enrichment. Tier 3 instruction is much more intensive and can include either additional instruction beyond Tiers 1 and 2, or replacement core program instruction. It is often difficult to find another 30 minutes in the daily schedule for Tier 3 intervention, thus, many schools opt to use only replacement core instruction at Tier 3. When replacement core instruction is provided at the elementary level, it is done during the same time blocks as the Tier 1 and 2 instruction. At the secondary level, Tier 3 instruction requires scheduling double or triple blocks to be sure enough time is allotted.
It is worth noting that the sooner that a student who is behind gets help and catches up to peers, the less time is required for such intervention. Therefore, making time in school schedules for interventions with the lowest grades in that building (e.g., K-1, 6, 9) is another strategy that school teams can consider. Providing tiered supports as early and often as possible, is the best way to use the precious time in each school day. When early intervention is provided, less time and personnel are needed and the challenges of finding intervention time in the daily schedule are reduced.
Dr. Rachel Brown is Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Southern Maine and also serves as FastBridge Learning’s Senior Academic Officer. Her research focuses on effective academic assessment and intervention, including multi-tier systems of support. She has authored several books on Response to Intervention and MTSS. Her research focuses on effective academic assessment and intervention, including multi-tier systems of support.