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Differentiation/Tier One Intervention

Welcome to the first post in what will be a 10-post series regarding the varying levels of supports available in public schools to individualize learning for all children and youth. Our goal with this series is to explain the (very) complicated systems and processes in place in a way that is easily understandable to parents.

Whether your child has special needs, is precisely average, or falls in the gifted range cognitively or academically, the first place they will arrive at school is in the regular education classroom with a regular education teacher.

All regular education teachers have a duty to "differentiate" their instruction, meaning they need to tailor all of their teaching to be adaptable to students with different needs, educational and cultural backgrounds, languages, attention spans, and interests. No problem, right?

Imagine being at a doctor's office with 30 patients in the waiting room, all with different medical conditions. Then imagine that the doctor has to treat all 30 of you at the same time, while addressing each person's individual needs. Additionally, the doctor is expected to maintain immaculate notes and data on every single patient, while simultaneously treating all of them. If he misses a diagnosis or provides the wrong treatment, there will be lawsuits. The doctor is also expected to be available to the family members of all of the patients outside of their treatment time to respond to questions and concerns.

Do you catch my drift? Being a teacher these days, especially in public schools, is rough. The expectations are very high, the pay is not great, the stress and burnout is real. Teachers almost always do their best to differentiate and address concerns for individual students appropriately, but sometimes they are in a near impossible position to do so. Please keep that in mind during the first contacts you make with concerns for your student.

The initial phase when you express concerns for your student is usually to provide intervention in the regular education classroom. For example, if a student is having difficulty with reading fluency, the teacher may have them "double-dip" and practice their repeated reading in two small groups rather than one small group like their peers. Or, if your child is struggling to control their behavior, the initial intervention may be a class-wide behavior incentive.

The key takeaway to part one of the problem solving process is that intervention usually should begin in the least restrictive environment - the general education classroom - and should usually be managed by the regular education teacher. This phase of the process should not require any additional meetings outside of consultation with your child's teacher(s).

Next week, Part Two: Building-Level Intervention Plans and Informal Accommodations

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