ELON, N.C.

Summary: Vanderbilt professors Doug and Lynn Fuchs developed a method to address the different learning levels of students. In this method, called the Responsiveness to Intervention, students are broken into levels based on their ability to learn. The three levels are the primary tier, secondary tier, and tertiary tier.

Responsiveness to Interventionis a specialized teaching program that Vanderbilt University professors Lynn and Doug Fuchs are researching in an effort to reform the approach teachers take to educating elementary school students.

Through this method of teaching, children who perform poorer in general education classes are no longer separated out into special education programs. Instead, students are placed into tiers and meet in smaller groups to receive more individual attention.

“The goal of RTI,” Doug Fuchs said, “is to reduce dropout, unemployment, incarceration, poor heath. It’s to kind of prevent all of that and to try to ensure to the extent possible that children grow up into healthy, happy, productive citizens.”

Students are tested at the start of the school year to determine whether they should learn at the primary, secondary or tertiary prevention level, which gives students the most attention.

In the primary prevention level, students are screened to verify their learning ability. If they appear “normal,” they can remain in the general education track. If they appear to be at risk, they are monitored for six to eight weeks to see if they are responsive to the tailored teaching.

If children are unresponsive, they move on to the secondary prevention level, in which students meet more frequently with teachers and in smaller groups.

But if monitoring continues to show that the student is nonresponsive to instruction, they are moved to the tertiary level. At this level, a cycle of testing and teaching is conducted in order to find the right teaching method to help bring the student back to the general education setting.

**The Strategy**

Math problem solving, Lynn Fuchs said, is a good area to begin work because many teachers don’t have a strong strategy for teaching students to solve math word problems. In order to fill that gap, the Fuchses came up with a program called Pirate Math, a secondary tutoring program in which students are equipped with strategies and tips for solving math word problems.

In the weekly 20-30 minute sessions, students are taught how to decipher the language of math word problems and given a detailed step-by-step plan that will allow them to solve the problem easily.

**Name the problem type.**Students determine whether the question is asking to find a total, difference or change.**Write the meta-equation.**This is a standard equation that puts the problem in understandable terms. For example, if it is a difference problem, students will use the equation*Bigger – smaller = Difference.***Label the information.**Students go through the problem naming terms and, most importantly, pronouns that stand for variables and often confuse students.**Identify missing info.**Students identify the term or numeric value they are trying to solve for.**Enter givens.**Numerical values are plugged into the equation.**Find**Students are taught to solve for*x*.*x*algebraically.**Label answer.**A unit of measure is always added to the answer to give it context.

In addition to the step-by-step method, teachers use flash cards, role playing, sorting practice and reviews to improve math skills.

By using RTI to help students strengthen their skills in math, the Fuchses hope that in the future, the special education program as it is known today will no longer be needed.

“It (RTI) is a form of education reform that a lot of practitioners, and advocates, policy people, parents are hoping will positively change the education system in this country to help millions and millions of children.”

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