How Can Teachers Help Students Strengthen Basic Academic Skills?

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Teachers have the potential to strengthen their effectiveness as interventionists

Teachers have always attempted to provide struggling students in their classrooms with additional, individualized support; that is the paradigm of good teaching. Recent research suggests that teachers have the potential to strengthen their effectiveness as interventionists for individual students even as they continue to deliver high-quality core instruction to the entire classroom.

When a teacher observes that a student lacks academic skills needed to attain the Common Core Standards, that teacher must take on the role of intervention ‘first responder’. This role implies that the teacher has the tools and know-how to assemble an academic intervention plan for a student designed to repair areas of skill deficit or under-performance.

When implementing academic interventions in the classroom, teachers should be aware of certain important concepts. Here are seven ‘Big Ideas’ about academic interventions that teachers must know.

1. Define Academic Problems

Before, a teacher can select interventions to address a student academic problem, the teacher must be able to describe just what the student problem is in clear and specific terms. In fact, the most important step in the entire process of developing an intervention is to be able to describe correctly and specifically the problem that must be fixed.

2. Link Academic Problems

Once an academic problem has been defined, the teacher will want to develop a hypothesis (educated guess) about what issue is causing that problem.

For example, a student may do poorly on a reading comprehension task because of any of the following reasons:

  • She lacks the necessary comprehension skills.
  • She is accurate, but not yet fluent in those skills.
  • She had once learned those skills, but failed to retain them.
  • She can perform the skills, but has limited endurance.
  • She possesses the skills but does not recognize situations when, she should use them.

Each of these hypotheses for the student’s poor reading comprehension performance suggests different intervention ideas. It is important to decide the cause of the problem before choosing the appropriate intervention strategy for the student.

3. Research-Based Strategies

When possible, the teacher should include only those ideas supported by research in an intervention plan. At present, there is no consensus on how to define ‘research-based’ interventions. However, a sensible rule to follow is that an intervention idea should be shown as effective in at least one study published in a reputable peer-reviewed research journal before it is used in school intervention plans.

4. Achieve Academic Success

Intervention plans should help students to access instruction – but not ‘dumb down’ instruction. When putting together classroom intervention plans, teachers can choose from among a wide array of strategies to help a student achieve academic success. But teachers should take care not to cross the line and modify core instruction for struggling general-education students; that is, they should not hold under-performing students to a lesser academic standard than their classmates.

5. Document Interventions

When a teacher commits to develop an academic intervention to support a student, she/ he should always create a written plan to document the intervention prior to implementation.

A teacher who is managing a whole classroom while trying to informally address even one or two individual student interventions in their heads, must consider far more than seven information-bits and is likely to overlook important details about instruction or intervention simply because of cognitive overload. When that same teacher is able to rely, as needed, on written intervention plans as a memory aid she or he can manage the complexity with relative ease.

Another reason that teachers should put intervention plans in writing is so that they can produce those plans when needed as proof that they are providing at-risk students with ongoing assistance.

6. Integrity

Interventions should always be carried out with integrity. If a student does not improve when given a classroom intervention, there are two possible explanations for this failure to respond:

  • The intervention plan was well-selected, well-constructed and carefully implemented, but the student simply failed to make progress, or
  • Some aspect of the plan was not carried out as designed, thus compromising the integrity of the intervention.

Interventions can unravel for many reasons: e.g., change of school schedule, teacher or student illness, weather-related school cancellations, a misunderstanding on the part of the teacher about how to implement an intervention strategy, etc.

The teacher should monitor the integrity of any classroom intervention closely, ensuring that the actual intervention conforms as closely as possible to the guidelines contained in the written intervention plan and taking steps, when needed, to bring the intervention back into alignment with best practices.

7. Progress-Monitoring

Goal-setting and progress-monitoring should be a part of all academic interventions. At their core, academic interventions are intended to improve student performance. However, teachers cannot know with certainty whether a student is actually benefiting from an intervention unless they set specific outcome goals up front and then collect data periodically throughout the intervention to verify if these goals are met.


Like this article for teachers?

Browse the Professional Learning Board COURSE CATALOG to find related online courses for teachers in your state. Professional Learning Board is a leading provider of online professional development classes that teachers use to renew a teaching license or renew a teaching certificate.

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