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Developing Contingency Plans for Intervention

By: Dawn Miller, Ph.D.Published: October 15, 2012
Topics: Implementation Planning and Evaluation, Scheduling, Tiered Instruction


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We all know the sayings “Things happen….” “The best laid plans…” In schools this can be used to describe the flexibility we have to demonstrate because of events that occur that affect the day-to-day functioning of our master schedule. During infrastructure development for RtI, master schedules are carefully crafted, models of interventions created, and proper intervention training provided as part of a tiered system. During implementation, plans are carried out and data reviewed at frequent intervals. Over the last couple of years, buildings I work with have been analyzing their data and have been forthcoming in acknowledging that intervention schedules have been changed for a variety of reasons. While this may always be the case to some degree, some have felt the changes are a primary reason that the data have been less than desirable. This has led us to create contingency plans within the building. In this blog, I want to share some of the acknowledged issues and how buildings have created contingency plans as a response.

In every school, absences due to illness and family matters can make juggling intervention groups a frequent issue. While recurring absences from the same person can become an administrative issue, the interim issue is one that needs to be addressed because it impacts the continuity of instruction for students. Because classroom teachers are so accustomed to making adjustments for various reasons, students missing intervention groups may not stand out as a problem. Missing instruction for our students most in need of assistance, however, can have cumulative repercussions. If a student receiving a more intense intervention missed one day every two weeks, the net effect is missing 1,080 minutes of instruction—or 18 hours during a school year. I want to share three observed issues that buildings have had to problem-solve around when they notice that intervention plans have been impacted by absences.

The first scenario that a building has taken on is when groups are merely combined when a teacher has been absent. Basically, two intervention groups are put together and provided the same lesson. Because intervention groups are created to make for homogenous placement, merely combining intervention groups and carrying out the same intervention is not desirable, unless the groups were in the same intervention. In this scenario, the contingency plan could look like this:

  1. List groups and intervention.

  2. For each group, list a “best alternative” if the teacher is absent.

    1. If a building has two groups in the same intervention and only separated due to group size, then combining these groups would make the most sense.

    2. If the groups are different, create a pool of “go-to activities” that one of the teachers could actively guide and oversee. For example, the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR.org) has an outstanding compilation of center activities that could be cross-referenced with an intervention program. A scope and sequence chart of the intervention could quickly be referenced to determine skills that have been learned, but could be reinforced with a FCRR activity. This would allow the combined students to still be working on relevant and needed skill building, as opposed to reading games that may be relevant, but serve more as a filler than serving to strengthen recent learning.

The second scenario is when buildings have established folders for each student in an intervention group that contain work that would be done at their desk in the classroom if the interventionist is absent. In our district, all students have 120 minutes of core reading time, which includes 30 minutes of what we call reading workshop. This is differentiated reading intervention time. For students who are not in need of a structured intervention, they are working on skills that reinforce or extend from the core reading time. This means that a teacher or instructional aide would be overseeing these groups. In one building, they were concerned that the students who were in the most need of intervention were often using their folder work when the teachers were out for district meetings, absent for personal reasons, or assisting with assessment duties. They developed a contingency plan that involved flipping the folder concept. In this scenario, the contingency plan looked like this:

  1. Create a list of all groups with the intervention and interventionist.

  2. Create a contingency plan that would allow another teacher to conduct a lesson with the intervention group. This involves making sure one teacher per grade level is trained and comfortable with the interventions.

  3. Create an activity – or folder work for the students who are on track to engage in that could be done in the teacher’s absence (this does not mean the work is unsupervised, but it does mean that it is not teacher directed). This plan made sense to the building because students who were on track were better equipped to engage in productive work with less guidance and immediate feedback than the group who was not strong with their reading skills.

The third scenario came from a special educator who was concerned about the degree to which her students had continuity with their designated special education minutes. The teacher had some students whose behavior warranted her attention at unpredictable times and interrupted groups. At the same time, occasional absences from paraprofessionals created scheduling issues. Her response was to create color-coded calendars that allowed her to efficiently indicate a schedule change to teachers via email or intercom. The two different schedules (blue and yellow) denoted a contingency plan that would go in effect for the day, or for a particular amount of time.

Ensuring that students most vulnerable for having insufficient literacy skills require our system to design itself to be as proactive as possible. As you mature your tiered system, be mindful and forthcoming about the degree to which changes in intervention groups may be impacting the outcomes you are achieving with your students and develop a contingency plan. If you are early in your RtI journey, be proactive with a contingency plan from the start! If you have other ideas for creating contingency plans, or lessons learned, please share as a response to this blog.
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