Eight second graders sit in a semicircle around teacher Robyn Dill as they make their way through the pages of “How a Seed Grows,” taking time to sound out each syllable of “substance,” “seedling” and other vocabulary words.
Dill, who has taught at Northwestern Elementary School for 24 years of her 29-year teaching career, encourages students to look at the pictures on each page and anticipate what the text says. Students take turns reading aloud while their peers follow along in their own copies of the book, and Dill follows up each page with a series of questions to make sure they understand what they just read.
The rest of the students in her class are split into two groups: one is taking turns reading aloud from “A Slice of Mud Pie” under the supervision of a student teacher, and the third group is working together to complete a worksheet based on what they read about burrowing animals.
Small group reading time is part of the Response to Intervention program Dill helped implement at Northwestern three years ago. RTI focuses on identifying each student’s ability level and then using different intervention strategies to address areas of weakness.
“It looks different for every grade level and for every child,” said Dill, who has a background in special education and working with at-risk students in Title I programs. “First is basically us determining two or three skills you need to work on to raise that reading score. We try not to pull them out of class as much as provide different learning opportunities.”
Students don’t necessarily know to which ability group they belong. They can spend 10 to 30 minutes a day in intervention groups, and the interventions generally run six to eight weeks depending on the students’ needs.
A core group of five teachers representing different grade levels and assistant principal Jim Gish meet at least once a week to review students’ progress and discuss different intervention strategies. RTI is data driven, so teachers administer a reading test at the beginning of the school year and follow up with periodic testing throughout the year to measure progress.