Interventions, Strategies and Accommodations

In a prior post we shared a process for establishing a pyramid of interventions. This process allows schools to determine, define and organize the various strategies, accommodations and interventions currently taking place in the school to honour and account for the expertise that exists in the building. A pyramid of intervention is not a static creation. It is intended to be reviewed and revised on a regular basis to ensure new ideas and practice is reflected in the pyramid.

As schools begin to refine and revise their pyramids of intervention, there is a need to identify and differentiate between interventions, strategies and accommodations.

Interventions are meant to effectively bridge a gap for students, provided in addition to regular classroom instruction. Three things identify an intervention and differentiate interventions from strategies and accommodations:

  • Provide targeted assistance based on assessment – unless the intervention is targeted and put in place based on assessment data, it is unlikely to effectively address the student concern for which it is intended.
  • Delivered by a highly qualified class teacher or another specialist – as interventions are established at tiers two, three and four, their increasing intensity requires higher levels of training and expertise. For an intervention to be truly impactful, it must be delivered by an individual trained to provide that intervention with maximum fidelity.
  • Provides additional instruction for an individual or small group ­– the higher we go on the tiers of the pyramid, the smaller the intervention groups should become. Maximum gain for the majority of interventions will happen for groups of students with a size of eight or less.

Access a template for evaluating if proposed interventions meet the three criteria for an intervention – Examining Intervention Strategies – Template

Whereas interventions will be purposefully articulated at tiers two, three and four, strategies should be used primarily at tier two – the classroom level. Strategies do not need to meet the criteria established for interventions, but should focus as “what could work” for students. An organization of differentiated strategies, collected from teachers and shared in the pyramid of interventions, can become a valuable resource during a collaborative team meeting, when investigating all that could be done at the lower tiers of support. A myriad of effective, proven strategies to support students at the tier two level ensures the greatest point of impact for students is found in the classroom and in the hands of the classroom teacher.

In its most simplistic definition, we put accommodations in place to help students cope with any gaps that may exist limiting their success. For a student who has difficulty reading text, a text to speech accommodation may be beneficial. For a child who struggles with attention, fidgets may be effective to reduce distractions. Accommodations address gaps, but may do little to close those gaps. Although they are a valuable part of the overall picture of support for students, they must be balanced with interventions and strategies that strive to reduce achievement gaps. Like strategies, we believe accommodations must be organized and articulated primarily at the tier two classroom level.

A template has been developed to help organize and record strategies, accommodations and interventions in place for students – Student Intervention Record – Template

Members of our CRM Network can access a word document version of the template to edit to fit their school’s pyramid of intervention.  Click on the CRM Network link to learn more.

Further discussion related to interventions, strategies and accommodations can be found in chapter five of our book Envisioning a Collaborative Response Model.  Click on the book link to find out how to order.

We wish you all the best as you strive to support the needs of your students!



Pre-Order Envisioning a Collaborative Response Model!

CRM Book CoverWe are excited to announce the upcoming release of our book Envisioning a Collaborative Response Model: Beliefs, Structures and Processes to Transform How We Respond to the Needs of Students!  This book will detail the essential components of a Collaborative Response Model, with resources, starting steps, advice for leaders and examples from schools across Alberta.

Pre-ordering is now available, with a revised shipping date of October 6, 2015.  The price of the book is $20 + shipping and GST.  With every four books ordered, the fifth one is free – a great way to share this resource with school and district teams! Click here to access the pre-order form.

Until October 15, we are also offering free shipping to anyone who joins our email update list.  When you join the mailing list, you will receive a free shipping code to enter in the online book order form.

Our sincere thanks to all the educators in schools and districts across Alberta and beyond that have provided samples and great learning that have made the writing of this book possible!

Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium Event – September 18, 2015

ERLCAs the new school year approaches, we are excited to share that we have partnered with the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium to offer the workshop Investigating a Collaborative Response Model: RTI, PLC and Inclusion on September 18, 2015.

This full-day workshop will be a great opportunity to learn more about establishing collaborative structures and processes in schools and districts that value collaborative teams, data-informed conversations and responsive interventions for all students.  For schools with Collaborative Response Models already established, this will be a great workshop for new staff to learn more about the basic principles inherent in the model.  There will also be time for teams to work on strategically planning their next steps for their school or district.

To register or for more information, visit the ERLC Session Information.

We hope to see you there!

Criteria and Considerations for Benchmark Assessments

Benchmark assessments, also referred to as universal screens, essentially serve two primary functions.  The first is to flag students for discussion in Collaborative Team Meetings.  The second is to provide some information to inform those discussions.  In this post, we share three resources to support schools in determining their benchmark assessments.

The first resource is a one-page overview of criteria and considerations to assist in the selection of a benchmark assessment.

Criteria and considerations with determining a benchmark assessment from Jigsaw Learning
The second resource is a template designed to note and examine assessments being considered for the purpose of benchmarking.
Examining common assessments template from Jigsaw Learning
The third resource is a Google Doc, which shares benchmark assessments currently being used in schools and districts.  A great big thanks to schools and districts that have contributed to the document.  Please continue to add to this growing collection of benchmark assessments being utilized in schools and districts.

Process for Establishing Team Norms

As discussed in a previous posting, team norms are an essential element to consider when implementing Collaborative Team Meetings.  In this post, we share a video we have developed to assist schools in collectively establishing their team norms, as well as a one-page resource to support the work of school leaders.

School-wide Assessment Planning Template

When planning school-wide assessment practices to support a school’s Collaborative Response Model, it is important to keep asking the question “Is the assessment matching the purpose for which its implementation is intended?”.  We need to be ever mindful that the standardized assessments used do not replace professional judgment but rather serve to inform that judgment and flag students to be discussed in collaborative team meetings.  Three levels of assessment in school serve to inform teacher professional judgment and flag students in need of our attention:

  1. Benchmarks
  2. Diagnostic
  3. Progress Monitoring

This template was developed for a district workshop, to help categorize and assist further planning in establishing school assessments to inform conversations about students.  Please email us if you wish to receive a copy in Word format, or request to join our Google + Community, where templates and documents are shared in Word versions.

Assessment planning template from Jigsaw Learning

Establishing a Pyramid of Interventions: Determine, Define and Organize

When first establishing a school’s pyramid of interventions, it is important to first determine what supports and interventions are already in place, focusing on what the school already has, rather than what it does not. Schools already have a number of interventions happening that have not traditionally been viewed through the lens of a pyramid approach. As Buffum, Mattos and Weber (2009) remind us, “Historically, special education has utilized programs that have a strong research base, even when students may lack a diagnosed need in the area that the program targets. These programs should be adapted and reformulated for targeted intervention.” (p. 56, italics in original). In workshops and presentations, we have argued that this doesn’t need to be a convoluted or complicated process. By following the very simple workshop design detailed below, schools can begin to envision their own pyramid of interventions, specific to a focus area.

1. Determine the focus – the focus for the pyramid can be established in a number of ways. It may be guided by an analysis of data, to determine the area in most urgent need of attention. For instance, we have worked with schools where their data indicated a need to focus on the literacy achievement of students. We have also worked with other schools where school-wide data pointed towards supports and interventions related to student behavior.

The focus of the pyramid could also be determined by a school’s current area of strength, in order to gain confidence in constructing a pyramid. Knowing that a number of supports and interventions are already in place can assist in developing a comprehensive pyramid of interventions and provide a quick win for a school before later tackling more pressing areas of concern.

The school may also determine that a particular area of focus is appropriate for one set of grades while another is best suited for a different set of grades. We have experience in a school where the K-3 staff focused their efforts on devising a system of supports and interventions related to literacy, while the grades 4-6 staff placed their attention on broader academic skills.

Typically this focus area is determined before the workshop, either by administration, a leadership team or in alignment with a school’s improvement goals.

2. Ask “What are we already doing?”

In small groups, staff are asked the question “What do you do in your classroom or do we do in our school when a student struggles in our area of focus?” In their groups, they brainstorm and list all that currently happens as a response when a student struggles in literacy, numeracy, engagement, or whatever the focus area is for the question. The lists that are created are posted for all to see. Time is then provided for staff to ask clarifying questions of anything that is posted. At this point, a school could decide to leave the lists posted for a measure of time, to allow for further addition to the lists or for conversations to percolate prior to proceeding to step three. We have seen schools that have left the lists posted in their staff room for a number of days before returning to them for step three.

3. Organizing into Tiers

Step three places focus on organizing interventions, strategies and supports into defined tiers. Staff are divided into four groups. These groups can most easily be defined as:

  • Best practices for all students in the classroom
  • Differentiated strategies or interventions provided by the classroom teacher
  • Programs or interventions provided by someone other than the classroom teacher
  • Intensive interventions for highest need students

In these groups, staff survey the lists created earlier to determine strategies, practices, supports and interventions that best fit their group’s area of focus. These are written individually on large post-it notes or slips and paper and then grouped together on a wall, to visually organize current practices. For any duplications, discussion follows to determine the best fit (or to further clarify if being interpreted differently).  The following posters have been developed to display, if already envisioning a four tier pyramid of interventions.

Tier 2-4 posters from Jigsaw Learning

The collections of strategies, practices, supports and interventions become the foundation of a school’s pyramid, to be refined, added to and further clarified over time. For schools establishing a three tier pyramid of interventions, the first two categories described above become grouped together as agreed-upon best practices, as well as differentiated strategies and interventions employed at the foundational tier of the pyramid.

This exercise will also help to point to next steps. Perhaps the classroom-based best practices are collectively weak and need to be addressed. Perhaps the school overall is deficient in supports beyond the classroom teacher. This early molding of a pyramid of interventions also can point to coaching opportunities, capitalizing on the instructional strengths of staff in the building. If “internal expertise is of more value than what we import” (Schmoker, 2006, p. 118), this can point to areas of internal expertise that can be utilized to improve instructional response across a school.


Buffum, A., Mattos, M., & Weber, C. (2009). Pyramid response to intervention: RTI, professional learning communities, and how to respond when kids don’t learn. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Schmoker, M. (2006). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented improvements in teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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