Not many schools have created the range of varied opportunities for their students as we have.”VSCSD Middle School Principal, Shelly Petersen
The Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School welcomes other schools who want to study how every day, in 5 to 10 minutes, 362 students choose or are assigned to the next day’s 30-minute RTI (response to intervention) session. They watch as students move to the area where their RTI time will be for the day. They learn how the Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School program helps students who are having problems with an area of study, and also how it has been expanded to provide enhanced opportunities for students who don’t need additional assistance.
“I find it easier for people to understand if they come and visit our school to see how the process works,” says Principal Shelly Petersen. “The audiences struggle to understand how we can offer the variety of learning opportunities we do and move an entire school of students every day without seeing our process in action. Not many schools have created the range of varied opportunities for their students as we have.”
Today, the six-year-old RTI program is being used to facilitate standards-based learning. Standards-based learning involves establishing levels of required proficiency in each subject area and providing additional instruction or study time for students to become proficient if they are falling behind.
“Helping students become proficient might require teaching content differently to reach a particular student or allowing a student to demonstrate proficiency and understanding in a different way. For example, instead of using only a written test, we might let the student demonstrate proficiency through a presentation, a report, or other methods,” explains Petersen.
“We utilize three groups of students for RTI: the skill group, the will group, and the choice group. Students in the skill group may not have all the necessary skills to be proficient, and they need help developing those skills. The will group hasn’t finished all the required work, so their 30-minute RTI session is in a study hall with a teacher and a low teacher-to-student ratio to provide the best support for students. The choice group, which is completely caught up with their homework and proficient in all subjects at that time, has the opportunity to choose what they will do during the next day’s 30-minute RTI period.”
Opportunities for physically active choices include activities in the gym, working out with weights, or doing yoga. Because many middle school students still enjoy being read to, some sessions include time with a teacher reading aloud. Students can also go to classrooms where topics of interest are being explored in greater depth. Teachers or associates volunteer for those sessions a week in advance.
Students and teachers have used the building’s Positive Behavior Intervention work to create positive affirmations to display in the hallways and created “joy groups” to spread positive feelings and cheer around the building. “On occasion, we have had kids volunteer to show other students a skill or to share what they know about an interesting topic, so we provide a teacher or associate to supervise,” says Shelly Petersen. “Students have also given teachers ideas for topics, and lessons are often made around those ideas.”
Certain days during the six-day cycle are “priority area” days. On these days the teacher of the priority area has precedence over a teacher in a non-priority area who would also like to help the student with additional instruction. Two priority days are set for language arts, two for math, and one day each is set aside for science and social studies.
The students are expected to note in their planner where they are to be the next day and to take responsibility for being where they are supposed to be. The student’s name and assigned location are announced over the intercom if they aren’t where they should be.
Principal Petersen explains standards-based learning as resembling the approach taken in the real world when training for complex roles. “Doctors-to-be practice until they are proficient and then demonstrate their proficiency under supervision. Pilots work in the simulator over and over to get their skill level where it needs to be, and then demonstrate it in the air. And just like those professionals, with standards-based learning, if our students are not proficient they don’t get to ignore the problem and move on, any more than a doctor who isn’t proficient can practice medicine or a pilot deficient in an essential skill flies aircraft.”
“We think this is a process demanding greater responsibility on the part of the student, and an opportunity for kids to be the best they can be and to learn the most they can learn,” says Petersen.
After six years the RTI program at the middle school is well developed and well-practiced. Students have a voice in what is offered for