English language learners (ELLs) are students for whom English is not the native language, and who, therefore, have to learn it as the second language at school in order to be able to receive further instruction (Haager, Klingner, & Vaughn, 2007). Clearly, these students may face additional difficulties in learning English. In addition, it is difficult to distinguish between pupils who struggle due to learning disability and those who have problems because of the additional load (Brown & Doolittle, 2008). This paper provides an overview of Response to Intervention (RTI), also known as Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), which is a framework designed to detect struggling learners and help them catch up with their curriculum.
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A brief explanation of RTI
The RTI is a multi-level system of educational assistance that is aimed at detecting students who struggle in the general education classroom, and providing them with additional, more intensive instruction; if the latter fails, the students are transferred to the special education classroom (Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2006). To be properly implemented, RTI requires the presence of four basic components: high-quality instruction, continuous monitoring of the student’s educational performance, multi-leveled, science-based instruction, and the involvement of parents in the educational process (Haager et al., 2007).
The RTI is usually described as a three-tiered system for providing educational support for children. At the first tier of the approach, which typically lasts no longer two months, the students are supplied with high-quality instruction; this is paramount to make sure that the students who lag do not do so due to poor instruction (Genesee et al., 2006). The lagging learners are identified and supplied with additional teaching and screened further. Those who still struggle are moved to the second tier, which means that they are supplied with targeted intensive teaching in groups over a period of time (Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007). The learners who fail to demonstrate adequate advancement in learning are moved to the third tier, where they are provided with intensive individual instruction. If the students still do not show progress, the provision of special education for them is considered (Haager et al., 2007).
Recommendations for Teaching English Language Learners with Reading Difficulties
It is known that ELLs often tend to perform worse than their counterparts for whom English is the native language (August & Shanahan, 2009; Francis, Rivera, Lesaux, Kieffer, & Rivera, 2006). In particular, the ELLs are known to be at increased risk of difficulties with reading and oral language skills (Vaughn, n.d.). There is a dearth of information pertaining to the provision of RTI for these learners; in particular, it is not known how to address the problems of pupils who do not respond appropriately to the RTI approach (Vaughn, n.d.). However, on the whole, the implementation of RTI has been shown to permit for effectively addressing the problems of ELLs who struggled with obtaining appropriate language skills (Linan-Thompson, Vaughn, Prater, & Cirino, 2006; Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007; Wanzek & Vaughn, 2008). Thus, it is possible to recommend the utilization of RTI for ELLs with reading difficulties; this framework appears to be efficacious in both identifying the struggling learners and designing the instruction methods permitting them to cover the gap separating them from their peers.
Skills that Educators Must Have to Effectively Implement RTI for ELLs
Due to the fact that the implementation of the RTI approach relies on high-quality instruction based on the achievements of science and on the evidence pertaining to effective teaching (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004), it is clear that educators providing RTI are required to have a good knowledge of materials and instructional methods, as well as to possess a number of skills necessary for the provision of educational services at an appropriate level and for the adequate evaluation of the learners’ progress. In addition, due to the fact that ELLs may have difficulty understanding the instruction provided in English, it is often desirable for educators to have the knowledge of the language that is native for the ELLs whom they are teaching (Vaughn, n.d.).
On the whole, the educators should possess the knowledge pertaining to the development of oral language skills; know the native languages of their learners; be aware of the cultural peculiarities of these learners’ communities; and understand and be able to use the methods for assessing the linguistic skills of students, and so on. (Vaughn, n.d.). In addition, at each of the tiers of the RTI, the educators should have particular skills needed to execute the specific educational procedures of that tier (Brown & Doolittle, 2008).
At the first tier, the instructors should be able to supply the instruction that is culturally, developmentally, and linguistically appropriate, identify the educational aspects that could help particular students, assess the linguistic skills of learners; at the second tier, they need to be able to monitor the progress of learners and change the instructional tactics in an appropriate manner, as well as to make sure that proper education is supplied for them; at the third tier, they ought to be able to create an adequate individualized education plan and to implement it appropriately, simultaneously monitoring the progress of the learner (Brown & Doolittle, 2008). It is also paramount that the teachers are supplied with the opportunity to constantly develop their knowledge and skills by being provided with professional support and training (Haager et al., 2007).
Effective Universal Screening for ELLs
The skills of students in both their mother tongue and the English language should be continuously assessed while these students are provided with instruction in the general education classroom (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007; Vaughn, n.d.). The focus should be made on assessing the particular language skills that can be addressed by intensive instruction on the second and third tiers of RTI. In particular, phonological awareness, the ability to recognize letters, and read separate words and whole texts may be assessed in order to distinguish the students who are struggling from those who do well (Gersten et al., 2007).
In addition, it is known that educators often experience problems distinguishing between students who are unable to comply with the curriculum due to the difficulties of learning a second language and those who suffer from a learning disability (Rinaldi & Samson, 2008; Griffiths, Parson, Burns, VanDerHayden, & Tilly, 2007). Therefore, the skills of students in both their mother tongue and English should be assessed; those learners who have good skills in their native language but poor skills in English should achieve interventions different from those provided for learners who demonstrate a dearth of competency in both languages (Brown & Doolittle, 2008; Vaughn, n.d.).
Progress Monitoring for ELLs
The progress of ELLs needs to be regularly monitored; the knowledge and skills of ELLs need to be checked not less frequently than those of the rest of the students who receive instruction in the general education classroom; in particular, it is recommended that such assessments are made at least thrice per annum for those learners who do as well as or better than the rest of their grade, and 3-6 times per year for those pupils who were identified as potentially having problems with the language skills (Vaughn, n.d.). It is also paramount to take into account the individual aspects of the students and their culturally caused peculiarities such as accents; while the learners should not be penalized for pronunciation influenced by their native language, they should be corrected, at least in the cases where such dialectical features may affect the meaning of the words (Vaughn, n.d.). While providing intensive instruction as required by the RTI, the progress of students should be regularly assessed over the period during which the RTI is implemented (Griffiths et al., 2007).
It is important to note that different methods for assessing the students’ responses (e.g., benchmark criteria, dual discrepancy, and slope discrepancy) were shown not to overlap, and to provide different results; thus, the method for assessing response/non-response should be chosen carefully, and the needs of the concrete learners need to be taken into account in the process (Richards-Tutor et al., 2012).
Implementing Tier 1 Instruction for ELLs
At this stage of RTI, it is important to provide instruction in the mother tongue of the pupils (Brown & Doolittle, 2008). The educators should consider using similar educational programs for both English and the native language of the learners in case this is possible, in order to be able to better compare the outcomes. The teachers also ought not to wait for students to develop good oral skills in the English language before beginning to teach them reading in English; in addition, assistance and support in writing should be supplied for the learners. Also, the instruction in academic language should be implemented for the learners (Vaughn, n.d.).
It should also be stressed that the progress of ELLs should be assessed continuously, and compared not only to those students for whom English is native but also to other ELLs, in order to better distinguish between students who struggle due to the need to learn a second language and those who experience difficulties because of learning problems (Brown & Doolittle, 2008).
Implementing Tier 2 Instruction for ELLs
Intensive interventions should be supplied for the struggling students immediately after a learner showed suboptimal performance in reading and/or other language skills (Vaughn, n.d.). Also, the instructor ought to consider using a curriculum different from that which was provided for the learner previously during the Tier 1; the new curriculum should include modeling of the language skills, numerous examples, and thorough feedback; it also needs to take into account the individual peculiarities of the pupils. This curriculum should be supplemental to the one supplied in the general education classroom. The results should be continuously monitored (Brown & Doolittle, 2008).
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In addition, small groups should be utilized in order to provide each of the learners with the necessary attention; it has been shown that instruction in smaller groups at Tier 2 yields considerably better results (Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007).
Implementing Tier 3 Instruction for ELLs
Those ELLs who lag behind their classmates considerably in spite of the additional efforts provided for them during Tier 1 and 2 instruction need to be supplied with rather intensive and extensive interventions aimed at helping them to catch up with the rest of their grade (Vaughn, n.d.). While implementing instruction of Tier 3 for the struggling ELLs, the option of utilizing a curriculum different from that which was utilized previously in Tiers 1 and 2 should be considered. Both the learning program and the instructional methods should be aimed at addressing the specific problems and needs of the student; they need to be highly individualized in order to be able to handle the concrete issues that the student is facing. In addition, it is recommended to carry out a standardized evaluation of the academic and cognitive skills of the learners in order to identify their processing profile (Brown & Doolittle, 2008). It should also be stressed that Tier 3 RTI instruction should be given by a well-trained educator who has an extensive background in supplying such interventions for struggling learners.
The Estimated Effectiveness of RTI for ELLs
An array of advantages is associated with the implementation of the RTI methods for a wide range of students, including those who learn English as their second language. A study shows that ELLs receiving RTI performed better than ELLs receiving the standard instructional program for students who had problems with reading (Linan-Thompson et al., 2006). Severely impaired readers also benefited from RTI (Wanzek & Vaughn, 2008). A metaresearch examining 18 studies showed that learners experienced beneficent outcomes after being supplied with intensive RTI instruction (Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007). In addition, it was discovered that students who continued receiving RTI did better than their peers who previously quitted RTI due to showing good learning outcomes (Vaughn et al., 2009).
An effective universal screening carried out regularly as part of RTI during the education of students, even in the earliest grades, allows for early identification of learners who may experience difficulties while achieving language skills. It is of great importance to identify such students early, so that their issues may be addressed as quickly as possible in order to prevent the latter from accumulating up to the point at which the learner’s lag becomes very large and difficult to address (Genesee et al., 2006). In addition, the requirements to provide education for struggling students in small groups at Tier 2 and individually at Tier 3 have been shown to result in considerable benefits for the pupils (Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007). The fact that the instruction is specifically modified and designed so as to meet the particular needs of concrete students also makes the implementation of RTI efficacious for ELLs.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Therefore, RTI is an effective system that can be utilized to help struggling ELLs meet the educational demands of the general education classroom, or identify learners who need to be transferred to the special education classroom (Vaughn, n.d.). It might be recommended to utilize RTI very early, while the children are still in the kindergarten, in order to identify the problems as early as possible and prevent them from accumulating and becoming a long-term hindrance for the students’ educational progress (Genesee et al., 2006).
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