Search form

Dr. Fred Jones's
Tools for Teaching

Tools for Teaching Implements
Response to Intervention (RTI)


After going through the (Tools for Teaching) training, I realized that three quarters of our IEP referrals were normal classroom management issues that, rather than being resolved, had been allowed to grow.
~ Lynne Raab, School Psychologist


The Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, recently initiated Response to Intervention (RTI), a program designed to develop capacity for identifying, adapting and sustaining effective instructional practices in schools. The problem being addressed is an unacceptably high rate of academic failure, especially among minority students. The result is 1) a high dropout rate, and 2) an overburdening of special education as more and more students require IEPs.


As with the Office of Special Educations other major classroom initiative, PBIS, which focuses on the prevention of discipline problems, RTI focuses on the prevention of learning problems. RTI is a multi-level system of prevention designed to:

  • help schools identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes.
  • monitor their progress.
  • provide evidence-based interventions adjusted to students responsiveness.
  • identify students with learning disabilities.

Like PBIS, RTI views prevention as a 3-tiered process:

  • Tier 1: Primary prevention, which focuses on upgrading teaching practices within regular classrooms.
  • Tier 2: Secondary prevention, which focuses on extra help for students who are struggling.
  • Tier 3: Tertiary prevention, which focuses on individualized programs for the 5 percent of students who were unresponsive to Tier 1 and Tier 2.

What might differentiate primary prevention in an RTI classroom from the normal teaching practices other classrooms?

First: The classroom would exhibit instructional practices referred to collectively as quality instruction -- research-based practices shown in the literature to be effective.

Second: An RTI classroom would exhibit a heightened level of screening and progress monitoring that would trigger remediation (secondary prevention) sooner rather than later.

Quality Instruction

As director of special education services in Johnson County, Indiana, I decided early on to put my efforts into training regular education teachers in Fred Jones so the referrals we received were truly students with special needs.
~ Paul Roahrig

During the past seventy years, general education has been slow to put classroom practices on a scientific footing. Rather, effective practice has been described in methods classes through homilies and anecdotes, and innovation has consisted of an endless series of fads that blow through, only to be recycled under a different name fifteen years later.

Read More

Have you seen these Education World articles by Dr. Fred Jones?

* Tools for Teaching Implements PBIS Level 1: Primary Prevention in the Classroom
* Tools for Teaching Implements PBIS Level 2: Secondary Prevention in the Classroom
* Tools for Teaching Implements PBIS Level 3: Tertiary Prevention in the Classroom

Have you seen these Education World articles sbout Dr. Fred Jones?

* The King of Classroom Management! An Education World e-Interview with Classroom Management Expert Fred Jones
* Preferred Activity Time (PAT) Is Preferred by Kids and Teachers!
* Tips from Fred Jones's Tools for Teaching

What is quality instruction as it is currently understood? A detailed description of high-quality instruction can be found in chapter eight of Positive Behavioral Supports for the Classroom, by Scheurermann and Hall (Pearson Education, Inc., 2008). The authors discuss large group instruction, small group instruction, one-to-one instruction, direct teaching (coaching-modeling-behavioral rehearsal), peer tutoring, and so on. They talk about the importance of clarity, opportunity to respond, the importance of explicit instructions and frequent monitoring, and more.

In other words, they describe the common knowledge of general education. If it could produce primary prevention, it would have done so by now.

A Heightened Level of Screening
RTI has been explained as a program that focuses on improving the monitoring of learning outcomes in the classroom so help can be given in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, the previously mentioned limitations of instructional technology in general education are compounded by corresponding limitations in the methodology of monitoring student achievement. Constant monitoring is the pre-condition for early detection of learning difficulties.

Yet, anything approaching constant monitoring is rare in general-education classrooms. According to Dr. Daryl Mellard, a principle investigator for RTI

We shouldnt have students waiting until the end of the semester or the end of the year before realizing that, for however many weeks, he or she hasnt been responsive (i.e. has been falling behind.)
Dr. Mellards remarks reflect his frustration with the fact that students are typically referred to special education only after they have fallen far behind. That delay greatly complicates the process of remediation which, in turn, tends to overload special education resources with requests for IEPs.

Missing Pieces

The difference between knowing what should be done and being able to do it represents the quantum leap in learning.
~ Madeline Hunter
The fundamental problem with quality instruction is that too many of the essential pieces for success are missing. The education literature describing evidence-based procedures is limited in scope. Much of what a teacher needs in order to successfully manage a classroom is simply not addressed.

Those missing pieces form the core of Tools for Teaching. Below are some key elements.

Working the Crowd
When students are near the teacher, they tend to be on their best behavior. Effective teachers make an art of working the crowd -- otherwise known as management by walking around. In addition to suppressing goofing off, working the crowd provides an opportunity for the teacher to monitor students work.

Room Arrangement
To make working the crowd as easy as possible, teachers usually have to rearrange the furniture in their classrooms. The optimal room arrangement gives teachers broad walkways, while allowing them to get from any student to any other student in the fewest steps.

Helpless Handraisers
When teachers begin to work the crowd during independent work, they immediately confront the natural enemy of mobility -- helpless handraisers. Every classroom in the country has at least five or six of them -- the same students day after day.
The teacher must tutor those needy students one at a time. How long does that take? The average is four-and-a-half minutes. As the teacher helps the needy student, he or she 1) loses control of the class in 10 seconds, as students begin to chit-chat, and 2) offers massive social reinforcement for help-seeking, which soon becomes ingrained as a pattern of learned helplessness ( the same students every day).
Helpless handraising soon morphs into a motivational problem as those students discover that the ticket to one-on-one nurturance from the teacher is to do nothing.
Viewed up close, it would seem that a great many of the teachers discipline, instruction, and motivation problems derive from the way in which corrective feedback is given during independent work. That raises the question, How, exactly, do you help a student who is stuck?
During workshops I will ask trainees if, during their methods courses, they received one minute of input concerning how to help a student who is stuck. No hands go up.

Praise, Prompt, and Leave
For starters, corrective feedback must be brief -- a simple prompt that answers the question, What do I do next? That focuses the students attention, while avoiding cognitive overload. Next, the student must perform the prompt immediately. That avoids forgetting. Then the teacher must leave, because helpless handraisers are experts at wallowing to keep you there.
The eternal enemy of brief interactions with help-seekers is teacher verbosity. Only with practice can a teacher reduce the duration of a verbal helping-interaction to its minimum -- about 30 seconds. Reducing a helping-interaction from four-and-a-half minutes to 30 seconds is good, but not good enough. Remember, the teacher loses the class in 10 seconds.

Visual Instructional Plans (VIPs)
To reduce the duration of a helping-interaction to less than 10 seconds, the teacher must exploit the visual modality. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Put simply, the lessons task analysis must be presented in a step-wise visual format, which we call a Visual Instructional Plan (VIP).
The VIP is, literally, a string of visual prompts that prepackage the lesson. The VIP is first incorporated into the teaching of the lesson and then posted where any student can see it during independent work. First of all, that increase in clarity accelerates learning. Second, that clarity reduces performance anxiety, which reduces help-seeking. Third, by prepackaging prompts visually, the duration of helping interactions can be reduced to under 10 seconds. Typically, the teacher simply refers the student to a critical feature in a step of the VIP. That efficiency all but eliminates social reinforcement for learned helplessness, while allowing the teacher to resume working the crowd.

Say, See, Do Teaching
The most direct way of preventing the need for corrective feedback during independent work is to teach the lesson properly in the first place.
There are two basic ways to package the activity of learning. The first is:

Input, Input, Input, Input -- Output

That pattern characterizes most teaching. Most new teachers fall into that pattern unknowingly because it was modeled for them -- although never labeled -- throughout their learning career. With that mode of presentation, the teacher does a lot of talking, and the students do a lot of sitting. The second pattern is:

Input, Output, Input, Output, Input, Output

That pattern builds performance -- the ability to do something correctly. It is characteristic of coaching and skill-building in general, but it can be stretched easily to include the expression of concepts. Like Praise, Prompt, and Leave, that pattern eliminates problems of cognitive overload and forgetting, by focusing on the immediate performance of one chunk of the task analysis.
Once teaching focuses on the coaching of performance, constant monitoring and feedback occur almost as a by-product.

Continuous Assessment
When a good teacher or coach sees a student make an error, he or she instinctively steps in at that moment to re-teach. Otherwise, the error would be repeated until it became a bad habit. With Say, See, Do Teaching, screening and monitoring are here and now, not later. As any coach can tell you, It is always easier to build it right the first time.

Structured Practice
Any good teacher or coach also knows the importance of habit strength. Its not enough for a trainee to do something right once. He or she must do it right until it becomes automatic. In Tools for Teachin, those additional repetitions are referred to as Structured Practice.
Structured Practice is the embodiment of the famous quote from coach Vince Lombardi -- Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Or, as we say during training, If you short-change Structured Practice, all the chickens will come home to roost during Independent Practice.

Real Time Work Check
With adequate Structured Practice, all but a very few students begin independent work at mastery, with the remainder needing only an occasional prompt. Consequently, during independent work, the teacher has very little to do, whereas previously he or she would have been busy servicing helpless handraisers.
Having eliminated helpless handraising, how might the teacher better spend his or her time as students work independently? The answer is quality control. Check the work as it is being done.
In effect, the teacher brings work-check from the evening, where paper-grading kills the after-school time available for lesson planning, and brings it forward in time, so it accompanies the learning process where it can do some good. Real-time work-check also opens the door to quality control and, subsequently, to the systematic management of motivation.

Criterion of Mastery
When work is being checked as it is being done, the teacher can employ a criterion of mastery as the basis for excusing students from the task. A criterion of mastery is stated in terms of consecutive correct performances.

Incentives for Diligence and Excellence
A criterion of mastery stated in terms of consecutive correct performances prevents students from doing fast and sloppy work just to get it done. With each practice exercise completed correctly, students have a greater invested interest in being careful with the next one so they wont have to start over.
When a student achieves the criterion of mastery, he or she can be excused to do a preferred activity. Preferred activities provide immediate and, therefore powerful, incentives for work-completion within the context of mastery, high standards, and enjoyment. During a Tools for Teaching workshop, trainees learn the adage, No joy, no work.


What separates successful teachers from their colleagues is not the curriculum. The difference is classroom management -- discipline, instruction, and motivation -- organized into a unified and efficient whole. Successful teachers must know how to make independent learners out of helpless handraisers. They must know how to teach to mastery with constant monitoring. They must know how to mean business so discipline management is low key and non-adversarial. They must know dozens of complex skills and procedures, and they must do it all while having fun with learning.

When you watch long enough from the back of the classroom, you realize there is a game going on. It has fundamentals and plays and offense and defense. It is dynamic. It is not a static collection of variables as described in the research literature. In this game, the teacher wants hard work from the students, but students want an entire range of other things. How will the tension be resolved? It is a fast game with a lot of players in action at any given moment. To succeed, the teacher must be automatic with a broad repertoire of complex, nuanced, and interlocking management skills.

As you can see from the brief summary presented above, classroom management is a system. Each piece builds upon those that precede it. Continuous assessment -- the kind that Dr. Mellard would love to see -- is one of the last pieces of the puzzle to fall into place. It is the icing on the cake of successful classroom management. It is not where you start. It is where you end up -- if you have the skills.