I3 = Intense Instructional Intervention: Data, Decision, to Design

By Mary Murray Stowe, M.Ed.
September/October 2012


Intense intervention should occur when a student does not respond to the traditional instruction being delivered.  The professional standards for Virginia teachers expect teachers, within their areas of expertise, to examine data, make instructional decisions, and design instruction to address the needs of students, thus providing the level of intense instructional intervention necessary.

Within the Virginia Standards for the Professional Practice of Teachers (2011),

  • General educators and special educators (Standard Three: Instructional Delivery, Key Element 1, p. 4) are tasked with differentiating instruction to meet the learning needs of all students. 
  • All educators must implement, evaluate, and adapt multiple delivery methods and instructional strategies to actively engage students in learning and enhance student learning.  (Standard Three:  Instructional Delivery, Key Element 2, p. 4). 
  • Further, all teachers will analyze and interpret multiple sources of data to identify student learning needs, to guide planning and instruction, and assess the effectiveness of instruction (Standard Four:  Assessment of and for Students Learning, Key Element 1, p. 4).

Employing the above practices helps ensure that students receive the level of intense intervention indicated by the data.  Thus, the level of intensity depends on the level of need.  For example, one student might need only to apply an instructional strategy, such as a self-verbalization component to a concept being learned, whereas another student might need to have the concept taught more frequently, within a smaller group, and/or with a more structured method to achieve success.

The National Center on Intensive Intervention (http://www.intensiveintervention.org/) describes intensive instructional interventions as interventions designed to address severe and persistent learning or behavior difficulties. Such interventions are characterized by increased intensity (e.g., smaller group, expanded time) and individualization of academic instruction and behavioral interventions for students who are non-responsive to traditional approaches.

Characteristics of Effective Interventions

Interventions …

  • Should be offered as soon as it is clear the student is lagging behind in the development of skills or knowledge critical to reading growth;
  • Must significantly increase the intensity of instruction and practice and they should be available in a range of intensities;
  • Must provide the opportunity for explicit (direct) and systematic instruction and practice along with cumulative review to insure mastery;
  • Must provide skillful instruction including good error correction procedures, along with many opportunities for immediate positive feedback and reward;
  • Must be guided by, and responsive to data on student progress;
  • Must be motivating, engaging, and supportive; a positive atmosphere is essential.
    (The Florida Center for Reading Research, http://www.fcrr.org/Interventions/pdf/APrincipalsGuide.pdf)

How Can Educators Meet Students’ Need for Intense Instructional Intervention? 

Vaughn, Wanzek, Murray, and Roberts (2012) suggest that educators consider several issues when examining the learning needs of struggling students:

  1. Is the instruction being responsive to the cognitive processing difficulties (those that affect and influence memory, attention, and generation, selection, monitoring, and implementation of learning strategies) of each student?
  2. Is the instruction being delivered sufficiently differentiated to meet the learning needs of students? (http://differentiationactivities.pbworks.com/)
  3. Are students being provided adequate instructional time?
  4. Does the learning environment promote opportunities to respond to and align instruction with students’ learning needs?

Current State of Practice

Too often, intense instructional intervention necessary for students identified with learning disabilities to be successful is not provided at a sufficient level within the inclusive classroom (McLeskey & Waldron, 2011).  Indeed, graduation rates for students with disabilities in Virginia and across the country support this assertion. 

Further, little intense intervention is provided where we might expect to find this level of instruction (McLeskey & Waldron, 2011).  Thus, four areas of concern were noted within the self-contained and resource settings: lower-quality instruction, little coordination with general education, less instructional time, and unclear accountability. 

If students with disabilities are to succeed, they need high-quality instruction that incorporates intense intervention and is responsive to student need – intense intervention that provides more instructional time and coordination of instruction with clearly accountable goals.

Does Inclusivity Exclude Intensity?

An increase in the intensity of instruction can occur whenever and wherever a student does not respond to the instruction being delivered. Within the general education classroom without a co-teacher, for example, students should receive differentiated instruction that meets the needs of the students within that classroom.  The addition of a special educator within the general education classroom, a co-taught classroom, intensifies the instruction provided for all and provides a level of specialized instruction for identified students.  Within resource or self-contained classrooms, in turn, students should receive more intense specialized instruction to address identified significant needs through smaller groupings, more specialized instructional time, and extended time to support the instruction begun in general education.  Within the Virginia Tiered Systems of Support (VTSS), intensity of instruction is more clearly articulated as students move through Tiers One, Two, and into Three (for more information see article Inclusion and Intensive Instruction: Can We Have Both?).

 In short, intensity does not denote a particular place or setting.  An inclusive school can address the needs of all students with varying levels of support using appropriate student data.

What Might Educators Consider in Planning and Providing Intense Intervention?

Students vary in their instructional needs. Therefore, it is important to consider the following four areas when designing intense instructional intervention plans:  the cognitive processes involved in functioning and performance, instructional delivery formats, length of learning time, and group size (Vaughn et al., 2012). 

Review of the Considerations for Intensifying Instruction (Vaughn et al., 2012)

Cognitive processes involved in functioning and performance

Areas of concern:  working memory, executive function, and self-regulation

Address with instruction through:

think-alouds, modeling of solutions, metacognitive instruction, verbal rehearsal/self-verbalization, structured feedback mechanisms

Instructional delivery format

Explicit and/or systematic instruction (Explicit and Systematic Walk-Through document - http://buildingrti.utexas.org/PDF/Explicit_Systematic_Instruction_Tool_Module.pdf - and Scaffolded Instructional Practice Walk-Through document - http://buildingrti.utexas.org/PDF/Scaffolded_Practice_Tool_Module.pdf), student response and feedback

Increasing length of learning time

Frequency of appropriately designed instruction – more days a week or more time during the school day, but it is important to assure that the student remains engaged in the instruction being provided; instruction during this time must be carefully designed and guided by continuous progress monitoring

Group size

Research has not provided an ideal group size, but  generally accepted size would be 2 to 4 within the group (Grouping for Instruction Walk-Through document - http://buildingrti.utexas.org/PDF/Grouping_for_Instruction_Tool_Module.pdf); one-on-one instruction is highly effective; progress within either format should be carefully monitored to assure progress is being made


Examples of Intensifying Instruction

The following illustrates how to intensify instruction based on the four areas suggested by Vaughn et al. (2012).

Self-Verbalization (Considerations: Instructional Delivery Format and Cognitive Processes Involving Functioning and Performance)

When students struggle in reading, a structured lesson plan is implemented to address their needs in basic language skills based on an examination of the pertinent data.  Within a Response to Intervention (RtI) or Virginia Tiered Systems of Support (VTSS) school, the student would then be involved in Tier Two intervention.   If the student requires further intensification of instruction within Tier Two, she or he may be asked within the lesson plan components to code words using self-verbalization (Hattie, 2009) of diacritical markings.  For example, when the student is learning closed syllables and short vowels, he will be asked to say prior to reading a list of words, “a vowel in a closed syllable is short, mark it with a breve.”  The student will then mark the vowel within the closed syllable with a breve (e.g., ĭ or ǎ) (Multisensory Structured Language Education).  Students may also use self-verbalization of the steps of a process or a mnemonic to remember the process for use within any content area (Strategic Instruction Model™ Learning Strategies).

Concrete > Representational > Abstract (Consideration:  Instructional Delivery Format)

Within the math classroom, struggling mathematicians may not understand a concept at the abstract level but may understand the concept at the concrete level.  With the use of the concrete, representational, and abstract process, the teacher pre-assesses students’ knowledge regarding the selected concept and then uses the results to guide instruction.  For example, if a student understands the concept at the concrete level with manipulatives, she would be guided through instruction to the representational level and then to the abstract level (Beller, 2010).  Instruction at the concrete level must be intense to move the student to the necessary level of concept application to successfully complete the course.  The intense instruction will need to include more frequent sessions, in greater number, using concrete objects or manipulatives.

Intensifying Word Study within the Co-Taught General Education Classroom (Consideration:  Instructional Delivery Format)

Word study often is presented through use of an implicit constructionist method.  Students are provided words with common characteristics that must be sorted and classified into the appropriate categories without prior direct instruction in the characteristics being discovered. The students construct their own knowledge of the concept being presented. Struggling readers may require a more explicit method where they are directly taught the concepts to be learned.  The instruction would be provided within a structured framework, beginning with the smallest unit of language and progressing to making meaning from text.  Further, this structure would be delivered in an explicit, systematic, and sequential fashion, in which the teacher provides models, frequent checks for understanding, and sufficient student practice with feedback. 

Specialized Instruction Within a Co-Taught Classroom (Consideration:  Instructional Delivery Format)

Within a science classroom, a student may not be able to determine the most critical information presented within a chapter passage.  A specially designed graphic organizer may be provided to facilitate the task when the data tell us that the student is not able to accomplish this without a scaffolded intense intervention.

Reading Instruction for a Struggling Reader (Considerations:  Cognitive Processes Involving Functioning and Performance, Instructional Delivery Format, Increasing Length of Learning Time, and Group Size)

A struggling reader is not responding to instruction as measured by a formative assessment designed to ascertain growth of reading skill acquisition.  These data are used to design a more intense instructional intervention.  The student, within a school implementing VTSS/RtI, will be moved to a Tier Two level of intervention where instruction will be delivered with additional time in smaller groups using an explicit method of instruction.


Use of Think-Alouds and Modeling to Intensify Instruction - http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/documents/newsletters/2011mayjune.pdf, p. 8.

Differentiation Activities - http://differentiationactivities.pbworks.com/

Building RTI Capacity:  Differentiated Instruction, the Key to Student Success Module - http://buildingrti.utexas.org/rti-presentations/differentiated-instruction-key-to-student-success

National Center on Intensive Intervention -  http://www.intensiveintervention.org/

A Principal’s Guide from The Florida Center for Reading Research -  http://www.fcrr.org/Interventions/pdf/APrincipalsGuide.pdf


A Principal’s Guide from The Florida Center for Reading Research – http://www.fcrr.org/Interventions/pdf/APrincipalsGuide.pdf

Beller, L. 2010.  Creating meaning in mathematics for all students. TTAC ODU Network News, February/March/April 2010. Norfolk, VA:  Training and Technical Assistance Center. p. 4.

Doerries, D. (2012).  Inclusion and intensive instruction: Can we have both?  Link Lines Newsletter.  Williamsburg, VA: The Training and Technical Assistance Center at the College of William and Mary.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning; A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement.  New York, NY:  Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

McLeskey, J., & Waldron, N. L. (2011).  Educational programs for elementary students with learning disabilities:  Can they be both effective and inclusive?  Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 26(1), 48-57.

Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Murray, C. S., & Roberts, G. (2012). Intensive interventions for students struggling in reading and mathematics: A practice guide. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction. http://www.centeroninstruction.org/intensive-interventions-for-students-struggling-in-reading-and-mathematics

Virginia Standards for the Professional Practice of Teachers -  http://www.doe.virginia.gov/teaching/regulations/uniform_performance_stds_2011.pdf