Published on: 12 Apr 2018

Mismatched intervention strategies

By Abigail Steel, Education Consultant and Author, Blackberry Education

A issue I see in some schools is the mismatch between children who require additional support and the intervention resources assigned to them. The teaching staff don’t realise that there is a mismatch, because the wrong intervention resources can still appear (on the surface) to improve the child’s behaviour and demonstrate a small amount of academic progress. The child appears engaged in the intervention which is usually because it is bright, colourful and multisensory and often in a digital or board game format.

I’m suggesting that the child’s interaction with the resource is an engagement in play rather than an engagement in learning. Their behaviour improves because they are no longer being asked to do tasks that they find difficult and they have increased adult attention – a win-win in the eyes of the child, but again, no learning. If they do happen to make small steps of measurable progress everyone celebrates, but I’m suggesting that the progress could have been ten-fold. Expectations are low.

Interventions are being used in desperation to take the pressure off children whose behaviour is spiralling because they are struggling to access the classroom curriculum.  Interventions are being used in desperation by teachers who have the very best of intentions but are simply exhausted from coping with the vast levels of differentiation and complexities within their
class of children.

We can do a much better job of aligning interventions with children’s specific needs and getting those children back on track accessing first wave mainstream teaching. The answer is to dig deeper into what the difficulties actually are. I asked a teacher recently why she had chosen a particular phonics resource to support a child with literacy difficulties and she said, ‘It’s great, the online format really engages the child’s interests and the level of phonics is set back at the phase she needs to work on. Her behaviour has improved, she enjoys it and she’s learning.’

However, when I worked with that child and carried out some simple assessments I quickly revealed that she was capable of accessing teaching and learning far beyond the level she was working on in the intervention. The progress she was making was a reflection of an inaccurate basepoint assessment.

The teacher could accurately describe that the child struggled to spell simple words correctly and had therefore chosen an intervention that focused on revisiting phonic letter/s sound correspondences. However, there is a big difference between the initial teaching of letter/s sound correspondences for reading, the teaching of letter/s sound correspondences for spelling, and the teaching of spelling to know which words are spelt which way. This child had a good knowledge of the English alphabetic code at a one-to- one correspondence level, some knowledge of the complex code, particularly strong segmenting and blending skills but very poor memory retention.

Take care to spend more time and thought unpicking children’s individual needs then apply that same process when considering what an intervention resource offers to get the closest match you can and you will be rewarded with rapid progress and happy children.

Follow Abigail on Twitter @Abigail_Steel