If your child is getting help in school, you’ll no doubt hear the term intervention. A lot of people use this word loosely, to describe any sort of help a child gets. But intervention has a very particular definition. Knowing what the term means puts you in a better position to understand the help your child is getting in school.
What Is an Instructional Intervention?
An intervention is a specific program or set of steps to help a child improve in an area of need. Kids can have many needs. If a child is acting out, a school may offer a behavioral intervention. For subjects like reading or math, there are instructional interventions. (These are sometimes called academic interventions.)
Interventions have some key elements:
Here’s an example of what an intervention can look like for a child who’s struggling in a general education classroom:
Marcia is in first grade. She lacks basic math skills and doesn’t recognize numbers from 1 to 10. But she hasn’t been evaluated for special education. Her school schedules an hour of small-group instruction each day to help her catch up. Every week, her teacher checks on her progress.
Here’s an example of what an intervention can look like for a child who has an IEP and is getting special education services:
Jeff is in fifth grade and has dyslexia. He has issues with decoding and phonological awareness. The IEP team decides to give him 30 minutes of multisensory reading instruction three times a week. Every month, his reading progress is monitored.
Interventions are formal but they can be flexible too. For example, if a particular program isn’t helping a student, the school may change it. Or the school may use a stronger intervention.
This might mean increasing the amount of time a student receives reading support each week. Or it might mean getting more intense support—such as moving from small-group to one-on-one help.
The process of using more and more intense interventions is the basis for response to intervention (RTI). This approach is used in many schools to help struggling students.
An Intervention Is More Than a Strategy
People sometimes confuse strategies with interventions. But there are important differences.
A strategy is a set of methods or activities to teach your child something. An intervention may include strategies. But not all strategies are interventions. The main difference is that an intervention is formal, aimed at a known need and monitored. A strategy, by contrast, can be informal and is not always tracked.
Here’s an example of an instructional strategy:
Ms. Tomlin’s second-grade class includes many kids with attention issues. To keep her entire class engaged, Ms. Tomlin often uses movement to teach math. She’ll assign each child a number or a plus or equal sign. Then she’ll have the students move around to form equations.
An Intervention Is Not an Accommodation
Interventions are also sometimes confused with accommodations. These aren’t the same thing.
An accommodation is a change to the environment that gives your child equal access to learning. For instance, let’s say your child has trouble reading. One accommodation could be text-to-speech software that reads aloud to your child. This might not improve your child’s reading, but it will help her access the content in books.
Sometimes the distinctions aren’t clear. You may see interventions combined with accommodations.
It’s important to know if your child is receiving any interventions so you can track her progress. Check her IEP or 504 plan to see if it has formal interventions. If it does, be sure to ask how they’re monitored. Finally, if your school uses RTI, your child may get targeted interventions in reading or math. Here, too, be sure to ask for progress updates.