If your child is getting help in school, you may have heard the term intervention. A lot of people use the word to describe any sort of help a child gets. But instructional intervention has a very particular definition. Knowing what the term means can help you better understand the help your child is getting in school.
What an Instructional Intervention Is
An instructional intervention is a specific program or set of steps to help a child improve in an area of need. Kids can have many different types of needs.
If a child is having behavior concerns, a school may offer a behavioral intervention, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) or a behavior contract. For subjects like reading or math, there are instructional interventions. (These are sometimes called academic interventions.)
Instructional interventions have some key elements:
Instructional interventions are formalized, but they can be flexible too. For example, if a particular program isn’t helping a student, the school may change it. This might mean increasing the amount of time a student gets reading support each week. Or it might mean getting more intense support—such as moving from small group instruction to one-on-one help.
The process of using more and more intense interventions is the basis for response to intervention (RTI). Or a school may use a multi-tier system of supports (MTSS). These approaches are used in many schools to help struggling students. (Read about the difference between RTI and MTSS.)
What an Instructional Intervention Isn't
An instructional intervention isn’t just a strategy. People sometimes confuse strategies with instructional interventions. But there are important differences. A strategy is a set of methods or activities to teach your child something.
An instructional intervention may include strategies. But not all strategies are interventions. The main difference is that an instructional intervention is formalized, 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 instructional intervention is not an accommodation. Interventions are also sometimes confused with accommodations. An accommodation is a change to the environment that gives your child equal access to learning.
This isn’t the same thing as an instructional intervention. Sometimes the distinctions aren’t clear because you may see instructional interventions combined with accommodations.
Here’s an example of an accommodation without instructional intervention. Let’s say your child has trouble reading. She uses text-to-speech (TTS) software that reads aloud to your child. That accommodation might not improve your child’s reading, but it will help her access the content in books.
Here’s an example of an accommodation with instructional intervention. Your child is allowed to use that TTS software, but she uses it in conjunction with a specific reading program being used as an instructional intervention.
What Instructional Interventions Look Like in Practice
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.
If your school uses RTI, your child may get targeted interventions in reading or math. Be sure to ask for progress updates. Read about how RTI monitors progress.
Talk to your child’s teacher about any informal interventions your child might be receiving, and check her IEP or 504 plan to see if it has formal interventions. You can also download an IEP goal tracker form if you want to track your child’s progress at home.