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Instructional Intervention: What You Need to Know

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

At a Glance

  • An instructional intervention is a program or set of steps to help kids improve at things they struggle with.

  • Instructional interventions focus on subjects like reading or math.

  • They’re designed so that you and the school can track your child’s progress.

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 specific definition. Knowing what it means can help you better understand the help your child is getting in school.

What Is an Instructional Intervention?

An instructional intervention is a specific program or set of steps to help kids improve in an area of need. Kids can have many different types of needs.

Instructional interventions aren’t behavioral interventions. They’re aimed at academics.(They’re sometimes called academic interventions.) For subjects like or math, there are instructional interventions.

Instructional interventions are:

  • Intentional: They’re aimed at a particular challenge.

  • Specific and formalized: An intervention lasts a certain number of weeks or months and is reviewed at set intervals.

They’re set up this way so you and the school can monitor progress.

Even though instructional interventions are formalized, they can be flexible, too. For example, if a program isn’t helping a student, the school might change it. This could mean increasing the amount of time a student gets reading support each week. Or it might mean getting more intense support—like 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). (Some schools use a multi-tier system of supports, or MTSS.) Many schools use these approaches to help struggling students. (Read about the difference between RTI and MTSS.)

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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 kids a skill or concept.

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, on the other hand, can be informal and isn’t always tracked.

Here’s an example of an instructional strategy:

Ms. Tomlin’s second-grade class includes many kids who have trouble with focus. To keep the entire class engaged, Ms. Tomlin often uses movement to teach math. She assigns each child a number or a plus or equal sign. Then she has 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 classroom environment that gives students 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:

Say a student has trouble with reading and uses text-to-speech (TTS) software that reads digital text out loud. That accommodation might not improve reading skills, but it will help the student access the content in books.

Here’s an example of an accommodation with instructional intervention:

The same student is allowed to use that TTS software, but uses it along with a specific reading program that’s being used as an instructional intervention.

Learn more about the .

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, the teacher checks on her progress.

Here’s an example of what an intervention can look like for a child who has an and is getting special education services:

Jeff is in fifth grade and has . He has trouble with and phonological awareness. The IEP team decides to provide 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 help your child might be getting, and check for formal interventions listed in the IEP or 504 plan. You can also download an IEP goal tracker form if you want to track your child’s progress at home.

Key Takeaways

  • An instructional intervention is more than just a strategy.

  • They have specific, formalized steps to address an academic need.

  • Many schools use a framework called response to intervention (RTI) to help struggling students.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom