Research and Writing that Works for RTI & SPED

Evidenced-based writing that works for RTI & SPED


This entry has been inspired by the BlogHop sponsored by Speech Language Literacy Lab

For a complimentary SQ Write lesson, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to review a lesson demonstrating the following evidence-based practices.

Response to Intervention (RTI) is the current national systematic model and law for educating students with learning challenges within general and special education classrooms. It is a process that provides screenings, preventative and supplementary research-based interventions, updated progress monitoring, and identification of students with learning disabilities.  RTI has four basic components:

-school-wide screening

-progress monitoring

-tiered service delivery

-high quality instruction implemented with fidelity.

A step inside most American public schools clearly reveals a well-oiled process for the first three of the RTI traits:  screening, progress monitoring and delivering tiered services.

School-wide curricular-based screenings are analyzed multiple times per year yielding “boots on the ground” data identifying student needs.   Another peek inside of our schools reveals consistent progress monitoring data.   One only needs to observe an elementary classroom for a day to see the groups of students paraded in and out of the classroom to observe Tier 2 and Tier 3 reading, math and writing groups.  In all, schools earn an “A” for process.

This leads us to the fourth and certainly the most essential point in the RTI process, high quality, or evidence-based writing instruction.  Another peek inside these tiered and special education programs indicates something less desirable when analyzing the actual writing instruction.  Despite the change in process, writing instruction for at-risk and special needs learners looks curiously the same as it has always been.  Peek inside a Tier 3 or resource writing class.  There doesn’t seem to be much different from 1980 to 2015. 

For effective writing outcomes, evidence-based writing instruction must be implemented.  To begin, we must first ask ourselves “What does the research say?”   When seeking out writing research, the work of Steven Graham, Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University provides current findings to generalize in our classrooms.  Dr. Graham’s recommendations are based on scientific studies of students in grades 4-12.  These are the highlights that lead to the development of effective and at-least grade-level writers. 

-Directly teach a step-by-step strategy – Open-ended workshop lessons are less effective for our RTI and special education students.   In fact, special education learners struggle with the open-ended nature of a writer’s workshop model.  Instead, the research is clear that students with writing deficits benefit most when teachers model each micro-step along the way from thesis sentence to conclusion. 

-Directly teach a self-questioning (SQ) strategy  -  An SQ strategy must be embedded within the step-by-step process.   Model specific questions to ask oneself and where in the organizer to specifically ask the question.  Teachers model specific and strategic questions to ask oneself to derive on-topic answers.  For example, clearly demonstrate how a question to derive a theme for the thesis is a very different question than a question to derive specific text evidence to “prove” a detail.  Keep in mind, when teachers ask the questions, students don’t learn to generalize the questioning process.  When students SQ at specific places in the process, research clearly states their detail and elaboration expand exponentially.

-Verbal Rehearsal – Following the completion of a graphic organizer, students create a “verbal” rough draft.  The biggest mistake seen in classrooms across America is that students move from the graphic organizer to writing.  Instead, students should convert the graphic organizer content into verbal complete sentences and paragraphs.  In other words, Create a verbal rough draft.  Research clearly indicates student writing is more sophisticated and elaborated when students practice the process of graphic organizer to verbal essay to written essay.  According to Graham’s work, verbal rough drafts result in 300% less grammar errors, 803% increase in composing speed and at least double the amount of essay elaboration. 


-Complex Sentence Writing -  Directly teach formulas to develop sophisticated writers.  Stop asking students to add more details.  If they know how, they would.  Instead, our RTI and special education students respond favorably to internalizing sentence formulas.  This provides a roadmap to follow.  Students with learning disabilities don’t learn from “teacher talk”; they learn from roadmaps, recipes and formulas that are easy to follow.  After repetition, they internalize the formulas.

For example, a complex sentence formula may be:


Adjective + Noun + Verb + Direct Object + because + Adjective + Noun + Verb + Direct Object  

The black cat dashed into the garbage can because the vicious dog ran through the park.

To enhance these formulas, provide students with individualized word banks to choose sophisticated vocabulary words.  Students can have adjective, noun, verb, etc. word banks.

Overall, schools excel at the process of RTI and especial education.  The final puzzle piece is to bring evidence-based writing practices into the classroom.  Four key instructional methodologies can include (1) Model every micro-step in a step-by-step essay (2) directly teach self-questioning (3) Verbally rehearse the graphic organizer as a verbal rough draft (4) Teach sentence writing formulas.  These are scientifically proven strategies that lead to good writing outcomes.  Peek inside any classroom and see if these clinically proven methodologies are at work in your school.

To see these evidence-based practices at work, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a complimentary SQ Write lesson.