What We Say Matters

“Intervention?  That sounds like another word for special education.”

These were the words of a parent at a Curriculum Night presentation.  Her comment came after being told that students would be placed into a new program designed for either intervention or enrichment. It is interesting how parents construct certain phrases that have become commonplace in schools.  Even more interesting is how educators have adopted and reinforce this thinking.  One of the unfortunate realities of such educational initiatives like Response to Intervention is the discourse that surrounds its use in schools.   Academics often refer to this discourse as deficit-thinking — those conversations where students are constructed in terms of what they “can’t do” rather than their strengths.   For this reason, we should not be surprised that parents have learned from our example.   With so much work being done in terms of professional learning communities and the Common Core standards, data has become an integral part of our intervention discussions.  With data comes the propensity to consider the deficits of students.  But does this have to be the case?  Can we ensure that students are seen in terms of what they “can do” rather than what they “can’t do”?  As teacher leaders we can bring the most important data to the forefront of our discussions – a student’s voice. 

A multiple choice assessment provides a score but does it really describe what students need to achieve mastery.  Like teachers, students need to have space to reflect on their learning.  Reflection assignments that ask students to identify what they need to achieve mastery takes the second guessing out of intervention or re-teaching.  This is something that educational scholars such as Richard Stiggins have articulated for some time.  Providing regular opportunities for students to reflect on assessment results makes them active participants in the assessment process – not simply test takers.  If we hope to meet the individual needs of students then we have to collect data that helps us understand these needs, thus avoiding a rapid-fire approach to re-teach some particular skill.  If our goal is to build critical thinkers then students need an adequate amount of time to reflect and provide us direction towards productive learning practices.


Greg Broberg

Greg Broberg

Tempe, Arizona

One of my favorite quotes related to teaching is by Socrates: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” It keeps me grounded in two ways. First, it reminds me that teaching should always involve the “search” for knowledge. This may come from a professional development source, colleague or student. Second, it keeps me on guard for new ways to engage students—bringing a fresh perspective on something I may have taught for years.

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