Category Archives: RTI

Fidelity versus Reality: Making it Work on the Flip Side

Let’s talk about fidelity.  There has been a lot of discussion in our district about having fidelity to the interventions we are providing for our “at risk” readers.  Fidelity means “the quality of being faithful and loyal to…” in our case Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI). Teaching  is not a one size fits all endeavour, this is especially true for children who are struggling as Fountas and Pinnell would surely agree.  Our instructional intention has to really meet students’ particular needs.  That said, we also work in a public school where there is a certain measure of freedom and choice but with this also comes boundaries we are obliged to stay within.  In short, there is a fine line between freedom and obligation.  The obligation we feel, is to stay wedded to a very narrow understanding of fidelity. On the flip side, we have to exercise our professional  judgement and have the freedom to find something that is going to work in the reality of the classroom.

We believe in the power of a good conversation.  We belong to a Voxer community (we’ve written about this in previous posts) and there was a lot of great discussion.  We want to highlight two points from our  colleagues Joanne Duncan and  Trevor Bryan:

  • Joanne Duncan (@joanneduncanjo) said, “You’ve got to have fidelity to the children in front of you.”  Agreed.  The next question was; “How do we have fidelity to our students without compromising  the students’ needs  in front of us within the temporal boundaries of a classroom structure?”  We were wrestling with that question when: Trevor Bryan (@trevorabryan ) added this powerful insight:  “The vision can not be to implement the program but the program has to be implemented to fit a vision.”  

We have to go back to our vision: to provide consistency, frequency, duration, and most importantly to keep the focus on our students so we can close the learning gaps. With this knowledge, we came up with a plan.  We analyzed  Appendix D in Fountas and Pinnell’s Red System Guide.  We will follow the suggested sequence but do it with a twist.  It is going to be a shared responsibility between Jenn, as the interventionist and Jill, as the classroom teacher.  Jill’s students are Tier 2 students, that means they are eligible for a 3 day a week intervention.  Our plan is to keep the intervention continuous regardless of the days Jenn pushes in.  Jenn will provide 3 days of intervention and then Jill will continue to provide this intervention for the next 2 days during her guided reading time. In short, one will pick up where the other left off – the teaching will be shared and each will have access to the data.  Our most powerful resource is to lean into each other.

It is striking to us that it always goes back to what is valued, thinking about our values through a fidelity lens is very nuanced.  In fact, there is a  third definition of fidelity which is “the degree to which something matches or copies something else”.  Our goal is not to copy or match someone else’s teaching but to make sure we are faithful to the structure of the intervention.  In doing this, we analyzed LLI’s structure and have come up with a way to provide a greater service for our students. One which may have the potential to become  another option for providing a Tier 2 intervention.  District wide, we need systems in place that allow for coaches to have time to provide professional development and coaching to teachers and at the same time service students.  This could be a viable way to accomplish this goal.  Above all else our greatest resource is the collaboration between teachers and coaches so we can ensure that the needs of our students are met.  

Shift Happens – Looking for Solutions In the Face of Problems

RTI is placing more emphasis on the general education teacher.  Now more than ever we are being asked to stretch and work with other specialists.  Not everyone is open to doing the work it takes to be a reflective educator.  There are many problems that we face and sometimes it feels like we’re running low on solutions.  Tell us if this doesn’t sound familiar:



  • Writing Workshop: There isn’t enough time for deep meaningful lessons everything is rushed and if not careful can become superficial
  • The need for “support” takes away from independent work
  • Instructional styles differ and personal beliefs are not aligned
  • There isn’t  enough time to collaborate for thoughtful planning

So what are some potential solutions?  It’s hard to say because all the stakeholders have to be willing to shift in one way or another.  Perhaps there are smaller shifts we can make in scheduling, instructional style, and time management that can begin to chip away at this divide.  When people feel devalued, or attacked they shut down and dig in and won’t budge, and that doesn’t help at all especially our shared students.

Small Shift Solution:

  • There are two ENL cohorts  in third grade.  Jill has one of them.  Writing Workshop happens the last period of the day, and students from another classroom “push-in” to Jill’s room with the ENL teacher.  Let’s try to get in one day a week for an 20 extra minutes of writing instruction.   This involves asking the other classroom teacher to release two of his students earlier.  The ENL teacher can come into the workshop while it is already underway and go straight to small group – this will give student more opportunity to work independently and will afford more time for meaningful writing instruction.
  • Go back to instructional planning and scheduling time for independent work that is as sacred as small group styled “support”  Perhaps ENL teacher would consider conferring as a viable option to small group instruction a few days a week.
  • This is the hardest one to tackle; however, small shifts may be the solution.  For example,  a personal belief in fill in the blank writing – highly formulaic writing.   Use those “fill-ins” as potential tool for students to go to as sentence starters, labeling each part of the writing process – making it a more meaningful tool.  More importantly go back to best practices and reasons for instructional choices.  If both are sound options find a way to blend ideals – make room for common ground.
  • Making time with colleagues who are unwilling to plan with you is very difficult. Begin by showing kindness and try to take what is given and try to make it work. Making sure not to sacrifice one’s true beliefs along the way.

Basically it’s a delicate balance – literacy instruction is too meaningful to just give up on.   If these solutions don’t work try again to make it better.  We understand that not everyone comes to teaching in the same way – but we do have to work together and push each other’s thinking so that in the end children benefit.  We can all agree that this is the most important goal of all.

Rainbow Pic for Mary's Quote