The way Iowa teachers ensure all students get the instruction they need has received international attention.

Karin Bjare
Karin Bjare

Two teachers from Sweden recently toured Iowa classrooms examining how educators deliver Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), which is a framework of evidence-based practices in instruction and assessment. In essence, MTSS enables teachers to focus on how individual students learn in different ways and then be able to deliver lesson plans accordingly.

Effective delivery of MTSS for reading includes clear, explicit instruction and keeping the students engaged.

Pia Axelson and Karin Bjare, both special needs teachers out of Stockholm, toured three Iowa schools. They liked what they saw.

“What stood out to me is how much more intervention goes on in the classroom,” Bjare said. “You see this when they break into small groups and deliver intensive learning to students.”

Pia Axelson
Pia Axelson

“We do interventions but don’t do it as quickly and efficiently as you do here,” Axelson said. “With MTSS, it is much more structured here.”

The Iowa MTSS framework is made up of five components:

  • Evidence-based curriculum and instruction provided at the universal level.
  • Universal screening of all students.
  • Evidence-based, instructional interventions at the targeted and intensive levels, which is provided to each student who needs them.
  • Progress monitoring for learners who fall below expectations.
  • Data-based decision making throughout the system.

“MTSS is intended to help schools meet the needs of its students,” said Greg Feldmann, a consultant with the Iowa Department of Education. “It is an every-student decision-making framework of evidence-based practices in instruction and assessment that helps schools identify and meet student needs. MTSS can be beneficial at the system and individual level to allocate resources to increase student outcomes.”

The MTSS framework frequently includes built-in time during the day for individualized instruction dedicated to helping students needing additional supports and enhancing the education experience for top performers.

In their visit at one school – Meadow View Elementary in the Adel DeSoto Minburn Community School District – the teachers from Sweden learned about how the school has transformed reading instruction. They are bridging reading gaps every day for students by identifying whole class needs and intervention needs.

The teachers observed a fourth grade explicit vocabulary lesson that was high paced, high interest and engaging. Among other high-quality literacy instruction, they also observed students engaged in paired reading fluency – an activity they do every day to improve reading automaticity.

At yet another school – Gilbert Elementary in the Gilbert Community School District – the Swedish teachers observed a kindergarten class that was working on core literacy instruction by focusing on phonetics. To an outsider, it may look chaotic: Some students seemed to be working on their own while others worked with the teacher. In fact, the scenario was deliberate: The teacher was meeting the needs of each student.

The same was going on in a second grade classroom, where the teacher wrote a sentence in which each word was misspelled. That didn’t go unnoticed by the students, who scrambled to raise their hands to be chosen to go to the whiteboard to correct one word.

The Swedish teachers were especially impressed with the school’s built-in 20 minutes each day dedicated to individual instruction.

“The kids were very independent,” Bjare said. “I think this is very good when they have 20 minutes every day.”

Beyond the classroom, the teachers were impressed with Iowa.

“It's beautiful,” Axelson said. “One thing we noticed is that it’s very clean here.”

“The people have been wonderful,” Bjare said. “Everyone has been so helpful.”

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