What is Intervention?



Many ideas here are borrowed/stolen wholesale from the writings and presentations of Mike Mattos.  If you need citations or back up, you’ll get plenty from his work.http://www.allthingsplc.info/blog/author,12

Intervention means attempting to gain or regain a preferable set of circumstances, whether it’s a medical procedure to remove a tumor, tuning a guitar or blocking a shot in a basketball game.

Any intervention must begin with a clear idea of what that preferable set of circumstances should be and an intervention plan should be structured with a clear understanding of what the problem is.

Of course this idea should apply to learning intervention at school.  Before we “do intervention” we have to know as specifically as possible what the problem is and what the desired effect should be.  Without knowing those things, we can’t do intervention at all.

It’s simply not enough to say that a student struggles in math.  First we have to know what we want that student to know and be able to do in math at a given place in time.  A kindergartener who struggles with multiplication probably doesn’t need “intervention” but a 6th grader with the same issue probably does.  And beyond that, does the student have a problem memorizing multiplication tables or does she have trouble grasping the underlying concept?  Maybe she can’t read the numbers because she needs glasses!  If the specific problem doesn’t guide our actions, we waste precious time for both the student and for ourselves.

We don’t have to look very far to discover what good intervention looks like. Once we know what we want from students, we can formally and informally assess their progress.  Some will need a little help, right there in class.  Some may need a little more help in class or in small groups with a trained assistant. Others may need even more help to overcome a learning disability or other significant obstacle.

There are fancy edu-speak terms for those types of intervention but the idea is very simple.  Some kids need a little help.  Some need a little more.  Some need more than that.

The thing that none of them need is our help at avoiding learning.  If we make students feel better in the short run by providing easier work and lower standards, we are shirking our responsibility and robbing them of opportunity.  Any intervention has to be aimed at getting them to where they should be.

For an intervention program to work we need to make sure that 5 essential criteria are in place:

·      Systematic

·      Directive

·      Timely

·      Delivered by a highly trained staff

·      Research-Based


We cannot approach intervention in a haphazard manner.  We have to make sure that we are able to identify learning levels for all children so that we can identify those who need more help.  If we only assess the kids whose problems are easy to spot, we will leave many behind.


We have to make sure that the intervention is not optional.  Decades in the education business have taught me that there are some students who would rather not get the help they need when other activities beckon.  If we make intervention optional, many students will opt not to learn.


We have to assess students frequently and be ready to intervene quickly when we see a gap.  The semester report card shouldn’t be anyone’s first indication that there is a problem. If we wait, problems become more permanent.  For basic skills we should be assessing at least every three weeks.  Then, of critical importance, we have to re-asses the student who is getting an intervention frequently to see if it is working.  The last thing we want is unending nonspecific intervention.

Highly Trained Staff:

We need to make sure that the entire faculty knows how to conduct effective, informal and formal assessments.  They should also know and have practiced intervention and assessment strategiesin their own classrooms.  The school needs to make sure that we have systems in place that will maximize professional expertise and stop asking teachers to spend inordinate time addressing behavior when their core task it to facilitate learning.

Research Based:

Not every intervention strategy will work.  However, it is important that we do not apply any strategy without first understanding its likely effect.  We don’t need to read every journal to have a good idea about what works but we do need to have a solid grounding in what others have found to be effective.  Anecdotes and memories of what worked for us as children aren’t enough and can even be harmful.  When we spend a child’s time (and our own) we should be able to explain compellingly why we think it will help.

All five of these elements are ESSENTIAL. If you consider the list you can easily see how removing any one of them would render an intervention system ineffective.  It may be better to have no intervention system at all than to waste time developing one that excludes any of those elements. Come to think of it, a 4-criteria intervention system is no system at all.