Welcome to the Special Ninja Learning Academy

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Arohi is in Grade 5 studying at an International School in Mumbai. She loves her Art Classes and excels in Extempore & Elocution. While her grades in language and social studies are good, her struggle with mathematics is a huge concern. Poor scores in mathematics affect her aggregate scores and in spite of being a bright child otherwise, she lags behind in her overall academic performance. In a classroom of 40 there are about 15 to 20 Arohi's, who are good in one subject, better in the other or absolutely not up to the mark in something else. The problem here is that Arohi and her likes have a different learning style and a different requirement but the age-old, ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’, approach makes learning challenging for them.
     Arohi is not learning disabled and therefore does not receive any extra help in the area she needs support with. In India, about 25 to 30% of students exhibit at least one form of learning problem, which is not a learning disability. The conservative approach in both Quality Education and Special Education disallows children to receive any kind of remedial support unless they are certified as “Learning Disabled” while the fact remains that if there is a learning lag then it has to be complemented with relevant and corresponding support.
     Back in 2012, I learnt about the ‘Response To Intervention’ (RTI) Framework, a US generated capsule which is a schoolwide initiative designed to facilitate a systemic change in addressing the achievement gap between students from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds (Fuchs & Fuchs,2006). The RTI framework has all the necessary components to advance education as a Sustainable Developmental Goal (SDG) including increasing educational access and attainment of education, improving quality of education and inspiring transformative learning in different education contexts (Didham & Ofei-Manu, 2013.) This came as an antidote to the prevalent system that prevented students from receiving support in just the areas that they needed. Response To Intervention states that the school’s goal should be to intervene, step-in and start helping before anyone falls really far behind. It is often difficult for a teacher to point out why a certain student struggles or why certain students do not perform at a grade appropriate level, RTI aims to identify these struggling students early on and give them the relevant support they need to be successful in their scholastic journey.
     Response To Intervention helps or enables the schools to understand which students need Instructional Intervention which inturn suggests what the teachers and the school can do differently to help a particular child improve in a specific area and help the child acquire a certain specific skill set. These interventions can be a part of classroom wide instructions where the teacher could break children into smaller groups as per their learning styles and not as per their weaknesses.
     In my experience over the last 8 years with Mimaansa, a Non Governmental Organization, that propounds the Response To Intervention framework on mainstream government run schools in Thane, I have realized that the RTI framework model leverages on differentiated instruction and puts the onus on the teaching fraternity, allowing children to learn the way they can without getting into tagging them and giving them a new identity of their disability or their the limitations. Teachers are encouraged to use research based interventions to facilitate student’s reading, arithmetic, visual perception and writing skills, etc. This can be achieved even without isolating them and keeping them in the mainstream bracket of students with a clear focus on improving their learning outcomes.
     The Response To Intervention framework entails involvement of several people such as classroom teachers, specific subject teachers, specialised education assistants, remedial teachers, special educators, counsellors and parents. The framework contains components such as relevant formative assessments, validated Informal assessments based on the curriculum and principles of curriculum based measurements. It is a long drawn process which takes a minimum of 1 to 2 years to see a significant impact or shift in the student’s learning outcomes and, more so, the learning experience .
     The good news here is that this framework has been experimented with in India on a controlled group population (Group i) and the results have been astounding. It showed that students who entered the RTI system earlier demonstrated most significant improvements in all subjects. In some cases, the academic skills of students grew faster than the ones outside of Group i. The results also revealed that our current core curriculum has not been meeting the needs of a large percentage of the student population. It further concluded that all students in a mainstream classroom will perform better if Response To Intervention blends within the classroom.
     It shall, therefore, be safe to say that with the right teaching methods, appropriate teaching attitude and a whole lot of research based techniques these students can make progress without getting accommodations and that there can be an increase in the number of students who are meaningful additions to our Indian mainstream classrooms. Every ‘Can do better’ and ‘Has better potential’ remark must be accompanied with a better teaching strategy, personalised teaching assistance and an appropriate teaching learning approach.
     I have seen this framework come to life on the premises of under-resourced government schools and therefore I am beyond confident that all schools and, more importantly, all students will benefit with this framework, irrespective of their ability. Another thing I can be certain of is that this will reduce the number of Arohi’s in Indian classrooms.