Conceptualizing RTI in 21st-Century Secondary Science Classrooms: Video Games' Potential to Provide Tiered Support and Progress Monitoring for Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract. Secondary schools across the United States are adopting response to intervention (RTI) as a means to identify students with learning disabilities (LD) and provide tiered instructional interventions that benefit all students. The majority of current RTI research focuses on students with reading difficulties in elementary school classrooms. Recommendations for practice that stem from this empirical work are not generalizable to high school classrooms, where adolescents with LD experience unique learning challenges. This is especially true in secondary science classes, where an emphasis on complex vocabulary and sophisticated phenomenological investigations places added cognitive requirements on these students.

This article presents a foundation for conceptualizing the role of technology in RTI implementation at the secondary level. We examine how video games can enhance RTI instructional practices by providing multiple tiers of academic supports and realtime progress monitoring in secondary science classrooms. The article illustrates how evidence-based practices can be included in the games in a manner that increases intervention fidelity and assessment reliability. While this article focuses on science video games, we contend that there is considerable conceptual overlap among high school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses that will allow for further expansion of this discussion. The article concludes with recommendations for future research.


States are increasingly turning to response to intervention (RTI) as a means of identification and intervention for students with learning difficulties (Berkeley, Bender, Peaster, & Saunders, 2009). Many authors (e.g., Gersten & Dimino, 2006; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2005; Werts, Lambert, & Carpenter, 2009) have noted that there is a lack of consensus across the research community regarding the purpose and structure of RTI models. This is compounded at the secondary level due to a lack of empirical research that systematically examines the efficacy of RTI with adolescent learners (Brozo, 2010; Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2010; Vaughn et al., 2008).

The majority of RTI research to date has focused on remedial reading instruction for students in elementary schools, leaving researchers and practitioners with minimal information about how to implement RTI at the secondary level (Vaughn et al., 2010). In middle and high schools, adolescents face unique literacy challenges that substantively differ from elementary school expectations (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2005). In addition, a lack of motivation and concerns about peer acceptance may act as barriers to effective implementation of intensive interventions at the secondary level (Fuchs et al., 2010).

Today's students are increasingly turning to technology as a means to gather information, communicate, and learn (Marino, 2010). In fact, preliminary research suggests that secondary students with disabilities often rely on technology more than their peers without disabilities (Lenhart et al., 2003). Unfortunately, current published RTI research has failed to account for the power of technology to provide universally designed instruction, improve implementation fidelity, enhance assessment and progress monitoring, increase motivation, and adjust instruction based on specific protocols that address students' individual learning needs.

In this article, we address this deficit in the literature by illustrating the conceptual relationships among video games that are designed for secondary students with learning disabilities (LD), or those at risk of learning failure, and the RTI model. Following an abridged discussion of the common principles of RTI, we describe content-specific challenges students with LD face in secondary science classes. We then illustrate how instruction and data collection mechanisms in a video game environment relate to a multi-tiered RTI model at the secondary level. …