Tier 1 Interventions To Support Student Success: 16 Tried And Tested Strategies

Tier 1 interventions are the first stage of multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), an intervention framework intended to identify and address the academic, behavioral, and social-emotional needs of students. MTSS interventions may be school-wide or cover an entire school district if there is a similar school climate across the district.

In this article, we will look at Tier 1 interventions, the first tier of the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework and what it looks like in the math classroom. 

What are Tier 1 interventions?

Tier 1 intervention is high-quality classroom instruction that ensures the curriculum reaches 100% of students in the classroom. 

For this to happen, teachers must ensure: 

  • Curriculum is research-based
  • Educators are implementing best practices
  • Targeted small group instruction is clear  
  • Differentiated instruction is available 

Tier 1 intervention is not to be confused with differentiation. Differentiation is a planned part of day to day lessons and provides students flexible options to help them access grade-level content. 

While differentiation is not an intervention, it can be used as part of Tier 1 intervention as an initiative to reach all students. 

Differentiation can be related to several factors:  

  • Environment – for example, seating
  • Resources – for example, the use of different manipulatives 
  • Work – for example, scaffolded math problems to best fit students’ needs

Unlike planned in-class differentiated support, Tier 1 intervention initiatives are intended to support students falling behind. Schools and districts may assess their effectiveness in staying on track through interventions and address areas of improvement. 

Intervention may require a team to provide the best intervention plan. Often, this involves professionals and resources outside of the classroom, including:

  • building administrators
  • specialists
  • faculty members
  • community members

Another important component of Tier 1 intervention in MTSS is the social-emotional and behavioral aspects. This makes it different from other intervention systems such as Response to Intervention (RTI) and PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports). 

Tier 1 of MTSS ensures expected behaviors are explicitly taught, and classroom routines and efficient transitions are in place.

While these initiatives are largely part of normal classroom planning, they are considered an intervention because they require a plan. Schools or districts usually provide all of the necessary components and expectations of Tier 1 interventions for teachers to follow very closely. 

By making sure this plan is followed very carefully, the school or district can assess its effectiveness through progress monitoring. For Tier 1, the intervention plan is deemed effective if 80% or more of the students are meeting or exceeding expectations. 

If less than 80% of the students are reaching the designated benchmark, the school or district will identify which areas need improvement and adjust the Tier 1 intervention plan.

Multi tiered system of supports math intervention pyramid showing 80-90% of students receive tier 1 intervnetion
A multi-tiered system of supports model
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What is the importance of Tier 1 interventions?

Tier 1 interventions are particularly important to the MTSS framework because they provide a baseline to ensure all students receive high-quality education. They also help to identify the need for further interventions.

These interventions benefit schools and students in multiple ways:

  • Schools or districts can provide high-quality, research-based instruction
  • It is easier to identify areas where school improvement is needed
  • They help to identify students who may need more personalized intervention

Tier 1 of the MTSS framework helps schools provide interventions with intention and help meet student needs. They ensure academic, behavioral, and social-emotional needs are being addressed.

One of the most important components of a quality Tier 1 intervention plan is the implementation of evidence-based strategies. Every strategy must be chosen purposefully, with plenty of research to back up its effectiveness. 

Using evidence-based strategies allows the intervention planning team to understand why those initiatives may be a good fit for their context and students’ specific needs.

When are Tier 1 math interventions necessary?

Educators and schools can use assessment data as well as the problem-solving approach below to determine if a Tier 1 intervention is necessary. 

The problem-solving approach follows four steps:

  1. Define: what is the problem? 
  2. Analyze: why is this problem occurring? 
  3. Implement: use evidence-based interventions to address the problem
  4. Evaluate: how well is the intervention working?

These steps can be repeated throughout the MTSS process to monitor student progress and interventions. 

Problem-solving approach to multi-tiered system of supports for tier 1 interventions
The problem-solving approach to determine whether Tier 1 interventions are needed

5 examples of Tier 1 math interventions

Not all Tier 1 interventions look the same in practice. Tier 1 math intervention strategies should be adapted to meet the needs and context of your school or district. 

1. Small group

Small groups are a helpful initiative for differentiated instruction in your math classroom. Students with similar instructional needs can work together in a small group to keep instruction relevant and targeted. 

By putting students in groups that target their specific needs, you can provide group interventions to a diverse group of students. 

For example, you may be working on adding fractions with unlike denominators in your class but some students may still need targeted instruction for creating equivalent fractions. 

Small groups can be adjusted regularly depending on student’s understanding and growth, as well as the topic being covered. 

2. Using math tools and manipulatives 

Math manipulatives can be used in the classroom to create hands-on experiences for students to visualize mathematical problems and situations. 

Offering manipulatives to students is a great way to support all students form a conceptual understanding of math problems.

Providing students with a choice of manipulatives gives them autonomy to work with the manipulatives that work best for them. 

Some math manipulatives include: 

  • fraction tiles
  • pattern blocks
  • cuisenaire rod
  • whiteboards and markers 

In cases where underprivileged students do not have access to manipulatives, it is possible to draw these visuals on whiteboards or paper or if you are able, you can draw and cut them out of paper. 

Third Space Learning US third grade lesson using manipulatives
At Third Space Learning, our tutors utilize our interactive learning platform and resources to support the development of students’ conceptual understanding of math.

3. Research-based curriculum

A research-based curriculum focuses on the core instruction taking place in the classroom. 

Generally, this will need to take place at the school or district level to ensure schools have a well-researched math curriculum. With many research-based curricula, it is important to determine which one would be a good fit for your school or district.

4. Setting goals

Goal setting is a powerful tool. While teachers can set math goals for students, it is empowering for students to create their own goals. 

This metacognitive strategy encourages students to check their understanding and recognize the areas they need to work on. Building this self-awareness means students start to understand themselves better as learners and mathematicians.

5. Setting clear expectations

Student behavior and social-emotional skills are a key aspect of MTSS. To succeed in these areas in the mathematics classroom, there must be clear expectations for what appropriate behavior looks like. 

This includes: 

  • Transition between whole group, small group, and individual instruction
  • Handling of math materials 
  • Organizing math resources
  • Group work ethic 

16 tried and tested strategies for Tier 1 interventions

Below, we share with you strategies to support the success of Tier 1 interventions at every stage, from setting initial goals to implementation, intensification and boosting student engagement.

6 steps for setting Tier 1 goals

1. Decide which goal you will aim for with your Tier 1 goal assessment 

Use a goal assessment to figure out the focus of your Tier 1 intervention plan. There are many components to the MTSS framework, including academic, behavioral, and social-emotional supports and using a goal assessment will help determine focus areas.

2. Make a list of possible strategies that will address the goal

Consider the strategies that will help achieve your Tier 1 intervention goal. These should be evidence-based strategies and appropriate for the goal.

3. Select the strategy that will be used

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, there are four tiers or levels to evidence-based practices. Categorize your list of strategies using these levels to determine which strategies may be more effective than others. These levels are:

Level 1: Strong evidence

Interventions require evidence from studies with a significantly positive impact on student outcomes, without negative findings. Findings should come from well-designed, well-implemented, experimental studies examining the same interventions and outcomes.

Level 2: Moderate evidence

This requires evidence from studies that have had a positive impact on student outcomes. Again, evidence must come from well-designed, well-implemented, experimental or quasi-experimental studies examining the same interventions and outcomes.

Level 3: Promising evidence

Level 3 strategies require evidence from at least one correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias. Generally, this is a statistical model for determining the relationship between two variables.

Level 4: Demonstrates a rationale 

This rationale is based on high-quality findings or positive evaluation that an intervention is likely to improve student outcomes.

The difference between the first three tiers of evidence-based research is the type of study. Evidence in the first three tiers is trusted to be “well-designed and implemented” and seek statistically significant results. 

Strategies fitting into any one of these tiers would be a valuable strategy to consider. They are all evidence-based and only differ by the type of research that was conducted.

Narrow strategies down to one effective evidence-based choice. The more quality research you can find, the stronger the strategy will be.

4. Plan logistics for the strategy

Think through how the chosen strategy will be implemented:  

  • What time is required to implement the strategy effectively?  
  • How much planning is involved? 
  • What materials will you need? 
  • How will you obtain those materials? 
  • Will any extra staff be needed?

5. Who will provide high-quality instruction? 

It is most likely the classroom teacher will carry out Tier 1 interventions since all students should receive high-quality curriculum and instruction. 

But when additional support is needed, consider who will deliver it. If you are focusing on social-emotional or behavioral based, which experts are available to work with teachers in implementing evidence-based strategies?

6. Monitor progress and set a review date 

All MTSS strategies must be monitored and evaluated to ensure they are effective. Decide what monitoring will look like and the methods that will be put in place. 

Set a review date to check in on progress and evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention initiative. 

  • Is it working? 
  • Does it need amending? 

5 strategies to provide intensification in Tier 1 math interventions

1. Frequency of lessons

A lot of times, quality is prioritized over quantity. However, more exposure to math concepts and practice opportunities can benefit some students. 

More frequent lessons also provide opportunities for multiple mathematical strategies, manipulatives and tools to deepen understanding. 

2. Opportunities to work in small groups

Small group work helps teachers and students. It allows teachers to target instruction more effectively. It also allows students to receive the specific help that they need with the assignments they are working on.

3. Duration of lessons

Keep lessons concise. Who is talking the most? 

Aim for a classroom where students are doing most of the talking. They should be at the center of the learning. It can also help to keep them on track and focused on the curriculum.  

4. Grouping students

Think outside the box. While it may be tempting to consider dividing your class into equal size groups, this is not always the most effective way. 

Start by looking at the curriculum content and form groups based on the misconceptions you want to focus on. For instance, when working on the standard algorithm for multiplication, you may want a group that focuses on regrouping and another group where regrouping occurs more than once. 

Then decide which students fit into which group, most likely the group sizes will be different! If one group is too big, split this group into smaller groups to work on the same material.

Not all groups may get to work with an adult in one lesson. A rotating schedule can be helpful to try and work with all groups in one week. 

Whichever rotating group model you choose, the quality of your interventions can far outweigh the frequency of your interventions.

5. Positive reinforcement

Students respond well to positive reinforcement — especially when working through tough challenges. 

Math can be challenging and requires problem-solving, communication, metacognition, and perseverance. Praising effort helps encourage students to persevere. 

Make positive reinforcement specific and highlight the mathematical thinking or strategy the student is using well. 

Praising students to the whole class encourages others to adopt the same successful mathematical thinking or strategies. 

5 strategies to boost Tier 1 math engagement

Tier 1 intervention aims to reach all students, however, if students are not engaged, they are not learning. 

Here are 5 strategies to boost Tier 1 student engagement:

1. Justification

There is more to mathematics than knowing the right answer. It is equally important to justify an answer or a strategy. Asking students to justify themselves in the mathematics classroom opens the door to rich mathematical discussion and vocabulary, engaging students in the process.

2. Make connections

Connections are everywhere in math. While some students will make these connections themselves, others may struggle. Design lessons that lend themselves to these discoveries. 

Introduce a new mathematical concept by looking at a mathematical concept students already know. 

For example, when learning how to multiply a whole number by a fraction, remind students of multiplication with whole numbers. Using simple connections to come up with strategies for related concepts engages students in the subject as a whole. 

3. Mathematical discourse

Math talk is one of the best ways to keep all students engaged. This can be done through:

  • number talks
  • group tasks
  • small group lessons
  • whole-group discussions
  • partner work 

Problem-solving together deepens conceptual understanding and keeps students engaged. 

Math discourse as part of a Tier 1 intervention plan also helps teachers work on the behavioral expectations in their classroom. 

Many teachers feel apprehensive about group work. But with clear expectations given beforehand, classroom management will be easier. Students can thrive in this type of learning environment and have stronger learning experiences and better social skills in the long term.

4. Make objectives clear

If students are unclear about the math objectives, they will find it hard to stay engaged.  

Ensure students are aware of the end goal while they are working on a task. Working backwards can help them understand the relevance and importance of their work. 

A lack of purpose and direction can result in a lack of engagement. 

5. Challenge students

When students are not feeling challenged, they will not be engaged. Differentiation, scaffolding, and small groups are key. These classroom strategies ensure that each student is being challenged appropriately in the math classroom.

Tier 1 high-leverage interventions

High-leverage interventions are defined as “proven” interventions that have data to support their effectiveness. These would make appropriate interventions to implement in a Tier 1 intervention.

4 examples of high-leverage Tier 1 elementary math interventions

1. Mathematical discourse

Mathematical discourse research shows significant improvement in student engagement and academic success compared to classrooms that do not utilize it. 

Learners talking about math through reasoning, justification, problem-solving and discussion increases their conceptual understanding and engages them. 

Research has shown that mathematical discourse when combined with social emotional learning (SEL) further improves engagement and learning outcomes, which works very well with the goals of MTSS.

2. Developing math self-concept

Math self-concept relates to how students view themselves in the context of the mathematics classroom. 

Many people claim they are not a “math person” but this perception of themselves can be changed. 

Research has shown that improving students’ math self-concept, improves their engagement and academic success. 

Additionally, creating a sense of belonging in the mathematics classroom creates space to work on social-emotional learning. 

3. Personalized learning with technology-based interventions

Technology-based interventions have been shown to improve student engagement in the mathematics classroom. 

Personalized learning motivates students, provides autonomy over their learning experiences and increases their achievement.

Like all interventions, technology-based learning should be evidence-based and support social classroom interactions.

4. Socially and culturally responsive interventions

Making math interventions socially and culturally responsive helps students to see the relevance of mathematics in their day-to-day lives. 

It also improves their math self-concept as they can understand how mathematics applies to their everyday life. 

How Third Space Learning can support Tier 1 math interventions

Third Space Learning’s team of math experts have created a wide range of formative and summative assessments to help educators identify students in need of a Tier 1 math intervention. From exit tickets to practice state assessments, the Third Space Learning resource library is home to a multitude of assessments. 

You can also find an abundance of topic guides for each math strand to help with small group work and correlating worksheets to support interventions. 

Math intervention packs, taken straight from our one-on-one math tutoring sessions, can be downloaded to reinforce mathematical concepts and address misconceptions for the students who need it most. 

Find everything you need for your Tier 1 math intervention in the resource library

More Response to Intervention support: 

Tier 1 interventions FAQs

What is Tier 1 intervention in math?

Tier 1 intervention is the foundation for all other interventions, where the focus is on high-quality, evidence-based classroom instruction. Schools may focus on implementing a new math curriculum, math strategy or small group work.

What are examples of Tier 1 interventions?

Examples of Tier 1 interventions include:  
• Working in small groups
• Using math manipulatives or tools
• Working on setting goals
• Implementing a research-based curriculum
• Setting clear expectations

What are Tier 1 Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions?

Tier 1 interventions involve high-quality classroom instruction and are provided to all students while Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions are more intensified and individualized.  
Tier 2 interventions are targeted to specific individuals addressing learning gaps. Tier 3 intervention involves more intensive support when students are not progressing in Tier 2.

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