Intervention vs. Remediation: What’s the difference?

Intervention and remediation (also commonly referred to as reteaching) have the same fundamental goal: supporting struggling students with focused learning opportunities in order to achieve academic success. The differences between these two types of instruction are critical to determining what sort of environment, time, and approach might be required to best serve your students. Here, we take a closer look at defining these terms and provide guidance on when and where they might fit into your instructional day.

Intervention

Intervention is often identified as a formal process for helping students who are struggling, where research-based instructional approaches are implemented around very specific skill deficits and where progress is regularly tracked. This intensive approach was first introduced with the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) as a method to help identify students with specific learning disabilities. Some of the more popular models include response to intervention (RTI) or a multi-tiered support system (MTSS). In practice, many schools use intervention to prevent learning gaps from widening further down the line and to identify students for special education referral.

Intervention frameworks are often divided into three sections, where about 80 percent of students are considered Tier 1 and receive core instruction and necessary remediation or reteaching. Tier 2 (5 to 15 percent of students) and Tier 3 (less than 5 percent of students) are then most directly involved in regular small-group or 1:1 interventions. In order to determine which students require intervention services, a formalized screening, and diagnostic assessment process is often used, during which specific strengths and needs are identified, growth targets are set, and a regimented plan for delivery and progress monitoring is outlined.

Remediation

At a fundamental level, remediation (or reteaching) means “teaching content again” to students that had previously failed to learn it. As a teacher recognizes misconceptions or errors in understanding, they may quickly redirect students through explicit remediation of that concept. This is done early on and for the benefit of all learners during core instruction in hope of preventing the majority of students from requiring more targeted, intensive interventions. Many teachers engage in remediation regularly as a natural part of instruction, without using a formal process or even explicitly recognizing their actions as intentional reteaching.

Remediation is also often guided by some sort of formative assessment, whether formal or informal, in order to gather enough insight to recognize the large breakdown in knowledge that students are experiencing. For this approach to be impactful, teachers must use a different method to the one initially used—one that builds on previous learning and focuses on the specific omissions in student thinking experienced the first time around. Ideally, remediation or reteaching is done early in the learning process, before additional skills are layered in or more formal mastery tests or summative exams are administered.

When to Use Each Approach

The best educators recognize both intervention and remediation as central to their daily instructional practices. In between delivering core instruction for a specific standard aligned to their explicit scope and sequence, these educators are constantly pausing to reflect and reteach, while similarly adding in intentional intervention time for those who might be struggling with underlying skills or concepts. This balancing act can often feel like navigating a decision tree but for instruction. Look below at the following infographic for an example.

Remediation vs. Intervention chart

When you understand the key differences of these instructional approaches and, better yet, the value each one holds, your practices as an educator can become even more intentional. For example, don’t waste your prescious time organizing all students into small groups for an intervention block when only 10 percent of them require this level of focused engagement. Also, don’t stop to remediate a concept to the whole class when just a subset of learners would really benefit from a hands-on alternative instructional method to achieve understanding. Knowing what your students need and how to best meet their needs will make for a more balanced learning ecosystem where everyone is receiving the right level of support at just the right time.