Re-thinking Reading Interventions

  • 29 April, 2014


Ever wonder why we teach kids with a one-size-fits-all anthology in the regular classroom, but are so careful to teach them at their “reading levels” when they are in a pull-out intervention program?  

  Me too.

In reading, students need the greatest amount of scaffolding and support when they are reading hard texts, and they need less support when reading easy materials.                                                                                                                                                        

But we do the opposite. We have kids reading the hardest materials when there is less support available. And, then when we go to the expense of providing lots of support, we simultaneously place the kids in easier texts.                                            

        I’ve written before that research has not been supportive of the idea that we need to teach students at their “reading levels” (except for beginning readers). And there are studies that show students can learn from harder texts, at least when they receive adequate instructional support.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

What if we turned the world on its head? What if we worked with harder texts when students were working in small heterogeneous groups with a special teacher, and eased off on the text demands in whole class situations? What if struggling students got more opportunities to read and reread grade-level materials—such as taking on such texts in the interventions and then reading them again in the classroom? I suspect kids would make more growth, and would be more motivated to make growth than in the upside-down approaches that we are now using.




See what others have to say about this topic.

Anonymous Mar 30, 2017 04:59 PM

Prereading stories from the anthology used to be a common intervention in old reading support programs such as Title 1 and the old resource special ed. programs twenty years ago. This has been left by the wayside because it isn't a "research-based" intervention. If you'll do the research I'll bet we can bring it back. :-)

Beth Mar 30, 2017 05:00 PM

This post really has me thinking. I agree that students need more scaffolding when they read more difficult texts. I could see the experiment you're proposing as being worth trying if there were a system change at the school level (or at least grade level). However, in the reality of my school, I know that if I don't read texts the students can actually read during the time they see me for reading interventions, they may go the entire day not actually able to successfully read a single text. Instead of seeing easier texts used for whole-group instruction (or perhaps in addition to it), I'd like to see classroom teachers restructure their instruction to include less whole-group instruction period. Then perhaps there would be time for students to have the best of both worlds - reading text at their level and reading more challenging text with additional scaffolding.

Russ Walsh Mar 30, 2017 05:01 PM


As you know from previous posts, I am a Common Core skeptic. I don't believe that I, or many, many other skeptics and oponents belong in the clown car that you and David Brooks would like to confine us to. I read Brooks column when it camne out and I found it disturbing. It was recycled Department of Education talking points on the CCSS. Others did a fine job of skewering Brooks. I chose to focus on one statement Brooks made that was absolutely absurd and related to literacy instruction.

"The [Common Core] English standards encourage reading comprehension. Whereas the old standards frequently encouraged students to read a book and then go off and write a response to it, the new standards encourage them to go back to the text and pick out specific passages for study and as evidence."

As a person who, not unlike you, has spent the last 35 years of my life providing children with very good, research-based comprehension instruction, I was offened and I was offended for all of my colleagues as well.

I vented in this posting.

Do you really want to cheerlead for a guy this clueless?

Timothy Shanahan Mar 30, 2017 05:03 PM


The circus has come to town, indeed.

Over the past few weeks I’ve pored over the most recent raft of diatribes leveled against Common Core. The most flamboyant of these continue to confuse CCSS with testing, President Obama, NSA surveillance, and a host of other off-track issues.

Many of these challengers want to end federal support for schools (you know, the money that goes to teaching poor kids, disabled kids, and immigrants), or they hate the idea of young children learning to read despite scads of research to the contrary (they somehow “know” that early reading damages young’uns minds). The anti-college crowd is playing this calliope, too-- (“I didn’t go to college and I did fine”).

I grant that the less-clownish of the opposers at least know what CCSS is. That’s a start.

However, even they (sans greasepaint) continue to miss the point: 42% of students who meet the previous standards (the standards the CCSS-opponents evidently prefer) require remedial classes in college. These aren’t the high poverty kids and second-language kids that populate the bottom quartile of American students (those kids usually don’t get to college). No, these are the kids who—according to the CCSS-adversaries—are doing just fine. Be offended about that, Russ; that really is offensive.

CCSS points us in the direction of teaching rigorously more pertinent skills. That so many find oppose that is as nonsensical as a Volkswagen overflowing with clowns

N Mar 30, 2017 05:05 PM

Actually, this is what I began doing this year and my test results seem to support this idea. Of course it is based on 1 year in 1 classroom - not research based but I feel that the idea is a good one!

Timothy Shanahan Mar 30, 2017 05:06 PM

Oh my gosh! I have been arguing this point with my team for 3 years now! I have been doing this in my classroom and I am very pleased with the results!

What Are your thoughts?

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Re-thinking Reading Interventions


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.