Literacy Interventions: Let’s think outside of the box

Reading Mary Howard’s RTI From All Sides:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know challenged and changed my perceptions about how literacy interventions might look.  Before we begin an intervention we need to collect information about the student.  We need to be flexible in many aspects when planning for literacy interventions.

Use assessments wisely

When working with our tier 2 and tier 3 students we want to use assessment wisely as a means to inform our instruction.  Howard writes that “effective assessment works much like my GPS.  It’s ongoing, embedded, and varied – a tracking system to reflect where our students are at any given time”  (p. 91).  When planning for the use of assessments to guide our interventions we want to be careful that:

  • we do not let screening tests limit our teaching to what is on the screening assessment (NO teaching to the test!).
  • We do not trade too many precious teaching minutes for assessing

Packaged universal screening tools are able to identify the students in need of intervention but most will not be able to inform our instruction in a way that will guide our creation of an intervention plan. We will need to dig deeper to see how we can better address the needs of each individual child. We may find it helpful to:

  • have a student read a text while taking a running record on his/her reading.
  • have a student say words slowly while dictating a sentence for them to write.
  • have a student demonstrate knowledge of concepts about print while the teacher reads him/her a story.
  • collect a writing sample from the classroom teacher.
  • go into the classroom and observe how the child interacts with literacy activities.

During the child’s intervention, there should be on-going informal assessments to monitor progress. This will give us information about how the child is taking on our instruction from day to day and even moment by moment. We should plan to collect data more frequently for our tier 3 students. Again, I want to mention that we need to be careful that assessments do not take the place of quality instruction.  Howard warns us about depending on curriculum-based assessments.

“Many schools monitor progress using curriculum-based one-minute probes. This is a booming business, so carefully compare alternatives that are more closely aligned to the reading process” (p. 64).

The following are examples of data that can be collected during literacy intervention lessons that go hand in hand with teaching.

High-frequency words

Keep track of what words are known when reading and when writing.  This will help us to know how the child is taking on the words that they are being taught.  A record of what words are known will also give us links to build from for future work.


Take notes about what our student says during the comprehension conversation he/she has with us and/or other students.  Can they retell the story using the story elements?  Are they able to make inferences and give opinions about the author’s craft?

Letter Sounds

Record the letter sounds our student is able to hear when he/she is saying words slowly and recording the sounds he/she hears.  Also, we can take note of the letter sounds he/she uses when reading texts.


Jot down notes about how the child’s reading sounds on the running record and on our lesson records.  We have to pay attention to all dimensions of fluency, not just how fast a child can read.


Running records are a great tool to use when analyzing how a child interacts with print when reading.  Running records will give you information about whether the child is monitoring their reading, what they do when they come to unknown words, and what confusions they might have.

Do “Roaming around the known” for ALL of our students

As a Reading Recovery teacher, I absolutely love that Howard suggests that we have a period similar to “roaming around the known” as a means of collecting more information about “strengths, needs, and interests” (p.75).

If you are unfamiliar with the term “roaming around the known” it happens during the first ten lessons of a child’s Reading Recovery intervention.  During roaming the teacher does not intentionally teach anything new. We provide many reading and writing interactions with authentic text.  This is an invaluable and essential time used to observe the student closely and helps us with making sure that we are not teaching from incorrect assumptions.

Once we have a clearer picture of what our students need to reach the goal of exiting from services, we can plan for the first steps in reaching those goals (sounds a lot like writing up predictions of progress). Now we are ready to use all of this information to create an informed literacy intervention that matches our students’ needs.

Be flexible

Flexibility in Response to Intervention is a theme throughout Howard’s book.  We, as interventionists, need to consider each student’s needs and be flexible when creating his/her intervention plan. We should think flexibly about:

  • Creating our overall intervention schedule
  • Frequency/Duration
  • Pull out vs. Push in
  • The tiers themselves – students should be able to move between tiers with fluidity

Meeting with a group of students five days a week for thirty minutes at the same time every day might be easier for us when making our schedule but this might not be what is best for this particular group of students.  We need to be flexible and guided by what are students need!  We should think about the goals we have set for a particular group of students. We might want to start with this group as having three students that we see for thirty minutes sessions, four days a week or maybe we know this particular group should have no more than two students and really needs forty minutes sessions, five days a week.

In a different situation, we might know that a  student really needs to see us one-to-one and would benefit from pull-out, three days a week for thirty minutes and push-in two days a week integrating the skills worked on during the pull-out time into the classroom setting.

After a few weeks, we should look closely at our data for each student to ensure that the intervention plan is working.  If it is not working we need to do be flexible and do some adjusting.  We have to think carefully about what the student needs.  Does he/she need to be seen more frequently or for a longer duration?  Do they need a smaller group size?  Do they need to be seen one to one?  Do they need you to collaborate more with his/her classroom teacher?

We also want to build flexibility into our schedules. We have important work that can not be done if every minute is filled with seeing students.  Pockets of time in our schedule allow for the flexibility to visit classrooms in order to offer support to the classroom teacher and allows us to move students fluidly between the three tiers.  A student in tier 2 that isn’t making sufficient progress should be able to move to tier 3 to receive a more intensive service without having to wait for us. A flexible schedule also allows us time to visit the classroom to help our students with transferring skills and provides us with time to monitor the progress of students in which their intervention services have been discontinued.

I hope through conveying Mary Howard’s wisdom you are able to think about tier 2 and tier 3 interventions in a different (more flexible) way.  The most important thing for us to remember is that any decision we make should be driven by the needs of our students.

This is blog post number 3 of 4 inspired by Mary Howard’s book RTI From All Sides:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know.  Please follow Literacy Pages as we wrap up this series next week with more specifics on how to create a powerful teacher-designed intervention. 



Howard, Mary.  RTI From All Sides:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know.  Portsmouth:  Heinemann, 2009.  Print.

2 thoughts on “Literacy Interventions: Let’s think outside of the box

  1. Pingback: Expert Intervention Teachers: Money Well Spent – Literacy Pages

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