In our zeal to support all students in reaching grade-level goals and passing state tests, we may have lost sight of what the most important activities students should engage in while at school. We have increased the amount of test prep activities, increased the number of assessments given and even increased the number of students receiving interventions but to what avail?
In our desperation, we may be making decisions about interventions that are…well…a bit crazy! School districts are on the hunt for the best intervention programs out there to support their striving readers. Unfortunately, what is attracting many schools are great (deceiving) sales pitches. School districts are spending a lot of money on packaged scripted programs as well as computer programs that deem themselves as the magic to help all readers succeed.
We have to ask ourselves if computer intervention programs or scripted programs will really help our students to be readers. In her book, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence and Equity for All Learners, Regie Routman defines readers as people who choose to read:
- for pleasure and information
- to expand their worldview
- with understanding and appreciation for the author’s craft, style, and unique ideas
- to use their own background, experiences, and knowledge to interpret what they take away from their reading
- while valuing and cherishing books (p. 193)
Computer programs and packaged programs with flashcards, isolated skill and drill practice, worksheets, and increased amounts of assessing/progress monitoring undermine all of the practices that we know help children become better readers and thinkers. With both computer interventions and packaged scripted programs, students spend more time on skill work and less time actually reading. They spend less time with books in their hands and have fewer opportunities to talk with others about books. The materials that the students will read are often boring and visually unappealing in comparison to authentic text. Lessons focus on the child’s deficits and are often dragged out and taught at a slower pace leaving little room for acceleration or “catching up”. Teachers are often required to follow these programs lock step paying little attention to the individual child’s strengths or needs.
When there are too many students to service and not enough support staff school districts turn to teacher assistants to provide interventions. In other words, the staff with the least amount of literacy training is working with our most struggling readers. We have to ask ourselves if this is money well spent? Is this going to help close the gap for these students?
We will struggle to find any evidence to support that scripted programs, computer intervention programs, or teacher assistants as interventionists are going to be enough to close the gap for our striving readers.
The first step we can take to back-off from intervention overload is to take a look at what is happening in the classroom. The number one absolute best intervention that we can provide to our striving readers is more time to read, more experiences with amazing books, more opportunities to talk about books and access to lots of interesting books. These practices have been proven over and over to be effective in helping students to become better readers.
To support these practices schools are better off spending their money on books for classroom libraries and school libraries as well as professional development that helps teachers to understand how children learn to read and how to improve comprehension. Powerful professional development can help teachers to become better at noticing, using strengths to lift deficits, and understanding what the child needs next to better develop his/her processing system.
Teachers can increase the amount of reading happening in their classroom by looking critically at their schedules. Teachers can ask themselves the following questions:
- Where am I losing time?
- Are my transitions tight?
- Am I teaching macro lessons instead of minilessons?
- Am I spending too much time on isolated skills?
- Am I interrupted because students do not know classroom procedures?
- Is all of the teaching I do meaningful?
- Is the work I require students to do meaningful(or a time filler)?
- Are my striving readers in the classroom during reading times?
Having students engage in a variety of reading experiences throughout the day has many benefits.
- builds vocabulary
- builds oral language
- improves comprehension
- increases background knowledge
- improves overall reading achievement
- promotes a sense of community
Students of all ages can engage in the following reading experiences daily.
Interactive read aloud
Students gather together and listen to the teacher read an engaging story. It is called “interactive” because the teacher plans a few stopping points in which he/she stops to think aloud or ask a question that supports understanding the meaning of the story. The children will often discuss the prompts in pairs and sometimes share with the whole group. Stopping points are brief and minimal so as not to interrupt the flow of the story.
Students and the teacher gather to read an enlarged text aloud together. Although shared reading is often stopped after the elementary years it is appropriate for students of all ages.
The teacher meets with a small group of students while the class independently reads books or engages in literacy centers. Guided reading groups are flexible and they help to support the transition to independent reading. Teachers do not need to meet with every guided reading group every day. The frequency of meeting with each group is determined by need. Most of the guided reading lesson time is spent with students actively reading. It important that the students are doing most of the reading work (not the teacher!).
A sustained period of time in which students are reading self-selected books while the teacher confers 1:1 with students or meets with small groups. Students begin to read independently after the teacher has taught a mini-lesson which gives the students a purpose for their reading. Students sometimes write about their reading during a portion of their independent reading time.
Young students (kindergarten, first grade, and possibly early on in second grade) can participate in literacy centers while the teacher meets with guided reading groups. Literacy centers should be meaningful, engaging and offer some choice (NO worksheets!). Some examples of appropriate centers are:
- Reading with a buddy
- Listening to a story on an I-Pad/I-Pod
- Re-reading familiar books from guided reading lessons
- Writing in the various genres learned about during writing workshop
- Rereading poems or big books that were read during shared reading
- Reading/writing about the Science or Social Studies focus
Here are a few other ideas to increase the amount of reading and writing happening in the classroom:
- Have reading and writing materials available for students as they come into the classroom in the morning and when waiting for the bus at the end of the day (if possible materials could even be available during lunch).
- Whenever we sit down with students to read we should be aware of how we are setting kids up to enjoy the story. The way we approach reading can make it the cool thing to do!
- When new books are purchased for the classroom make a big deal about it. Talk the books up and put them on display.
- When purchasing new books for the classroom we can think about our students’ interests or chose a few possible books to purchase and have students vote for their favorite.
By intentionally increasing the amount of reading in the classroom, not only can we help striving readers to “catch up” to their peers, we can also better identify the students who truly need an intervention. For those students, I still do not believe that a scripted program, computer programs, or teacher assistants are the answer. If you would like to read more about my thoughts on literacy interventions read the following posts
Increasing the amount of time our students read, listen to, and talk about authentic and engaging texts increases the chances that they will become a reader. Becoming a reader gives students “hope, opens up new worlds, and makes future dreams possible. It may well be the best gift we can give them” (Routman, p. 226).
Routman, Regie. Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers, 2018. Print.