How Do We Best Do Literacy Interventions?

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Literacy intervention has been weighing heavily on my mind this year as I vow to do a better job for all of my students.  I think most of us would agree that we are willing to move heaven and earth to help students become successful, yet there are times where it seems like every great idea we have is simply not enough.

And I keep wondering; what do we first focus on; engagement or strategies?  I know I always tend to lean toward student engagement first and finding a way to combine it with strategies, but I still wonder is it okay to use a program that may teach students incredible strategies to bolster their reading skills, thus making reading more accessible, even though we hear students dislike the program?  Do we focus first on re-connecting students with a like or love of reading and writing and then worry about the strategies?  I know that ideally the programs that we use would be a combination of both, but is that even possible?  Are there intervention programs out there that students actually like?  Or is it on a case by case basis?

As you can see, I have more questions than answers.  I have thoughts, sure, and I know where I tend to fall; student engagement above all, but what if this isn’t enough?  What if a child will never be fully engaged until they have mastered better reading strategies that can only be taught through repetitive means?

Therefore I wonder; what would the ideal literacy intervention program look like?  I have seen many variations, some amazing, some not so much.  I have seen an incredible combination of ideas that have worked incredibly for some students, and not so much for others.  And while I doubt that there is one right answer, there has to be an overall approach that gives us a better result for many students.  I am hoping with this post that you will share your ideas.  Lend your thoughts.

Where do we start?  Do we worry about students loving reading or writing or do we worry more about giving them the tools to master the skills needed?  Is there a right way to bolster students?

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  

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17 thoughts on “How Do We Best Do Literacy Interventions?

  1. I have an interest in this on many levels. I would like to know what the amazing intervention programs are that you mention. I taught 5th and 3rd grade for over 40 years, so I am “seasoned”. I still sub and tutor. Tutoring really changed me as a teacher. I began as a relatively young teacher ie only 8 or 9 years and I taught the child and not a “program”. The “program” came from my analysis and interaction with the individual child. Now I know all about RTI and programs etc. I also think what we do with groups (large and small) in schools does not always match what one can do as a tutor. (Although Reading Recovery is or was a one to one program.) I read Frank Smith’s Understanding Reading long ago and think that is a really important book. I found out about it from Nancie Atwell. I do believe that like say piano lessons or baseball team practice, one has to practice a skill to develop ie reading a lot, often and widely. How do you get kids to want to read and become lifelong readers, who can then develop their skills? I believe they have to read as much as possible. Can’t wait to see other comments/ideas.

  2. As a kindergarten teacher I too wondered and worried that “programs” don’t distract from the magic of reading and stories. The balancing act I think is never ending,

  3. This is such a fascinating subject. I, as an author, presenter at schools and conferences, mother, and life-long reader, believe as you, Pernille, that engagement trumps strategies. My daughter began reading at 4, completely on her own, but we read to her every day. My son started reading later, but we were never concerned. We let him find his way. However, many of my teacher friends share that for students coming from non-reading homes or students who see and learn differently, engagement is not enough.

    I’m visiting the Rolph Literacy Academy in Wichita, Kansas in February. They have only 29 students who have reading challenges and they’ve evidently done a splendid job helping these students become readers. I’m excited to visit with the teachers there.

  4. My pendulum swings back and forth every year. First and foremost, I want students to enjoy reading and writing–a lot. But I also know I can teach them formulaic strategies to enhance the quality, especially when we’re talking about writing. But I don’t want to suck the joy out of it. But they might enjoy it more if they intentionally applied the strategies and wrote “better”. But that might eliminate voice and creativity and risk-taking. But… But… But… *sigh*

  5. I did global read aloud and tried to connect students to books they might enjoy. On STAR testing, a majority of my kids went down. Therefore, I hve failed.

    • Pam, it makes me sad when we think we fail. I teach intervention and, as another colleague posted, the balancing act between strategies and engagement focus is never-ending. Remember that no assessment can provide a complete measure of success. I am sorry your students went down in STAR, but it does not mean you are a failure. Was it a mid-year test? STAR tests often go down in the middle of the year. I am not sure why, but it has proven true in our district. We no longer give the test mid-year because the dip does not bear out as meaningful by the end of the year. Kudos for participating in global read-aloud and working to connect your kids with books.

  6. I think that engagement and excitement about reading has to come first, but I don’t think that the two are mutually exclusive.

    The school day should include read aloud, independent reading/reading workshop with a short teaching point, close reading/shared text, and guided reading in order to cover both engagement and comprehension/strategies. Engagement also comes from the teacher’s enthusiasm about books and reading which can take many forms such as book talks, book raffles, bulletin boards, purchasing books, etc.

    I also think that it depends on what you mean when you say “program.” I’ve found programs like Reading A-Z, other computer based programs, etc. to be ineffective.
    The only “program” that I’ve found to be effective, thus far, is the Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention program. I think it’s success lies in the fact that the basis of the program is great books + great teaching (no computer can replace a lesson that has been well planned by a teacher to target student needs). The books are engaging and high quality (I’ve found myself texting my co-teacher after reading some because I thought they were so interesting!). It covers decoding/phonics strategies, fluency and deeper comprehension skills. It is basically a fully planned guided reading program.

    Reading is an extremely complex subject to teach and each child is an extremely complex person. I think it’s inevitable then, that reading interventions will be complex as well.

  7. Pernille,
    It seems like we all have the same concerns, issues and questions with how best to help those students who are not fluent readers, who read independently below grade level, and are the best pretend readers of all. After 8 years of teaching 6th grade and raising my son who fit into this category, I’ve now decided that the best way I can help these students is to share my love and enthusiasm for good literature. Read aloud occurs daily and every single day, 100% of my class begs me not to stop. We use Scholastic Scope magazine for its fabulous narrative nonfiction content and the students ask if they can read back issues (yes, they ask to read nonfiction!). If we share a whole class novel, I read it aloud as they read along in their own copy of the book, and when we break into small novel groups, I support those struggling readers either by sharing the reading with them ( 1 read a page, they read a page) or I get the book on CD and they listen and read at the same time. I’ve seen these students so excited when they can participate in the novel group/whole class discussion. For some, this is the first time they’ve been able to do this. By the time a student gets to 6th grade, the stigma of pull-out for an intervention program and/or the ineffective programs themselves really don’t help at all with improvement. So, I rely on my strength as a reader and try to just demonstrate how much joy reading brings me, enriches our classroom, etc. I try to find a series that will “hook” them and maybe keep them reading. I don’t know what more to do. On a personal note, my son was this student. He had reading interventions from K-8th grade and refused further interventions in high school. Today he is a sophomore at SIU with a 4.0 GPA. He still doesn’t like to read books; however, he reads the most technical manuals and textbooks for his major in automotive technology. I look at the stuff and truly, it’s difficult reading. But, his motivation is high and he can do it now. Maybe he’ll never sit down and read a novel (although I do still hope that will happen), but I know he can read and understand the text that is important to him. So, in the end, I believe it’s motivation that these students really need. I try my best to provide it all year long.

  8. As a reading specialist, and former Reading Recovery teacher leader, I have a very strong interest in this topic. To me, we should not have to choose between interventions that teach needed skills and interventions that promote the love of reading and engagement with books. High quality interventions allow students to read engaging books and write about their ideas for the majority of the lesson. Isolated skill work might comprise 20% of the time. If you look at What Works Clearinghouse, many of the highest rated interventions are comprehensive and based mostly on reading whole text. Many of the lowest rated are based on isolated skill instruction only.

    My students find joy during our intervention time because we are mostly reading engaging books and writing about them.

  9. With my own children, engagement has been by far the driving factor. My oldest didn’t want to read any of the books I was dying to read him from my own childhood, yet once he discovered certain non-fiction titles that appealed to him, he became an avid reader. My second child also has very specific reading tastes, very different from my oldest, and will only stick with the reading that appeals to him.

    However, in my 9/10th gr classroom, engagement has to be fairly equally balanced with strategies in the case of English Language Learners in particular. Predicting based on visual cues, annotating, and pair dicussion of text-based questions are the clutches I am married to for the moment in my dedicated ELD activities. And I have difficulty differentiating this way in mixed level classes, since fluent readers don’t really need this level of support to break down a text. I am doing all informational text for ELD and encourage my ELLs to borrow non-fiction titles to take home, with limited success on that front.

    I definitely struggle with feeling a bit frazzled between focusing on making content comprehensible for ELLs and struggling readers versus focusing more concretely on engagement and student-led inquiry.

  10. Another issue on my mind: An ELD teacher that I respect supports the use of some limited student time per week dedicated to individual reading intervention software such as achieve3000 , and I am in a conversation with my admin about it.

  11. Pingback: Engagement or Strategies? | Grit & Wit

  12. This is a great question!
    As a reading interventionist, 3rd-8th grade, I struggle with the notion of ever finding a “best” reading intervention, especially one that engages all learners. I begin with and often revisit motivation and engagement; attempting to facilitate a love, like or even a little bit of interest in reading and writing in any and all possible ways while providing a designated literacy intervention. This is not any easy task, especially at the middle school level. It all boils down to taking the time to listen and incorporate individual learner interests, voice and choice, which can be difficult when working with a set group of students during an intervention. I find that it is always an ongoing work in progress!

    My approach to intervention is based on giving the fidelity to my learners as much as I can, even when given an intervention program to implement such as Read 180, System 44, Read About, and even Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI). I try to continuously adjust mini lessons, strategy instruction, and literacy tasks based on learner needs while incorporating the standards and core literacy curriculum. I have come to this conclusion after many years of trying it different ways, including just running a program whether the students like it or not. My learners have done well with this approach. What I have found is if you focus the fidelity on your learners, they will more readily compromise and complete required tasks and assessments most of the time. Currently, my focus is on building more real-life, worldly literacy connections with my learners.

  13. I think a 360 approach is best. Teaching kids is like dieting/living a healthy lifestyle. You need to eat healthy, exercise, and sleep for it all to work. I am a first grade teacher this year and I am amazed at how quickly students can learn once all the pieces are put together. I do not follow any program. I design and develop the curriculum based off of research, student interest, strategies, art, and love of learning. Here are a few things that worked for my students this year.

    -Look at the research states and match it to your students current abilities. For instance, I chose which phonics skills to teach my students based off of what words they needed to access in guided reading.

    – I read aloud three times a day to my students from different areas of my library to peak their interest. Next thing I knew, they were adding books to the teacher bin to read because they wanted me to read aloud all these books.

    – Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. Some things must stay the same while others change. At the beginning of the year and throughout the whole entire year poetry is a big part of our literacy development. What’s the same is that we’re always reading it, it’s super fun, and it’s not too long. What’s different is that it’s always something new, but still accessible to the students. After rereading our favorite poems several times, my struggling students start to catch on.

    -Art plays a big role in our classroom. Every time we read for information students must write what they have learned and complete some type of art project to display their learning/writing. Art opens the mind and pathways in the brain. It’s a must-have!

    As a teacher, “I think how do my students learn?” and design my instruction based off of how they think and process information. I use their misconceptions to aid my delivery. I change my round hole to match their square peg. I make learning fun and emphasize using a strategy for everything. That is the intervention I believe the students need.

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