So How Are Your Reading Interventions Working?

toni's photo for blogby Toni Czekanski, Assistant Director, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Schools and school districts spend a lot of money on interventions designed to help students who have difficulty learning to read or write become more proficient in a short amount of time. This is the goal: to close the achievement gap. But how well are you implementing your interventions, and how often are you monitoring data on these students to be sure that what you are doing works for them?


364In Literacy Collaborative we talk about Fidelity of Implementation. Usually it is in terms of your implementation of the LC model: leadership team, effective classroom teaching supported by ongoing professional development and coaching, shared leadership, data monitoring, and then…intervention. On the Fidelity of Implementation document we ask you to consider what you are doing for reading and writing interventions and how those interventions are working. What is the payoff for your students?


Teacher and studentIf you have Reading Recovery in your school as your Tier 3 intervention, there are already built-in processes to help Reading Recovery teachers monitor their work with students. Each day they review what happened in the lesson, take a running record of a book that was introduced the day before, and make plans for where to take the student next. These teachers keep track of each student’s performance on a daily basis, and enter it annually into the national IDEC database. Each year these statistics are reviewed and an annual report is published on the successes and challenges related to Reading Recovery student achievement.

It is incumbent on each school to scrutinize their Reading Recovery teaching and data with the same rigor. In this way, the school is ensuring that students get targeted instruction that conforms to the national standards. That is the only way students who are in the bottom 20-25% of their class can possibly hope to not only catch up to the average students in their grade, but sometimes surpass them…and continue to thrive as they move up through the grades.


LLI group photoWhat about Leveled Literacy Intervention? In order to implement this small group intervention with fidelity, lessons should be thirty to forty-five minutes long (depending on the level), and the LLI teacher should meet with students daily. Just as in Reading Recovery, frequent assessment assures that the students are working at their growing edge, and that the time spent on this intensive intervention has pay-offs when students meet or exceed the reading performance of their on-grade-level peers.

Schools that have invested in training LLI teachers and in materials to support the intervention then need to insure that the intervention is administered with fidelity. LLI students have been identified as needing help to succeed with reading and writing. If they do not receive the intervention as designed, then schools are compromising the ability of these students to make the big gains necessary to close the gap between them and their on-grade-level peers. Intervention is about hard, targeted teaching designed to make swift achievement gains. What can your school leadership team do to insure that interventions are administered as designed?

Whatever interventions your school uses, here are some things you might consider:

  • Time: is the time you have allotted for your interventionists to work with students adequate? Can they meet with students five days a week for the prescribed amount of time? Do they have adequate time between lessons to reflect on their teaching and record data? If time is tight, how might you stretch it?
  • Training and Monitoring: Have interventionists received adequate training in how to use materials and monitor data? Do they engage with ongoing professional development to keep their teaching skills sharp? Do they meet with other interventionists in the district to share experiences and problem-solve dilemmas?
  • Data analysis: Do interventionists have time to analyze data and meet with literacy teams to problem-solve when students are not making adequate progress? How frequently does this happen? Reading Recovery and LLI are short-term interventions. If students are not progressing after ten to fifteen lessons, another pair of eyes and ears might help to make shifts in the teaching that will help students be more successful. What procedures are in place to re-evaluate instruction that is not working and support interventionists who might need help in analyzing their work?
  • Team work: Do the administrators, classroom teachers, interventionists, and literacy coaches work as a team to develop intervention plans and monitor them for success? Does the administrator support the interventionists with time, space, materials, and ongoing professional development opportunities? Does the team meet periodically to review the progress of students taking part in interventions to determine whether those interventions are successful? What are the criteria you use to determine success?

These are all hard questions, but they can help you with the bottom line. And that bottom line is working toward student achievement through the diligent planning and implementation of effective interventions. An intervention can only be successful when done with rigor and fidelity, and when it is supported by close examination of assessment data and teaching practices.

5 thoughts on “So How Are Your Reading Interventions Working?

  1. Toni, I attended Lesley’s summer workshops this past summer – I love your programs. I will be teaching reading in a 6th grade classroom next year (the school split reading and writing into two 45 minute blocks – not especially pleased with it but that’s for a different day!). Anyway – I want to have a strategy in place to address 50% of students who are reading below grade level – 30% at 3rd grade or less. If the principal makes good on her promise – I will only have 15 max kids in each class. I plan to do reading workshops – question is – with only 45 minutes – and 7 or 8 kids in each class who need intervention – how do I make it happen? These kids need daily intervention – not just a couple of times a week. If I set up guided reading every day, I would never get to conference with kids or do literature circles. What about a before school or after school Guided reading program?


    • Your question about providing an intervention while also supporting the students in a readers’ workshop environment is not an uncommon one. Time is always the enemy, isn’t it? You are the only one who can try things out and see what will work, but I’ll offer a couple of possibilities for you to think about. Intervention is important, but having time to read at the student’s independent level during independent reading time is also important…it allows students to practice what they are learning. So a balance of intervention and independent reading time might work for these students. This is contingent on the expectation that while you are working with one group, the other group is engaged in independent reading, or writing about their reading. They must be able to work independently and be accountable for their work. With 45 minutes, you will have time for a brief minilesson on genre, procedures, or literary analysis and then have maybe 30 minutes for independent work or guided reading. If you do one guided reading group a day, that allows you 20 minutes of guided reading and about 10 minutes to confer with some of the students reading independently. You should also leave about 5 minutes to share their thoughts about their reading that day. This allows you to have the best of both worlds, but students would only get guided reading every other day…That’s one scenario. Of course if you have the option of having guided reading before or after school, then you could actually see the students every day, once before school and maybe the next day within the readers’ workshop… This would allow for intensive intervention with all students. Some schools we have worked with do have before or after school guided reading every day for students who need it most. These schools have achieved great success in helping to close the gap for these students. It’s a big commitment, and would also involve monitoring the students’ progress to be sure they were making steady gains. IF it was not working, you would have to rethink what you are doing.

      If you meet with one guided reading group a day during your readers’ workshop, you might have time to meet with a literature study group while the guided reading group was reading their books silently after your introduction. It involves some smooth choreography on your part, but teachers do it. After the lit study group, you would return to your guided reading group for the discussion of what they had read. But remember kids in guided reading groups need to participate in literature study too…and in heterogeneous groups with grade appropriate literature. If they can’t read these texts on their own, then they can listen to them on tape or MP3. The discussion of literature groups is so important for underachieving kids…they need to talk about texts with their peers…just like every other 6th grader!

      What do you think of these ideas…? Drop me a line if you want to continue the discussion.


      • Toni, As a first-year instructional coach in my building where I have taught as a classroom teachers with my staff for 6 years, I now see instructional practices through a completely different lens, and am slowly attempting to shift teachers’ perception of what effective literacy instruction looks like. We use guided reading groups, but many are following scripted programs with groups that are not flexible. One question I have after reading your reply is this: In a primary classroom (K-3) what do effective guided reading groups look like, specifically in regards to text choice? Additionally, how can a classroom teacher balance her students’ daily reading instruction to include independent reading led by student choice as well as teacher choice that supports their skill deficits? In other words, our most at-risk K-3 students are so far behind in their foundational reading skills (especially 2nd & 3rd) that we often fall victim to sticking them in an intervention that leaves no room to be flexible; we put them in the intervention program, and there they stay. Their independence as readers goes nowhere because they are so heavily entrenched in a “program.” Very loaded questions, I know! Thank you for any suggestions you can pass along.


      • Dear Dani,

        Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I’ll try to respond to some of them here, but I also want to refer you to our website resource page that has a lot of information on getting started with guided reading. It will help you think about many of the areas you mention in your comments.

        Changing roles from a classroom teacher to a coach does alter your point of view… mainly because you are now privileged to be an observer in a variety of classrooms, and you begin to get a bigger picture of what is happening in your school with literacy instruction. Taking time to consider the practices you are seeing, and determining next steps to suggest in order support teaching and learning is a good place to start.

        Effective guided reading starts with knowing your readers, knowing the texts, and understanding the elements of a guided reading lesson. Teachers take time to individually assess students in order to determine their strengths and needs as readers. This can be a brief reading record and short discussion about a text, or it can be a more formal assessment like the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment or another informal reading assessment. Whatever your teachers can do to know their students better will be helpful. Once teachers assess their students, they can create flexible guided reading groups based on similar strengths and needs. These groups change as students grow and develop as readers… usually at different rates.

        Next, teachers need to consider the text. Most schools that engage in guided reading have book rooms that contain an abundance of leveled texts in a variety of genres. When the teacher selects a text for a particular reading group, she looks carefully at the text to determine what about the text is supportive, and what might be challenging to that particular group of readers. Knowing this, she plans a text introduction that takes into consideration the specific needs of that group of students. The introduction is supportive, but still leaves some problem-solving for the students to engage in.

        The guided reading lesson itself consists of introducing the text, reading the text, discussing the text after the reading, teaching for processing, and word work. It is the time of readers’ workshop where teachers are able to support small groups of students with instruction that is tailored to their needs. In guided reading, the teacher is preparing students to then be able to select texts on their own, and read them with fluency and understanding during independent reading time.

        Well-structured readers’ workshops provide a balance of small group teaching, whole group instruction, and individual time for independent reading, conferring, and doing work in literacy centers in the early grades. The books that students read at independent reading time in K-2 classrooms are a combination of books they have previously read in guided reading, other books that the teacher recommends, and student-selected texts. In K-1 classrooms, these books are kept in individual browsing boxes for easy access.

        Where does intervention fit into this picture? By definition, intervention is instruction that is in addition to classroom reading time. Many schools have specific intervention periods built into the teaching day, but some schools do not. This presents teachers with the challenge of providing classroom reading instruction and intervention at the same time. This does students a disservice because they are giving up one time for instruction…classroom reading workshop time…to work in an intervention group. Usually, as you described in your comment, the intervention does not provide any time for independent reading. So all students get is time that is directed by the teacher on the text that was chosen for that lesson.

        To put this in a sports metaphor, the student may get abundant time practicing how to kick a ball into a soccer net over and over again, but never get a chance to play in a real game. If we deny students the time to put their reading powers into action with authentic texts at their independent level during independent reading time, they never get to experience being a reader…problem-solving on the fly, thinking about the text…enjoying it… on their own. Teachers may be doing a wonderful job during the intervention and during the guided reading lesson, but if students never get to read on their own, how can they know what reading…really engaging with a book on their own… feels like?

        One last thought on your plea for the most needy students…those who are several grade levels behind their peers. These are the students who most need to understand what the reading process is. They need to know that it involves thinking about the text, looking for meaning, and talking about it with others. It is possible to work on “foundational skills” as you named them, and also go beyond that into thinking about the text and its meaning. They should have browsing boxes of books they have previously read to practice again, and to think more deeply about them. The books should have wonderful stories or information that will interest and pull the readers into them…that they will enjoy! These students should be given a variety of texts to choose from that they can add to their boxes because they want to read them.

        There is so much more to say, but in addition to the website above, I would refer you to the classic, Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Students, by Fountas and Pinnell (1996). Good luck with your work as a new literacy coach!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s