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I’m finishing up my 6th year as a reading specialist, and I’ll be the first to admit—I had to do a lot of learning about reading intervention. Just because I was a certified reading specialist, it turns out that didn’t mean I knew how to teach children to read.  I had a passion for teaching and I had some knowledge, but when it comes to intervention, I discovered there are so many moving pieces and ways I needed to learn, grow, and tweak.

And the learning is never finished.

But as I reflect on the past several years, there are a few things that have emerged as nonnegotiables.  If we want our reading interventions to work, there are some things we have to do.  So today, let’s talk about what we need to put in place in order for the intervention to be successful.

The reading intervention must match the needs of the child

Seems like a no-brainer, huh?  We should teach children what they need to learn.  But there are several ways where this could go wrong.

The biggest wrong turn I see is putting a student in a group that doesn’t fit simply because they “need intervention.”  For example, a child may need comprehension instruction.  But because of a lack of personnel/time, they are placed into a phonics group.  This is an obvious example of mismatched intervention, but it can be more subtle as well.  A group could be working on skills that are beyond where a child is at, and that child is then missing out on the very thing that could bring them closer to grade level. 

teacher and kids
The reading intervention must match the needs of the child.

The other wrong turn comes in the intervention itself.  I was in love with LLI.  I thought it was the answer to the problems my students faced.  But even though LLI was designed for reading intervention, the intervention program didn’t address their needs because it was designed with leveled readers at the forefront.  I was chugging my kids through levels—even kindergartners.  And I did it because you’re supposed to be able to trust companies.

But if the reading intervention program does not match the need, we will not see the progress we want.  Even a great program will fail if it is not what the child needs.

Progress monitoring should occur frequently to determine if progress is being made

As a general rule of thumb, progress monitoring should occur every 10 days of instruction (not every 10 calendar days.)

Progress monitoring is a quick way to identify whether or not a student is making progress.  Just like the intervention should be matched to the needs of the child, the progress monitoring tool should match the reading intervention.  It wouldn’t make sense to give a STAR comprehension assessment to a child who is just learning to decode.  We wouldn’t assess nonsense words for a child working towards comprehension goals.

high five
Regular progress monitoring allows us to evaluate if our intervention is working.

So what progress monitoring do I use? For kindergarten, I typically assess letter names and sounds.

In first and second grade, I will use either spelling or nonsense word decoding, unless the student still needs letter sounds.

In third and up, I often use an ORF assessment. Although ORF is not a straightforward comprehension progress monitoring tool, it has a moderate-high correlation to comprehension (Hasbrouck, 2020). So I feel confident that if my students are making progress with Oral Reading Fluency, it is a good indicator of progress towards that goal.

Where can you find progress monitoring tools?

It’s important when you are progress monitoring that your school works towards consistency. It doesn’t make sense for one teacher to use progress monitoring tools from one source, while another uses tools from a different one. While the progress monitoring itself does not need to be the same (because we are matching it to the intervention), we do want to ensure that we have consistency as much as possible. We cannot have consistency if a child was being progress monitored with DIBELS from one interventionist, but then changed to an interventionist who was using something like STAR, unless the intervention focus also changed.

Consistency matters so we can accurately track the trajectory of our students’ progress and so we may present data in ways that are not confusing for stakeholders. Just think how confusing it would be for a parent to get different reports from different places. And if a child does eventually get referred to child study, we want the intervention narrative to present a straightforward picture of what the child can and cannot do.

A few places to find progress monitoring tools:

  • DIBELS (it’s free and it’s GREAT)
  • Check your reading curriculum. Oftentimes they already have progress monitoring tools built into them.
  • If your school uses STAR, they have a large number of additional progress monitoring tools (Reading CBM).

Data reflection occurs often

Progress monitoring is used for two purposes:  to see if progress is happening, and to help us become more responsive practitioners. In order for our reading intervention to be successful, we have to regularly look at the data and make changes based on that information.

Here’s an example of how progress monitoring can help us tweak our instruction.  Say I am using spelling as a progress monitoring tool.  I noticed that my students are mastering the targeted skill (magic e), but are now confusing -ng and -nk again.

My first line of defense is to increase the amount of -ng and -nk words I incorporate into my cumulative review.  When I am asking my children to review reading and spelling, I would make sure I target more of those words.

If, after I interleave some of those skills, my students still aren’t making progress, I may then reteach that skill.  There’s a continuum that we can take here–from just adding in additional practice, to reteaching, to rethinking the reading intervention itself. We use the progress monitoring to help us decide which route to take to ensure we close the gap.

data analysis
We need to reflect on the data to ensure that what we are doing is working–having a team of people to troubleshoot and problem solve is even better.

At my school we have data meetings every other week. It’s a time where we look at ALL the data we have-universal screeners, progress monitoring, benchmarks, etc., and make decisions based on that data. When you can be part of a team that looks at data, it is even more powerful that doing it on your own.

Reading intervention takes place consistently

With reading intervention (and any intervention), we must be as consistent as possible.  If interventionists are pulled to cover classrooms, we are undermining the effectiveness of our work.  When classroom teachers ask the interventionist to not pull because they are working on something important, we are undermining the effectiveness of intervention.

I don’t know of a magic number, but in order for our children to succeed, they need intervention to be just as predictable as lunch and recess.  In my opinion, 20-30 minutes for 4-5 days a week is ideal.

Consistency in the intervention gives it a chance to work. Struggling readers cannot afford to have a half-hearted reading intervention.

Children receive enough practice to reach automaticity

If I had to choose an educational hill to die on, it just might be practice. Whenever someone messages me and asks me what they can do to help their struggling reader, one of my first questions is always “How much practice do they get each week?”

Think about a typical classroom. The teacher might introduce a phonics skill one day, and then throughout the week the children have some homework, perhaps a decodable to read with the group, or a couple of spelling activities sprinkled throughout.

That might be enough for your typically developing student, who needs 1-4 exposures to orthographically map a pattern. But for struggling readers, they can required HUNDREDS of exposures to a word before they can effortlessly, automatically retrieve it.

annabelle decodable small
Interventionists must give students the practice they need to become automatic. (Decodable from The Literacy Nest.)

Where does that practice come from? Some of it should come from the classroom, but a classroom teacher may not be able to give their children the amount of practice they need to reach automaticity. A reading interventionist has the power to give children that critical extra practice.

When we are teaching new skills, we want to do two things–give children more practice than we ever thought necessary, and make sure we are interleaving old and new skills (think cumulative review). Every single day your children are in reading intervention, they should be reading or spelling (hopefully both) for the majority of the time.

Worksheets, games, Blookets, etc., all have a place. But nothing could be more important than our children actually reading words and spelling them. Furthermore, we cannot forget that this doesn’t stop at the word level–children need to read connected text and practice writing complete sentences.

Final Thoughts

I’ve talked a lot these past few years about specific practices we can use to help our students become better readers. But I’ve rarely talked about the systems that must be in place, regardless of the specific practices we use. Above all else, our job in reading intervention is to be responsive practitioners to the needs of the child. Matching the intervention to their needs, progress monitoring based on that intervention, and reflecting on the data is a system that will ensure we are doing what is right for our students. Then, when we are both consistent while giving reading intervention and when we give our children enough practice to reach automaticity, we are able to give all students what the need to be successful.


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Picture of Savannah Campbell

Savannah Campbell

Savannah Campbell is a K-5 reading specialist. She has taught her entire 12-year teaching career at the school she went to as a child. She holds two master’s degrees in education from the College of William and Mary. Savannah is both Orton-Gillingham and LETRS trained. Her greatest hope in life is to allow all children to live the life they want by helping them to become literate individuals.

Picture of Savannah Campbell

Savannah Campbell

Savannah Campbell is a K-5 reading specialist. She has taught her entire 12-year teaching career at the school she went to as a child. She holds two master’s degrees in education from the College of William and Mary. Savannah is both Orton-Gillingham and LETRS trained. Her greatest hope in life is to allow all children to live the life they want by helping them to become literate individuals.

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