Preventing reading failure requires we provide reading interventions for struggling readers as early as possible.
When I first was learning about how students learn to read, I was shocked to hear students who struggle with learning to read rarely ever catch up without intensive, expensive intervention.
Studies show children who struggle in first grade with reading usually are still struggling by the time they reach high school.
Keith Stanovich shared in his paper The Matthew Effect, students who don’t have a solid foundation in early literacy skills continue to struggle in other areas and the problem continues to compound.
This CAN be prevented and you can get started by following these 3 tips I’m about to share.
Whether you currently have a system in place to keep students from falling through the cracks, or are searching for one, these 3 tips are essential and valuable when it comes to ways to prevent reading failure.
Tip 1: Have an Early Diagnostic System
Diagnosing a reading problem is very similar to the medical field.
If you’re not feeling well you go in to see a doctor and tell her your symptoms. The doctor looks at you and might run some tests before she gives you a diagnosis.
Well, it’s the same thing with kids and reading!
If you have a student struggling with reading, diagnosing the underlying issue as soon as you can is key.
So, how do you diagnose a reading problem? You do it through assessment!
Just like when you go to the doctor she immediately diagnoses you using various assessments to see determine the issue.
You can’t start serving your students and start filling their gaps until you know their specific gaps. Student needs may vary from a need for intervention with comprehension, or a need for fluency intervention. You may have students who need intervention all the way back down at the phonemic awareness level, or they may need phonics intervention.
I can’t stress enough how imperative it is to take action immediately with students who are falling behind. There are a number of reading assessment tools available to help with this task.
Start with a Fluency Assessment
Beginning to diagnose a struggling reading starts with a fluency assessment. I recommend starting to assess fluency in November or December for first grade. If you teach second grade or above, you will want to start off with an oral reading fluency assessment at the beginning of school.
This assessment is going to be like taking your student’s temperature to see what the problem might be. Again, likening it to the medical field, you don’t want to just start throwing kids into some type of intervention until you know exactly what they need. Once you determine if your student meets the grade level benchmark for fluency, this will determine where to go from there. Does your student need work in phonemic awareness, or maybe they need explicit instruction in multisyllabic words, or they may just need some reading fluency activities to build their fluency. I break down for you how to help a child struggling with reading and provide a flowchart
Tip 2: High Quality Core Instruction
Many times when I work with schools that have the majority of their students below grade level, it is indicative of a problem with core instruction. In order to prevent reading failure in the first place, it begins with the core instruction the whole class receives.
However, schools immediately focus on intervention and what they can do to help these struggling students.That’s fine when you have a small amount who need intensive intervention, anywhere from 5 – 15% .
I always encourage schools that have a large number of struggling readers to look at core instruction first before diving into interventions. Take a close look at what you are doing during the reading block and the grade level content that you’re teaching.
First off, it is very important to note here that during core instruction is when grade level material is being taught.
A mistake I often see made in classrooms that have a high number of struggling readers is that teachers are teaching to lower levels because that is where the students are able to work. All students must have access to grade level content, even if they struggle. During intervention time is when reading gaps that have been identified through diagnostics are filled.
If you never expose your students to grade level content, they’re going to get even further and further behind. Therefore, even though they may not be able to read the grade level text, they still must be exposed to grade level content.
Using a comprehensive core reading program during core instruction is also a very important factor. The program must cover the 5 pillars of reading:
- Phonemic awareness
Each of these components is taught every single day. Your core instruction should be a 90-minute to 120-minute block.
Tip 3: Provide Immediate and Intensive Intervention
After you’ve done an early diagnostic and you’ve made sure you have a high quality core instruction to help prevent reading failure, the third thing is making sure that you are providing reading interventions for struggling readers.
Remember, the sooner you identify your students’ specific gaps and start filling them, the better off you, and your students, are going to be and the better chance you have to prevent reading failure.
You want to make sure that you’re providing your students with immediate, intensive interventions. The interventions your students will receive are going to depend on their gaps that you identified when you gave the diagnostic:
Does this student need intervention in phonemic awareness?
Is comprehension practice what this student needs?
Does your student need to work on their fluency because they have all their phonics elements in place?
You have to know the answers to these questions first and then you can start immediate intensive interventions.
Interventions have to be a top priority. You can’t do interventions twice a week and expect huge results, especially if you’re an upper grade teacher with struggling readers. You have to be doing interventions every day because of the sense of urgency to get these gaps filled so students don’t fall further behind.
I recommend 30 minutes daily but if you have older students that need more intensive intervention, the need may be upwards of 45 minutes to an hour in addition to core instruction.
Time to Take Action
As a teacher, your days are typically full and hectic. However, these 3 tips to prevent reading failure will ensure that you and your students have a successful and happy school year. So remember:
- Do an early diagnostic to identify student needs.
- Provide high quality core instruction.
- Give intensive intervention immediately to start filling gaps.
I have put these tips together for you on a sheet so you can ensure you are implementing them in your classroom.