The degree of risk that some of our learners now face has escalated. Making up for lost ground requires implementing quality intervention for our challenged readers.
Here are seven ways to intensify reading intervention based on the findings of Dr. Anita Archer, reading expert, author of Explicit Instruction, and author of PHONICS for Reading.
1. Focus on Critical Content
In Archer’s words, “Teach the stuff and cut the fluff.” Without the luxury of time, you can prioritize reading fundamentals like word recognition and reading comprehension. But reading begins with decoding and phonics—how letters and combinations of letters represent different speech sounds—and builds from there. When your students can decode, it supports their ability to achieve linguistic comprehension and fluency. These elements are necessary as they put your students on a path to reading comprehension. To quote Archer: “There is no comprehension strategy powerful enough to compensate if a student cannot read the words.”
2. Make Reading Instruction More Systematic
The order that skills are taught is more critical than you may realize. In other words, a research-based scope and sequence matters. For example, if you build a house, you must start with a foundation. Similarly, with reading, you need to build from the ground up—sounds before letters, letters and sounds before words, words before sentences, sentences before passages. If reading is taught in a sequential method—from easy to more difficult—students can master a skill before moving on, so the concepts build on each other. However, you can’t cut corners, the same way you wouldn’t add a floor if the support beams aren’t in place. As your students master each skill, their confidence grows, and they start to think of themselves as readers.
3. Be More Explicit
Archer recommends taking what we know about good instruction and using it for reading intervention. For instance, when introducing a new concept, first teach the prerequisites, then follow up with a demonstration. Next, use guided instruction to tackle a word or sentence with your students. Finally, give them an opportunity to practice the skills on their own and check for understanding. Archer calls this, “I do, we do, you do,” an instructional routine that helps keep students engaged. When correcting errors, she recommends keeping the same affect in your voice—tell your student the correct answer, repeat it, then give them an opportunity to try it again. She also stresses the power of specific praise to encourage reluctant readers.
4. Give Students More Opportunities to Respond
The best way to teach reading is to provide a way for students to participate. When they try decoding and writing things down on their own, it helps solidify concepts in their brains. Archer cautions: “If you don’t have enough opportunities for responses—not just one per lesson, but multiple responses per minute—you won’t have enough chances to provide feedback and correct errors.” When teaching, she suggests giving students extra time to think about the answer, not just telling them—especially for students who need more time.
5. Offer More Practice
To reinforce decoding and comprehension skills, students need an adequate amount of practice. Archer proposes a minimum of 25 practice words in a lesson to ensure students are getting enough quality and quantity of practice. Spaced out practice—providing time between answers—is also important because it doubles how much students remember.
6. Provide More Instructional Time
Although you are pressed for time, students require a dedicated amount of reading intervention to make a difference. Archer suggests four to five days a week for four to six weeks, and consistency is key. Teaching the brain to read is a methodical process that takes time. Students will eventually get it if they stick with it, and they will learn the fundamentals they need to decode challenging words they will encounter in classes down the road.
7. Consider Group Size
Working with groups of 3-8 students who are focused on building the same skills gives you an opportunity to identify those who really need support. Archer recommends creating homogeneous groups (in terms of reading level) and putting your highest-risk students in the smallest groups so they are still able to interact with their peers. You will make more gains with reading intervention if your students are on the same page in terms of their decoding and fluency skills. If your school is limited on staffing resources, however, do not let this stop you from providing the intervention they need. While smaller groups are ideal, students will make progress in groups as large as 15–20 students.
As educators, we know there’s a lot on your shoulders right now. We know you are doing everything you can to address the reading challenges so many students face. We want to help. As Archer always reminds us, it’s never too late to crack the code. "This is a solvable problem,” she says. “Let's lead the recovery."
Have reading strategies that have worked in your classroom? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.