The goal of every elementary classroom teacher is to ensure that all students
become the best readers possible. Teachers in grades three and above often
find themselves struggling to find ways to help students who are not making
progress in becoming proficient readers. For many years, it was common
practice to send the students reading below level to some form of remedial
reading instruction (Harris and Sipay 1985). However, evidence that has
accumulated over the last several decades has shown that most remedial
programs have not been effective in helping below-level readers achieve
success (Allington and Walmsley 1995). Students who appeared on the rosters of
the remedial teacher the first year continued to reappear on those rosters
year after year. Therefore, a different concept of instruction has been
developing in more recent years; this concept is known as intervention.
What Is Intervention?
According to the dictionary,
intervention is the act of coming into or between so as to hinder or alter an
action. A reading intervention program is one that hinders or alters the
action of reading failure by preventing it from occurring or stopping it if it
has already started. Students who participate in intervention programs attain
the goal of reading, or the program is discontinued and other alternatives are
considered (Hiebert and Taylor 1994).
There are many very successful early intervention programs (Clay 1985;
Pinnell, Fried, and Estice 1990; Taylor, Frye, Short, and Shearer 1992;
Hiebert, Colt, Catto, and Gury 1992; Hall, Prevatte, and Cunningham 1995).
These programs have been effective in preventing reading failure for children
at the beginning of their educational experience (Hiebert and Taylor 1994).
Early intervention programs provide intensive, structured, systematic
instruction that is delivered on a daily basis in addition to the child's
balanced classroom instruction.
Why Upper-Grade Intervention?
In spite of the successes of
early intervention programs, reports of individual teachers and national
studies of reading achievement (Mullis, Campbell, and Farstrup 1993; NAEP
1994) show that many students in grades three and above are reading
considerably below their age-appropriate level.
Attempts to help students reading below level in grades three and above have
focused heavily on the use of high-interest, easy-reading materials with
controlled vocabulary (Harris and Sipay 1985). Lessons accompanying these
texts usually follow a pattern of introducing vocabulary, reading to answer
questions, and teaching one or more skills. Research has demonstrated that
this type of instructional approach has not been effective in helping
upper-grade readers achieve success.
The gap between the less able readers and the more capable readers continues
to widen across the grade levels (Allington and Walmsley 1995). Therefore,
there is a serious need for a reading intervention program rather than a
remedial reading program to help below-level readers in grades three and above
bring their reading up to level. The chart below summarizes the differences
between intervention and remedial programs.
What Are the Major Needs of Struggling Readers in the Upper Grades?
reading below level in the upper grades have needs that are different from
those of primary-grade students.
Students in the upper grades have already experienced failure in reading.
Therefore, there is a real need to accelerate their reading progress as
quickly as possible in order to help them begin to achieve success. They need
a reading intervention program that delivers reading support quickly, as
opposed to a remedial program that continues to try the same methods over and
Below-level readers in the upper grades often can use decoding skills
(phonics, structure) in isolation, but they do not apply them when they are
reading text. If these students come to a word they do not know, they stop
their reading, frustrated by not knowing how to use the skills they have. They
often sit and wait or they skip the word, missing important information needed
to comprehend the text they are attempting to read.
Other students in the upper grades often call every word correctly but they
cannot retell what they have read. Teachers often refer to these students as
"word callers." These are the students who need major support in constructing
meaning or comprehension.
Given what we know about struggling readers in the upper grades, effective
instruction is needed to accelerate their reading growth, help them apply
decoding skills as they read, and help them develop strategies to comprehend
and construct meaning. Although instruction should initially start with easy
reading materials, it must gradually but systematically lead students to
success with their grade-level materials.
Elements of Effective Intervention Instruction for Upper-Grade Students
important elements must be included in an effective intervention program for
1. Appropriate reading materials
Books for upper-grade
intervention need to be highly interesting, motivating texts that:
contain interesting subject matter that is applicable to a variety of
provide a balance of narrative and expository reading experiences,
go beyond texts used at the beginning levels of literacy development where the
primary focus is on building decoding strategies and fluency in word
are sequenced on a continuum from simple to complex, which gradually (but
quickly) allows students to accelerate their reading ability with scaffolded
support from a teacher.
Based on findings about texts for early intervention (Peterson 1991) and
research with upper-grade intervention (Cooper, Boschken, McWilliams, and
Pistochini 1997), we know that texts need to be sequenced from simple to
complex in order to allow all students to start with a text they can read with
teacher support. It is important that the books move students to grade-level
The factors considered in these criteria differ from the usual readability
formulas that have often been used to level texts. These criteria take into
account the amount of print on the page, picture support, complexity of
storylines, and/or complexity of facts presented.
2. Instructional strategies that promote acceleration
reading below grade level lack the skills that enable them to organize text,
to understand what they are reading, and to stay on task. To acquire these
skills, students need careful, systematic instruction that will help them
overcome these problems.
Graphic organizers are effective in helping
students construct meaning (Heimlich and Pittelman, 1986; Pehrsson and
Robinson 1985). By visually representing the meaning they construct from
reading, students improve their ability to comprehend.
Although more than one graphic organizer per book can help students visually
construct meaning, research on upper-grade intervention has shown that it is
most effective to use one graphic organizer for each text (Cooper et al.
1997). The single graphic organizer then becomes a prompt to help students
retell and summarize what they have read.
Effective in helping below-level readers
accelerate their reading, reciprocal teaching uses four strategies for
constructing meaning: predict, summarize, question, and clarify (Palincsar
1984; Palincsar and Brown 1984; 1985; 1986; Snow, Burns, and Griffen 1998).
The teacher and the students take turns being teacher, modeling the use of the
strategies after reading each meaningful chunk of a text.
Predict: Students hypothesize what will occur in the text. To do this
successfully, students must activate relevant background knowledge that they
already possess regarding the topic. The students then have a purpose for
reading: to confirm or disprove their prediction for the text.
Summarize: Students identify and integrate the most important
information in the text.
Question: Students formulate a question that can be answered. In the
beginning, questioning focuses on specific text information; later, it
progresses to using the text plus one's own knowledge to form inferential and
Clarify: Students learn to monitor their comprehension and "fix up"
problems that occur as they construct meaning. They may focus on an idea, word
meaning, or word pronunciation. Through clarifying, students learn to apply
their decoding skills and figure out unknown words.
Each of these strategies aids students in constructing meaning from text, and
provides a means of monitoring their reading to ensure that they are, in fact,
understanding what they read.
The process of providing strong teacher support and
gradually removing it until students are working independently, scaffolding is
effective in helping students accelerate their learning(Pearson 1985; Collins,
Brown, and Newman 1987). Scaffolding can be applied by sequencing texts (see
earlier comments), and through teacher modeling that gradually leads to
Daily, fast-paced, structured lessons
research shows that daily, fast-paced, structured lessons are important in
helping students accelerate their reading (Pikulski 1994). The same has been
found to be true for upper-grade intervention (Cooper et al. 1997).
Fast-paced, structured lessons help to move students along and keep them
focused on the task at hand.
Modeling good work habits
Students reading below grade level
usually lack structure in their schoolwork. An effective intervention program
should model the structures that successful students use every day: arriving
on time, getting right to work, staying on schedule or task, and keeping to
Reading intervention for upper-grade students can
serve a major function in helping struggling readers achieve success in
reading. It must be delivered on a daily basis in addition to a balanced
literacy program that all students receive.
Research shows that it is possible to help struggling upper-grade readers read
on level or higher in a short amount of time. This successful model of
instruction was developed by studying existing research and planning a
systematic program to fit the specialized needs of upper-grade students. The
effectiveness of this model is highly dependent upon in-depth training for
teachers and ongoing support and coaching throughout the model's initial use.
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