For the past years, one component of my job has been serving as a reading interventionist. I’d like to say these reading intervention groups are as easy a 1-2-3, but they’re not. There are a lot of components that go into a successful intervention beyond just identifying who to serve and when to serve them. Though those are valiant questions to be answered, I found my struggle was now that I have my list of students to serve, how do I make every minute of our group count in the “race” to get these students to standard? Through trial and error, I finally landed on a 4-step model that works as well with my youngest students as my older learners.
I break up my intervention time, which is about 30-minutes per group, into 4-chunks that mimics a short literacy block. First, I check-in with students’ independent reading. Next, we move on to word work or vocabulary. Then, we work on our target skill using small books, poetry or articles. Last, we have our exit activity which could include a written response or verbal reflection.
Throughout my reading and research, I kept coming back to the fact that the first battle of the reading war is getting kids to read. I knew that if I could find a way to increase the time my students spent actually engaged in reading, then their overall reading skills will improve. This is why I dedicate almost the first 10-minutes of group time to independent reading with conferences.
I made these mats (pictured above) for my younger readers to guide their reading. I find my primary students have trouble with stamina and the act of actual reading. My students have books from their classrooms, as well as from me, they keep in a book box that goes with them. As we start our group, they choose books to read and stack them in the “1” pile. After they read the books and finish the books, in the “2” phase, they then stack them in the “3” pile. If I’m still reading with other students in the group and they’ve gone through their whole pile of books, they then start going back through the “3” pile and move them back towards the “1”. They get a bonus “high-5” from me if they can make it through all their books twice. I know if they go faster than twice through the books, then we need to take another look at the books they’re reading to ensure they are just right for them. Kindergartners and first graders generally have more books than second and third graders. Upper grades are generally reading longer books and don’t need the mats to help guide them. I wish I could claim this idea as my own, but I came across it a while ago either on another teacher blog or Pinterest post. As teachers we gather ideas where we can find inspiration. I filed it away and found success with it months later. It creates structure for this initial group time so I can spend my time individually conferencing with others in the group.
While students are reading their books independently, I can select a student to conference with. I found that quality ongoing conferencing with students can make a dramatic shift in their reading. Knowing my students, I can pair them with books that will increase their excitement. I can also check-in with them to see how they’re using the strategies we practice in group. We make reading goals for together. From these conferences, I gain valuable insight for what our next steps should be. I can monitor progress and reteach, if necessary. I share conferring notes with all the teachers who work with the students in reading (including classroom, other specialists, and therapists) so we can all support the student on their goals. This consistency throughout our campus benefits students by making them more accountable in their reading learning.
Based on student assessments and classroom work, I determine what word work skills students need to support their next steps. For some groups, I work supporting skills they haven’t mastered. Other groups, I’m support current classroom skills, coming alongside the students so they can find success in their classrooms. It is dependent on the goals of the individual child and the group as a whole, how I structure word work support.
Students who are working on phonemic awareness skills usually need targeted teaching. I often use poems for these. Many kids can automatically absorb and internalize these phonemic awareness and phonics skills. However, most students who need intervention, need a more explicit teaching of these skills. Teaching how these sounds can transfer to other words and to the written word is vital for student success. Highlighting rhymes and rhythm in text while still having the important enjoyment of reading can be one strategy. Other times, we build our phonics skills through programs like Making Words from Patricia Cunningham. I love magnetic letters as we build words, sort sounds, then transfer them to our writing, which I find one of the most important indicators of students fully understanding concepts.
Students who have mastered phonics and phonemic awareness basics can then graduate to secondary skills such as strategies to decode words, like chunking and how to divide into syllables. This is slightly more advanced work. Moving further, time can be spent here on grammar skills and other standards students need to find success. For my older learners, we spend time developing vocabulary strategies across curriculum.
I think it’s important to note that whatever form word work takes, I never give my students worksheets to support these skills. Our learning about words involves hands-on manipulating letters and phonemes, whiteboards, and deep conversations. We draw, we act, we build instead.
Using assessments to find students’ instructional level, I then use this information to drive my group work instruction. This part of the intervention usually revolves around selected small books that can be read within a couple sessions. Depending on our specific goals, I also use poetry and articles here. Some good resources if your school doesn’t already have leveled books is the website ReadingA-Z for leveled books and Newsela for leveled articles. I particularly like using Newsela for my older learners because we can tie in current events and other informational text genres.
For this section of learning, I select specific goals and strategies to teach. In this, I need to ensure the selected material supports this learning. I can also tie this learning back to their individual goals from their reading conference. To find goals, I can draw from a variety of sources. The obvious is the scope and sequence of the particular grade level as well as the standards you are working towards. I also like the Continuum from Fountas and Pinnell. I think if you have a good perception of where students need to be at each grade level, you have a better idea of the trajectory of the learner and where the next steps should take you.
I mentioned Fountas and Pinnell’s work which is a good place to start to streamlining your lessons. They have a revised edition of Guided Reading that just came out last year. I always go back to the question of how can I scaffold my students so they can reach the next level. My other “go-to” resources include Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book and Jan Richardson’s The Next Step in Guided Reading. All three of these authors have additional books that are equally useful and helps answer what strategies readers need at each level of intervention.
I must caution not to try to do too much during this time. Streamline your teaching so you teach the strategy well. Too often I get caught up in all the things my readers need in order to meet grade level standard. I continually remind myself with the mantra “next steps.” What this means to me is “what are the immediate steps this reader needs at this current instructional level to graduate to the next level?” The last thing I want is to overwhelm my students; our teaching should be meaningful and deep, not just skim across the top. More is not necessarily better here.
We conclude our daily groups with some kind of response. I truly believe in the reciprocity properties of reading and writing. The better reader you are, the better writer you will be and vice versa. I want my students to write as I want them to read. In order to accomplish this, you must create time for it to happen and foster its growth.
Each of my students have a writing notebook. They use this notebook to respond to their reading. Sometimes it may be sticky notes that illustrates their thinking within the book and can be easily transferred to their writer’s notebook as evidence of their thinking. Other times it may be a graphic organizer to help organize their thinking for a greater response. For younger students or those who find writing difficult, we often use a verbal reflection response or picture response. These students will get their foundational writing practice in the word work section of our group, in addition to other classroom practice.
I think it’s important for students to reflect on their learning. This draws on being able to know what they did well and where they need support to grow. This time also supports accountability for their learning. My students know that they are expected to respond thoughtfully to our text. Having time to write and think about a response helps especially those children who need more think time before responding. Further, it gives student practice to communicate their thinking with me there to scaffold it for them. The added benefit is they are more ready to transfer these skills to their classroom work.
In conclusion, I’ve found success in breaking my groups into 4 instructional sections. The individual conferences, which I feel are the most important, I put at the beginning of our time together. This ensures that I make time each session for what I feel is the most important. The next part of group I use for teaching the skills and strategies students will need to be successful readers and increase their ability. These combined are the meat of the group. Last, we end with wrapping it up together. Bringing what I’ve learned from individual conferences, along with my teaching points to make goals as students go back to their classroom learning.
You will note in everything I do, I go back to student data. My observations from assessments, student work and our conferences drive my instruction. In this, I need a very clear understanding of what students are doing while they’re reading to scaffold their learning for growth.
We are always growing and working in groups. I ask my students what they’re doing well at and where they want to improve. This puts the “owness” of learning in the students’ hands. They are required to be active participants. Intervention groups aren’t easy. Each minute needs to be planned and utilized to get the most out of groups. So, even though groups are challenging, we can make them easier in 1, 2, 3…4! Happy Reading!