How to provide intensive and individualized interventions for struggling readers

From Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices

Supplemental interventions for struggling readers can offer the learning opportunities that student need to make substantial progress toward grade-level standards. However, because adolescents reading needs are varied and complex, schools should first take steps to understand the learning needs they must address.

1. Although classroom teachers can sometimes pinpoint students’ learning needs by using informal assessment tools or even observation, a more reliable method for identifying struggling readers includes use of an initial screening test or a threshold score on a required reading test and subsequent use of a diagnostic reading test that must be administered, scored, and interpreted by a specialist.
For some students, formal, individually administered diagnostic assessments are needed; for others with less severe needs group-administered, standardized or criterion-referenced tests can serve as a starting point for determining an appropriate intervention.103 Individually or groupadministered tests provide information that allows the specialist to perform the in-depth diagnosis that is often needed to match intervention approaches to students’ needs.

2. The identification of students’ learning needs should be followed by the selection of an intervention that provides an explicit instructional focus targeted to meet those needs.
Such instruction might include varying areas of need and rely on teaching different strategies to meet them. However, the teaching strategies selected should provide students with explicit strategies, techniques, principles, knowledge, or rules that enable them to solve problems and complete tasks independently.104

Central to the effective use of an intervention is working with students to set goals for improvement, followed by a description of the strategy to be mastered, modeling of the strategy verbal, continued practice and feedback, and generalization of the strategy to other tasks.105 Providing students with learning aids can help them understand the purpose of the lesson, a rationale for the lesson, the learning expectations, and how the content to be taught relates to what they have learned previously and what they may learn in the future.106 Examples of these include advance organizers to prepare them for reading and activate prior knowledge, graphic organizers or maps to track ideas during reading, and graphic displays that encourage students to make link between what they know and the content about which they are reading.

3. Even though explicit strategy instruction and various forms of structuring effective strategy instruction show promise, it also seems clear that many struggling readers require more intensive efforts than do students who are performing at or near grade level.107
The intensiveness of the intervention should be matched to the needs of students who struggle—the greater the instructional need, the more intensive the intervention. Two methods for increasing the intensity of instruction are to provide additional instruction time or to work with students individually or in small groups. The most practical method for increasing instructional intensity for smaller numbers of struggling readers is to provide supplemental small group instruction, usually for extended periods of time or as a distinct pull-out class. Within these small groups, teachers can more readily monitor student progress and help students learn the particular strategies that will help them attain grade-level reading skills. All the studies that informed this recommendation offered interventions that provided more intensive instruction for struggling readers through smaller classes, increased time for learning, or both.

4. Additionally, intensive interventions might involve repeated reading, provision of adjunct questions to scaffold comprehension, and questioning for understanding to improve the reading outcomes of adolescents. 108
These strategies can be offered in small group intervention sessions. Although not as interventions per se, these strategies also serve the needs of poorly prepared readers when adopted for use in contentarea classrooms.

101. Kemple, Herlihy, and Smith (2005).
102. Kemple et al. (2008).
103. Allinder et al. (2001); Bos and Anders (1990); Englert and Mariage (1991).
104. Allinder et al. (2001); Bos and Anders (1990); Englert and Mariage (1991).
105. Ellis et al. (1991).
106. DiCecco and Gleason (2002); Wilder and Williams (2001); Williams et al. (1994).
107. Gersten et al. (2001).
108. Peverly and Wood (2001); Therrien et al. (2006).

Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., and Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A Practice Guide (NCEE #2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from
See the original document for complete references on the research annotations.