Rethinking Elementary Reading InterventionNov 19, 2021
Hey there teacher leader! Are you managing the pressure brought by the droves of kids knocking down your intervention doors due to shuttered schools? Are you feeling confident that your school is making the best use of the little time and resources you have? Are your students making significant gains and not missing any core instruction in the process? If not, you are not alone! Administrators, teachers, interventionists, and paras see what is hitting the fan now that we’ve returned to (semi) traditional schooling. Students are struggling, parents are worried, and administrators and teachers are facing a monumental task of righting a ship that is still bailing water.
The pandemic has put educators in a position that requires quick thinking, solid direction, and quite a bit of juggling. If ever a time existed when reading intervention should be at the forefront of our professional conversations, it is now. Forward thinking schools and districts are searching for creative ways to serve the students that need the most help. The problem is: we don’t know what we don’t know. Without a clear idea of what is even POSSIBLE, schools revert back to what they have done in the past hoping it will be enough. But here’s the thing… it’s not.
Many institutions lean on their current teachers to do the heavy lifting. They know the students best, they have knowledge of reading development, and so it makes sense to have them support their own students within the classroom, right?. Wrong! Listen, teachers have a specific and very important job to do. That is to teach the grade level standards. I am by no means minimizing all the other roles our amazing teachers fill (parent, nurse, confidant, emotional support provider, cheerleader, etc.), but when it comes right down to it, they need to teach the standards. Heaven knows they don’t even have adequate time to do that. So why on earth would we expect to add another task to their caseload and expect them to not only embrace the idea, but to do the job with ease. It is counterproductive to put the role of reading intervention solely on the shoulders of our grade level teachers.
Some lucky schools may have one go-to person/specialist or interventionist that works with a couple dozen students a few times a week, but really? Is that enough? What about all the kids that still struggle but can’t secure a coveted spot in intervention? This person needs consistency, resources, and adequate time with students to really make an impact. They need training, assessment tools, support, and above all else - a team of paraeducators to exponentially increase the number of students served.
It’s time to look at intervention through a different lens. Throw out the old ideas and think outside of the box. If your school has not taken on a direct and schoolwide approach to reading intervention, now is the time! They are here, my friends, and they DESPERATELY need us!
Where do we start, you ask? In my professional opinion, we need to start by building an intervention TEAM. Find that passionate educator that isn’t afraid to take on a new challenge and has a thirst for literacy instruction that is founded in the science of reading. Give her/him a small team of paraprofessionals that build great relationships with kids. Provide them all with guidance, training, coaching and resources to build a sustainable reading lab that is well respected by the school community. Start slow with a three year rollout so as not to overwhelm any stakeholders. Start with primary grades and each year build on from there until K-5 students are all part of the intervention model. Reserve 30 minutes of daily intervention instruction and protect it at all costs. Add in deployment at each grade level where classroom teachers take on groups of students that will either benefit from additional literacy instruction or enrichment. Commit to using a schoolwide screening tool to assess EVERY SINGLE STUDENT ON CAMPUS three times a year to ensure that no student falls through the cracks. And above all else, dedicate yourself to the process.
Unfortunately, only schools truly committed to overhauling their intervention are ready to take on this challenge. Most simply look for canned RTI programs that claim to fix all struggling readers. They dump them in the classrooms of overworked, stressed out teachers and say to “differentiate” within their day. Oh… and forget training! There is none. (And don’t get me started on computer based intervention!) Are you kidding me? Stop doing this to our teachers!
Instead, commit time, resources, personnel, and money to get the job done RIGHT! Create a reading lab intervention model where all stakeholders have a role and a responsibility. Doing so will change the learning trajectory of your students! The pandemic has presented us with a huge challenge, but together we can meet it head on and win.
With you in spirit,
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