Once a student has been diagnosed with reading difficulties, it can seem like a daunting task to address the academic challenge. Luckily, there are many effective Response to Intervention (RTI) reading interventions that can be implemented to support student progress. RTI is a multi-tier approach schools use to identify and support students with learning and behavior needs. Through data collection, intervention, assessment of progress and revised practice, the RTI team is able to make recommendations for continued intervention, accommodations, and services that will decrease reading challenges and improve student success.
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Before identifying a reading intervention, staff must understand the nature of the student’s difficulty with reading. Administering reading tests and analyzing results can clarify if a student’s reading challenge is decoding, fluency or comprehension. Decoding is the ability to sound out and interpret words. Oral reading fluency factors in how swiftly a student is able to read, and comprehension is the extent to which a student understands what is read. Identifying the root cause of a reading challenge will ensure that the intervention is just right.
Diagnosing a student’s need includes identifying their independent and instructional reading levels. RTI reading interventions should decrease the gap between a student’s independent and instructional level. A student’s independent reading level is the grade level in which a student is able to read words on their own. The instructional level is the grade level that the student is in.
It is possible that a student is expected to complete 4th grade classwork because they are in the 4th grade, but they can be reading independently at a 1st grade level. In this case, a student would need to make three years of reading growth to catch up with their peers. There may be one or more interventions needed over a course of time to close the academic gap, so interventions should be developed with both a student’s instructional and independent level in mind.
Parents should be invited to RTI team meetings about their child. Interventionists should have data to show the student’s need and use the time to ask the parent what they notice about their child’s reading. The parent should give consent for the intervention to take place and be included in the intervention process. Interventionists should give the parent actionable steps to take at home to support the student. Additionally, there should be a clear pathway of communication that keeps the parent updated throughout the intervention. This may look like a weekly progress report or phone call to keep the parent updated on how the student is progressing.
Keeping the parent informed is especially important in the event that the RTI team is struggling to help the student improve. This may mean that interventions are intensified and could result in a comprehensive cognitive evaluation to determine if the student may have a reading disability. A parent has to agree to an evaluation before it takes place, but the evaluation meeting shouldn’t be when a parent is informed that a student has been in need of reading intervention.
Reading interventions should directly address the student need. Once the need has been diagnosed, the RTI team should consider which strategies they will use from their toolbox to support the student. Sometimes, students may need more than one intervention. They may be able to work with a group of learners on a similar level, or they may need intense, individual support. Having a clear vision of who will lead interventions, where interventions will take place and when interventions will occur will help RTI teams manage reading interventions.
Once the reading challenge and reading levels are identified, the RTI team should set a realistic reading goal for the student to achieve. The ultimate goal would be for a student to perform on grade level. However, this may not be realistic depending on how wide the gap is, how long the intervention will last and how much time will be spent on the intervention each week. Therefore, interventionists should establish a S.M.A.R.T. goal. S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
To get specific, the goal should be directly targeting the reading need. A decoding goal might be structured around the amount of words a student can read without error. Let’s use Jane as an example. She is in the 3rd grade, but she is currently reading at a 1st grade level. She struggles with phonemic awareness which prevents her from decoding words. An ultimate S.M.A.R.T goal for this student may be: Jane will be able to read 7/10 instructional level words in 20 weeks as measured by the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS).
It may seem easy for a student to read five new grade level words in 20 weeks, but it can be very challenging depending on the student need. Right now, Jane’s goal is specific, measurable, relevant and time-bound. But, is this goal achievable?
Well, in order for Jane to be able to read seven grade level words, she is going to need more time practicing words at and above her independent level. Phonics instruction helps students learn relationships between letters and sounds. A faithful phonics routine could build Jane’s ability to read independent and instructional level words. That said, with a daily 30-minute phonics routine, it is possible that Jane will be able to decode 7 instructional level words after 20 weeks of intervention. This intervention would make Jane’s goal achievable.
Progress monitoring is a strategy used to measure academic growth during an intervention. The tool of measurement should compliment the reading intervention. Interventionists must create a system to ensure that progress monitoring occurs frequently and with fidelity. There should be periodic checkpoints where growth is assessed to determine if the student is making sufficient progress, has met the goal or needs a new intervention.
Students like to reach goals. Create a visual tracker that helps them to see their progress. Embed incentives throughout the intervention that students can look forward to. Keep incentives reading-centered so that they continue to foster the love of reading. Here are a few incentives to use as rewards for students that are working hard to reach goals: