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Voices from the Middle Moving from Print to Practice, December 2011 (19.2) - Previous Revision

This Issue's Focus: The Faces of Intervention

Intervention is a hot topic in education in our current climate of high-stakes testing. All too often, intervention measures are presented to teachers and students in the form of packaged programs and teacher-proof materials. The articles in this issue push us to think about intervention in a very different way. First, Richard Allington and Gay Ivey challenge us to think about the responsibility of the teacher and the school system and how we may be creating the very conditions that result in struggling readers. By using packaged materials or requiring all of our students to read the same material at the same time and pace, we may be causing more problems than we solve. Later, we are given models for approaching intervention in ways that meet our readers’ needs where they are and help them to become more independent problem solvers.

Click on an article title below to go directly to the additional content for that article:

  • “Reading Interventions in the Middle Grades,” Richard L. Allington
  • “Reading and Talking about Books: A Critical Foundation for Intervention,” Cheryl L. Wozniak and listen to the podcast
  • “What Not to Read,” Gay Ivey and listen to the podcast
  • “Collaborative Strategic Reading: Fostering Success for All,” Subini Annamma, Amy Eppolito, Janette Klingner, Amy Boele, Alison Boardman, and Stephanie J. Stillman-Spisak
  • “Using a Network of Strategies Rubric to Become a Self-Regulated Learner,” Maribeth Cassidy Schmitt and listen to the podcast
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Reading Intervention in the Middle Grades
Richard L. Allington
(read the article—subscribers only)

General Discussion Topic

In this article, Allington asserts that when we think and talk about struggling older readers in the current educational climate, our focus has been on finding a deficiency in the students when, in reality, the deficiency lies with our practice. The fact is, we have been focusing on identifying struggling readers for special education services and then focusing remediation on decoding skills that are inappropriate and not serving the needs of the students. Instead, we should be focusing on changing our practice to encourage these students to engage in reading that is interesting and stimulating to them, thus helping them to build comprehension and vocabulary skills.

How do you feel about Allington’s argument? Do you see evidence to support his claim in your students and your school?

Key Points

  • As teachers, it is our responsibility to engage our students as readers.
  • We will never engage them as readers if we continue a “one size fits all” approach to reading material, assigning everyone the same text—often one that is above the reading level of many students in the class.
  • This is not solely the responsibility of the English/Language Arts teacher. Every content area teacher must incorporate materials at a variety of reading levels. 
  • Not only are we obligated to offer reading material that students can read, we are obligated to find reading material that students want to read.
  • Struggling readers will never improve if they do not increase the amount of time spent each day reading, in all subject areas and outside of school.
Common Core Connection

One of Allington’s arguments is that we continue to emphasize phonics and decoding skills with older struggling readers when that is rarely the issue. In the Common Core Standards, phonics and word recognition standards end at the 4th-grade level. Use this information to advocate to principals, curriculum personnel, or superintendents for the appropriate focus for middle level struggling readers.

College and Career Readiness Reading in Content Area Standard 10: Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

This standard is at the heart of Allington’s article. The indicators for grades 4–5 and 6–8 state that students should be able to read and comprehend literature and information text appropriate to the grade band, with scaffolding as needed “at the high end of the range.” This means that teachers should be introducing students to a variety of texts at a variety of reading levels and scaffolding to help students move through increasingly complex texts, not that all readers need to be reading the same text at the same level at the same time.

Using This Article with Your Team

  • As a team, examine the reading material you are using and support one another in finding a wider variety of texts that can meet the same goals and objectives for content, but provide for differentiation in reading levels.
  • Look up the NAEP reading scores for your state or district at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/stateprofiles/. What can you infer about students in your community? How do they compare with your state-specific test results? Share this information with your entire team. Look at the results in all subjects and discuss the importance of reading in every content area. 
  • If you are a team that has an advisory program or homeroom period, use some of that time each week to focus on pleasure reading. Set aside all or part of one advisory period for sustained silent reading time and book discussion groups that are not graded or evaluated, where students and adults can talk about books that they have been reading. If you have an advisory program that is based on topics or shared interests, make sure that one or two of those are reading related. Create a group for those who read graphic novels or manga, one for the Twilight set, or one for magazine readers.
Why Not Try This?
  • A foundational notion in Allington’s article is that we need to engage readers with text they can read and want to read. To do that, we need to gather information about our students to find out what kinds of texts might suit them. Survey your students, but rather than asking them what they like to read (because that list may be very short), ask about other interests—movies, television shows, Internet sites, video games, phone apps, etc. Glean interests from the wide variety of media they consume. Have students interview each other about potential reading interests. Remember that these are only starting places; what we really need to do is listen to our students and expose them to a wide variety of titles and authors.
  • Allow time to talk about books, whether that is in advisory or within the context of a lesson. Create a space to capture that information, as on a bulletin board, or a piece of chart paper with a running list of titles anyone can add to throughout the year, or a blog site where students can add their own recommendations.


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