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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 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.

Reading and Talking about Books: Critical Foundation for Intervention
Cheryl L. Wozniak
(read the article—subscribers only)

General Discussion Topic

In this article, Wozniak describes a model for intervention based on engaging middle level readers in book talks, read-alouds, and student conversation as alternatives to scripted lessons and packaged programs.

How can we use strategies that we know are effective within the Common Core Standards for reading intervention? How can we be advocates for these ideas as best practices based on the Common Core Standards?

Key Points

  • Teacher book talks and interactive read-alouds are effective strategies for engaging middle level readers.
  • Students need to be exposed to a wide variety of reading material to gain and sustain interest for independent reading.
  • Students need time to talk with each other about what they are reading.

Common Core Connection

Two ideas from this article have strong support in the Common Core Standards. Having students create and share book talks with each other not only piques interest in what others are reading, it also gives students an opportunity to write in preparation for these presentations and speak to an audience. In addition, giving students time to talk about books with other students allows for meaningful conversation with diverse peers. If we insist that students ground their responses and opinions in the text, then we also support standards related to close readings and interpretations.

College and Career Readiness Language Standard 1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

College and Career Readiness Speaking and Listening Standard 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaboration with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

College and Career Readiness Reading in the Content Areas Standard 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Using This Article with Your Team

  • Work together to encourage reading aloud in every content area. Help each other to find newspaper or popular magazine articles that relate to current content. Not all read-alouds have to be fiction.
  • Help each other become more fluent when reading aloud to the class by practicing with each other and giving feedback.

Why Not Try This?

  • What are some good books to read aloud to struggling middle school students?
    o    Harris and Me Gary Paulsen
    o    Seedfolks Paul Fleischman
    o    The Last Book in the Universe Rodman Philbrick
    o    Hey! Listen to This Jim Trelease
    o    We’d love for you to add suggestions from your own classroom experience by writing a comment below.
  • Jim Trelease literally wrote the book on reading aloud. He has lots of tips and other suggestions for reading aloud to children of all ages on his website
  • This article suggests frequent book talks to introduce students to new and varied reading materials. Joni Bodart wrote the book on book talks (see more at and has several different volumes and titles all about book talks and suggested titles.
  • Teachers are not the only ones who can give book talks. Allow students to prepare and share books that they have enjoyed.
  • Consider a variety of formats for book talks, including book trailers (see YouTube for multiple examples) or Xtranormal (, a moviemaker site where you or your students can create a movie and type in the dialogue. This is a great way to either create a conversation between two characters about a book as a form of book talk or use the characters to perform a section of dialogue from the story as a way of sharing an excerpt. 
  • Try using a countdown timer during independent reading time. Whether you use a standard kitchen timer or a tool on your interactive whiteboard, the use of a timer keeps the teacher and the student on task and helps to prevent students who either want to finish early or extend reading time from taking advantage of a too-flexible time limit.
  • During independent reading time, resist the temptation to do other things like grading papers or conferring with an individual student. Your job is to be a good role model and spend time reading along with your students.

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