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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.

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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.


What Not to Read: A Book Intervention
Gay Ivey
(read the article—subscribers only)

General Discussion Topic
Ivey advocates for a reading makeover in our classrooms. She suggests that we move away from one novel assigned to the whole class that every student must read at the same time and the same pace. Instead, she advocates for more choice and student-centered conversation that leads to increased engagement with books.

It can be a big change to move away from the whole-class novel. How might you approach such a revision to your practice? How would you have this conversation across your grade level or department, with your principal, or with curriculum administrators?

Key Points
  • Avoid whole-class assigned reading.
  • Let students self-select text.
  • Identify and respond to barriers to engagement so that inexperienced readers learn to read for their own purposes.

Common Core Connection
Many standards in the Common Core support the kind of practice that Ivey is advocating, including:

College and Career Readiness Knowledge of Language Standard 3: Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

All of the College and Career Readiness Vocabulary Acquisition and Use Standards.

All of the College and Career Readiness English Language Arts Reading in the Content Area Standards.

Using This Article with Your Team
The main theme of this article is primarily for language arts teachers, but it will be important to have conversations with the whole team so that everyone understands the rationale for shifting away from whole-class novels, the benefits for students, how to communicate with parents and administrators, and how teachers in other content areas can support readers.

Why Not Try This?

How do we find the best and newest titles to offer to our students? In addition to recommendations in this journal and others, here are some other sources for book lists and recommendations:

In addition to Web resources, don’t forget about your local public librarian. He or she can provide recommendations and help you obtain copies for your classroom.

In some format—chart paper, a card file, a blog, or a wiki—have a place for students to post good reads and to link to other student recommendations to create the kinds of “pseudo-series” lists Ivey describes. Use a heading such as “If you liked _________, you might love ___________.”

Quantity is not quality and funds are not unlimited, so how do you stock a classroom library to meet these goals?

  • Trade books with other teachers on your team or in your building.
  • If your students order from a book program, keep an eye out for the quantity discounts and specials.
  • Visit book warehouses if they are available in your area. Sign up for email alerts for special sale dates.
  • Don’t ignore library book sales or garage sales where people may be shedding fairly new titles that their children have outgrown. 
  • Seek grant money from local community organizations or your parent–teacher association to build your classroom collection. 
  • We’d love for you to add suggestions from your own classroom experience by writing a comment below.


Collaborative Strategic Reading: Fostering Success for All
Subini Annamma, Amy Eppolito, Janette Klingner, Amy Boele, Alison Boardman, and Stephanie J. Stillman-Spisak
(read the article—subscribers only)

General Discussion Topic
The authors of this article offer the results of their study involving Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) and the success they found with middle level readers. CSR has multiple components in the model that can easily be incorporated into language arts classrooms. The authors found particular success using CSR with struggling readers and English Language Learners. This model helped those students build reading success and social connections. CSR relies on teacher modeling, heterogeneous cooperative grouping, and teacher feedback.

Think-alouds and teacher modeling are key components to this model. What is your experience with these concepts? Cooperative grouping is another important factor. How do you and your colleagues approach grouping in your classroom or on your team?

Key Points
  • Collaborative Strategic Reading is a multi-component reading instruction model that explicitly teaches reading strategies and develops routines to monitor and enhance comprehension.
  • The model relies on cooperative grouping and peer discussion.
  • Teachers model using think-alouds.

Common Core Connection
The various components of a CSR lesson align to many of the Common Core Standards.

Fix-up Strategies

    College and Career Readiness Vocabulary Acquisition Standard 4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

    College and Career Readiness Vocabulary Acquisition Standard 5: Demonstrate understanding of word relationships and nuances in word meanings.

    College and Career Readiness Vocabulary Acquisition Standard 6: Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

Get the Gist

    College and Career Readiness English Language Arts: Key Ideas and Details Standard 2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Meaningful Discussions

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

Using This Article with Your Team
The Common Core Standards extend into content area and informational text. Share this article with colleagues and support one another to apply strategies from this model to a variety of texts. This may include helping students preview a text and set a purpose for reading, identifying the “clicks and clunks” as a means of monitoring comprehension, and possible note taking or assessment strategies.

The levels of questioning described in this model are similar to the QAR (Question/Answer/Response) strategy often described in content area reading texts. Using Right There, Think and Search, Author and Me, and On My Own questions, students can support a small-group discussion. Here is another case where questions do not have to be created only by the teacher. Students can create their own questions, either for their group or to share with others. For an example of a QAR lesson, see

Why Not Try This?

  • Think-alouds are a key strategy in the CSR model. Try recording think-alouds using iPods or other MP3 players so that students can listen to them multiple times or catch up on missed lessons after an absence. Another way to record short think-alouds would be using Jing at
  • Teachers do not have to be the only ones creating and recording think-alouds. Why not let students try to model for each other and capture that information?
  • Not only do teachers need to model reading strategies for students, but teachers can also model appropriate conversation techniques and group behaviors to make group work successful with middle level learners.


Using a Network of Strategies Rubric to Become a Self-Regulated Learner
Maribeth Cassidy Schmitt
(read the article—subscribers only)

General Discussion Topic
This article focuses on intervention from the standpoint of reader independence. Students need to be able to use a variety of reading strategies flexibly and independently to build meaningful interpretations of texts in all content areas, fiction and nonfiction. Teachers must help students develop a network of strategies and the metacognitive awareness of when and how to use them.

How do we create independent readers, those who are aware of when they are struggling and have the tools to remedy the situation?
Key Points
  • Self-regulated reading involves self-monitoring, problem solving, and self-correcting.
  • Readers need awareness of four basic cueing systems: meaning, structure or grammar, graphemic or visual, and phonological. 
  • Teachers need awareness of the underlying theories of metacognition and social learning theory to help students become aware of their own comprehension processes and scaffold as they learn to become more independent readers.
Common Core Connections
The Common Core State Standards place an emphasis on reading complex text for deep meaning. This requires that students learn to engage in close reading practices, which include returning to the text to locate information.

All of the College and Career Readiness Key Ideas and Details Standards.

All of the College and Career Readiness Craft and Structure Standards.

All of the College and Career Readiness Key Integration of Knowledge and Ideas Standards.

Using This Article with Your Team

Share the chart of self-regulated activity in reading with the members of your team. Examine content area texts and support each other in using these strategies within all content areas. Create a series of minilessons that multiple teachers could use as a resource when a student or group of students are struggling with a particular concept.

For example: How can a math or science teacher help students to preview a text to get the main points before they begin reading? What are the essential concepts in the reading material? Are there specific vocabulary words, formulas, or graphics that the students should pay attention to as they read or refer to if they are struggling?

Why Not Try This?

  • Model for students how the four cueing systems can help them figure out where they may be struggling. Use the examples in the article and create some from the texts in your classroom.
  • Use these levels of questions to design text-dependent questions for discussion during close readings of complex texts.


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