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Backwards Reading Intervention

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On a recent teacher ning, I clicked on this post.* Now I’ve see this post and heard the same questions hundreds of times throughout my thirty-year career as a secondary reading specialist. You may have as well.

This is my first year of teaching and I have been given a Reading class. I’m at a large urban high school and I’ve been told that the students are bright, but reluctant readers. For some of the class we will be using the Reading Plus program but for the rest of the time I have just been told to do anything that will improve their comprehension, ACT/SAT scores, high school exit exam scores, and overall reading skills. I’m not sure where to even begin with this class.

I had only one Reading instruction class in my teacher training program, but I did one semester of my student teaching program at a middle school and I taught both a literature class and a reading class. For the reading class my colleagues suggested that I do an SSR program for 30 minutes a day. I did it, but students were pretty resistant. I let students pick their own novels, magazines, comics, or newspapers to read. Some did read, but others really didn’t. I didn’t feel like I was really teaching and I doubt if their reading test scores really improved as a result of this class.

So, any advice? The Response to Intervention Coordinator was on my interview panel and said she would help me with this class, but I would like to start planning now. Should I keep doing the SSR? I have one month to plan.

It wasn’t the post that got me thinking about Backwards Reading Intervention, but the responses.

The consensus response to this frequently-posed question regarding what to teach in a reading intervention class is the advice to let students choose their own reading. This student-centered approach seems admirable, and notable authors Nancy Atwell, Donalyn Miller, and Stephen Krashen are all proponents of free voluntary reading—albeit each with a few twists of their own. However, students do not always pick what is in their best interests. Given a choice, most children will pick candy over vegetables.

I could go into quite a bit of anecdotal evidence here with respect to the drawbacks of in-class SSR/Free Voluntary Reading:** peer pressure, mismatched reading levels, trashy adolescent lit, lack of accountability, etc. But the real point I would like to make deals with the basic instructional question. How strange that a student-centered approach to learning, as advocated by many teachers and authors, does not extend to a student-centered approach to instruction. To cut to the chase, why are many reading intervention teachers so reluctant to differentiate reading instruction according to the diagnostic needs of individual students? Sit in on most elementary, middle school, high school, and community college remedial reading classes (Been there, done that), and you’ll find what I have found: We teach them the same stuff. It’s teacher-centered instruction, not student-centered instruction.

Backwards Reading Intervention


We tend to approach remedial reading backwards. We begin with what we want to teach them and how we want to teach them, but we all-too-often ignore the them. Having taught a remedial high school reading class for four years, I eventually discovered that each student was in that class for different reasons. To achieve the progress that each student deserves, we have to begin by finding out those different reasons. The what and how of instruction should derive from diagnostic assessment.

Of course, teachers want to plan instruction; you have to teach them something. However, perhaps the best response to the teacher’s post would be one that provides the diagnostic assessments, recording matrices, instructions re: data analysis and decision-making and flexible program resources that will allow the teacher to adjust instruction according to the diagnostic needs of her students. That kind of planning makes sense. Here they are… and happy planning. You’re making a world of difference for these students. Just don’t teach backwards.

*Actually I’ve combined a few posts into this one to protect the privacy of the posting teacher.

**As a disclaimer, I also let students pick their own independent reading for homework (within reasonable parameters).

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, spelling pattern worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies.

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