When I first started as a reading specialist my principals told me that I was to “double the instruction” for all title students (Title 1 funding). “Double the instruction” simply meant that I was to replicate whatever the classroom teacher was doing–mostly guided reading–either in a push in model (in the classroom) or pull out model (outside the classroom). I know they thought they were doing what was stipulated by Title 1 guidelines; however, when I investigated the federal guidelines, I didn’t find any evidence to support that premise. The key ingredient is not to supplant the regular education of the students, but to supplement. And that’s what interventions are all about–supplementing the regular education classroom curriculum with sound, research based interventions that target specific weak areas students need to be working on.
My colleagues and I were baffled by the proviso: double the instruction … having a struggling reader tackle another book for guided reading is not what they need. Reading more books does not necessarily improve the reading skills of struggling readers. While some research shows that reading lots of books per year translates into higher reader scores and more proficient readers, it is not a cure-all–especially for needy readers.
When thinking about developing sound strategies for helping struggling or striving readers, many things need to be taken into consideration. It’s similar to diagnosing a patient with an illness. For example, if a patient has cancer, a doctor wouldn’t use any old treatment; instead, she would look closely at the particular type of cancer and use a treatment specifically designed for that kind of cancer. That’s exactly what targeted instruction is all about–using assessments to find weak areas of reading and providing instruction that will hopefully remediate the problem areas. A variety of tools and assessments can be used to assist teachers create or find research based strategies to intervene and fix the problem. Blindly picking and choosing a strategy is not a wise investment of educational resources and time.
If you are a parent–you need to ask the teacher or reading specialist what exactly they are doing to remediate the problem. If you get a generic answer, be aware. If you are a reading specialist or a regular education teacher, please question and think about the quality of instruction provided for your needy readers. Don’t double the instruction or give them more of the same thing. It doesn’t work.
When our school philosophy toward reading changed, I was able to teach in a way that met the needs of students. I saw results. I spent a great deal of time finding researched based strategies and used what I felt meshed with the results of assessments I did on students. Now with regards to students who are truly dyslexic–many strategies advocated by education research are not enough. For those students, they need to go back to the basics and get a firm handle on the phonological awareness skills–but many schools don’t provide this instruction. Some schools will use Corrective Reading, Reading Horizons, etc, which address teaching phonics–but not the phonological awareness, which developmentally precedes phonics. When that foundation is not filled in, unfortunately students will still struggle with breaking the code. In that case, OG or Orton Gillingham programs are more appropriate interventions, as stated by the National Institute of Health (NIH), which has been doing research on dyslexia for more than 30 years, using the true experimental model of conducting research–not the quasi experimental mode done in the field of education. Some food for thought …. but remember … struggling readers need sound, highly researched, targeted instructional methods in order to make progress–not just doing more of the same thing.