When is a student experiencing a normal progression of reading skill development, or possibly slightly behind the curve, and when are their struggles indicating they need additional support? For students who need individualized reading support, early intervention—particularly before the third or fourth grade—is vital to helping them achieve incremental growth in their comprehension and skills. In 2010, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan even listed early reading intervention as a critical high school dropout prevention strategy. For those students who need reading intervention, follow these early strategies to be the hero they need to succeed.

Overcoming Phonological Processing Challenges

Researcher Joseph K. Torgesen found that the most common cause of early word reading skill challenges stems from a weakness in processing the phonological features of our language. He, therefore, recommends that if you identify this struggle in a student, you can support their skill improvement through structured, explicit, systematic lessons and practicum. Individualized instruction should focus on phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondences, blending skills, pronunciation conventions, context, and memorization of irregular words.

Identify Students in Need with Skill Assessments in First Grade

Teachers can confidently identify students on pace to fall behind average reading skill development by first grade. At this age, identifying a lack of certain skills can portend a forthcoming phonological processing core deficit later on. If you are a first-grade teacher, look for the following early literacy skills in all your students:

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Knowledge of letter names and sounds
  • The ability to rapidly name objects, colors, letters, and numbers

Employ the Support of a Dedicated Reading Specialist

If you have even one child in your classroom who you fear might get left behind in their reading and comprehension progress, talk to your administrative leaders about bringing a dedicated reading specialist into your classroom. These experts provide personalized or small-group instruction and offer the individualized attention students need to overcome their unique challenges. Further, working with a reading specialist gives the student a safe space to work on their skills, mitigating the anxiety that can come from struggling in front of the whole class.

Use the Time-Tested Approach of Running Your Finger Under Each Word as You Read Aloud

This tactic is one that you can encourage parents to employ at home as well. When reading to the class or an individual student, run your finger under each word to help all students develop their literacy skills. This process helps students understand the concept of reading from left to right and top to bottom—a process that doesn’t come naturally to every student.

Ensure Students who Struggle Don’t Feel Isolated

Whether you have one or several students in your classroom who seem to need extra assistance, you should prioritize minimizing their feelings of isolation or insecurity. For example, choral reading can help students learn letters and words together and keep delayed reading students from fearing that others will notice their struggles.

An Early Intervention Will Introduce Beautiful Literary Worlds to Students

Not only does early reading intervention set students on the right course for their entire academic development, but it also ensures that all young people can experience the right of passage that is exploring the fantastic worlds of Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson as they age and grow. If you need additional support in early reading intervention strategies, talk to your school leaders and ask for additional resources and guidance.

Related PLS Courses

If you’re looking to delve into learning more about your students and literacy, start with these two graduate courses:

Foundations of Literacy: Beginning Reading™
Examine the National Reading Panel and International Reading Association’s components of reading. Create reading lesson plans and hands-on activities that include these reading components to increase reading fluency and motivation.

Reading Across the Curriculum™
Explore the essentials of reading comprehension as you experience specific strategies for developing schema, vocabulary, fluency, speed reading, text marking, and note-taking. Enhance comprehension through questioning and by understanding the patterns of expository text and narrative text.

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