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Thursday, September 5, 2013

What Really Matters for Struggling Readers

For the opening speaker at my district's big back-to-school kickoff, I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Richard Allington speak. If that wasn't enough, I was able to meet with him in a small group for discussion after the presentation! It was a very exciting and rewarding experience for me. I am a big fan of his work and really enjoyed speaking with him.

Dr. Allington is the author of several books, including his What Really Matters series. Some of his titles include:

As an intervention teacher, I find his work with struggling readers particularly inspiring. His presentation provided some important food for thought. Some of his major beliefs about working with struggling readers include:

1. Match readers with the appropriate text level and include choice

  • This might seem obvious. We are constantly running guided reading groups with leveled text, but he also means matching students to appropriate science, social studies, and math texts. This means doing away with the one textbook for the entire class. The struggling readers need to be able to access the information from another source. Students will also be more motivated to read if they are able to select among different texts.

2. 1-to-1 tutoring is ideal, but if that is not possible, groups of 3 or less

  • The smaller the group, the better! This can be difficult with school budgets, but the smaller the group, the more intensive the intervention.

3. Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

  • All lessons should gradually release independence towards the students. Lessons should begin with modeling by the teacher, move towards guided practice, and finish with independent practice. Many times we rush through the guided practice, or do not give students enough practice working with the skill independently.

4. Coordinate intervention with core curriculum

  • This can be especially difficult in large schools. The best interventions align with the core curriculum in the classroom. Students will get very confused if they are learning several different ways to write summaries. Teachers need to collaborate and teach consistently across the board.

5. MORE reading

  • It seems like common sense, but the more you read, the better you get! Dr. Allington compares reading to any other sport. You have to practice to get better. Unfortunately, he says many interventions or RTI centers focus too heavily on worksheets and paperwork. Dr. Allington says 2/3 of every day should be spent reading. This means that 2/3 of the intervention block should be spent reading, NOT doing worksheets.

6. Expert teachers

  • Dr. Allington truly believes in the power of the teacher. He believes schools should be investing in quality professional development for their teachers instead of purchasing packaged programs. He also believes that the most expert teachers should be working with the struggling readers. During his presentation he discussed how he is against the use of paraprofessionals to instruct the most struggling readers. 

7. Metacognition  and Meaning Making

  • Students should be taught to think about their own thinking when they are reading. They should be aware of the strategies they are using and what to do when they are struggling. Students should constantly be reflecting on their reading and pausing to make meaning. Dr. Allington believes the core of comprehension instruction is the teaching of strategies. 
Dr. Allington believes the key to RTI is the strengthening of Tier 1 classroom instruction.

How is RTI run in your school? What strengths do you see in your program? What weaknesses?


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post, as I too, am a big Allington fan. What a wonderful opportunity to not only hear him speak but to meet with him in a small group. I really emphasize #5 in my work in classrooms~ let them read and reduce the worksheets and other skill activities! Thanks so much for sharing! Lauren Teacher Mom of 3

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! I'm going to forward the link to my coworkers to read as well. All fantastic points!

    Don't Let the Teacher Stay Up Late
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  3. How awesome! I saw him speak at the IRA conference last spring and I have read a couple of his books. I love how he just tells it like it is!

    Literacy Spark

  4. Amy

    I loved your post! Thanks for sharing some of the things you learned! Great advice and reminders for the beginning of the year!!

    Laura ~ First Grade Spies

  5. Wow! 2/3s of our day?? In reading we are pretty close to that, but definitely not in our intervention groups. Great information to know. Thank you, Amy!

    The Brown-Bag Teacher

  6. Amy, what a great post! Thanks so much for sharing all of this great information!
    Polka Dot Lesson Plans

  7. This is all such great information. I like the last point, about thinking about what they are reading. I want to try to do a lot more close reading this year!

    Everyone deServes to Learn


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