By Todd Nesloney and Travis Crowder

One of the hottest topics right now in education is the implementation and efficacy of reading intervention periods. A common practice is for students, especially those who are labeled as “low” or “struggling,” to be pulled into an intervention time where they receive extra help or instruction to grow their reading abilities. More often than not, these vulnerable readers are pushed in front of computer programs that are supposedly giving them differentiated, targeted instruction, and while this may be true, they are missing out on one thing—authentic reading experience.

Author Stephanie Harvey stated the best intervention we can give our students is a good book, one that they want to read. However, the opposite is actually true.

And this reality saddens us.

We get it. In a time when standardized measures dictate more than we would like to admit, finding ways to focus on growth is a necessity. But in our experiences with students, especially those who need the most support, finding books they want to read increases their capacity. Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston found that engaged reading—kids engaged in books they wanted to read—transformed attitudes, which in turn affected meaning-making process and the classroom environment. Writers such as Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Kylene Beers, and Laura Robb have written for years about the significant effects of engagement in the case of reading. Kids can’t get better at something they aren’t doing. If they aren’t reading, they aren’t getting better at reading.

So, how do we make this shift from traditional interventions to engaged reading as an intervention?

First, we suggest you talk with students about their interests. This can happen in the regular education setting. Give them a chance to tell you what they love, both in and out of school. What movies do they like? Music? Sports? What books have they read and loved? Partner with your school librarian and ask for help pulling together a collection that will speak to your readers.

Second, we recommend students read independently every day. We know—it can feel like a lot of time. But kids need this time to develop their reading lives. If they aren’t reading at school, chances are they are not reading at home. Some students have already developed independent reading habits, and this time in school will nudge their habits further.

Third, model and expect a culture of literacy in your school. Post your reading life outside your office door, have book talks over the morning announcements, and read aloud to students in their classrooms. Invite students into your office to read or to talk about books, and keep a personal library of favorites for kids to choose from. Build a culture of respect and love around books. It transforms everything.

The last thing we encourage is a commitment to a language adjustment. Labels for students, such as “low” and “struggling,” only further demean the kids we work with. They do not help move kids forward, and in many cases, the use of such language traps students. It’s something they carry with them for years. Shifting the language to “striving reader,” which does not focus on deficits, promotes positivity.

We want to reiterate: reading is the BEST intervention. If we want kids to excel as readers we have to give them opportunities to read and to find the books that matter to them. Diagnostic results from computerized programs should only be a piece of the larger story that surrounds our kids’ reading lives and abilities. The most important piece is the story they create for themselves—books that move them to become confident and capable readers.

Todd Nesloney is TEPSA’s Director of Culture and Strategic Leadership. He is an award winning educator, author and international speaker.

Travis Crowder, a National Board Certified Teacher, teaches middle school students in North Carolina. He co-hosts the popular podcast series “Sparks in the Dark” and is co-author of Sparks in the Dark.

TEPSA News, May/June 2020, Vol 77, No 3

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The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 5,900 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

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