How to Help Striving Readers Succeed: 20 Years of READ 180

5 Min Read
April Read180 2

I’m the only person at the HMH office who has been engaged with our READ 180 intervention program from day one—before it was even named READ 180. Dr. Ted Hasselbring brought a prototype that had been tested with 10,000 students who faced reading challenges. Ted had responded to the call to help a district with a “discipline problem” and came to the conclusion it was a reading problem. He was inspired by a Super Bowl ad to harness the promise of technology to solve the social problem of inadequate reading performance. And, we are well aware of the negative academic, emotional, economic, and even physical consequences of unskilled reading.

My journey as an educator started as a first-grade teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I had an amazing principal who made it very clear that children who didn’t learn to read in that grade were highly unlikely to learn later and to succeed in school. I was provided with consultant and coaching support, and my students were doing so well that I was not only tasked with teaching six-year-olds but also tutoring sixth-graders who were struggling with literacy skills and soon to be off to middle school. I studied and strived to do all that I could, and my biggest challenge was individualizing and motivating.

Then, in 1999, the READ 180 era started. Since then, READ 180 has demonstrated positive student outcomes with:

  • English learners (ELs)
  • Students with disabilities
  • Economically disadvantaged students
  • Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Incarcerated students

Let’s take a look at some specific strategies that can be used to help struggling readers within the first two populations listed above. We kept these strategies in mind when creating READ 180.

English Learners

Nazir had been a top high school student in his school in Afghanistan. But upon arriving at his new school in the U.S., he couldn’t read or write English and found that he was falling behind the other students, worrying him about his prospects of attending college and eventually landing his dream job as a dentist.


The number of English learners in the U.S. has grown dramatically in recent years, and under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states must annually assess this population’s English language proficiency and provide reasonable accommodations to support them. A 2014 Institute of Education Sciences report resulted in four recommendations for students in this population that you should keep in mind in your intervention classroom:

  • Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.
  • Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching.
  • Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills.
  • Provide small-group instructional intervention to students struggling in areas of literacy and English language development.

Here are some additional insights into what we know about ELs and how they can most effectively learn to read:

  • Those in mixed-ability classes benefit greatly from interactive, explicit instruction.
  • ELs can benefit from wide reading designed to increase their daily reading practice. Learning word meanings in context rather than as a separate list of words can improve their reading skills.
  • Direct instruction in oral and written academic language for ELs is critical. Teaching vocabulary and grammar as it is used in specific genres prepares ELs to succeed with academic writing tasks. 
Students With Disabilities 

Jessie is a sixth-grader in Florida who was diagnosed with dyslexia and was reading and writing far below her grade level. She struggles to understand the words she sees and to stay on track with her peers. Jessie certainly isn’t alone. Between the 2011–2012 and 2015–2016 school years, the number of students ages 3–21 who received special education services rose from 6.3 million to 6.7 million.


For these students, performance assessment data can help monitor their progress and determine their additional needs. For dyslexic students in particular, one-on-one help can benefit them tremendously, as can extensive structured practice and immediate, corrective feedback.

So, given the research surrounding what students with disabilities need, it’s clear that an effective intervention program should:

  • Provide systematic, direct instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics
  • Teach students to apply these skills to reading and writing
  • Provide fluency training
  • Include rich experiences listening to and using oral language.
Results With This Intervention Solution

Over 50 studies representing the diversity of READ 180 students and the variability of school districts in our nation have revealed positive results. And these results cut across all grade levels. You can learn more by reading our new publication 20 Years of Evidence and Efficacy: Research Based and Evidence Proven. My research colleagues and I share that “we not only have the scores but we also have the stories.” For us the n on a study doesn’t just stand for numbers according to research protocols but for names like Shadrack, Elena, Derrick, and Jamaica—I could go on.

It has been inspiring to see the trajectory of lives change and to observe children and youth doing 180s in school and in their lives. In my next post, I will focus on READ 180 teachers, many new ones like I was, and share the lessons to be learned from their experiences. And if you have a READ 180 story you’d like to share, please email the Shaped staff at


Learn more about READ 180 Universal, which is celebrating 20 years of innovation and acceleration, and how it uses neuroscience to target areas of the brain that are integral to reading proficiency.


Looking for ways to advance the literacy skills of all students in your district, including children living in poverty, English learners, and children with disabilities? Learn more about how HMH can help you achieve the goals of the Comprehensive Literacy State Development, a five-year federal discretionary grant awarded to 13 states.

Get our free Reading Intervention eBook today.

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