Social & Emotional Learning

Meeting Students’ Needs in My Reading Intervention Classroom

5 Min Read
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If you were to visit my reading intervention classroom today, you would likely find a child working under my teacher's desk while another sits beside me and reads aloud. It’s likely that at least one child will be having a snack. And amid that, you will find students reading independently while others work on their Read 180 software.

While not every student may seem engaged, they have all shown exponential growth since being in my classroom because their unique set of needs is being met.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Students

It’s imperative to give students what they need when they need it. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, proposed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow, explains the five levels of human needs that drive motivation: physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization. The needs are ordered from the most basic to more complex and depicted in a tiered pyramid. Maslow argued that a person’s most basic need must be met before addressing a more complex need. For example, a student who’s hungry needs to be fed before being taught reading.


As educators we have limited ability to influence students’ family life, but we do have an opportunity to evaluate their needs within our classroom and cater to them. As a reading intervention teacher, I have drawn from Maslow’s theory to create a learning space where my students’ needs, be they a basic need or a self-fulfillment need, are met. I have found a balance between creating structure, nurturing students, and having expectations, and since doing so, I’ve seen my students soar.

Physiological Needs

We are all driven by an instinct to survive, and it is impossible for us to thrive or even function properly if our most basic needs aren’t met. Those needs? Food, water, shelter, warmth, clothing, sleep, and health. While those all seem so simple, they aren’t something every student can rely on outside of school.

To combat the scarcity of basic needs so many of our students experience, our district has been a front-runner in the state of Missouri. We have implemented programs and policies to assist students and families in ways they need them most. One of those initiatives is to start school at 8:30 a.m. This was a research-based decision, guided by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s pediatric sleep recommendations.


Recommended Sleep

6-12 years

9-12 hours

13-18 years

8-10 hours

Still, there are many students who don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis. Not very long ago, a student fell asleep on the classroom futon while I was reading aloud, and I let her continue to sleep. At our transition to group work, I checked in with her. “Did you sleep last night?” I asked. “No, we didn’t get home until after midnight,” she told me. What choice did I have but to let her sleep?

Safety Needs

My student felt safe enough in our classroom to sleep soundly, and she felt safe enough to be honest with me about why she hadn’t slept in the first place. Students needs to feel physically and emotionally safe to able to express concerns, ask question, and learn.

In my classroom, we have a safe space where students frequently work: the alcove under my teacher desk. We call it the “Office.” Utilizing this space came as an accident one year when students were just having a really hard day. They needed their own space, and under my teacher desk was the only place I had to offer. That student was able to safely process their emotions, without the watchful eyes of their classmates, while still able to hear the lesson and work independently. The “Office” has been used hundreds of times over the years for myriad reasons, and it has proven to be one of the best strategies I have in my teacher toolbox.

Belongingness and Love Needs

Children need to feel loved, and they need to feel like they belong. I have created a classroom community where former and present students feel welcomed. Every morning, a group of students come into my classroom for a quick visit. They turn on all the lamps, tidy up if something is out of place, then they all line up for a hug and a word of encouragement before they start their day.

Esteem Needs

Typically, when students come to me, they have been in reading intervention classes for the entirety of their school career. Most come with very low self-esteem and poor attitudes. I’ve had students tell me I’m wasting my time because they are just "bad" at reading. I’ve had students tell me they hate reading. I’ve told each of them the same thing, “You just haven’t found what you like to read yet. I need you to believe in yourself as much as I believe in you.” I see greatness in all my students, and I uplift them to help them reach their fullest potential. Students don't only hear words of encouragement from me. Read 180 also motivates students to succeed as it incorporates Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) throughout the program to increase engagement and promote positive behaviors.

Self-Actualization Needs

In a Read 180 classroom, I can think of no better indicator of self-actualization than to graduate as a grade level proficient reader. This has become the norm for our classroom. With Read 180, I am able to differentiate instruction to meet the academic and social and emotional needs of my students. Read 180 blends the latest research in brain science and growth mindset to meet students where they are. This has led to my students consistently scoring well on all forms of high-stakes testing. More importantly, many of them leave me with a love for reading they didn’t have when they came to me.


Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of teaching, but it’s important to keep in mind our why: our students. When we focus on our students and what they need, we can better help them achieve their goals.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Read 180 integrates research around personalized best practices, adaptive technology, instructional strategies based on the science of reading, and scaffolded support for reading independently.

Get our free Reading Intervention eBook today.

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