7 Middle School and High School Reading Intervention Strategies

“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.”

These words by author Kate DiCamillo are beautiful and true. But what if I’m working with a middle or high school student who struggles with reading? To these students, learning often feels like an impossible task. The precious gift of literacy has been buried beneath years of heartache, tears, and frustration, making success in the classroom seem out of reach.

Sometimes older, striving readers are English language learners, and sometimes they are on individualized education programs (IEPs). But often, they are simply conventional students who never received strong foundational reading instruction, and as a result, they continue to struggle. The challenges they face may have been exacerbated due to more than a year of interrupted learning amid the pandemic.

Supporting Reading Intervention Students in Grades 6–12

It’s never too late to help our secondary students become better readers, but it’s imperative that we have the appropriate tools and strategies to support them. Here are seven tips to maximize middle school and high school reading intervention.

1. Minimize distractions by creating an organized, clean, and inviting classroom.

Set clear expectations on how students should enter the room, interact with others, organize materials, and treat technology. Display expectations as visuals throughout the classroom. Remove anything that’s unnecessary and keep everything well-defined and concise. Assign only a few tasks at a time; less is more with intervention students.

2. Rely heavily on data.

Initial data informs instruction and guides decisions on a student’s specific needs. Some older, striving readers need support with reading comprehension skills, while others require more intensive phonics and basic word reading instruction. Reliable data helps educators determine the most effective interventions for individual students. Benchmark data should also be used to set student growth goals, followed by regular assessments that monitor progress toward the goals.

3. Provide opportunities to read daily at appropriate reading levels.

Growth is maximized when students take ownership of their learning and select books that align with their personal Lexile range. This ensures they receive appropriate challenge without frustration. Finding lower-level books that are high interest and age-appropriate helps secondary students feel respected and dignified, and providing a variety of print and digital books, articles, short stories, and audio resources allows for student choice and increased engagement. According to Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams, a specialist in cognition and education, students should “read, read, and re-read.”

4. Use conferencing and incentives to help with motivation.

During regular meetings with the teacher, individual students can set personal goals and measure their progress throughout the year. Goal setting is one of the most powerful motivators for intervention students. Students should review their data once or twice a month, as well as conference about their reading selections.

During this time, you can guide students in selecting independent reading resources that are high interest and at the appropriate Lexile level. Conferences are also a great opportunity to provide incentives and rewards. Prizes, free time, certificates, and shout-outs help create excitement and ownership of learning, which leads to student success. Extrinsic rewards will motivate the students initially with the intention of building intrinsic motivation throughout the year.

5. Find a curriculum with proven results.

Choosing a research-based intervention program designed specifically for secondary students can accelerate the learning process. A curriculum with a technology component increases student growth by supporting your teaching and providing individualized and distinct data-driven instruction. Rotating direct instruction, an adaptive technology program, and independent reading will provide students with a blended learning experience that is truly personalized and highly effective.

6. Ensure you’re skilled and proficient in reading instruction.

Because many middle and high school teachers have never received formal training in “learning to read,” they often do not know how to teach foundational reading skills. Foundational literacy training can help you discover your most effective strategies and tools to use with older, striving readers.

7. Most importantly, encourage a strong learning mindset.

Every day, I remind students that hard work and a positive attitude can make any goal, dream, or accomplishment possible. Maybe they failed yesterday, but today they have the power to rise and overcome anything—even reading challenges.

Due to school closures and lack of face-to-face instruction, educators are being forced to find solutions for students who have been impacted by interrupted learning. These middle school and high school reading intervention strategies are a great place to start as you work toward meeting the needs of your older, striving readers.

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