When—And At What Cost—Do Students Receive Reading Intervention Classes?

Is anyone else noticing that students—especially in middle school—often receive reading intervention class at the expense of foreign language or arts? There are very real scheduling constraints that explain this common reality, but putting that aside, I’m wondering if this practice makes sense for kids.

I’ve heard the argument, and often found myself in agreement, that there it may be more urgent for a struggling reader to build skills and confidence in reading English than to learn a foreign language or pursue an art. The hope is, presumably, that a student would receive extra reading support for a finite amount of time and then move out of the program.

And then there is the obvious counter-argument that all students should receive a well-rounded education. We may do a disservice to already struggling students by barring them from the academic and culturally enriching opportunities offered by foreign language and arts education—potentially widening a different part of the achievement gap, while trying to close the “reading gap.”

The situation gets even more tricky, because students who are “behind” as readers struggle with many different things. An intervention program selected by a school for struggling readers in general may not suit the needs of each individual student in the class. On the other hand, a skilled teacher with the autonomy to respond to individual students could very well meet the diverse needs of a small group of readers.

Here are a few examples of students I’ve seen in reading classes over the years that have caused me to question their placement. I’m creating composite characters, using pseudonyms here. Though the details change, I’ve seen the recurrence of situations similar to these, rather than being limited to just one student.

Mayre is in the eighth grade. She moved to the United States from El Salvador when she was five years old. She is not classified as an ELL at this point, but Spanish is the language she speaks at home with her family. She does not know how to read in Spanish, because her formal schooling has been in English. She enjoys reading, but she does not score well on standardized tests. Mayre has been placed in reading intervention class, which focuses on strategies to develop reading comprehension. However, what holds her back on reading tests is her fairly limited vocabulary in English along with some grammatical constructions in English that confuse her, because they function differently in Spanish.

Though the activities in her reading class not harmful to her, the class is not designed to meet her specific needs. Also, she is missing out on the opportunity to take Spanish class. Because she does not read or even recognize words in Spanish, she has never been able to utilize her knowledge of Spanish to help her decipher the meaning of cognates, or similar words in English.

Quentin is also an eighth grader.  He struggles with most of his school work throughout the day, including reading tasks. He has basic decoding skills, but struggles with comprehension, because he doesn’t sustain attention as he reads.  Teachers see Quentin shine with hands-on, kinesthetic assignments and with more creative tasks. Quentin’s grades are consistently low, because he doesn’t complete homework and has difficulty following what’s going on in class. His life outside of school is unstable. He lives with his grandmother, who is ill; because of this, he often has to go stay with an uncle who lives far away in a neighborhood where he doesn’t feel safe walking. This creates a lot of stress and preoccupation for him. School is the most stable place for Quentin, but he always seems to fall into a pattern of failure, which causes more stress.

In reading class, Quentin has just as much trouble paying attention as he does in any other class. He’s already familiar with the strategies he’s practicing in the class, and they don’t seem to help him pay attention when he needs to in his other classes. Meanwhile, while Quentin attends reading intervention class, many of his classmates are in art or drama. Either class, but especially drama, would give him an opportunity to connect and express his emotions in a way that would create some relief for him as well as a greater sense of belonging and success.

I’m not suggesting that reading intervention courses don’t provide valuable, even life-changing opportunities for many students. I am trying to point out that the data points that often land a student in such an intervention class often paint an incomplete picture of the child’s needs. Just because a child demonstrates a need for improvement in reading, we shouldn’t conclude that reading intervention class is always the best solution. Since middle school schedules tend to be constructed so that students in reading intervention miss elective courses, we have to carefully and seriously look at all the options, and weigh them against everything we know about the student.





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  • TriciaEbner


    These are excellent points.  After trying summer and after-school interventions for several years and not having the kinds of results we had hoped for, we are now utilizing a “during-the-day” intervention model. The challenge is exactly the time constraints you’ve talked about. We often pull those students from music classes, and on more than one occasion, we’ve discussed how we’re not thrilled with this because music is one class–sometimes THE one class–where that student experiences success. What other approaches or strategies are schools using? How can we balance meeting those individual student needs without sacrificing the other opportunities and experiences that can also be so critical to a student’s growth, development, and success?

    • Cheri Dusek

      When I taught middle school
      When I taught middle school ELL, reading intervention was one choice for kids’ ELA block. The kid wouldn’t receive a double-dose, but the instructionot was very targeted. Now I am in elementary, and the approach is similar. Intervention is part of the 90 minute reading block. It seems to be working.

    • Cheri Dusek

      When I taught middle school
      When I taught middle school ELL, reading intervention was one choice for kids’ ELA block. The kid wouldn’t receive a double-dose, but the instructionot was very targeted. Now I am in elementary, and the approach is similar. Intervention is part of the 90 minute reading block. It seems to be working.

    • Cheri Dusek

      When I taught middle school
      When I taught middle school ELL, reading intervention was one choice for kids’ ELA block. The kid wouldn’t receive a double-dose, but the instructionot was very targeted. Now I am in elementary, and the approach is similar. Intervention is part of the 90 minute reading block. It seems to be working.

  • ArielSacks



    Tricia, thank you for posing these questions. When I was thinking about this post, I asked folks on twitter how reading intervention is scheduled at their schools. There was definitely a range of answers. The most common seemed to be after school or during an elective period. One teacher said teachers at his school give up prep time to pull students from various classes (varying this, so it’s not always the same class) to help with their reading. Obviously, giving up preps is problematic, but one nice thing about this is the amount of individual attention each student would get. As I think more about it, I realize what would, in my mind, be ideal. A school would invest–time-wise–in an independent reading period that all students would have. This solves another problem of all students simply not having enough time to read during a day to develop rich reading lives.  If I, the English teacher, give 20 minutes of my 45 minute period each day for reading, that feels like a lot to me–and that only adds up to 25 minutes a day! Students need more!  So, whole school gets an independent reading period (could be all at the same time–DEAR style–or could be different for each grade level). And then struggling readers are supported in small groups during this time, say 3 out of 5 days per week. That way they still get some free independent reading time, and they also get added instruction targeted to their needs. Sometimes all a student really needs is someone to read with them consistently over a period of time. Like training wheels. If their parents didn’t read with them consistently, they are missing that part of their reading development and we need to catch them up so to speak. If the relationship and text choices feel right, soon enough the student is ready to take the training wheels off and read on his or her own. Of course that’s just one type of reluctant reader. There are so many different needs. I’m wary of scripted curricula for intervention that assume similar issues among a group of high-need students. 





  • ArielSacks

    A few more thoughts

    Using a period for everyone to read creates opportunities to create flexible, non-permanent, groupings and differentiate for students at various levels of the reading spectrum–including those who need additional challenge. BUT, the scheduling question is still there. What has to go away if a school implements an “everyone reads” period? The benefits for a school could be huge, including gains on tests, but there are only so many hours in a day. Would this be more important than, say, advisory? I guess that would depend on the quality of said advisory program. Could the day be extended to accommodate this? Then, would it always be at the end of the day? Would recess go away? No!!! I know schools that are doing it, so it is possible, but I wonder if they have fewer arts/electives…


  • marsharatzel

    Would this work?

    Dear Ariel,

    I agree with your ideas.  So I’m going to play devil’s advocate a bit, so be patient with me.  I think all of your arguments can be made for math. 

    I was wondering as I read your post, shouldn’t we do this for students who are struggling with math.  Math is the basis of so much of adult life….can you afford to buy that house, how do you manage your paycheck, etc etc etc.  Can’t do math?  Can’t really succeed in life too well and forget about higher paying jobs.

    At first I thought, oh we could channel students in for extra individualized math help too.  And I then I realized, many students struggle in both.  Then I thought about your idea of one period a day where we all do math….that would certainly help everyone improve their math skills.

    It seems like a good idea to me to have extra help and maybe the day could be extended somehow to alternate between everyone reads and everyone does math?

  • Cossondra George

    Giving up for remediation


    great post Ariel!


    Our current remediation plan pulls students from their elective, which is t much of an elective (online choices of  prealgebra, foreign language or health) into either math or reading intervention. I give up my prep for half the year to teach math remediation/ interventions. The kids are only in the remediation class for 9 weeks and the flip flop either back to 'elective' or to reading Intervention. 

    I see this as an 'on paper' remediation situation at best. 9 weeks with 15 kids.. 4 days am week. Really, they get minimal remediation of anything. I struggle with how to engage them, students who are already disgruntled with the content, some of whom I've never had in class so I don't have a relaitonship with at all, students who are often discipline issues, who'd rather play class clown than show they struggle… By the end of the 9 weeks, we are just getting things figured out.

    we have to start creating programs that work instead of programs that look like we are doing something just on paper.

    Just some random ramblings…