Strengthening Literacy and Math Intervention

Helping challenged students to succeed through effective intervention strategies
By: | Issue: December, 2014 | Web Seminar Digest
December 24, 2014

According to recent U.S. Department of Education and Washington Post data, millions of students are struggling with reading and math. Intervention curricula have had measured, but limited, success in accelerating achievement. This web seminar, originally broadcast on October 9, 2014, featured education experts who discussed best practices for employing professional development in special education, ELL and RtI, and how to ensure intervention programs are deployed with rigor and attain efficacy and results for targeted populations.

Nancy Marchand-Martella
Professor of Special Education
Eastern Washington University
McGraw-Hill Education author

Every year, annually, the International Rating Association completes a survey of 25 literacy leaders from the United States, Canada and outside North America. The respondents are asked: In terms of literacy education, what’s receiving attention and what’s not? The two hottest findingsÑand 100 percent of the respondents were in agreement that these were hotÑregard close reading and Common Core state standards.

Ron Martella
Professor of Special Education
Eastern Washington University
McGraw-Hill Education author

And 75 percent of the respondents were in agreement about these topics: college and career readiness, high-stakes assessment, informational nonfiction text, text complexity, digital literacies and new literacies, and argumentative writing based on sources.

Nancy: Everything is focusing on: What can we do early to get kids into much more difficult texts where they are learning lots of important background knowledge to help them do better on assessments and help them to be prepared for college and beyond? We need to do more as educators for all students, and when you think about struggling students, these tasks are going to be quite challenging.

Ron: The topics for which 50 percent or more of the respondents were in agreement were adolescent literacy, comprehension, disciplinary content area literacy, English as a second language, political policy influences on literacy, STEM literacy and vocabulary word meaning.

Nancy: With regard to those seven topics, there’s definitely a focus on reading-to-learn strategies, or reading to gather information from text. There is again a focus on older learners, adolescent learnersÑtypically those in grades 4 through 12, and sometimes dipping down into grade 3. The five elements of effective reading instruction for K3Ñbased on the National Reading Panel reportÑare phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. There is a different set of elements for grades 4 through 12: word study, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and motivation. For older learners, we’re moving beyond phonemic awareness into studying words based on root words, prefixes, suffixes, multisyllabic word reading strategies, and so forth. If a student struggles, we’d have to dip back down into teaching sound combinations and blending strategies. Motivation is important because a lot of struggling learners are finding reading not to be reinforcing. So we have to think about innovative ways of hooking these students to get them interested in being a part of the reading instruction. The best practice for these learners is to employ the Gradual Release Model. The computer or teacher shows students how to do the skill, then gradually releases levels of support, and then hands it over to the students. This is sort of an errorless learning strategy, so the students won’t be making mistakes that can cause frustration. Once students are demonstrating high levels of performance, we move them into a review cycle so that skills don’t atrophy.

Ron: The gap between readability of high school text and university text is between 265 and 350 Lexile, depending on the study. That’s considered a large difference; two or more standard deviations is quite large. That’s like having 75 percent comprehension at the end of your senior year, and then 50 percent comprehension three months later when beginning your freshman year in college. So students’ comprehension when they are entering college is quite a bit less than what they need to be successful.

Robyn Silbey
Founder, Math Coach and Consultant
Robyn Silbey Professional Development
McGraw-Hill Education author

I’m going to talk a little bit about math intervention. The Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse came up with some ideas of ways that we can help kids. The first is to provide interventions to all students who are identified as needing it. One of the big things that we want is to increase discourse in the classroom with a verbalization of the thought processes. That directly addresses the Common Core state standards for mathematical practice. Interventions have to include instruction on solving word problems, and that has a lot to do with comprehension. We want kids not only to have concrete representations, but also visual representations. We want our kids to think and talk about math, to explore problems, to represent visually, to practice facts and to monitor progress. And just like in reading, we have to motivate them.

The verbalization of thought processes is just having kids think a little bit and then talk. The best strategy that I have seen is for kids to talk to a partner or partners in a low-risk format first. So you offer a great open-ended question, then have the kids talk about that with a partner or in a small group, and then have them share in the classroom. That means you have to stop cold-calling one student at a time and putting that kid on the spot and letting all the other kids off the hook. If you ask a question that’s good enough for class time, then it’s good enough for everybody to chew on and build the knowledge. The advantage to that chewing is that the kids have a little bit of rehearsal time and they are validated by their partners or their group mates. It builds their confidence. And it helps the kids learn even though they don’t know they are learning. Comprehension is important. Invite children to paraphrase the problem, because if they can’t tell you what the problem is about, it’s impossible for them to solve it. Then it just comes down to pulling the numbers out and doing the operation.

Problem-solving is the greatest challenge for children of all skill levels, but particularly for those kids in intervention. We tend to have kids rush to the solve step, or kids believe that they have to rush to the solve stage before they fully understand the problem. Also, when they’ve solved the problem they tend to just move forward and don’t look back to see if their solution actually makes sense. We need to be a little more deliberate about ensuring comprehension. Finally, I want to talk about the best ways to monitor student progress during intervention. I hate to see three-fifths or three-quarters of the time spent on assessing kids. I like to make my assessments as quick as possible, because we don’t have a lot of time for intervention as it is. During the intervention you want to conduct bimonthly or monthly informal assessments. Just for 5 or 10 minutes, so it doesn’t take too much instruction time away. Keep it pretty broad in scope, and scaffolded. Whether in reading or math, probably the most important thing to remember when doing intervention is that if a kid thinks they are so far away that they cannot possibly catch upÑif they are six blocks from the busÑthey don’t even bother running for it. They just give up and start walking in the other direction.

We don’t want that for our kids. We want our kids to think they can catch the bus, because if they think they are a block away and they are within running distance, they will run. And that’s where we need our kids to be.

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