Reading Intervention For Students Who Struggle With Word Reading and Language Comprehension

Students who struggle with both word reading and language comprehension need targeted, intensive reading intervention. However, access to effective programs varies widely across boards.

Student/parent survey respondents reported that it was often difficult to get their children into effective reading interventions. Some students have to change schools, go to a Provincial Demonstration School or pay for private tutoring.


Imagine being handed a box of odds and ends and told to figure out what to do with them. That’s what it feels like to many students who struggle to read. Fortunately, we can provide them with scaffolding, which helps to make the process less intimidating and overwhelming.

Scaffolding involves adding instructional support to help learners master skills and strategies. This can occur before, during or after reading. Some examples of pre-reading scaffolding strategies include arming students with academic vocabulary concepts, previewing the text and its topics ahead of time, and practicing multisyllabic decoding strategies for texts that have a more challenging language structure.

During reading, asking students to stop regularly to summarize or paraphrase what they’ve just read encourages self-monitoring and provides an opportunity to spot gaps in comprehension. Providing opportunities for students to discuss what they’ve read with classmates also promotes deeper thinking. Asking them to consider how they believe the information relates to their own experiences and hunches is another effective way to scaffold understanding.


School boards often have unclear guidelines around who is eligible for interventions and which program they will receive. This may be because decisions are based on unreliable assessments or on inappropriate beliefs and criteria (e.g., one inquiry school board requires students to have a diagnosis to be eligible for the Empower program).

Inquiry schools also report that many programs are reserved for later tiers in the RTI/MTSS model rather than early implementation (tier 1). These programs often involve more teacher-directed instruction with less focus on systematically breaking down grapheme-phoneme correspondences and the blending of these sounds into word recognition and spelling, a key part of phonemic awareness and decoding skills.

Students who struggle to recognize words need intensive and targeted word-reading interventions to free up their cognitive energies for the more complex process of reading comprehension. They also need effective programing to address any oral language weaknesses that make it difficult for them to sound out or blend the sounds of words.

Connecting to Prior Knowledge

Many students come to reading with prior knowledge, beliefs, and experiences about a topic. Activating this prior knowledge can reduce the cognitive load for students as they read and learn. It can also help students to become metacognitive, as they learn to compare and contrast new information with their own beliefs and experiences.

Some teachers activate prior knowledge before introducing a reading by using graphic organizers such as KWL charts; by doing an alphabet brainstorm to familiarize students with the vocabulary that will be used in the lesson; or by giving students anticipatory guides that prompt them to recall relevant information before they start the new text. However, these activities do not always address the full range of skills needed to access subject-specific reading.

School boards determine which reading interventions to offer, which grades they provide them for and whether or not they include students who have a learning disability or other risk factors. While some boards offer evidence-based programs (e.g., Hamilton-Wentworth and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic), others do not.


Many students struggle with motivation to read. Providing students with books of interest and engaging in learning activities that help them understand the relevance of reading can be motivating. Choosing texts that students have some background knowledge about makes them more interesting and relevant to the reader (Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2003).

Interventions were coded for their theoretical basis, what motivational mechanisms they tried to elicit or foster, whether skills instruction was provided, and how many sessions and total duration of the intervention. They were also coded for whether they used narrative or informational texts and for the level of complexity of the text.

In our inquiry survey, teachers and parents reported that access to evidence-based programs was limited by school boards, with some students having to change schools or attend a Provincial Demonstration School to gain access to an intervention program. This is not fair to students and should be addressed. It would be ideal if every child could have access to an evidence-based reading intervention in their school without having to change schools, go to a demonstration school or pay for private tutoring.

Reading Intervention For Students Who Struggle With Word Reading and Language Comprehension
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