Reading & Writing Consultants Inc.

Intervention for Students with Reading Difficulties

   In order to explain the process used to help a student become a better reader, it is necessary to give a brief explanation of what is actually involved in being an effective reader.

Reading Process

   A competent reader, while engaged in reading any written material, is making sure that he or she understands the text and is making comparisons of the information in the reading material with what he or she already knows in that particular area. This is true whether the work is fiction or factual. While engaged in making meaning from the reading, at another level, the reader is making use of a number of different reading competencies:

   These elements of the reading process all need to be working together smoothly for a reader to be a competent, efficient reader.

   In the process of learning to read, difficulties can occur in one or several of these skill areas. Difficulties can be present in a particular reading skill because the reader has not focused on that aspect of reading. This problem area may be corrected with a relatively short course of tutoring intervention. On the other hand, the difficulties may be present because of learning or memory problems affecting one or more reading skills. In the latter case, significant improvements in reading still occur, but require more intensive and long-term tutoring intervention.

   One of the factors that can interfere with reading competence is a visual-perception problem known as Irlen syndrome in which the visual areas of the brain perceiving fine detail and the visual areas integrating information as the eyes move are not synchronized. This can result in the reader experiencing the print as moving, or blurry. Alternatively, it can result in headaches or eyestrain after short periods of reading. About 40% of people experiencing difficulty with learning to read have Irlen Syndrome to some degree (15% of people in the whole population) and many of these can benefit from the use of a colored overlay or specially tinted glasses. Our beginning evaluation determines if this is a factor in reading problems.

Tutoring Programs

   The actual program that a reader will be on is individualized for that reader. The reading difficulty is not usually isolated to one of the skill/strategy areas described above. The older the readers are, the less likely they are to read voluntarily and the more likely they are to have developed alternative strategies that interfere with effective reading. The focus in beginning tutoring sessions is on determining which areas require intervention and moving quickly into a tutoring plan that is effective for that student. Below is a list of tutoring elements that are often present in our lessons.

1. Sight words - Edward Fry has developed a list of 1000 words that make up approximately 75% of the words in any written material in order of their frequency of appearance. Various tutoring strategies are used to assist readers toward automatic recognition of these words.

2. Instructional Reading Level - Reading instruction is given in complete texts at the reader's instructional reading level (90 - 95% word accuracy). Research indicates that reading ability will increase with regular instruction at this level. This instruction also allows for transferring newly acquired sight word knowledge to a real reading task.

3. Phonemic Awareness and Phonics Instruction - For those students with difficulties in this area, instruction can occur during writing, during reading in the application of phonics to decoding a word, through an activity such as Making Words in which readers are given letters and asked to construct specific words, through the use of Elkonin sound boxes, and by developing the reader's knowledge of common phonograms (at, cat, bat: ight, might, right, sight; etc.). For those students with severe phonological difficulties, a program called the Phonetic Reading Chain may be used, in which phonetic elements are drilled systematically using the Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic and Tactile (VAKT) and chaining techniques. The level of phonics instruction is tailored to the student needs but the ability to apply phonetic knowledge effectively is considered a crucial element in reading competence.

4. Motivation - Reading efficiency is directly related to the quantity of reading done. To achieve the optimal personal level of reading competence, a reader has to read independently and frequently. To promote an interest in and love of reading, reading instruction from the beginning is in real books, the tutor matches the reader's reading level with books that are interesting to the reader, the reader is encouraged to read daily at their independent reading level at home, the amount of reading is logged, and as certain mileposts are reached, the reader's achievements are recognized.

5. Fluency - Slow reading speeds interfere with comprehension and effective completion of work during school. If reading speed is not within the average range for the reader's age level, some strategies that may be used are repeated readings, increasing sight word knowledge, improving decoding skills, increasing the volume of reading at easier levels, and encouraging regular reading at home. If a Junior High reader is not able to read at 135 wpm, they will have difficulty dealing with the factual texts in the content areas.

6. Meaning-Making - Oral reading is continually monitored by the tutor to ensure that the reader is attending to the meaning in their reading material, as other aspects of reading receive attention. For those readers for whom understanding what they read is the main area of difficulty, there is work on visualization of what has been read, retellings, mind-mapping of reading material, and organization and categorization of information.

7. Writing - Improving writing skills has cross-over value into developing effective readers. Therefore, even if reading is considered the main area of difficulty, some writing is also done, with the emphasis on independent composition, editing, spelling, punctuation, and legibility. Some of the benefits to reading are in the development of phonemic knowledge, word structure knowledge and understanding of story schema.

   For students reading below a Grade 1 level, particularly in Grade 1, 2 or 3, we recommend our Early Intervention Reading program, in which readers are tutored for a 1/2 hour daily for approximately 14 to 20 weeks. Most students will be reading competently after that time period, while some will still require continued hourly tutoring.

   There may be other minor areas of focus such as silent reading comprehension and speed, or development of study skills. A major focus for some students is in the area of writing. Problems with and major strategies for improving writing skills have not been addressed in this outline, but are often a focus of our tutoring.

For further information, to schedule an assessment session or an Irlen Screening, or to arrange for tutoring please contact us by phone (780) 439-8120 or email at

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