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Shifting the conversation: focusing on K-2

Intervention is an important part of ensuring reading success for all students. But by building a strong foundation of critical skills for literacy acquisition using research-based instruction, we might just prevent the widespread need for intervention in the first place. 

small group of elementary school students sits around teacher reading a book

In my work in schools I often find myself having  the same conversations with principals. The reading scores for third- or fourth-graders are not where they need to be and the principal wants to know what they can do to improve the curriculum in those grades. Through conversation and data analysis, what inevitably happens is the realization that it isn’t really a third-grade or fourth-grade issue. Many of these struggling students were struggling with the foundational skills of reading in kindergarten, first and second grade.  The conversation needs to shift from what can we do when they fail, to what can we do early on to prevent them from failing?

My formative teaching years were during the whole language era, when the pervasive belief was that learning to read was as natural as learning to speak. After decades of research we know that simply isn’t true. We know what skills need to be mastered to read with accuracy, fluency and comprehension in the early years. We know what instructional methodology is most effective. And most importantly, we know the critical role instruction plays in early reading success.

When the conversation moves from intervention to prevention, the immediate question is what can we do now? Here are some ideas for “first steps”:

  • Know the research. As professionals, we need to make sure that evidence guides our decision-making. Read Mark Seidenberg’s excellent new book Language at the Speed of Sight, watch YouTube videos of Bruce McCandliss or Tim Conway or Stanlislas Dehaene. Join listserves and blogs that focus on the science of reading.  Engage in high-quality professional development, such as LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling). Most importantly, share your questions and seek answers.
  • Find a solid core program that is aligned with the research and has strong efficacy results. The National Right to Read Foundation website ( has some recommendations to consider.
  • Recognize that even with a focus on prevention, there will be students who will need additional instruction. Use strong, proven intervention approaches—materials and methodology—such as those provided by the 95% Group.
  • Use reliable assessments frequently to determine how students are progressing, then understand and use the data to make informed instructional decisions.
  • If you are an administrator, make literacy for all the goal of your school, and pursue it relentlessly.

We are at an amazing point in our profession in that we don’t need to just rely on past practice or our collective hunches on how to teach children to read. The knowledge and tools are readily available for us to use. 95% of our students  reading on grade level can be a reality. Together we can make it happen.

About Laura Stewart

Laura Stewart is an educator and organizational leader.  She has served as a classroom teacher, building and district administrator, adjunct professor, and director of numerous professional development initiatives around the country. She also served as the Vice President of Professional Development for both Rowland Reading Foundation and Zaner-Bloser.  In her current position as the Chief Academic Officer, Professional Development for the Highlights Education Group, she works across several companies to offer high-quality professional development which will empower educators and positively impact children’s lives.

She presents nationally and internationally and has written for numerous organizations and publications; she recently co-authored The Everything Guide to Informational Text K-2; Best Texts, Best Practices. Laura is a certified LETRS trainer and was recently appointed to the advisory board of the International Foundation of Effective Reading Instruction.

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