Bridging the Gap: RTI and Struggling Readers

by | Apr 26, 2023


Learning to read is a complex process, and many factors contribute to why students struggle. These can include cognitive, linguistic, or environmental factors and issues with instructional methods.


A child may have difficulty with phonological processing, vocabulary development, or comprehension skills. Moreover, learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, can pose significant challenges for students.


Identifying Struggling Readers

Teachers play a critical role in identifying students who are falling through the cracks in reading. They may use various assessment tools, such as standardized tests and curriculum-based measures. Teachers should monitor students’ progress regularly and communicate with parents and other professionals to provide targeted support.


Addressing Reading Skill Gaps

Once teachers have identified the reading skill gaps, they can implement targeted interventions to help students overcome their challenges. These interventions may include additional instruction, small group sessions, or individualized support based on the student’s needs.


Response to Intervention (RTI): A Proactive Approach

RTI is a multi-tiered approach to supporting students with reading difficulties. It involves the use of research-based instruction and interventions, regular progress monitoring, and data-driven decision-making. RTI can be particularly beneficial for students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities, as it addresses their needs early and systematically.


Tier 1: Universal Instruction, The first tier of RTI, focuses on providing high-quality, evidence-based instruction to all students in the general education classroom. This may include explicit teaching of phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies.


Tier 2: Targeted Interventions Students who do not respond to Tier 1 instruction may receive additional support in small group settings. These interventions target specific skill deficits and are typically provided by trained personnel, such as reading specialists or special education teachers.


Tier 3: Intensive Interventions For students who continue to struggle despite Tier 2 support, more intensive interventions are implemented. These may include individualized instruction, specialized programs, or additional resources to address their unique needs.


Structured Literacy: A Comprehensive Approach to Reading Instruction

A structured approach to literacy instruction is essential for helping struggling readers develop the skills they need to succeed. Components of a structured literacy approach include:


Phonological Awareness: Teaching students to recognize and manipulate the sounds of spoken language, such as rhyming, blending, and segmenting sounds.

Example: Using Elkonin boxes to help students segment and blend sounds in words.


Phonics: Systematic instruction in letter-sound relationships, enabling students to decode and encode words accurately.

Example: Teaching students the rules of syllable division to improve their decoding skills.


Vocabulary: Explicit instruction in word meanings, including the use of context clues, word analysis, and multiple exposures to new words.

Example: Creating semantic maps to help students explore and organize word meanings.


Fluency: Developing students’ ability to read text accurately, quickly, and with expression.

Example: Incorporating repeated reading activities to improve reading speed and accuracy.


Comprehension: Teaching students strategies to enhance their understanding of the text, such as summarizing, questioning, and making connections.

Example: Using graphic organizers to help students organize and synthesize information from a text.


Monitoring Progress and Adjusting Instruction

Regular progress monitoring is essential for determining the effectiveness of interventions and making data-driven decisions. Teachers can use curriculum-based measures or standardized assessments to track student progress. Based on this data, educators can adjust instruction or intervention strategies to better meet the needs of their students.


Addressing Continued Struggles and Acceleration in Reading

When a student is not making progress despite the implementation of RTI, it may be necessary to reevaluate the interventions being used or consider additional support services. This could include a referral for special education evaluation or seeking outside assistance from specialists.


On the other hand, if a student demonstrates significant improvement, teachers must determine whether they are ready for acceleration in reading. This decision should be based on multiple data points, including assessments, classroom performance, and teacher observations.


The Impact of RTI on Student Outcomes

Research has shown that RTI can be an effective approach for addressing the needs of struggling readers. According to the National Center on Response to Intervention, schools implementing RTI have seen an increase in the percentage of students meeting reading proficiency benchmarks.


The use of RTI has been linked to a decrease in the number of students referred for special education services. By providing targeted, research-based interventions and ongoing progress monitoring, RTI can support the growth and success of all students, including those with dyslexia and other reading disabilities.


RTI and a structured approach to literacy instruction are essential tools for addressing the needs of struggling readers. When schools implement research-based interventions, monitor progress, and adjust instruction as needed, all students develop the critical reading skills necessary for academic success.



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