Specialized Instruction and the Science of Reading

by | Apr 9, 2024


Addressing Struggling Readers in Grades 3-5

The journey to becoming a proficient reader is unique for every child, with some facing more challenges than others. Struggling readers, including those with reading disabilities, require specialized instruction that aligns with the science of reading—a body of research that encompasses how students learn to read and the most effective teaching methods. This article delves into strategies for grades K-5 on how to support struggling readers, integrating remediation and acceleration within the classroom.


Understanding the Needs of Struggling Readers

Struggling readers may have difficulties in various areas of reading, such as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, or comprehension. Reading disabilities, including dyslexia, can further complicate the learning process. The science of reading suggests that explicit, systematic instruction in these areas is crucial for overcoming these challenges.


Teaching Strategies for Support


Structured Literacy Programs

Structured literacy programs are highly systematic and explicit, focusing on teaching the relationships between letters and sounds, spelling patterns, and word meanings. These programs are particularly beneficial for students with reading disabilities, as they address reading skills at the most fundamental level.


Multisensory Instruction

Incorporating visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile methods can enhance learning for struggling readers. For example, using sand trays for letter tracing can help students physically feel the shape of letters, linking the physical sensation with the visual shape and the sound it represents.


Small Group Instruction

Small group settings or one-on-one instruction allow for more personalized attention and tailored feedback. Teachers can use this time to focus on specific areas of difficulty, adjusting the pace and methods according to each student’s needs.


Remediation and Acceleration

The goal of remediation is to address gaps in knowledge and skills, while acceleration aims to move students forward at an appropriate pace. Integrating both approaches can be challenging but is essential for the growth of struggling readers.


Diagnostic Assessments

Regular, targeted assessments can identify specific areas of difficulty, allowing teachers to provide immediate and appropriate interventions. These assessments can also monitor progress over time, guiding instructional decisions.


Tiered Support Systems

Implementing a tiered support system, such as Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), can effectively combine remediation and acceleration. These systems involve providing all students with high-quality instruction (Tier 1), additional targeted interventions for students who need more support (Tier 2), and intensive intervention for students with significant struggles (Tier 3).


Scaffolded Instruction

Scaffolding involves providing temporary support to students as they learn new skills. As students become more proficient, the scaffolding is gradually removed, encouraging independence. This approach allows for the simultaneous remediation of existing gaps and the introduction of new, challenging material.


Supporting Struggling Readers


Building Confidence and Motivation

For struggling readers, success in reading can significantly boost confidence and motivation. Celebrating small achievements and providing positive reinforcement can encourage students to persist in their efforts.


Engaging and Relevant Materials

Using texts and materials that are engaging and relevant to students’ interests can increase motivation and provide a meaningful context for learning. High-interest, low-readability texts can be particularly effective for older struggling readers.


Collaboration with Specialists

Collaboration with reading specialists, special education teachers, and other professionals can bring additional expertise and resources to support struggling readers. These specialists can offer targeted interventions, strategies, and supports tailored to individual student needs.


Family Involvement

Engaging families in supporting their children’s reading development is crucial. Providing parents and caregivers with strategies to help at home, such as reading together, discussing books, and practicing specific skills, can reinforce classroom learning.



Addressing the needs of struggling readers requires a comprehensive approach that combines specialized instruction with the principles of the science of reading. By employing explicit, systematic teaching methods, incorporating multisensory and engaging materials, and providing targeted support, teachers can help all students, including those with reading disabilities, to achieve reading proficiency. Balancing remediation with acceleration ensures that struggling readers not only catch up but also continue to advance in their reading journey.



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