Solid differentiation strategies give every student exactly what they need to strengthen their reading skills at their own pace. Differentiation is not one single activity, but a number of different tactics working together. It might include interest centers, flexible grouping—where students are placed in different groups depending on the subject and lesson—and even multisensory reading instruction that uses auditory, visual, and kinesthetic activities to engage students and open new pathways in the brain for learning.
You can also differentiate content by offering students reading materials about the same topic, but on different reading levels to meet individual needs. Choose reading programs based on student needs—for example, give students struggling to associate sounds with their written symbols a phonics-based reading program, instead of a level-based program. Or adjust the learning environment by providing a variety of ways for students to interact with content, through movement, manipulatives, digital activities, and traditional print activities while using ongoing assessment to measure and track success.
Students who do not respond to Tier 1 Core Intervention—i.e. those methods that involve whole-group instruction, or strategies and supports available to all students—are considered Tier 2 and Tier 3 readers. Tier 1 students typically make up 80% of the student population, while roughly 15% percent of students are Tier 2, and 1-5% are Tier 3.
Tier 2 students receive intervention that targets their specific needs, such as phonics or comprehension, and can usually be delivered in the classroom, often in groups. Students who do not response to Tier 2 strategies are then typically referred to specialists for a Tier 3 intervention, which usually provides more intensive instruction using more specific approaches.
Both Tier 2 and Tier 3 students are identified based on objective school data, given more intensive help, and then monitored every week or two weeks. The data is then carefully reviewed on an on-going basis and new interventions are tried, if necessary.
Addressing each Tier Appropriately
It is important to choose the right materials to meet student’s needs. Some students may struggle with one reading component, such as comprehension, while others struggle with a variety of reading components, from phonemic awareness to reading fluency and vocabulary development. It is crucial that educators help students overcome these deficiencies as quickly as possible, because reading lags compound over time and impact success in other subjects so negatively.
Tier 2 students in middle and high school who struggle with comprehension can benefit from a targeted comprehension intervention, such as MCI (Making Connections Intervention®). Programs such as SPIRE—which focus on phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency—are most effective for nonreaders and struggling readers in Tier 3 who need to build their reading skills from the ground up.
Whether you are teaching reading, or a specialist working with ELL or special education students, understanding intervention and offering struggling readers the support they need is crucial—both in the classroom and, if necessary, outside it.