What Really Matters for Struggling Readers - Richard Allington

For the opening speaker at my district's big back-to-school kickoff, I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Richard Allington speak. If that wasn't enough, I was able to meet with him in a small group for discussion after the presentation! It was a very exciting and rewarding experience for me. I am a big fan of his work and really enjoyed speaking with him.

Dr. Allington is the author of several books, including his What Really Matters series. Some of his titles include:

As an intervention teacher, I find his work with struggling readers particularly inspiring. His presentation provided some important food for thought. Some of his major beliefs about working with struggling readers include:

1. Match readers with the appropriate text level and include choice

  • This might seem obvious. We are constantly running guided reading groups with leveled text, but he also means matching students to appropriate science, social studies, and math texts. This means doing away with the one textbook for the entire class. The struggling readers need to be able to access the information from another source. Students will also be more motivated to read if they are able to select among different texts.

2. 1-to-1 tutoring is ideal, but if that is not possible, groups of 3 or less

  • The smaller the group, the better! This can be difficult with school budgets, but the smaller the group, the more intensive the intervention.

3. Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

  • All lessons should gradually release independence towards the students. Lessons should begin with modeling by the teacher, move towards guided practice, and finish with independent practice. Many times we rush through the guided practice, or do not give students enough practice working with the skill independently.

4. Coordinate intervention with core curriculum

  • This can be especially difficult in large schools. The best interventions align with the core curriculum in the classroom. Students will get very confused if they are learning several different ways to write summaries. Teachers need to collaborate and teach consistently across the board.

5. MORE reading

  • It seems like common sense, but the more you read, the better you get! Dr. Allington compares reading to any other sport. You have to practice to get better. Unfortunately, he says many interventions or RTI centers focus too heavily on worksheets and paperwork. Dr. Allington says 2/3 of every day should be spent reading. This means that 2/3 of the intervention block should be spent reading, NOT doing worksheets.

6. Expert teachers

  • Dr. Allington truly believes in the power of the teacher. He believes schools should be investing in quality professional development for their teachers instead of purchasing packaged programs. He also believes that the most expert teachers should be working with the struggling readers. During his presentation he discussed how he is against the use of paraprofessionals to instruct the most struggling readers. 

7. Metacognition  and Meaning Making

  • Students should be taught to think about their own thinking when they are reading. They should be aware of the strategies they are using and what to do when they are struggling. Students should constantly be reflecting on their reading and pausing to make meaning. Dr. Allington believes the core of comprehension instruction is the teaching of strategies. 
Dr. Allington believes the key to RTI is the strengthening of Tier 1 classroom instruction.

How is RTI run in your school? What strengths do you see in your program? What weaknesses?


  1. I am also a fan! This was a great, informative post. I took a class from Allington and another from his wife when I was living in Knoxville. It was very rewarding to me, as well! I am going to send this post to my teaching partner. Thanks!
    Curious Firsties

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! I can only imagine how great taking a class from him was!

      Eclectic Educating

  2. So true! Classroom instruction should be top notch to avoid any problems. I am hoping to incorporate a way to meet with the teachers I work with to have more collaboration time. I hope it helps with some of the skills the kids are learning.

    Thanks for this wonderful post!

    Reading Toward the Stars

    1. I agree that collaboration is very important. It can also be challenging! Hope everything works out for you!

      Eclectic Educating

  3. Thank you for sharing this! Our school is on it's way but this is a great reminder of some areas we need to work harder on.

  4. My school believes in the "packaged" approach to RTI. Honestly, It does seem to work but my middle school special needs kiddos are soooooo far behind that even with their progress they are still 3-4 grade leaves behind their peers. So I love the idea of using various textbooks in the same room at the same time! After all, we are trying to meet the standard and it doesn't matter what we use to get there. :)

  5. levels...not leaves...sigh. I blame it on end of the year brain drain. :)

  6. I agree 100% that small tutoring groups are a must. First, you can pinpoint areas for improvement. Second, you can give immediate reinforcement. Finally, you create a more comfortable atmosphere. Last year my tutoring group was 18-22 kiddos. I dreaded it! I bet they did too:(