From Striving to Thriving: Table the Labels

What an amazing chapter! Chapter one jumps right in with recommendations for making classroom reading instruction lively, meaningful, and fun. Check out this post for information on what you can do to make reading great for your students.
Not all intervention programs are equal! There! We said it! In the opening of chapter one, Harvey and Ward describe a beautiful classroom scenario where Anthony makes the connection that "Reading is thinking!"  In that classroom, there are great things happening. Students are turning and talking, jotting thoughts, questions, and new learning on sticky notes, getting to know each other as readers, conferring with their teachers, and reading books that they are totally engaged in. Anthony's realization that reading is thinking goes beyond calling out the words and shows he's connected the importance of comprehension. 

In this post, we'll look at intervention programs and ideas to help make the most of classroom reading instruction. 


All children deserve joyful reading experiences and expert instruction, right? No question...yes! Yet, according to the authors, many intervention programs are skill-based with limited interaction with quality literature and real reading. Through this type of intervention, kids lose interest and confidence because they're missing out on the "fun" parts their peers are participating in. It doesn't need to be this way, right?  Our authors say, "Our interventions may need an intervention."

For striving readers who see reading as frustrating and unpleasant, it is tough to be motivated. How can we help make their experiences meaningful and pleasurable? The answer is not in a program, but rather in solid instruction with books they can not put down! AND...let me put this in bold, "Striving readers should not to be pulled out during reading-not for whole group instruction, small group time or independent reading time." Gasp! I think my school has done that for a long time. We provided services during the reading block because that was the time that worked for the classroom teachers. Harvey and Ward go on to list three things that must be in place before assigning a child to a remediation group:
  1. Access to compelling books in the classroom, on the bus, and at home.
  2. Choice in what to read. (match student interests)
  3. Copious amunts of time to read in school and at home.  


We can all agree that reading well is correlated with everything in life including happiness and longevity. Isn't that reason enough to make reading instruction top priority in every single school? Every single child deserves to read well and love to read even when learning to read is challenging for some. Below, Harvey and Ward include a list of needs/best practices for striving readers:
  • Engaged in community-building classroom interactions
  • A room flooded with compelling books at every level.
  • Time to read, write, talk and inquire every day.
  • A wide range of entry points to literacy. (technology, books, charts, articles, newspapers, etc. 
  • Teaching a repertoire of comprehension strategies to construct meaning.
  • Reader to reader and Teacher to Reader conferences.
  • Flexible, temporary needs-based small groups


Many of us still label our reading groups, and no matter how you slice it, the kids know whether they are in the "high" group or "low" group. What these labels do is decrease motivation, and high stakes testing has led to more and more students being sent to intervention programs. Well, our authors say, "Programs don't teach kids, teachers do." According to the What Works Clearninghouse, Reading Recovery is one of the few that works, and most reading programs haven't had enough research to determine their effectiveness, and it is completely based on repeated reading of familiar texts, reading of unfamiliar texts, word study, and writing (components of great small group lessons).

One of the benefits of Reading Recovery is in student observation. Reading recovery teachers are skilled kid watchers and really hone in on reading behaviors they see. Quality instruction is not about the level, but rather, it's about reading behaviors, attitudes, and understandings. Too often, we focus on what we perceive as the students' ability rather than the behaviors they are able to show. According to the authors, this "drives our language and language drives our practice." 


Across our country, growth mindset, grit, stamina, and rigor have become our buzzwords, and certainly, we need to include these ideals/traits in our daily practice, but with caution. Effort alone will not fix it. Telling a child they just need to try harder won't fix it. We must not praise effort along, but also the strategy that led to the desired outcome. When students figure things out and realize that we believe they can do it, they build confidence which fuels further learning.

Grit and Stamina...let's talk about them.

Dav Pilkey had a tough time learning to read, but he did! How? Through his mother's passion for reading and letting him read anything he wanted. This post about From Striving to Thriving provides great tips for making reading fun and meaningful or your students.I found this part of the text very interesting. The authors say, "Grit discounts the crushing impact of poverty and woefully under-resources schools by suggestnig that disadvantaged children need to simply "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" to achieve sucess." Wow! Finally, a recognition that reading achievement is impacted by poverty and underfunded schools! Kids who are hungry, scared, and without the things they need (books, glasses, adequate lighting) suffer, and it will show up in their performance. 

With stamina, they say, "Change the book, change the reader!" Stamina is never a problem if the child is enthralled by the book they're reading. Think about your own reading. If you've got a book that has you hooked, you'll sit and read for hours, right? Don't take my word for it. Listen to Dav! 


Of course, books alone will not help your readers. There must be instruction based on wait for it...mistakes. Now be sure to not label miscues as mistakes. Instead, praise the attempts and take note of the skills used in the miscue (context? beginning sounds?? part of speech??) As we watch kids, we can tailor our instruction to what we see as needs. We must remind kids that it's okay to not have a skill perfected...yet! They will get there. 


Please please remember the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!" Put yourself in the striver's shoes. Watch them carefully and work to create an empathetic classroom community to improve collaboration among your class. When students feel they are contributing, their confidence rises. Our authors recommend using literature to build in themes of empathy, perseverance, collaboration, etc. You might start with the book, Each Kindness, but I also would recommend Thank You Mr. Falker and Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco. 


In the introduction post, I asked whether you could rattle off favorite books and interests for each of your students. Why is this important? Well, if we know our students well, we can have conversations about their favorite books. If we know their favorite books, we can recommend other books to them, and here are a few ways you can get inside of their heads:
  • Create interest inventories for the first week of school. (Record the information where everyone can see so that connections can be made.)
  • Share family photos, your interests, and videos of yourself. 
  • Highlight your favorite books and add to them as the year goes. Share them in read alouds.
  • Create identity webs (loved this activity...perfect for community building)
  • Make Heart Maps 
  • Create walk-up songs (page 59 of the book)
  • Let your kids each teach the group something.
  • Discover each child's Area of Specialty (AOS)
  • Share collections
  • Use read alouds to build community


Now is the perfect time to think about this important component of classroom reading instruction. We don't think about classroom layout as a key part of the program, but it is. It's important to have "nooks" for small group discussions as well as an area for whole group discussions *even in upper elementary*. Talk is very important, and I'm not talking about kids planning the weekend sleepover! Kids need to be face to face and knee to knee discussing their reading, and you need spaces for this to be easily done. Gone are the days of desks in rows. One other great recommendation is to explore flexible seating options. 

What an amazing chapter! Chapter one jumps right in with recommendations for making classroom reading instruction lively, meaningful, and fun. Check out this post for information on what you can do to make reading great for your students.

The chapter ends with a list of probing questions teachers can use for assessing readers in small group. I highly recommend that readers photocopy this page and use it for self reflection and for guidance with in conferring with kids.


Next Wednesday, we'll be ready for chapter two, Cultivating Curiosity with Jennifer from Stories and Songs in Second as our blogger. 


  1. "Programs don't teach kids, teachers do." I love this statement! For many years, our school was very extreme with our RTI implementation. As a result, I was stuck doing scripted research-based programs. Since they my principal has changed his mindset, and believes that teachers are more important than the programs. Now I'm able to provide authentic reading instruction based on my students' individual needs and interests. It has made a tremendous impact on their motivation, engagement, and overall success!

    1. I have always kept in mind that "one size does not fit all" in clothing and in eduction! Every child's needs are different, and scripted programs go against the idea that kids need different things.