Mission Impossible: Define Intervention


So my mission this week?  DEFINE INTERVENTION. 

Really?  Couldn’t we ease into a topic that’s a bit more manageable…like DEFINE THE MEANING OF LIFE?

Ha!  Well, really, we’re going to make this super simple.  Because it needs to be.  We’ve made reading interventions for students so darn complicated that we tend to shy away from getting started – – -it just seems like too big of an undertaking sometimes!

So here we go….define intervention. Hmmm…

Intervention, in its purest and simplest form, is a series of actions designed to stop the flow of failure.  Or stop the flow of something!  In this case, the failure of the students in the area of reading.

Here’s the deal: reading intervention is only intervention if it changes the trajectory of success or failure for the students. 

Simply put?  Intervention is only intervention if the students learn and know more and the scores show it.

Here are a few questions that you need to ask yourself and your team as you evaluate the effectiveness of your intervention programs

  • What intervention programs are getting the best results?  (Results: students who are exiting interventions and getting up to benchmark or near benchmark)
  • For students who are exiting interventions (because of success!), what was the model that worked for them?  (Time, number of days/week, program, teacher)
  • Are there “stuck” kids whose interventions have proven unsuccessful?  What is/was the model that those kids received?  (Time, number of days/week, program, teacher)
  • Who are your ON FIRE teachers who can move mountains with the hardest to move kids?  Are they teaching interventions?  (If not, then they SHOULD be!)
  • What percentage of kids exited from interventions and then end up back in an intervention groups?

(By the way, I talk about reading mostly – because you would WEEP at the sight of my math skills – but these questions are certainly useful for any content area!)

So, here’s your job now (I know, I’m SO BOSSY!) – – – why don’t you print this or take your smart phone to just ONE of your teammates and ask them these questions and just start a convo….

Differentiated Instruction Doesn’t Have To Be So Difficult!

It is very common in my work that teachers know exactly which kids might need extra support through differentiated instruction, but what frustrates them most is this: how do I know exactly what they need and then what the heck do I do about it?

One of the things I LOVE most about helping educators is taking something that’s really difficult or complicated and simplifying it – it’s very satisfying to see excellent teachers carry out important instructional work with the kids in a way that they haven’t before.

For starters, let’s define ‘differentiated instruction’ – for our purposes let’s say this: differentiating instruction provides more and different instructional time and materials for specific students in order to close the skill gap between these students and their grade level performing peers.

Simply put?  Kids have skill gaps and we need to fill them so that they can perform at grade level.

Here are the 4 Ds for Differentiating Instruction successfully:


Use a simple but to-the-point reading skill diagnostic assessment that is given one-on-one.  I recommend CORE’s Phonic Survey or Houghton Mifflin’s Phonics Decoding Screening Test. 

When you give this diagnostic you’ll easily find out the kids’ weak spots/skill gaps because they will ‘fail’ this portion of the test.  You’ll find the spots on the assessment that the students master (because they ‘pass’ it), then you know where they start.  


Figure out which kids have the same skill needs (they typically group together naturally, which makes grouping simpler!) and they become your targeted small group. 

Lots of questions arise about ideal group size – I say no more than 7-8, but more importantly I’m concerned with getting kids in a group with like skill needs.  If we have the wrong kids in the groups, then we’re wasting everyone’s time.


Start with 1-2 target skills at their lowest point of performance.  I call this “sweeping under the rug” – making sure that we get to the lowest skill need so that we don’t have to go back and re-sweep in the future. 

Map out the missing skills over 2 week chunks.  So, if I found out that my kids in a small group needed 3 concepts taught to them, I’d map out 6 weeks of small group instruction.

Each lesson should have DIRECT INSTRUCTION as part of the teaching.  The lesson should be explicit (teach, model, practice, feedback, feedback, feedback, apply, feedback, feedback, feedback…you get the point!) in nature and should not leave ANY room for interpretation or lack of clarity. 

Remember, these are kids who are frustrated, confused and struggling already – we want to clear the water, not overwhelm with implicit language or lessons!


The delivery of the lesson is critical to the students’ mastery of the missing skills!

Lessons should be highly structured (for behaviors and instruction), there should be lots of academically oriented feedback (“Wow Justin!  Awesome answer…I can tell that you worked hard to decode that word using the long /o/ sound!”), multiple repetitions on the same concepts until students are mastered on that skill (this ensures long-term storage), much review built into each lesson (some say 80% review/20% new) and lavish amounts of encouragement from the teacher.

Each week, at least, should end with a check-out – an informal quick test for each student designed by the small group teacher.  This quick-test will show the teacher whether the concept for that week’s small group instruction has been mastered or if the kids need more time. 

Here’s the really good news…you don’t have to be perfect to deliver a slam dunk lesson!  Whew!  If you work to be consistent and well-planned than you have a better shot at closing the skill gaps while differentiating instruction.

So, where do you start?  Start by getting your hands on a really good diagnostic and assess at least 1 child and see what you find.

I LOVE talking about how to differentiate instruction! (Yes, I’m a true reading geek)…so….leave your questions below or come on over to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting) and let’s talk about this!


Blasting Through the Struggle of Using Differentiated Instruction Strategies

Blasting Through the Struggle of Using Differentiated Instruction Strategies


I think I might be the only one who gets excited about differentiated instruction strategies…or at least it just SEEMS that way!

The reason why I get excited about it is because it is a SERIOUSLY UNDERTAPPED teaching activity that has the POWER TO MOVE MOUNTAINS!

In fact, if we continue to hone our core teaching work in all content areas and then complement that teaching with sound differentiated instruction strategies in every classroom, we just might be able to say that we’ve found the MAGIC BULLET!  (Well not really because there’s no magic about it…but you catch my drift!)

First off, let me say this: differentiating instruction does not have to be so dang difficult and convoluted!  In fact, some of the simplest, most basic forms of differentiated instruction I’ve seen are the most powerful in getting a return on the investment – and the student scores and confidence are the return!

So, here’s where I want you to start – or end.  Because I want you to start with the end. I mean, makes perfect sense, right?

Ummm….not so much.

Okay – take a look at this:

One of the biggest mistakes in planning for differentiated instruction?  Failing to plan with the end in mind – knowing where you’re headed so that you know when you get “there”.

So, what I do is create a simple little hand-scratched grid on a piece of wayward paper – in other words it doesn’t have to be fancy or even on a computer.  It’s about the path, not the pretty!

Then, I lay out the 1-2 skill per week that I’m going to focus on. 

Notice I didn’t say the 92-93 skills per week!  (By the way, over-skilling kids is a really big problem in differentiation – avoid it and have clarity!)

And I mark out on my simple calendar grid when I expect to be finished with that skill. Then I map out the next skill.  I put at * in places that I want to monitor (like doing a quick check-out on an individual skill that I’ve been teaching). I do this for about 6 weeks for one group.

Then I work the plan. 

And I don’t stray from the plan. 

And I don’t second-guess the plan. 

And I don’t do the knee-jerk reaction to “My kids aren’t learning anything!” thoughts I might have. 

And I put my head down with the kids and teach.  The plan. Without fail.  Every day.

And I watch how things (like the scores) move.  And I watch how the kids learn new skills.  And I see the confidence come.

At the end of the six weeks, I create my next plan based upon the check-outs along the way.

See?  It’s not hard, it just takes long-term vision and commitment to staying the plan. 

You can DO THIS!!!!


I would love it if you would come over to Facebook and check out what we’re doing…tap the link and get connected to the shenanigans over there!  www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting

What is the #1, Can’t-Live-Without Reading Strategy?

So, here you have it folks – after all this time, all this reading, all this study, all this data, all this research, I’m here to tell you what you’ve all been waiting for: the silver bullet, the answer of all answers!

What is the #1, Can’t-Live-Without Reading Strategy?  Stamina.

Huh?  That’s all you got for us, Jackson?  I can hear you saying that already!

Let me explain.

There are a lot of experts, programs and studies that will tell you that particular strategies trump all others and that if you would only teach this particular strategy, you’ll solve the world’s problems…or at least your students’ problems.

What I know after reading all those studies and working in thousands of classrooms in hundreds of schools is that the students who perform well on each and every task that calls them to comprehend text are those students who have the ability to ‘hang in there’ during reading.  Even when it’s difficult. 


So……..I bet you’re thinking…….how do I build stamina in my readers?  What reading strategy do I teach?  What reading strategies will get the best results?

I have 3 Easy-To-Implement Techniques for YOU

Technique #1:  Give kids lots of difficult text to work through

Students will learn to do difficult things by doing difficult things.  The cool by-product of doing difficult things?  Confidence! 

What does this look like in the classroom?  Lots of varied text – beef up your informational/expository text and daily teach and practice how to navigate the features of that informational text. It’s pretty common that kids get lots of practice with narrative text, so they tend to be better at navigating it.  So get them caught up by doubling up on text that informs and is factual. 

Don’t shy away from challenging your students with above grade level material.  Tell them, “This is going to be a challenge for us, but we are going to work through it together and the more we practice, the better we’ll get!”  Then do just that!

Technique #2:  Make sure you pre-talk the reading to give students ideas as to how to manage the text

Prior to reading through any text, walk-through with the students how you, as a reader, manage that text.  You might say things like, “Hmm…right here is where I KNOW I’ll have to reread because I see lots of bigger words that I’m unfamiliar with” or “Guys right away I know that I’m going to have to take notes through this part of the text because there’s lots going on and I don’t want to get confused, so I’ll set up my reading journal right now”. 

We empower kids by not teaching them a million strategies for reading, but teaching them a few powerful techniques that will span content areas and grade levels. 

SHOW THEM how you hang in there when you’re really confused in a piece of text – make it informal so that they can relate…don’t be robotic here!

Technique #3:  Reread text to find different information

This is a widely under-modeled reading strategy in the classrooms that I visit.  Think about how automatic it is for you to read something once and think to yourself, “Um, I have no idea what I just read!” or “Geesh, I need to read that paragraph, I was really distracted.”  We so automatically and unashamedly go back and reread and reread and reread until we better understand. 

The cool thing about rereading is that it also builds fluency!  So, we’re getting better at decoding swiftly while we’re actually becoming better comprehenders.  That’s so cool!

The bottom line?  Stamina (or the ability to hang in there when the going gets rough) is a skill that should be taught and PRACTICED, PRACTICED, PRACTICED.

My question to you is, are you shying away from difficult text or text that requires high comprehension because you don’t want your students to struggle too much?  Do you get frustrated when they struggle a bit through text, so you change the task or text for them?

If so, consider at least 1 time per week that you will present some tricky reading or a challenging passage to your kids and then HELP THEM THROUGH IT.

Not only will the stamina be solidified, but you’ll have a bunch of confident readers on your hands.

And that’s an awesome thing in a reading strategy!

The MUST HAVE Reading Strategies List for EVERY Teacher


I get quite a few questions about how to teach kids to read – a very common question is “What reading strategies list should I use as I teach my students to read?”

My response is usually something like this: Let’s think about how, in any field, if we want to get really good at something, we copy the masters or the greats in the field.  The masters/greats have figured it out and it behooves us to copy and steal a bit from them!

There is lots of confusion about which during reading strategies or before reading strategies are used, what they’re called, how often kids should use them and what it will look like when they’re using them perfectly.

Well.  I’m here to tell you this – reading strategies are designed to help facilitate comprehension.  End of article. End of series.  End of conversation! 

So, as we teach them to kids, we want to make sure that we’re not obsessing over the perfect use or memorizing the definition of each strategy (which, by the way, I see too much of).  Instead, we should be focusing on HOW THE STRATEGIES FACILITATE COMPREHENSION AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE TEXT!

Say I’m using a strategy like “monitoring comprehension”, for example.  That might look like this: I’m reading through a new text and I realize that a new character is popping up and I don’t know who the character is and maybe I missed something.  And so I recognize that I don’t know who this character is, so I better go back and look through the text and find where the character’s name cropped up for the first time and reread that section so that I can go back to my point of confusion and continue to read – and understand!

Using a reading strategies list is not a science – it’s part science and part art!  And we need to look at what good readers do and how they use strategies and teach reading strategies in the same way to our students!

Here is a good, solid list for you to reference as you teach and then model, model, model and model even more how good readers use strategies during reading to make sense of the text:

  • Making connections
  • Questioning
  • Visualizing
  • Making inferences
  • Synthesizing information

So, where do you start?  Start by figuring out where in the text the strategies above might come into good use – and apply the teach, model, practice, apply model to teaching that strategy.  Start small and do it right and watch comprehension soar!