Implementing Reading Interventions For Adolescent English Learners With Reading Difficulties And Disabilities

Reading intervention for those with reading difficulties and disabilities is paramount to the long-term success and independence for these individuals. In a perfect system, early intervention services (as early as preschool) have helped support these individuals in keeping up with their peers to a degree but no system is perfect. Whether it is due to underfunding or simply kids slipping through the cracks, not all students are serviced with these interventions. Considering this, interventions for adolescent learners becomes even more vital. 

What Does Reading Intervention Look Like?

Martha Hougen of the University of Florida worked with the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S Department of Education to create a guide for evidence-based reading instruction for adolescents in grades 6-12. Her research outline numerous strategies and approaches that serve to benefit adolescent learners and provide the support needed. Her work was centered around four essential components:

  1. Word Recognition and Word Study (the ability to effectively and efficiently decode words)
  2. Fluency (reading with reasonable accuracy at an appropriate rate with suitable prosody that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read)
  3. Vocabulary (knowledge of word meanings)
  4. Text Comprehension (understanding and meaning from texts)

These strategies are relatively simple to implement and primarily just need a conscious effort on behalf of educators to highlight. Something as simple as previewing a text with highlighters to go over new or difficult vocabulary to better understand not only that word but how it fits into the rest of the sentence/passage addresses all four of the above components. 

Understanding The Importance

Dr. Hougen’s research is supported by over 30 years of studies on the issue that this methodology and focus improves the reading outcomes for this type of adolescent learner. It is important to note that explicit instruction and a more systematic and direct approach is a key aspect of teaching the above components. This is largely due to these students being older and more readily able to understand direct instruction on specific topics. 

The Growing Concern

As the United States continues to become more diverse, the prevalence of English Second Language (ESL) learners increases. Whether they’re native to another country or their home/community life is centered around their heritage and English is not spoken it creates a situation where a growing percentage of students may have difficulties with their English reading skills.

Intervention services and strategies like the ones mentioned above need to be always be kept in the back pocket of educators so they can more readily help students who may struggle. An estimated 21% of students in K-12 public schools speak another language other than English as a home language. 


Teachers may balk at first when approached of having to implement new reading approaches but like many strategies, they fit seamlessly into the already established curriculum and lesson plans. Simple awareness of these issues is all it takes to make a small effort that creates big improvements for the success of these adolescent learners. 

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