This district’s blended learning program is putting struggling readers back on track

A blended approach is helping reading intervention students transition to grade-level classes in a semester or less

In Neshaminy School District, northeast of Philadelphia, nearly 20 percent of our struggling K–2 students spend 30 minutes a day, five days a week in small-group reading intervention. To limit the time these students spend in intervention programs, we have an “all hands on deck” approach: With parental involvement and our blended learning model, Neshaminy educators identify and build upon students’ strengths to lay the foundation for reading success.

Our blended model starts with an engaging digital curriculum, one-to-one instruction, and small-group work. After we implemented this approach districtwide last year, we saw enormous growth in a majority of our students, especially among struggling or reluctant readers. Ten to 15 percent of students entering the intervention program at the start of the school year were able to “graduate” and transition back to the traditional classroom by January. We have found that by focusing on phonics and the skills needed to decode the English language, our students are able to bring what they’ve learned into the classroom, effectively bridging the gap between intervention and our ELA curriculum.

Teaching students to decode 

Up until four years ago, each school’s reading intervention staff developed materials based on best practices. With the goal of making students proficient readers before they entered third grade, a small team of teachers attended trainings through Reading Horizons, and quickly realized how powerful the decoding approach could be for their students. Every year we’ve expanded our use of the curriculum, and today use it in all seven of Neshaminy’s elementary schools.

At Ferderbar Elementary, reading interventionists see approximately 90 students daily. We use a “pull-out” model, so students who need reading intervention leave the traditional classroom during independent work time (or what we call “The Daily 5”) and focus on mastering one to two skills per week. This systematic process of introducing phonetic and decoding skills allows students to rapidly and efficiently crack the “code” of the English Language to become more successful readers.

Research shows that when students learn how the English code works through an explicit, easy-to-follow, and multisensory approach, reading becomes second nature and guessing is dramatically reduced. The Reading Horizons method features a unique marking system to help students figure out multisyllable words on their own. With our blended model, students are empowered to make the connections they need to learn the method independently on their device, or in whole-class or small-group instruction with their teachers. The result is more meaningful interactions with texts and improved comprehension.

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