If at first you don’t succeed… try something else!

In the world of Response to Intervention (RTI) work, we often find ourselves working with students who are stuck on a particular concept. Whether it be the alphabet, sight words or reading comprehension issues, chances are that student has already been shown the information in a more traditional way. We know whole group lessons don’t always reach our struggling readers as easily as other students. Because of this, we can’t keep showing them flashcards or asking the same kind of questions.   The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, right? The whole purpose of an intervention is to teach the same information in a different way, one that does reach the child.

This past school year I found myself presented with a case that was making me feel a bit “insane.” No matter what work we did on inferential questions, a hardworking and very serious fifth grader was still hung up on talking about what was literally stated in the text or apparent in the picture clues. Despite decoding with accuracy, he continued to answer questions based on what he saw in front of him, without putting any further analysis or extrapolation in to the effort. His answers then were always extremely literal or based on personal experience connections to pictures he saw in the text. He often zeroed in on a specific part of the story when retelling and ignored key understandings. Do you know this reader?

After playing inferring games with him, asking him to answer riddles based on clues or predict what was happening or what came next in a scene, and working on inferring character feelings and traits based on more simple stories, a colleague suggested to me that if all of this reading wasn’t helping his reading comprehension, why not try math? As a literacy specialist, I was skeptical. But as an avid puzzler, I was willing to make an exception.

For the next 8 weeks, an interventionist met with this student 3 times a week to work on logic grid and Sudoku puzzles. Both of these tasks require a child to build lateral thinking muscles and to draw conclusions based on the evidence at hand. We talked to him about how to figure out what wasn’t stated based on what was—essentially what we wanted him to do with being more inferential while reading! And boy, was he motivated. He loved the Sudokus in particular and even asked for puzzles to take home. While at times he tried to rush through the puzzles and had to be prompted to check his work or explain his reasoning, he was a quick study at the games. At end of year assessing, he passed 3 levels in a row to end the year with over a year and a half growth in reading. He had begun to develop the ability to logically reason based on clues in the text without cracking a book!

If you have a student who might benefit from this kind of “out of the box” thinking when it comes to reading interventions, you don’t need to create puzzles in your free time. I used a blog by the amazing Krazydad to find an endless supply of Sudoku and other great puzzles. They are free to print and the answer keys are provided.

If you haven’t already become addicted to Logic Grid puzzles or don’t know much about them, see my previous post. They are an amazing tool for close reading and comprehension work. To get started with students, I used puzzles from the book series entitled Logic Safari. They have easier puzzles for beginners and then you, or your students, can progress to more difficult grids.   I have intermediate sets for purchase in my teacherspayteachers store and my husband has created an app for iPad and iPhones that can be downloaded for free in the iTunes store if you’d rather utilize technology in your interventions (or for your own nerdy pleasure!)

I encourage you to keep thinking of new ways to reach learners who need to see old skills in a different light.

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