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I’m a High School Reading Resource Teacher. What Should I Do?


For those kids who need basic decoding instruction, targeted interventions are important. But for the others, teach reading using the books those students need to read in their other classes. That approach simultaneously builds reading skills, improves content learning, and increases academic confidence.

Teacher question

I’ve been hired as a high school reading resource teacher. The school has a lot of commercially prepared intervention programs. Which ones would you use? Any other advice for me?

Shanahan’s response

First things first.

I’d look at my data to find out how far behind my students are.

High school teachers often tell me that they have beginning readers in their classes, but when we look at the kids’ data, we find that just isn’t the case (most of the time).

Not that these students read well.

But most high school teachers aren’t equipped to distinguish a fourth-grade from a first-grade reader. Since both those students would struggle mightily with a high school textbook, the distinction doesn’t matter much to the classroom teacher.

For the resource teacher, however, it is a bigger deal. Those super-low students would likely need explicit decoding instruction and they might even qualify for some more intensive special education assistance.

In my experience, super-low readers do exist in high schools, but usually in fairly small numbers. Those aren’t the kids who will be your main clients. They do need very basic reading instruction with a heavy focus on decoding and should be placed in a special class for that.

Your caseload will more likely skew towards those with instructional reading levels ranging from 4th-8th grade (the lower achieving your school is, the larger the proportion of students that will be in the lower half of that range).

I don’t make recommendations of commercial programs (conflicts of interest) so can’t help you there. There are a couple of good guides out there (Deshler, 2007; C. Shanahan, 2005), though they are getting a bit long in the tooth. Also, I’d recommend that you evaluate those programs against the What Works Clearinghouse  guidance.  

Other advice?

I’d advise that you skip the intervention package.

I’m not against commercial programs in principle, but I don’t think they’ll provide your students with best support.

I was an elementary resource teacher and remember it vividly. The kids struggle with reading in their classes, so a teacher refers them for extra reading help. The resource teacher tests the kids and then teaches reading to them at their supposed reading levels. That may mean that a fifth-grade student works on second and third grade reading passages in the resource room. The resource teacher is happy with the youngster’s performance, but the teacher and student are frustrated because the classroom struggle goes on despite the reading help.

Being perfectly honest, I doubt that you’ll raise many students from a fourth-grade to a ninth-grade reading level this semester!

Studies suggest that reading interventions with high school and college students simply don’t have much of an impact on their learning (Bohr, et al, 1994; Kemple, et al, 2008).  

What would I do?

I’d try to teach reading using the books those students need to read in their other classes.

To make this work, I’d have to coordinate with the content teachers.

Let’s say, for example, that you’ve decided to focus on teaching kids to read with their social studies texts this report card marking. I’d need to know which chapters and other texts the students were going to cover over the next 9 weeks. Getting specifics about the planned schedule is important because I’d want to address those texts prior to their introduction in the classroom.

Doing that puts would put these students on a more equal footing in their classes. It also might reduce some of the anxiety these students often feel about their classroom work.

What would I do with these texts?

The same things that I’d do if you were working from a commercial program.

I’d teach vocabulary explicitly, focusing on words from those social studies texts.

I’d teach oral reading fluency, using the texts students will be expected to read in class.

I’d teach reading comprehension with those materials, too — analyzing text structures, practicing summarization strategies, and discussing and writing about the content.

Students with that support from the resource teacher should be more likely to succeed in their content classes — since they’d get a double opportunity to learn the materials from those classes, and there is no reason to believe that this teaching wouldn’t improve their reading levels simultaneously.

Often interventions undermine kids’ self-confidence. Just assigning them to a remedial class may be enough to make them assume that the school thinks they’re stupid. Then, the resource teacher, trying to improve their reading levels, introduces a fifth-grade book (a “baby book” for a 14-year-old) and the students both feel insulted and dumb as dirt (Lupo, et al, 2019).

The approach that I’m recommending doesn’t have that problem. It would simultaneously build reading skills, improve content learning, and increase academic confidence. The use of classroom texts should provide these students both with respect and a double dose of the classroom text coverage.

Yep, in high school, I’d create a class or two for those kids who needed basic decoding instruction. But for the others, my focus would be on enabling them to take on the high school curriculum more successfully through their reading. My program evaluation would look at both the students’ pre- to post-reading levels AND their classroom grades.

Good luck. Have a productive year.


Bohr, L., Pascarella, E., Nora, A., Zusman, B., Jacobs, M., Desler, M., & Bulakowski, C. (1994). Cognitive effects of two-year and four-year colleges: A preliminary study. Community College Review, 22, 4-11.

Deshler, D.D. (2007). Informed choices for struggling adolescent readers: A research-based guide to instructional programs and practices. Newark, DE: International Literacy Association.

Kemple, J. J., Corrin, W., Nelson, E., Salinger, T., Herrmann, S., & Drummond, K. (2008). The enhanced reading opportunities study: Early impact and implementation findings (NCEE report no. 2008-4015). Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

Lupo, S., Tortorelli, L., Invernizzi, M., Ryoo, J.H., & Strong, J.Z. (2019). An exploration of text difficulty and knowledge support on adolescents’ reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 54(4), 2019.

Shanahan, C. (2005). Adolescent literacy intervention programs and chart. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.