Working Smarter, Not Harder

Working Smarter, Not Harder

What Teachers of Reading Need to Know and Be Able to Teach


In my 27+ years of involvement in public education, I have never met a teacher that did not care deeply about each and every one of his or her student’s reading skills. As a Special Education teacher within elementary, middle, and high school settings, I, along with my peers, spent countless hours and sleepless nights preparing and delivering lessons with the hope of improving students’ reading skills. As I worked harder, I watched my students’ reading skills improve at a frustratingly slow rate; however, their progress never completely reached the grade level for which they strove. In searching for the answers to student reading success, I was left with the continual feeling that there was something more that could be done. Yet, even with over two decades of experience and the title of M.Ed., I could not identify what was missing in my reading instruction. Having not learned what I needed to know in my first two degrees, I was determined not to let that same mistake happen again. Consequently, before I began my doctoral work, I queried numerous national reading experts in an attempt to identify what I needed to learn.


Over time, I came to understand that I had been missing a fundamental understanding of the scope and sequence of skills necessary to include within effective reading instruction. The often-quoted “five core components” of reading, including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, are inarguably crucial components. Until I studied this field in an in-depth manner, however, it was not always clear to me exactly what skills should be included within these components. Along with this is the necessary knowledge of exactly what we mean by these components, how these skills are translated throughout the grade levels, and what components should be emphasized, with what intensity, for which students. This information has enabled me to “work smarter, not harder” to increase the reading skills of students. I share the following outlines of these skills in the hopes that you, too, can use this knowledge to improve student reading achievement. We can make a difference in the lives of so many students!


Download the full article: IDA article – working smarter, not harder

3 Replies to “Working Smarter, Not Harder”

  1. Do you have, or can you recommend, resources that you can recommend for students aged 9 – 16? Many of my students have the basic CVC grasp and more; however, it is from about vowel blends ‘au’, ‘or’ etc that difficulties arise. I want something a little more sophisticated than what I have been seeing in the way of resources that will engage particularly suit my older learners. (I am a Special Education teacher, now working in Private Practice in Melbourne, Australia.)

    1. Hello, Daryl,
      Thank you for your question! I have vast experiences teaching older poor readers; they do need a way to engage with material that is age-appropriate. Here are some thoughts – if they have the basic phonemic awareness CVC, you need to build this to advanced phonemic proficiency. Kilpatrick’s one-minute drills, coupled with a focus on how sounds look and feel, are important (Equipped for Reading Success, LIPS, for ex). There is a wide variety of phonics programming out there, some better than others. Any Orton-Gillingham based program is needed for those really struggling readers. Do you have access to anything like this? And, the most important piece is to have them read, read, and read more…they need to build up their bank of words they know automatically. Another thought – do you have access to Language Live!? It is specifically written for middle school and includes all aspects of literacy in its work. You want to include classroom materials in your tutoring so that students eventually access grade-level curriculum – find the words with vowel teams and teach them in a scope and sequence, pointing them out within texts. Have them work through spelling as they learn to decode patterns. Give them ‘homework’ where they have to read and highlight the pattern words you are teaching at the time… you want their brains to think about these all the time! I realize that I am sharing ideas somewhat haphazardly here, based on the small space available. Feel free to email me at if you have further questions or thoughts. My best!

  2. Hello, I’m currently in the LETRS training through my school district. I’m a reading intervention teacher and I wanted to use one of your resources. In the LETRS training manual in Unit 4 Session 6 on p. 299 it talks about speed drills. Are there speed drills created for each spelling pattern like the on on p. 299?

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