A Meaning-Based Intervention for Struggling Readers

Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D.

Minnesota State University, Mankato

Overview: This study examines the impact of a meaning-based intervention (MBI) for reading

used with struggling readers.


Participants: There are two participants, ages 9 and 10. They are both going into 4 th grade.

Both have been identified by their teacher as having severe reading disabilities. Examination of

students’ records show that after three years of reading interventions focusing only on the

phonological cueing system, both are reading at the 1 st grade level.


The intervention: MBI is designed to develop all three cueing systems used by the brain to

recognize words during the act of reading: the semantic, syntactic, and phonological cueing

systems ( It consists of five briskly paced activities within a single

session. The activities are set within a meaningful context. Each activity is three to eight minutes

in duration.  Each session takes approximately 15 minutes.  The intervention will occur over the

course of six to ten weeks.   

Methodology: This study uses single subject design to examine changes in the number and types

of reading miscues made by participants over the course of this study. Fluency rates and

comprehension scores will also be documented.

Five Observations from Week 1

1. The importance of relationship. I have started to slow down and spend more time

interacting with students. As I take an interest in their lives and experiences, the child within

them seems to emerge a bit more. Teaching starts with a relationship. Relationship is an

important variable often not accounted for in many research studies. The numbers tell us some

things, but they are meaningless without a context in which to understand them.

2. Trust. Trust is earned, not given. After 5 days, students seem to be trusting me a bit more. I

want them to feel comfortable and safe. This means that must trust me to not frustrate them or

make them feel stupid because they can’t do something. And, in our sessions, we will do things

that they can do to help them do them better, instead of focusing only on what they can’t do.

3. Fidelity is educational malpractice. During the first session, it would obvious that I needed

to make changes. Some states require that reading interventions or programs be implemented

with “fidelity” as part of RTI. This, of course, is complete nonsense. To do so would be

educational malpractice. Struggling readers are not standardized products. Schools and

classrooms are not standardized products. Teachers are not standardized products. Every

program, intervention, strategy used needs to be adopted and adapted to meet the needs of

individual students.

4. Choice. I am trying to empower students to giving them as much choice as possible within

the structure of this short session. Too often, instruction and interventions are things done to

students. I want students to see that this is something that is done with them. We are working

together. I try to give them choices within this structure.

5. Develop metacognitive skills. When a student makes a miscue, there is a tendency to want to

jump in and correct. This robs them of the chance to use metacognition. Most often, I do not

correct miscues and stumbles as students are reading. However, after a sentence I sometimes

will say, “Does that make sense?” I only do this sometimes. Most often, students will pause

after a sentence, and go back and correct a miscue.

Look for more research updates in the weeks to come.