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Targeted Intervention Builds Stronger Readers

Using the Components of Literacy as a Guide

picture of a tighly bound rope with the words using the components of literacy as a guide

The framework for our blog is based upon The Cognitive Model created by Michael C. McKenna and Katherine A. Dougherty Stahl (2009).  McKenna’s Cognitive Model provides a framework for targeted reading intervention that leads to stronger readers.

The ultimate goal of reading is comprehension.  However, comprehension is contingent upon mastery of a series of critical components (i.e. fluency in context, oral language comprehension, and strategic knowledge).  Each of these components can be broken down into more finite skills.  For more information on the individual Components of Literacy, please click here.

Image reprinted with permission of Guilford Press 1*

This became a valuable resource for us as we began our work as reading specialists.  One of our primary responsibilities is to diagnose the root cause of reading difficulties. As The Cognitive Model suggests, it is vitally important to peel back the layers of student learning in order to pinpoint the area of need.   While this is certainly a challenging task, The Cognitive Model provides a logical hierarchy of discrete reading skills.

Dr. Hollis Scarborough provides a helpful analogy for skilled reading as depicted (below).  She encourages us to think about reading as a rope comprised of multiple fibers (i.e. discrete reading skills).  When woven together these individual fibers become even stronger thus forming a sturdy rope (i.e. secure comprehension). Taking this analogy a step further, we can surmise that when one or more of these fibers is “frayed,” comprehension is compromised.

The Reading Rope
Image reprinted with permission of Dr. Scarborough 2*

As we discussed in a previous blog , one cannot build on a shaky foundation.  If, for example, fluency is found to be an area of need, we must analyze reading behavior(s) and plan appropriate remediation.

Using the rope analogy, simply building up the ends of the rope (i.e. comprehension) will not strengthen the underlying areas of weakness or repair the frayed fibers.  If the “frayed fiber” is fluency, then fluency should be the primary focus of intervention and be addressed with fidelity.

We understand and acknowledge the pressure teachers face to move students forward.  It may seem like we are “losing valuable time” by addressing prerequisite skills.  However, if we ignore areas of weakness and continue to push students through the curriculum, the rope will continue to fray and problems will persist and likely worsen.

Comprehension skills must not be ignored and should be taught in conjunction with targeted areas of intervention.  Remediating prerequisite areas of weakness is ultimately a step toward greater comprehension.

Assessment for Reading Instruction

Assessment for Reading Instruction, 3rd edition was featured in our previous blog.  To purchase this valuable resource, click here.



1-*McKenna, M.C. & Stahl, K.A.D. (2015). Assessment for Reading Instruction, 3rd edition. (p. 8). New York: Guilford Press.

2-*Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97-110). New York: Guilford Press.


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