Task Cards, Interventions, Real Reading, and more

One thing that I know to be true is that getting moments of quality intervention time with students is tough–especially if they are receiving other interventions from specialists.  I am lucky this year that several of my students receive a daily 30 minute reading intervention with a specialist–but that means that they are in my room for my minilesson, leave for their intervention, and then come back for the remainder of reading time.  It’s very hard to know how much time to spend meeting with them versus helping them develop their own reading stamina by reading “just right” books that they select.
Most of the time I try to strive for a balance.  After all, I DO want my students to learn how to read independently, so budgeting in time for this is essential.  So many of our strugglers are shuffled from intervention to intervention–and can become reliant on teacher guidance and can even develop some “learned helplessness” where they sit back and wait for hand over hand coaching.  I also want ALL of my students reading “real” books.  Not reproducible passages.  Not worksheets.  I want them reading.
Now the reality.  
Time.  That’s right.  There just aren’t enough minutes in the day to do everything the way I really want to.  So I do my best.
One thing I have  learned is to always keep the end in mind…and in order to make sure my students can be successful with their reading, I know that I need to make sure I keep my finger on the pulse of their foundational skills–and I have found that taking 5-10 minutes of time to work on some basic skills and then giving them the REST of the the time to work on transferring that skill to their “real” reading.  
How do I do this?  It varies…sometimes I might spend 5 minutes conferring with a student working on goals like fluency, accuracy, or phrasing.  I might confer with them and practice retelling what they have read or to discuss character traits or other lessons taught during universal instruction.  I might spend a few minutes talking about “just right books” and working to add new books to their book bins.  Sometimes, however, I want to work explicitly on a skill that might not necessarily be a part of our standard curriculum–something that might help them “unlock” the more challenging books facing them in the future.  I have found task cards to be one way to spend short, efficient instructional meetings.  I started to think about all the skills that I wanted to attack with my students and started building these short reading experiences to use.
I started with context clues–because I really wanted to coach my students in how to tackle challenging words by refining their skills with context clues.  Not only did I want to be able to select specific words to teach (you can never have enough vocabulary instruction, right?), but I wanted to be able to control the sentences.  You can certainly teach context clues when reading students self-selected books, but you might read page after page without a sentence that lends itself to good word study.  This is especially true when reading with students who are substantially below grade level as the texts they can read independently tend NOT to have rich enough vocabulary to practice this skill.  Task cards to the rescue!  I pull two students at a time…I love the dialogue we have together and can model our thinking as we problem solve these cards.   
 I ask my students to read the card aloud…and notice the key word.   Most of the time, students can’t read the word–and that is the key!
I use magic “boo boo” tape to cover the context clue word and we talk about what words COULD fit in the blank.  The card shown below has this sentence:

Michael stayed up very late at a sleepover and was SLUGGISH for the rest of the weekend.”
I covered up SLUGGISH and we talked about what words COULD fit in that spot.  My students threw out some of the following words…
We tried out each word by reading the sentence aloud and we talked about which seemed to make the most sense related to the other “clues” in the sentence.  We used our prior knowledge to talk about how THEY feel after a sleepover and we all agreed that it must have had something to do with being tired.  We then worked on decoding the word “sluggish” and I gave them a few other sentences where “sluggish” was used…and then asked THEM to come up with a sentence.
 I had each student read the card aloud one more time with the new vocabulary word (boy, were they fluent!) and then we repeated the process for 3 more cards.  Believe it or not, I was able to do 4 cards in about 7 minutes…and then sent them back to their own books and reminded them to try this strategy if they found any “stumpers”.
So…finding balance with reading interventions is never easy.  Ideally, these kiddos would get endless one-on-one attention.  The simple truth is, there is only one of me.  The more complicated truth is that they NEED to learn how to be independent as well.  Pairing their 30 minute intervention with this assortment of 5-10 minute mini-interventions from me–and then making sure that my struggling students have plenty of time to really READ is making a difference.  Students are learning to read–and they are feeling like they are “real” readers.  Mission accomplished.
Here are a few of the task card sets I have used with success in my class.  I’m open to suggestions for my next set!