Tier 1 Instructional Strategies to Improve K-4 Reading Comprehension

James S. Kim and Zhongyu Wei | Harvard University

Strategies to Consider (Curriculum Content)

  • English language arts curricula that integrate science and social studies content show strong promise in improving reading comprehension outcomes from kindergarten to grade 4.
  • Schools that adopt curricula that simultaneously build word recognition and language comprehension skills can boost student reading outcomes, especially when instruction begins in early grades.
  • Simple, low-cost changes to the texts that students read, such as using sets of texts that contain overlapping words and related concepts, can improve skills that support reading comprehension.
  • When districts and schools allow teachers to select from structured adaptations to interventions and curricula, student reading comprehension improves relative to when teachers must strictly follow a specific protocol.

Strategies to Consider (Context & Supports)

  • Intentionally planning the sequence of English language arts curriculum and assessments from kindergarten to grade 4 to progress toward more complex subject matter while avoiding repetition supports stronger reading comprehension.
  • Using formative assessments to flexibly group students by skill level has strong positive effects on students’ word recognition, vocabulary, and reading comprehension outcomes.
  • Districts can amplify the effects of curriculum interventions by offering literacy coaching and sustained teacher professional development focused on translating reading research findings into classroom practice.
  • Tutoring is an effective Tier 2 intervention for students who are struggling with Tier 1 core instruction and the impact of tutoring can be amplified when it is connected to Tier I classroom content.

Strategies to Avoid

  • Reducing instruction time in science and social studies undermines efforts to improve reading comprehension outcomes for all learners.
  • The oft-repeated phrase, “learning to read, then reading to learn,” diverts attention from the need to build systems and curricula that continuously develop young children’s language comprehension skills, particularly for historically marginalized students.
  • A narrow focus on shortterm solutions for improving grade 3 reading scores works against the broader goal of improving Tier I ELA instruction across a system.