The one-to-one instructional setting is not a new concept in education, yet it may be more important today than ever before for the small number of first graders struggling with literacy learning. Consider the current emphasis on having all children reading and writing by third or fourth grade. The higher we set the expectations, the more efforts and resources we need to accommodate the diversity in learners. Timely short-term individual teaching for the lowest-achieving children in first grade is a critically important tool for achieving universal literacy by age 8 or 9.
One-to-one lessons allow the teacher to design the intervention to begin where the child is rather than where the curriculum is. From a practical perspective, each child who is having difficulty will differ from others in what is confusing, in knowledge gaps, and in ways of responding to print. A well-designed individual intervention tailored to each child’s needs offers a fast route to catching up and progressing with class peers.
Any grouping of these learners forces a compromise. Research on the value of group interventions for children with extreme reading difficulties is not convincing (Dorn & Allen, 1995; Harrison, 2002; Pinnell et al., 1994; Schwartz et al., 2012). Children with literacy difficulties have already demonstrated that group instruction in classrooms is not sufficient. First-grade teachers know that low achievers bring diverse needs to the learning process.
Individual teaching presents concerns about costs to administrators. Yet the cost of retention and the cost of remediation year after year can be significant. Although it may appear costly for a teacher to provide 30 minutes of one-to-one teaching for a child, the investment is a small price to pay for 30–50 hours of teaching time that changes the future for the most-vulnerable literacy learners at the beginning of their school years — and for their teachers, families, schools, systems, and communities.