How to Teach Better: Master Reading Differentiation Strategies

Reading expert Jennifer Seravallo shares how to master reading differentiation strategies in the classroom. Jennifer shares simple methods any teacher can use.

This podcast with Jennifer Seravallo is dedicated to helping reading teachers improve their teaching methods by providing practical tips and in-depth insights into differentiated reading strategies. If you're a reading teacher looking for ways to make your teaching more effective, you're in the right place. We know that every student is unique and has their own learning needs. That's why in this podcast, we'll explore various differentiated reading strategies that can be adapted to fit the needs of every student in your classroom. From process-based approaches to individualized instruction, we'll cover a range of strategies to help you teach better and, ultimately, help your students become better readers.


Propello is a free online platform offering an amazing NGSS-aligned science curriculum for grades 6-8, with ELA lessons coming in the fall. With built-in student differentiation and support, every student gets a personalized learning experience designed for their unique needs. Propello's curriculum is focused on inquiry-driven instruction, with high-quality resources and embedded supports like language translations for English language learners. Even if you already have a science curriculum, Propello is an excellent classroom-ready supplement - with everything you need for a personal, fun learning experience for your students. So what are you waiting for? Head to Propello and create your account today!
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Episode 803 - The 10 Minute Teacher Podcast

How to Teach Better: Master Reading Differentiation Strategies

Jennifer Seravallo teaches us how to differentiate reading in our classrooms.

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Resources Mentioned in Episode 803

Jennifer Seravallo - Bio as Submitted

Jennifer Serravallo is a New York Times bestselling

Jennifer Seravallo

author, award-winning educator, literacy consultant, frequent invited speaker at state and national conferences, and former member of the Parents Magazine editorial board. In 2023, she launched her podcast To the Classroom: Conversations with Researchers and Educators. Jen is best known for creating books and resources rooted in research that help make responsive, strategic, differentiated literacy instruction possible for all teachers.

Her newest books are THE READING STRATEGIES BOOK 2.0 (2023), TEACHING WRITING IN SMALL GROUPS (March 2021), A TEACHER'S GUIDE TO READING CONFERENCES (2019), and UNDERSTANDING TEXTS AND READERS (2018). Her books and resources are used around the world: THE WRITING STRATEGIES BOOK (2017) and THE READING STRATEGIES BOOK (1st edition) (2015) have been translated into French, Chinese, and Spanish.

Her comprehension assessment and teaching resources, COMPLETE COMPREHENSION: FICTION and COMPLETE COMPREHENSION: NONFICTION, help teachers make sense of comprehension, especially in whole chapter books and book-length nonfiction texts. They were released in Spring 2019 and are available through Heinemann (Learn more:

Jen holds a BA from Vassar College and an MA from Teachers College, where she has also taught graduate and undergraduate classes.

Follow Jen on Twitter (@jserravallo) and Instagram (@jenniferserravallo), learn more from her website/blog:, and join the Literacy Strategies Facebook Community.

Transcript for Episode 803

Transcript: How to Teach Better: Master Reading Differentiation Strategies

This transcript was generated by AI within Adobe Audition but edited and proofread by me, Vicki Davis. If you see something I missed, leave a comment or contact me. Some editing may have been done for clarity of written text. Thanks! 

00;00;00;23 – 00;00;08;28

John Davis

This is the Ten Minute Teacher podcast with your host, Vicki Davis—episode 803 How to Teach Better Master Reading Differentiation Strategies.

Show Sponsor: Propello

00;00;09;04 – 00;00;33;00

Vicki Davis

Today, the sponsor is Propello, a remarkable K-12 teaching and learning platform which combines a high-quality curriculum with built-in student differentiation and supports. Stay tuned at the end of the show to learn more about these free resources, including language, translations, level text, and hands-on activities for your students. If you teach science, you'll want to check out Propello.

Introducing Jennifer Serravallo

00;00;33;10 – 00;00;57;06

Vicki Davis

So today, we're talking with Jennifer Serravallo. She's a bestselling author, educator, and literacy consultant who creates research-based resources to support differentiated literacy instruction for teachers. Her popular books are the Reading Strategies book, Teaching Writing in Small Groups and A Teacher's Guide to Reading Conferences. She also has a podcast called To the Classroom: Conversations with Researchers and Educators.

What are the differences between the Reading Strategies 1.0 Book and the 2.0 Book?

00;00;57;06 – 00;01;15;27

Vicki Davis

And today. Jennifer, We're going to talk about your new book, The Reading Strategies Book 2.0, the 2023 version. So why did you feel the need to update to a 2.0 book, and what are the key differences between your new book and the first edition?

00;01;15;28 – 00;01;34;08

Jennifer Serravallo

Great question. First of all, it's great to be back with you, Vicki. The Reading Strategies book, the first edition New York Times bestseller, Why mess with a good thing, right? I felt like I'd only go to the trouble of doing the revision if I had a lot of new content, new information, and I could really make it super current and relevant for today's classroom.

00;01;34;09 – 00;01;55;24

Jennifer Serravallo 

So there's been a lot of changes in the last eight years since that book came out in terms of what people are focusing on and how people are approaching supporting kids, what they're reading. Some of the key differences include incorporating over 700 research citations across the book. So I worked with a phenomenal research assistant. In place of text levels, we used skill progressions to organize the chapters.

00;01;55;27 – 00;02;22;10

Jennifer Serravallo 

I had a fantastic editor, Katie Rae, who worked with me on doing this massive reorganization of revision, and part of the work of aligning all the strategies to skill progressions showed places where there were some gaps in terms of the progression of how to move kids along, and I found some opportunities to support stronger readers in eighth grade, ninth grades at the higher level end, as well as some more foundational skills work that wasn't as present in the first edition.

00;02;22;11 – 00;02;44;04

Jennifer Serravallo 

So altogether, there are over 100 new strategies, plus 100 new pages of additional content. Beyond those strategies, I replaced all the children's literature with children's books published in the last five years that make up the lesson language. So the lesson examples throughout the book. There are over 200 new charts in the book, and it's just a really new book, which is why I called it 2.0 rather than the second edition.

00;02;44;05 – 00;02;48;07

Jennifer Serravallo 

It's a really rethinking, revisioning a new look at the same topic.

Why are you talking about skill progressions now instead of text levels?

00;02;48;08 – 00;03;01;27

Vicki Davis

Let's talk about text levels versus skill progressions. Let's say a person doesn't know anything about either of those. Explain text levels. Explain skill progressions and why skill progressions are an improvement.

00;03;01;28 – 00;03;20;18

Jennifer Serravallo 

Well, I think one of the things that we're always trying to do as educators is to make sure that kids are successful when reading. We're matching kids to books they can succeed in and ensuring that we have an eye on text complexities they're encountering and grappling with grade-level material. So these text-level systems were very popular.

00;03;20;20 – 00;03;39;14

Jennifer Serravallo 

Whether you're using a letter system like the founders of Fountas and Pinnell Text Level, the Gradient Leveling System, or Lexile leveling system or DRA leveling system, there are so many leveling systems out there right in the first edition because people are using these leveling systems. And it was a way to kind of organize within the chapter. You know, these are strategies that will help kids reading easier books.

00;03;39;14 – 00;04;01;04

Jennifer Serravallo 

These will help kids reading more complex texts. That's the system I used. But what I found when it was out in the field is a couple of things. One is some people just weren't familiar with those leveling systems at all and it confused them. Another thing I found was that people misunderstood the use of those levels as being about leveling kids, which was never the intention.

00;04;01;10 – 00;04;25;19

Jennifer Serravallo 

It's more about highlighting text complexity challenges and what kinds of strategies help kids to understand those different challenges. But the third big reason why I shifted from levels to skill progressions is that sometimes you'd have a student reading, let's say a level M or Lexile 300 or whatever it was text, and there would be 20 different options for what they could teach within this one particular goal.

00;04;26;01 – 00;04;51;16

Jennifer Serravallo 

And it just wasn't a very elegant way to help teachers find the just right strategy for kids in that moment.

Skill progressions, on the other hand, are a description of how work becomes more and more complex over time. So, for example, if I'm looking at the goal of fluency, which is one of the chapters, and I look at the skill progression in that goal, I might see “reads choppy word by words” or that “reads in two or three word phrases,” “reads in longer phrases,” “attends to ending punctuation.”

00;04;51;22 – 00;05;11;09

Jennifer Serravallo 

Those are increasingly complex skills that kids can take on as they become more and more fluent, both with their phrasing and their prosody in their expression and their intonation.

Editor's Note: Prosody refers to the rhythm, intonation, stress, and general sound and pattern of language in speech or writing. In reading, prosody refers to the way a reader uses these elements to convey meaning and emotion in the text. For example, good prosody involves reading with appropriate pacing, expression, and emphasis, which can enhance comprehension and engagement with the text.

So by using that as the organizing principle and matching up strategies in an if-then scenario. So if the student is doing reading like this, then here are the three strategies you can teach.

00;05;11;09 – 00;05;15;14

Jennifer Serravallo 

It helps teachers to be even more targeted and even more responsive to student needs.

How Do You Pick the Right Reading Strategy?

00;05;15;15 – 00;05;23;27

Vicki Davis

So what are some of the most effective strategies in the new book? How do they relate to research? So just kind of pull out some of your new faves.

00;05;24;02 – 00;05;45;14

Jennifer Serravallo 

It's a hard question to answer. What are the favorites or what are the most effective? Because they're all effective depending on the kid. And that's the key that I want everyone to understand is that there's over 300 in this book, not because you're teaching all of them, but because it matters which ones you're teaching to which students. So the child in front of you needs to dictate the strategy that you're teaching them.

00;05;45;14 – 00;06;00;10

Jennifer Serravallo 

And what's right for one child is going to be different than what's right for another child. So for one child in your classroom, you might teach a strategy to help them with a goal of engagement. There's a whole chapter on engagement motivation. Maybe you've got some learners in your classroom that you noticed during reading time. They're not doing a whole lot of reading.

00;06;00;20 – 00;06;23;23

Jennifer Serravallo 

There's research around helping students manage more complex tasks and support their executive functioning skills by breaking up longer tasks into smaller chunks. So one of the researchers that I love in this area is Dr. Kelly Cartwright, who has a book on Executive Skills and Reading Comprehension. Some of the research she cites in her book is around helping kids to chunk longer tasks and just shorter ones.

00;06;23;24 – 00;06;42;02

Jennifer Serravallo 

So there's a strategy in the book helping kids to either set a timer and take breaks after every 5 or 10 depends on how long they can sustain reading or place sticky notes in their book as little flags to stop and pause and take — a could be a body break. It could be just a quick meditation break. It could be look around the room and refocus yourself.

00;06;42;02 – 00;07;02;21

Jennifer Serravallo 

Break. So that's a research-based idea that is made practical for the classroom. For some kids, that's going to be what they need.

But for a different student, like what about a student who needs help with understanding nonfiction texts and being able to determine what the main idea of a text is? Well, there's a lot of research around the value of helping to teach kids text structures.

00;07;02;21 – 00;07;24;27

Jennifer Serravallo 

And if we can help them understand the structure of the text, it can give them a clue to what the text is mostly about. If the text is set up in a cause and effect structure then the way that I phrase my main idea statement should show both the cause and the effect. So by giving kids that frame, that language frame and that clue to thinking about how the information is organized, that can really set them up to being able to determine the main idea – it depends on the kid.

Is it realistic for teachers to differentiate in a classroom with more than thirty students?

00;07;24;28 – 00;07;34;13

Vicki Davis

You believe in differentiated literacy instruction? Do you think that when a teacher has 30 kids in a room that it's possible?

00;07;34;20 – 00;07;51;16

Jennifer Serravallo 

When I was a classroom teacher, I taught in New York City, and the cap there was 32. But sometimes, they get an extra one or two on the cap. So yeah, my own experience is working with large classes and it's because of that experience that I know how essential it is to differentiate because I'd have 32 third graders in my classroom.

00;07;51;21 – 00;08;10;04

Jennifer Serravallo 

Some reading on a first grade level, some reading on a fourth grade level. How am I going to do a whole class instruction all the time? How is that going to meet the needs of every kid in my class? So it's essential. And I think teachers need tools. They need their curriculum to understand their grade level expectations, grade level standards, and there needs to be some whole class instruction around that.

00;08;10;04 – 00;08;24;18

Jennifer Serravallo 

But they also need tools to be able to look at their students, figure out what their individual needs are, and whether it's pulling groups or doing parallel teaching with a co-teacher or working one on one in conferences, whatever structures you're using. You need different strategies to meet kids where they are.

What are the biggest mistakes made as teachers try to differentiate reading strategies?

00;08;25;06 – 00;08;37;06

Vicki Davis

So what cautions do you have for teachers? These are the biggest mistakes I see when people implement reading strategies or try to implement differentiated reading strategies. What are those mistakes?

00;08;37;07 – 00;08;56;11

Jennifer Serravallo 

Yeah, I remember as a student myself being in a small group, and that group I was in in September was the same as in June. And you had these groups, whether they called them by bluebirds and red group, yellow group, whatever, and they were just stagnant. And I think we've outgrown that. We've seen that kids are going to be growing in all different kinds of dimensions throughout the year.

00;08;56;18 – 00;09;16;10

Jennifer Serravallo 

And the biggest piece of advice I have is to keep groups flexible, keep them dynamic. Kids move in and out of groups, and they change goals. The book is organized according to 13 goals, and what your goal is in September may not be what your goal is in October. Let's take that engagement example. Hopefully, we get through strategy, instruction and practice.

00;09;16;10 – 00;09;39;15

Jennifer Serravallo 

We get that student engaged in choosing books they love, able to manage their distractions, and focused on their reading. Well, then, what's next for that particular reader? It's not about their level at all, by the way. You can have a child who's capable of reading very complex texts, who struggles with their engagement. It's really about what's my need right now. So keeping the groups flexible, changing up the goals and really involving kids in the goal setting process whenever possible.

00;09;39;16 – 00;09;57;27

Jennifer Serravallo 

I have a tool on my website that's free. You can download it, a self-reflection, form one page, form kids, answer a series of self-reflection questions and helps them to set their own goal. That can then be the driving force for how teachers create groups, and the kids ask for it. So it's not about being labeled with a level or a bird or a color, right?

00;09;57;27 – 00;10;09;08

Jennifer Serravallo 

I'm in charge of my own learning. I'm taking ownership over what it is that I want to work on as a reader, what I think is most important, and my teacher is there to give me support in the form of strategies and guided practice and prompting and feedback.

Quick wins for teachers with limited time to plan.

00;10;09;09 – 00;10;42;20

Vicki Davis

So, Jennifer, you talk to teachers every day and you know that a teacher's everywhere stressed. The substitute teacher problem is impacting every teacher I know everywhere in every type of school. So teachers who already didn't have enough planning time have even less. As we finish, is there a strategy or two or a concept or two that you can speak to those stressed teachers of, okay, everything blows up and you end up with without enough planning, which is pretty much every day, really start in my book and just dig into these two areas because they're going to help you.

00;10;42;21 – 00;10;44;24

Vicki Davis

What would those places be to start?

00;10;44;25 – 00;11;02;26

Jennifer Serravallo 

The Getting Started chapter, which gives you an overview, is only 30 pages, and each chapter, each of the 13 goals has a very short introduction. So I'd read the Getting Started chapter 30 pages. Read the first two or three four pages of each of the subsequent chapters, so you get a sense of what are your possibilities and then carry the book around with you.

00;11;02;26 – 00;11;20;13

Jennifer Serravallo 

Don't take the stuff, write it into a plan book, figure everything out, just carry it with you, have it on your lap, and as you're reading with a child, you sit down next to them. Fluency .Okay, flip to the fluency chapter. Main idea. Okay, Flip to the main idea Chapter. Many teachers I work with do this. They just carry it around with them and you can read right off the page.

00;11;20;20 – 00;11;22;27

Jennifer Serravallo 

So I think that hopefully will save some planning time too.

00;11;22;27 – 00;11;44;02

Vicki Davis

Ask of the book. Is the reading strategies book a 2.0 from Jennifer Serravallo your stuff is so great. I know the last time I had you on the show, we got such a great response to the podcast, (See 5 Ideas for Improving Student Writing – episode 10) so I hope that they will check the show notes, look at your bio, converse with you on social media and really dig in because our students, as we talk about.

00;11;44;07 – 00;13;05;25

Vicki Davis

Yeah, and I've got a lot of stuff about AI going on the podcast and in the apps in writing about it, my newsletter. But all of it is requiring us to read and to comprehend. Thanks for coming on the show today.

Thank you Propello, Today's Sponsor

Today’s sponsor is the free and amazing tool, Propello. Hey, middle school science teachers! Do you ever struggle because you feel like you’re creating lesson plans instead of actually teaching? Propello is here to help you.

Propello is a free online platform that offers an amazing NGSS-aligned science curriculum for grades 6-8, with ELA lessons coming in the fall. With built-in student differentiation and support, every student gets a personalized learning experience that's designed for their unique needs.

And the best part? You get time back in your day!

Propello's curriculum is focused on inquiry-driven instruction, with high-quality resources and embedded supports like language translations for English language learners. Even if you already have a science curriculum, Propello is an excellent classroom-ready supplement – with everything you need for a personal, fun learning experience for your students. So what are you waiting for? Head to Propello and create your account today!  So, go to and sign up today. And stay tuned for their ELA curriculum in the fall. Head over to Propello today!

00;13;05;07 – 00;13;17;00

John Davis

You've been listening to the 10 Minute Teacher podcast. If you like this program you can find more at If you wish to see more content by Vicki Davis you can find her on Facebook and Twitter @coolcatteacher. Thank you for listening.

Transcribed by Adobe Audition AI Tools. Proofread and edited by Vicki Davis for clarity. Please contact us if you find any mistakes.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere