Assisted reading practice for poor readers

Kindergarten teacher helping student with reading skillsPoor readers choose not to read, at least in part, because reading is unrewarding for them. As a result, poor readers get little practice and often remain poor readers. On the other hand, good readers read often, continually improving their reading skills. Researchers, Michal Tamir Shany, Beit Berl College, Israel, and Andrew Biemiller, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, wondered if schools could provide poor readers with the kind of extended practice that good readers give themselves.

Shany and Biemiller report that although educators theorize that extended practice increases poor readers’ skills, there has been little research to prove it. They decided to test whether increased practice over substantial periods of time would increase poor readers’ skills on standardized measures of reading comprehension, speed and accuracy.

Two versions developed for study

Two versions of assisted reading were developed for this study. One, a teacher-assisted method, required a teacher to provide assistance on a one-to-one basis as a child read. The second, tape-assisted method, used tape recordings for the children to listen to as they read along in the text. Thirty children who scored in the bottom quartile in the reading portion of the Canadian Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) were chosen for the study from several classes in a disadvantaged downtown school in a large Canadian city. These students were not non-readers, did not have serious speech deficits and did speak English as a second language. Before and after the study, these children were tested on the listening portion of the CTBS, the Biemiller Test of Reading Processes (to calculate their letter-, word- and text-reading speeds), the Wide Range Achievement Test, the Durrell Analysis of Reading Difficulty and the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test.

These children were divided into three groups of ten. One group received only the standard basal reading instruction in their regular classes. The other two groups, in addition to the regular reading instruction, had individual assisted-reading practice for 30 minutes, four days a week for 16 weeks. One experimental group individually read aloud to a teacher who provided them with a correct word when they made an error, did not respond, hesitated or requested help. However, no attempt was made to teach word-identification skills in these individual sessions. The goal was to keep the child focused on reading the passage. The tape-assisted experimental group read aloud or silently while listening simultaneously to the same text on tape. Stories were recorded at a fixed rate of 100 words per minute, but a special tape recorder allowed students to change the speed (between 80 and 120 words per minute) to match their natural reading speed.


The tape-assisted group read almost twice as much text as the teacher-assisted group during the 16 weeks of the study. Both experimental groups read five to ten times the number of words that the control group did. Both experimental groups performed significantly better than the control group on listening and reading comprehension and reading speed. Significant increases in word identification were found only for reading in context. No significant improvements were seen in reading lists of isolated words. Both groups, however, showed significant gains in speed and accuracy of connected text, gaining an average of 1.7 grade-equivalent years on the Durrell Test, compared to 0.6 years for the control group. In addition, the tape-assisted group made significant gains in listening comprehension.

Reading practice boosts confidence

Extended reading practice led to significantly increased reading competence. The greatest gains were made by those children whose reading comprehension was significantly below their listening comprehension. Despite the fact that children being assisted by teachers covered much less material, results were similar to those achieved by the group listening to tapes. These researchers suggest that since teacher time is limited, the teacher’s role could be filled by anyone who can read all the words in the texts being used by the children. Also, the tape-assisted method can be used in the regular classroom with several children listening at one time.

Shany and Biemiller warn that extended assisted-reading practice may not be enough to make children competent readers, especially if their listening comprehension is low. Additional work on decoding skills and vocabulary may be necessary. They suggest that extended assisted-reading practice be studied further with larger numbers of children.

“Assisted Reading Practice: Effects on Performance for Poor Readers in Grades 3 and 4”, Reading Research Quarterly, Volume 30, Number 3, September 1995, pp. 382-395.

Published in ERN September/October 1995 Volume 8 Number 4

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