Helping poor readers to read better is a primary objective for most elementary teachers. Recent studies aimed at helping teachers help these students indicate that poor readers may make more progress when taught with difficult texts rather than with lower level, remedial material.
J. Lloyd Eldredge of Brigham Young University, reports on a group-assisted reading strategy to aid poor readers. Group-assisted reading refers to a technique in which a teacher and a group of students read books together orally, with the teacher setting the reading pace and modeling correct phrasing, intonation and expression. Eldredge chose to study group-assisted reading because it appears to be an easy-to-implement, cost-effective method of increasing the achievement of poor readers.
Poor readers generally have inadequate decoding skills and find it difficult to connect words and sentences so that they make sense. Both these difficulties impede comprehension. Since research has shown that a sentence must be heard within a reasonable period of time for meaningful comprehension to occur, reading instruction which focuses exclusively on the decoding process, may actually hinder the reading progress of poor readers. Various strategies, such as the Neurological Impress Method, tape assisted reading, repeated readings and dyad reading were developed to provide poor readers with reading experiences that aid comprehension while increasing exposure to common vocabulary words.
The purpose of Eldredge’s study was to determine if a group-assisted reading strategy could significantly improve reading comprehension. Eldredge randomly selected students from a population of low-achieving third graders in a school in a low-income neighborhood. The school involved in this study had the lowest reading achievement scores in its district.
All 36 third-graders involved in the study were designated poor readers based on a reading sample from the first third grade teacher in the Houghton Mifflin Series which was administered in midyear. All of these students scored at the frustration level (below 90% oral reading accuracy, 50% or below on comprehension accuracy). These students were then randomly divided into two groups: 18 students were assigned to the group-assisted reading program, and 18 were assigned to an individual reading program. Each day for 8 weeks, groups of six children were taught by one teacher in a 15-minute “pull out” program. All students in the study were tested with the Gates-MacGinite Reading Test before and after this 8-week period, and all continued to participate in the literature-based reading programs in their regular classrooms.
One book each week
Children in the assisted reading program completed an average of one trade book per week during the 8-week session. Children selected books they were interested in, but which they found too difficult to read without help. The teacher and the students, working in pairs, read each story aloud together several times. The teacher set the pace and provided a model of expressive oral reading. Together, the partners tracked each word with a finger as it was being read (each student tracked the words on the page closest to him). At the end of each 15-minute session, the partners practiced reading a portion of the story together orally without the teacher. The next book was begun when the students had mastered fluent reading on the first. The teacher reported that the students were enthusiastic during these treatment sessions.
The students in the unassisted treatment program read literature books silently for an equal period of time. Students chose books by trial and error until they found a book they could successfully read. From time to time, they read portions of their books aloud to the teacher. These students also commented positively on their books and on the time spent with this teacher.
According to the data Eldredge collected in the pre- and post-tests, the group-assisted reading showed significantly greater gains in oral reading accuracy and comprehension. The average grade equivalent score on the pre-test for the assisted group was 2.9, while the average pre-test score for the unassisted group was 3.1. (Although these scores seem high for students at a 3.5 grade level who are labelled “poor readers”, the teachers involved in this study agree with research which indicates that grade equivalent scores on norm-referenced reading tests tend to reflect a child’s frustration level rather than his independent or instructional reading level.) After the 8-week treatment program was completed, the average score for the assisted group was 3.6 (an average increase of 7 months over the pre-test score), but only 3.2 (a 1-month increase) for the unassisted group.
Group-assisted readers outperformed other students
Eldredge concludes that the children in the group-assisted reading program significantly outperformed students in the unassisted group. He offers several possible reasons for this success. First, as research on cooperative learning shows, students achieve more when they work together with other students. Secondly, whole language advocates claim that holistic reading experiences lead to greater gains in reading achievement. Eldredge believes that the assisted reading was more holistic insofar as the students repeatedly heard a meaningful, fluent reading of their texts. The unassisted reading was less fluent because students brought to it limited decoding skills and sight vocabulary. Eldredge hypothesizes, however, that the factor most responsible for the achievement gains made by the students in this study was multiple exposure to the texts.
Eldredge maintains that teaching at student’s instructional reading level may actually slow the acquisition of reading vocabulary since, statistically, only 5% of the words encountered will be unknown to the student. On the other hand, students working with frustration level material are exposed to an increased number of unfamiliar words. When this exposure is coupled with a repeated, fluent and accurate reading of the text, as happens in group-assisted reading, children make greater gains.
Eldredge considers the use of only traditional measures of reading achievement a weakness of the study. He believes that newer strategies for measuring reading outcomes would strengthen his conclusions. However, he stresses that the size of the achievement gain is significant considering the short duration of the experiment – just 10 hours of instruction over 8 weeks. Group-assisted reading, as described in this study, may prove to be a cost-effective and easily implemented alternative to helping remedial readers.
“Increasing the Performance of Poor Readers in the Third Grade With a Group-Assisted Strategy” Journal of Educational Research Volume 84, No. 2, p. 69-77.
Published in ERN March/April 1991 Volume 4 Number 2