Struggling first- and second-grade readers benefit from supplemental reading instruction

Kindergarten teacher helping student with reading skillsFifty-nine first- and second-grade children identified as “struggling readers” achieved significantly higher scores on a reading comprehension measure after a year of daily supplemental instruction than students who did not get the additional assistance, concludes a team of Kentucky researchers. There were no significant differences, though, between the phonics achievement of first graders who did and did not receive the extra help.

One important component of No Child Left Behind is that states and districts provide supplemental instruction to students who do not progress in reading within the regular classroom, the authors wrote:

“The regulations significantly emphasize that the additional instruction supplements, not supplants, students’ regular reading instruction program and that these programs target students who are still behind their peers.”

Researchers from four Kentucky universities and colleges and the National Center for Family Literacy said they were not surprised by the results. “We expected that the more children read, the better readers they would become… More reading time usually occurred with more help or scaffolding as the children read, that is, more time with the teacher.”

The five supplemental programs that were used included: a “book club” model where children met to talk about a book they had read; the Reading Recovery program; Carbo Reading, which matches students with materials suited to their learning styles (i.e. use of audio books and three-dimensional characters); an early intervention program developed by Taylor, Strait, and Medo (1994) where students spend 30-45 in three segments of word work, reading connected text and writing in response to reading; and a local model based on Reading Recovery featuring the repeated reading of small books with explicit instructions for teachers.

The researchers were careful to check that the instruction was supplemental to regular instruction. But, because they could not include large numbers for each of the models, they made no conclusions about whether one model performed better than another.

Participants were assessed with the Flynt- Cooter Informal Reading Inventory, which includes a record of errors, oral and silent reading of fiction and nonfiction passages, retellings of each passage, and comprehension questions. Knowledge of phonics was assessed using Clay’s Hearing Sounds in Words Test, which includes encoding a sentence.

Finally, a few caveats. The students were followed individually because the researchers state this produced more valid results than from standardized tests. Also, students receiving supplemental instruction were being taught by teachers experienced with an earlier state initiative to improve reading.

Some educators argue that measuring phonics knowledge is not important if children do well on reading achievement, but the researchers caution that they are not suggesting that phonics is unimportant. They cite studies indicating that struggling readers in upper elementary grades may not have the skills to decode unfamiliar words.

One possible explanation for the results in this study on phonics is that the Hearings Sounds in Words test has a ceiling score that may not be sensitive enough to pick up differences. Also while three of models included phonetics, there was not a systematic approach to it.

“Supplemental Instruction in Early Reading: Does It Matter for Struggling Readers?” The Journal of Educational Research, November/December 2005, Volume 99, Number 2, Pages 99-105

Published in ERN January 2006 Volume 19 Number 1


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