What happens to reading achievement when teachers substitute independent reading for class instruction

What happens to reading achievement when teachers substitute independent reading for class instructionWhat happens to middle-schoolers’ reading achievement when 3 hours of classroom reading instruction each week is replaced with time for independent reading of the student’s choice and differentiated reading instruction?

A new study of 2,150 6th-8th-grade students at 4 schools finds that oral reading fluency improved compared with controls in 2 of the schools, and that reading comprehension stayed the same.  While student engagement was not measured,  the Journal of Advanced Academics study said this approach improves literacy by engaging students in exploring their authentic interests through reading.

“The issue of engagement is an important one, given the evidence suggesting strong linkages between engagement and achievement in reading and the important role of student interest in promoting higher reading achievement,” the authors write.

The interest-based, enrichment-oriented approach to reading instruction tested in this study, the Schoolwide Enrichment Model-Reading Framework (SEM-R), replaces classroom instruction time with independent reading and differentiated instruction through reading conferences.

The study “demonstrated that we could implement SEM-R activities, including differentiated conferences and limited group instruction in reading, in place of other reading instruction several days per week at all schools with no decrease in fluency or comprehension scores in four schools and increases in fluency at two of the four schools,” the researchers write.

The model

Students were exposed to a wide range of reading topics and materials and then self-selected challenging books in an area of interest. For 40-45 minutes each school day, while students read independently, teachers conducted individualized conferences during which they assessed the challenge level of a students’ book, provided instruction in reading skills and strategies and asked and discussed higher-level questions. Teachers had 5-7 minute conferences with each student every 1-2 weeks.

During the start-up phase, which was scheduled for 10-15 minutes each day, teachers exposed students to a variety of books, genres and authors through short read-alouds (or “Book Hooks”) and brief discussions. Teachers modeled reading strategies and conducted mini-lessons.

While teachers encouraged students to find challenging books, many students, no matter what reading level, frequently chose books from a limited set of popular texts.

Reading achievement was measured with two instruments, before and after the intervention:  an oral reading fluency (ORF) assessment (aimsweb.com)  the reading comprehension subtest of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests (GMRT), Fourth edition. The researchers chose to include a fluency assessment because of reported low rates of fluency and highly variable rates of fluency at the middle school level.

The treatment group teachers participated in a 1-day professional development session during the summer that provided an overview of SEM-R, modeling and practice.  Additional professional development included a follow-up group session mid-year as well as ongoing classroom support from the project staff who visited the schools approximately once every 2-3 weeks.

“This study demonstrated that considerable amounts of instructional time in reading could be replaced with independent reading with individualized support without any negative effect on student achievement in reading, particularly if the independent reading emphasizes student interest and self-selection to promote motivation and engagement,” the researchers write.

“Effects of Differentiated Reading Instruction on Student Achievement in Middle School,” Catherine Little et al., Journal of Advanced Academics, 2014, Volume 25, Number 4, pp. 384-402.







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