Automaticity and motivation’s effects on reading comprehension

As struggling readers get older and the words they read get longer, the effort it takes them to decode longer words interferes with their reading comprehension. Jessica Toste and colleagues conducted a study examining the effects of an intervention designed to develop multisyllabic word reading (MWR) automaticity via repeated exposure to multisyllabic words in isolation and in context.

Fifty-nine struggling third and fourth grade pupils (Years 4 and 5) in two charter schools located in a large city in the southwestern US were randomly assigned to one of three groups: MWR only (n=18), MWR with motivational beliefs (MB) training (n=19), or business as usual (22). No significant differences in reading comprehension or motivational beliefs were found at pretest.

In groups of two to three pupils, the MWR and MWR + MB groups received tutoring sessions in reading for forty minutes a week, three times a week for eight weeks in addition to their regular reading lessons. The MWR + MB group also received five minutes of motivational learning each session, while the MWR-only group practised maths facts for their final five minutes. The MWR lessons consisted of seven components, starting with repeated reading of vowel patterns and progressing to target words in paragraphs. The MB component added self-reflection, positive self-talk and eliminating negative thoughts throughout the lesson.

Results showed that pupils in both MWR groups performed better than the control group at posttest on word fluency measures and performed moderately better than the controls on phonemic decoding, letter-word ID and word-attack subtests. The MWR + MB group had higher scores than the MWR group solely on sentence-level comprehension, but had higher scores than controls on the attributions for success subscale, meaning they were more likely to attribute success to internal causes like effort rather than external factors like luck. MWR + MB did not outperform MWR on motivational measures. The authors conclude that developing automaticity in multi-syllable word reading and motivation’s effect on reading comprehension are both promising interventions to develop MWR.

Source: Multisyllabic word-reading instruction with and without motivational beliefs training for struggling readers in the upper elementary grades: A pilot investigation (June 2017), The Elementary School Journal 117, no. 4

Comprehension Circuit Training delivered via tablet shows reading benefits

Comprehension Circuit Training (CCT) is a programme for teenagers designed to improve reading comprehension through a set of circuit-like exercises in pre-reading, reading, and after-reading to improve foundational reading skills and text-processing abilities. A recent randomised study investigated the effects of CCT delivered electronically via tablet on the reading comprehension of struggling teenage readers.

Three schools in Texas in the US, involving 3 teachers and 228 struggling sixth- to eighth-graders (Years 7–9), participated in this study. Using a within-teacher design, middle school teachers’ reading intervention classes were randomly assigned to electronic CCT (n=9 classes, 112 pupils) or business as usual (n=7 classes, 116 pupils). All pupils had failed to score at the “proficient” level on the prior year’s state reading assessment, and no significant pre-test differences were found between the two groups. CCT pupils received 39 e-CCT lessons in word reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension that were organised into ten levels delivered in a standard sequence. Each 50-minute lesson contained four video-instruction components – an Opening Comprehension Circuit, WarmUp Station, Reading Core Station, and Knowledge Flex Station – delivered three days a week via Apple iPad. After video instruction, pupils partnered to practice lesson content, with teacher-led assessment occurring in the Knowledge Flex Station.

Results showed statistically significant effects in favour of the experimental group on post-test measures of reading comprehension, vocabulary, and silent reading efficiency. Pupils who entered with lower-level reading comprehension showed the greatest gains.

Source: Impact of a technology-mediated reading intervention on adolescents’ reading comprehension. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, Vol. 10, 2.

What is the evidence to support reading interventions?

A review from the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance in the US assesses the evidence base supporting reading interventions in grades 1–3 (Years 2–4 in the UK) to improve reading outcomes for pupils struggling with typical classroom reading lessons.

The findings are based on studies of 20 interventions conducted in the US that Russell Gersten and colleagues identified that met the What Works Clearinghouse evidence standards. Of these 20 interventions, 19 produced positive or potentially positive effects in at least one area of reading. Interventions in grade 1 (Year 2) produced lower effects in reading comprehension (+0.39) than in word and pseudo-word reading (+0.45), but higher effects than in passage reading fluency (+0.23). For grade 2 and 3 (Years 3 and 4) interventions, the weighted mean effects in reading comprehension (+0.33) were lower than those for both word and pseudo-word reading (+0.46) and passage reading fluency (+0.37). The strongest and most consistent effects were found in word and pseudo-word reading for all three grades.

Although the evidence supports the efficacy of reading interventions, the review points out that the majority of interventions evaluated are interventions for individual pupils, as opposed to small-group interventions which are more typical in school settings. In addition, most of the interventions include high levels of ongoing support for teachers.

Source: What is the evidence base to support reading interventions for improving student outcomes in grades 1–3? (April 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast (REL 2017–271)

Effective reading programmes for secondary students

In recent years, major initiatives in the US and UK have added greatly to the amount and quality of research on the effectiveness of secondary reading programmes, especially targeted programmes for struggling readers. As a result, the Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education was able to complete an updated review of the research on secondary reading programmes using tougher standards than would have been possible in earlier reviews, and assembling data from a much larger pool of programmes and studies. The authors were Ariane Baye, Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns, and Robert Slavin.

The current review focuses on 64 studies that used random assignment (n=55) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=9) to evaluate outcomes of 49 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading. Programmes using one-to-one and small-group tutoring (ES=+0.23) and co-operative learning programmes (mean ES=+0.16) showed positive outcomes, on average. Among technology programmes, metacognitive approaches, mixed-model programmes, and programmes for English learners, there were individual examples of promising approaches. Except for tutoring, targeted extra-time programmes were no more effective than programmes provided to entire classes and schools without adding instructional time.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from engaging and personalised instruction than from remedial services.

Source: Effective reading programs for secondary students (2016, December). Best Evidence Encyclopedia, Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Using teaching assistants to improve language skills and reading

Two new evaluations from the Education Endowment Foundation in England have found that two interventions using teaching assistants (TAs) have positive effects.

REACH is a targeted reading support programme designed to improve the reading accuracy and comprehension of students with reading difficulties in Years 7 and 8. It is delivered by specially trained TAs. The evaluation tested two interventions – one based on the original Reading Intervention developed by the University of York, and the other with supplementary material on language comprehension. The evaluation was carried out in 21 schools around Leeds, with 202 students (70 and 69 receiving each intervention; 63 control). Results showed a positive effect on reading skills for both the Reading Intervention (+0.33) and the Reading Intervention with additional material on language comprehension (+0.51). The evaluations did not provide evidence that the interventions improved reading comprehension in particular, as opposed to other skills such as word recognition.

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention is designed to improve the spoken language ability of children during the transition between nursery and primary school. It is targeted at children with poor language skills, who receive 20 or 30 weeks of sessions focused on listening, narrative, and vocabulary skills. The evaluation is delivered by TAs and nursery staff. The evaluation was carried out in 34 schools with attached nursery schools or nursery classes in Yorkshire and the South-East, with 350 children participating (114 received the 30-week treatment, 121 the 20-week treatment, and 115 in the control group). Both interventions had a positive effect on language skills (+0.27 for the 30-week and +0.16 for the 20-week). However, there was no reliable evidence that it had a positive effect on children’s word-literacy skills.

Source: REACH and Nuffield Early Language Intervention (2016), Education Endowment Foundation.

New approach for predicting reading problems

A new article in PLoS Biology describes research into a neurophysiological marker that might identify children likely to struggle when they begin to read.

According to the article, it has long been argued that reading skills are linked to the processing of rapid auditory information, meaning that struggling readers have particular problems with auditory temporal processing. Although neural markers of reading skills have been identified in school-aged children and adults, it was not known whether these markers are present in pre-reading children.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments with 112 children aged 3–14. They measured the precision of the neural coding of consonants in noise, and found that pre-reading children (age 4) with stronger neural processing had superior early literacy skills; one year later they were also stronger emerging readers. When the same neural coding measure was used with a cohort of older children, it predicted these children’s literacy achievement, and could also reliably predict which of the children had received a diagnosis of a reading impairment.

The authors conclude that their findings suggest that neural processing of consonants in noise is fundamental for language and reading development, and this may allow the early identification of children at risk of language learning problems.

Source: Auditory Processing in Noise: A Preschool Biomarker for Literacy (2015), PLoS Biology.