Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Reading" the Research

As a present to the administrators in our district we were given access to a publication called the "Marshall MemoA Weekly Round-up of Important Ideas and Research in K-12 Education." In their January 2nd edition they summarized the research behind assisting struggling readers from various sources. I was pleased to see how well it correlates to strategies we currently use inside the classroom during the "Northeast Reading Academy" as well as techniques we employ utilizing support staff. Please read below and feel free to comment on a best practice!

Marshall Memo Item - The Writing Road to Reading Proficiency

            In this Harvard Educational Review article, Steve Graham and Michael Hebert of Vanderbilt University note that major initiatives over the last ten years to improve reading achievement (No Child Left Behind, Reading First, the National Reading Panel) have produced disappointing results: while NAEP math scores improved significantly, reading scores have flatlined and large numbers of students are far from being proficient readers.
            Why? Graham and Hebert believe it’s because the instructional practices identified by the National Reading Panel in 2000 and pursued with gusto across the nation were “too narrow and not complete.” In this article, they report on a meta-analysis of research on one of the underemphasized factors: the impact of effective teaching of writing on students’ achievement in reading. Here are their three research questions and what they found:
            • First, when students write about material they have read, does their comprehension improve? Graham and Hebert found there is significant positive impact in grades 2-12 when students are asked to write about literature and material in science, social studies, and other expository texts. Students did extended writing, summary writing, note-taking, and answering and generating questions. The positive impact of this type of writing was greatest in middle school and with students who were weakest in reading and writing. Why is writing about reading so helpful?
-   It fosters explicitness, as students must select which information in the text is most important.
-   It encourages the writer to organize ideas from the text into a coherent whole and establish explicit relationships among the ideas.
-   It fosters reflection because it’s easier to review, reexamine, connect, critique, and construct new understandings from written text.
-   It gets students personally involved by requiring them to engage in active decision-making about what they will write and how they will treat it.
-   Students must transform or manipulate the text’s language to put it into their own words, which makes them think about what the ideas mean.

            • Second, does explicit teaching of writing skills strengthen students’ reading skills? Again, Graham and Hebert found positive results in this research, which covered grades 4-12 language arts classes.
            • Third, does increasing the quantity of student writing improve how well they read? Yes, say Graham and Hebert, reporting on studies of students in grades 1-6 language-arts classes.
            The authors end on a cautionary note: “Just because a writing intervention was effective in improving students’ reading in the studies included in this review does not guarantee that it will be effective in all other situations,” they say. “As a result, the safest course of action for teachers implementing research-based practices is to directly monitor the effects of such treatments to gauge whether they are effective under these new conditions.” They suggest these key components:
-       Frequent student writing;
-       Explicit skill instruction;
-       Starting small and measuring the impact of each initiative before embarking on others.

“Writing to Read: A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Writing and Writing Instruction on Reading” by Steve Graham and Michael Hebert in Harvard Educational Review, Winter 2011 (Vol. 81, #4, p. 710-744),

Marshall Memo Item - A Non-Pullout Approach for Struggling Readers

            In this Better: Evidence-Based Education article, Lynn Vernon-Feagans and Marnie Ginsberg of the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill describe Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI), a program they developed for the regular classroom teacher that they claim is as effective with struggling readers as pullout programs. Here are the components:
            • One-to-one instruction – The classroom teacher devotes 15 minutes each day to one struggling reader while the rest of the class is working on another task. The focus is on that student’s most pressing need and the daily tutorials continue until the student is making rapid progress and can be moved into small-group and independent activities.
            • Diagnostic thinking and instructional match – “By learning a set of diagnostically efficient word identification and text comprehension strategies that are matched to the skill level of the struggling reader,” say Vernon-Feagans and Ginsberg, “classroom teachers can dramatically increase struggling readers’ progress in early reading.”
            • Moving from decoding to comprehension – TRI teachers focus on helping students crack the code through multi-sensory instruction in sound-symbol relationships, guided oral reading in books at students’ level, and having students summarize, answer questions, and discuss implications.
            • Building sight-word speed, fluency, and comprehension – Struggling students do daily, challenging reading practice in one-to-one and small-group settings, followed by repeated reading of the same text.
            • Literacy coaches – Coaches shadow TRI classroom teachers as they work with struggling readers. “Weekly or biweekly coaching sessions, either live or via webcam, have been shown to permanently change the way teachers think about and teach their struggling readers,” say Vernon-Feagans and Ginsberg. “Through this professional relationship, the teacher learns more about reading development, diagnosis, and efficient strategies that profit not only the one child, but the other students in the class as well.”

“Teaching Struggling Readers in the Classroom” by Lynne Vernon-Feagans and Marnie Ginsberg in Better: Evidence-Based Education, Fall 2011 (Vol. 4, #1, p. 6-7),

Marshall Memo Item - What Works Best in Elementary Reading Instruction

            “Children who do not read well in the early elementary grades are likely to have problems in all areas of schooling, are unlikely to graduate, and may develop serious behavioral or emotional problems,” says Robert Slavin (University of York and Johns Hopkins University) in this Better: Evidence-Based Education article. But which reading approaches work best with readers who are falling behind? Here are the results of a rigorous analysis of 96 studies done by Slavin and his colleagues, listing programs starting with the most effective:
            • One-to-one tutoring by specially trained teachers with an emphasis on phonics (for example, Reading Recovery, Early Steps, Targeted Reading Intervention, and Reading Rescue);
            • Improved whole-classroom approaches, including cooperative learning and teaching metacognitive “learning to learn” strategies (for example, Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition, Peer Assisted Learning Strategies, and Direct Instruction/Corrective Reading); this approach was most effective in the upper elementary grades.
            • Comprehensive school reform programs, combining cooperative learning, phonics, teaching of metacognitive skills, and one-to-one or small-group tutoring (for example, Success for All);
            • One-on-one tutoring by paraprofessionals – This is less effective than tutoring by teachers, but paraprofessionals using programs such as Sound Partners can be cost-effective.
• Small-group tutoring (2-6 students) using phonetic programs (for example, Quick Reads, Corrective Reading, and Voyager Passport);
            • One-to-one tutoring by volunteers – This is more variable than paraprofessional tutoring, but well-trained volunteers using programs such as Book Buddies and SMART can have very good outcomes;
            • Computer-assisted instruction – “Of all the approaches included in the review,” says Slavin, “technology was found to have the smallest effect on the attainment of struggling readers.”

“What Works for Struggling Readers: A Review of the Evidence” by Robert Slavin in Better: Evidence-Based Education, Fall 2011 (Vol. 4, #1, p. 4-5),

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