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A comparison of the effects of two rates of listening while reading on oral reading fluency and reading comprehension.


This study compared the effects of two different listening while reading (LWR) rates on words correct per minute, accuracy, generalization, and comprehension for four 4th- and 5th-graders. It was hypothesized the effects of LWR would increase as the rate of LWR more closely approximated the reader's actual oral reading rate. An alternating treatments design was used to compare the effects of the two rates of LWR. Results indicated that both rates increased words correct per minute and a high level of accuracy was maintained. In addition, generalization to passages where LWR was not employed was evident, but neither intervention had any effect on comprehension. Contrary to what was predicted, the slow rate did not lead to greater improvements on any of the dependent measures and it appears the fast rate may have actually been superior. Limitations, implications, and future directions are discussed.


A large number of students in the U.S. continue to have difficulty learning to read. As a result, numerous interventions have been developed to remediate deficiencies in reading. Some of these interventions focus on increasing comprehension (e.g., Babyak, Koorland, & Mathes, 2000), while others target the fluency of reading (Rose, 1984) in the hope that comprehension will also improve (Sindelar & Stoddard, 1991). Interventions aimed at improving students' fluency, such as Listening While Reading (LWR), have received much empirical support (e.g., Rose, 1984, Rose & Beattie, 1986, Daly & Martens, 1994, Skinner & Shapiro, 1989). As the name implies, LWR is a method that allows a student to read or listen to a passage or list prior to instruction and/or testing.

Early research on the effects of LWR compared the use of silent previewing and listening previewing on the oral reading rate of elementary and junior high students with behavioral disorders and learning disabilities (Rose, 1984; Rose & Beattie, 1986; Rose & Sherry, 1984). In the listening previewing condition in these early studies, students followed along silently as the teacher read the passage at a rate of approximately 130-160 words per minute, prior to the students rereading the passage aloud. In the silent previewing condition, the students were instructed to read the passages silently without a model by the teacher and then reread the passage aloud. Each study's results indicated that both previewing procedures were related to higher reading rates, as measured by words correct per minute, than no previewing. In addition, the listening preview condition produced higher rates of reading than the silent previewing. However, no change in error rates was noted.

In a more recent study, Daly and Martens (1994) compared an audio taped listening passage previewing (LPP) condition, a subject passage previewing (SPP) condition, and a taped words (TW) condition with four elementary students with learning disabilities. The LPP and SPP conditions were the same as described for the studies cited above. The TW condition, however, consists of students listening to an audio recording of a list of words. Passages were read at a rate of 130 words per minute. Results indicated that the LPP intervention produced the largest performance gains. Unlike the other studies, LPP was effective in increasing the subjects' reading accuracy (the percentage of words read correctly in one minute divided by the total number of words read). The authors suggested the strength of LPP was the combination of the modeling plus drill components or the repeated exposures to the passages.

While providing empirical support for this intervention, no consensus on the optimal rate of reading during LWR was evident in these investigations. However, the effects of varying the rates of LWR based on the student's actual oral reading rate have begun to be investigated. Skinner, Cooper, and Cole (1993) compared the effects of two rates (rapid and slow) of oral presentation during LWR with two 12-year-old males. The rapid rate consisted of the experimenter reading at his/her natural rate, while the slow rate involved the experimenter reading the passages at about a rate of 50 words per minute. For the two participants, only the slow rate condition improved oral reading rates over baseline. This study suggests that accurate oral rereading may improve as the rate of the previewing decreases. However, the student's initial oral reading rate was not taken into consideration.

Similarly, Skinner, Adamson et al. (1997) compared a fast rate that was, on average, about 77% (range = 57%-109%) faster than the student's current reading rate, and a slower rate that was, on average, only about 23% (range = 4%-47%) faster than the current oral reading rate. The slow rate condition improved the oral rereading rates when compared to baseline rates, and the results suggested accurate oral rereading may be enhanced by reducing the experimenter's rate of reading. The authors posited the slow rate provided students enough time to subvocally read the words before or after the word was presented, but the fast rate condition did not allow for opportunities to respond.

Taken together, these studies suggest slower LWR rates may be more beneficial than faster rates. However, several questions regarding the effectiveness of LWR remain unanswered. First, it is unclear how slow the LWR rates must be to reach optimal effectiveness. Although Skinner, Adamson et al. (1997) found more beneficial effects with a slow rate that was, on average, about 23% faster than the student's current oral reading rate, no study has investigated the effects of even slower rates of LWR. Perhaps, the effects of LWR increase as the rate of LWR more closely approximates the reader's actual oral reading rate.

Second, with the exception of Skinner, Robinson, Morse et al. (1998), no study has examined generalization effects of LWR to non-previewed material. In the Skinner, Robinson, Morse et al. study where students were read a portion of a passage and then the students read the remainder, no generalization effects were found. However, it is unclear whether similar results would be found with a slower LWR rate.

Finally, no studies were found that simultaneously investigated the effects of different LWR rates on reading accuracy and comprehension. Accuracy and comprehension may vary with the rate of LWR. For instance, as the LWR rate decreases and approaches the student's natural rate, reading accuracy may improve at the expense of comprehension. Slowing down the rate may allow students to rehearse each word more frequently, therefore increasing accuracy. Conversely, the length of time to listen to the entire passage because of the slow rate may tax short-term memory, thereby deleteriously effecting comprehension. Further research is needed to address each of these issues.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a reading intervention that utilized slower LWR rates on students' reading rate, accuracy, generalization, and comprehension. Specifically, the study compared the effects of two different LWR rates: (a) a rate approximately 20% above the reader's current oral reading rate (Fast Rate); and (b) a rate that closely approximated the reader's current rate (Slow Rate). Consistent with previous research, it was predicted that the LWR rate that more closely approximated the student's current oral reading rate would produce greater benefits on the dependent measures.


Participants and Setting

All four children who participated in this study attended a private, residential school in central Pennsylvania. Three were in fourth grade (Stephanie, John, and Scott) and one was in fifth grade (Susan). Two participants were Caucasian (one male and one female) and two were African-American (one male and one female). Their ages ranged from 9 to 12 years old. The selected students were all reading at an instructional level of 1 to 2 years below their current grade level, as verified by curriculum-based reading measurement procedures described in Shapiro (1996a) and based on Fuchs and Deno's (1982) revised placement criteria for direct reading assessment.

All experimental sessions were conducted at a table in a quiet hallway outside the students' classrooms during their regularly scheduled reading time.


The reading materials (trade books) being utilized within the participants' classroom served as the materials for this study. More specifically, during LWR sessions, typed copies of the day's assigned readings passages, consisting of approximately 250-300 words, were employed. Prior to each LWR session, the first author used a silent metronome, an audiocassette tape, and a tape recorder to record the preview tapes. Using the silent metronome, the primary investigator first read and recorded the passage at the Slow rate (average 3.5% faster), and a second time at the Fast rate (average 21.8% faster).

Dependent Measures

Dependent measures included words correct per minute, reading accuracy, and reading comprehension.

Words correct per minute (WCPM). The rate of WCPM was determined by counting the total number of words read correctly during the first 60 seconds of reading as only the first minute of reading was scored for errors. Errors consisted of mispronunciations, omissions, substitutions, additions, and unknown words (words in which the participant does not respond after a pause of 5 seconds). Words with suffixes such as -ing, -ed, and -s, were not counted as errors if the suffix was omitted or mispronounced (Shapiro, 1996a). If a student hesitated for 5 seconds or committed any of the above errors, the data collector pronounced the word correctly and directed the student to continue reading. Self-corrections did not count as errors. Correct responses were those words read orally which did not meet the criteria for an error.

Reading accuracy. The percentage of words read correctly, or reading accuracy, was calculated by dividing the total number of words read correctly by the number of total words read, multiplied by 100.

Reading comprehension. An oral retell measure (Shapiro 1996b) was used to assess participants' comprehension of the passage. Immediately after reading a passage, students were asked to retell the story in their own words and retells were scored for the presence or absence of elements of the story such as Story Sense, Setting, Characters, Events, and Resolution. The percentage of story elements retold was calculated by dividing the number of elements stated by the number of possible elements, multiplied by 100.

Data Collectors

Three paid data collectors, who were naive to the purpose of the study and had earned bachelor degrees in psychology, participated in the study. All were trained in the data collection procedures to a criterion of 80% or higher inter-scorer agreement (ISA). Data collectors were randomly assigned to participants and conditions each session. During each session they stated the directions, presented the audio recorded preview, and marked errors on a photocopy of the passage.

Interscorer Agreement

All sessions were tape recorded by the data collectors, with approximately 30% of each participant's sessions randomly selected and checked for ISA. To do this, a second data collector listened to the LWR session and independently scored all dependent measures. Percent ISA was calculated for each WCPM and reading comprehension using a point-by-point method, by dividing the number of agreements by the number of agreements plus disagreements, multiplied by 100. Mean percent ISA for WCPM was 98.44% (range 87.6%-100%). Mean percent ISA was lower and more variable for reading comprehension at 79% (range 40-100%).

Experimental Design

A single case alternating treatments design (Richards, Taylor, Ramasamy, & Richards, 1999) was used to compare the effects of the two LWR rates. Baseline and intervention sessions were conducted 3 days each week for 6 weeks, and three follow-up probes were conducted 2 weeks after intervention ended. Following an initial baseline phase, the two experimental conditions were alternated across days. The order in which the interventions were presented was counterbalanced so that each was presented the same number of times. The experimental effects of the two interventions were then compared to determine if the two series of data points were separated, which would indicate one intervention was more effective than the other. Generalization to non-previewed material was evaluated during follow-up 2 weeks later.

General Procedures

Each session began with the data collector stating, "Here is a reading passage which has been recorded on tape. Follow along as the tape reads the passage. When the tape has finished, I will ask you to read the same passage back to me." Each reading passage began at the point at which formal in-class reading instruction ended the previous day. The data collector started the tape recorder, and the student listened to the recorded passage being read at either the Slow or Fast rate. The average rates of the taped previews for each participant and condition are displayed in Table 1.

At the end of the recorded passage, the data collector turned off the tape recorder, instructed the student to reread the passage, and marked errors on a photocopy of the reading passage for the first minute using a stopwatch, although the participant was allowed to continue reading to the end of the passage. Immediately upon completion of the rereading, the student was asked to retell the story in their own words.

Participants continued to receive ongoing in-class reading instruction throughout all phases of the study.


During baseline, each participant's initial rate of reading within his/her curriculum was assessed. Three passages (one from the beginning, middle, and end) were selected from the reading curriculum being used in each participant's classroom. The Flesh-Kincaid Readability statistic was calculated for each of these and subsequent passages in order to determine the readability of the passages. This information was used in order maintain consistency among the passages that were presented to the participants. Participants were asked to read the three passages in the manner described above. In addition to calculating WCPM, reading accuracy, and reading comprehension for each of the three passages, median words correct per minute was used to determine the Slow rate and the Fast rate for each participant. Each participant's median WCPM was multiplied by 0% and 20% (for the Slow and Fast rate respectively) and then added to the median WCPM. For example, the median WCPM for Stephanie was 84. The Slow rate condition consisted of passages read at a rate of 84 words per minute, and passages at the Fast rate were read at a rate of 100 words per minute.


During intervention, two different rates of LWR (Slow and Fast) were alternated as previously described.

Follow up

Two weeks after completion of the LWR phase, generalization effects to non-previewed materials (passages that did not include a model prior to testing) were measured using the same procedures employed during baseline.

Treatment Integrity

To ensure the procedures were implemented correctly, a data collector listened to the audio tapes for approximately 30% of the sessions across all participants. The data collector recorded whether or not materials were present, instructions were read, the proper sequence of treatment and assessment was followed, and treatment conditions were implemented properly. Percent treatment integrity was calculated by dividing number of procedural steps completed correctly by the total number of steps, multiplied by 100. After the session had ended, a trained observer verified that the speed of the taped passage was within the given range for the condition.

Treatment integrity data indicate the intervention was implemented as intended an average of 99.4% of the time. On only one occasion, the data collector did not use the instructions as written. Similarly, a review of Table 1 indicates that the mean Slow and Fast rate for each participant closely approximated, the rates as intended.

Data Analysis

Visual analysis of graphically displayed data was used to analyze the results for each of the dependent measures. In addition, the ordinary least squares method (Barlow & Hersen, 1984) was used for WCPM only. This method calculates the best fitting line to the data, and allows for the change in slope to be inspected. Finally, medians for each dependent measure were calculated and compared across conditions.


Words correct per minute (WCPM). Results for WCPM for each participant are displayed in Figures 1 and 2. The stability of baseline data was not assessed for logistical reasons and to avoid any learning that may occur as a result of a prolonged baseline phase. These results show an increase in WCPM from baseline to intervention for three of the four participants. This increase is most dramatic for Participants 3 and 4, where most if not all data points during the intervention conditions exceed baseline levels. While the increase is less dramatic for Participants 1 and 2, a majority of intervention data points exceed the highest baseline data points even for these students.





With regard to a comparison of the effects of the two interventions, there is obvious overlap in the data for the Slow rate and Fast rate conditions for all four students. Although the Fast rate resulted in somewhat greater effects than the Slow rate for Participants 1, 2, and 4, this finding is tempered by the substantial variability in the WCPM data for both rates. However, for all participants except Susan, the slopes changed from a decreasing trend during baseline to an increasing trend during the Fast rate condition. An increasing trend during the Slow rate condition was also seen for Participants 3 and 4, although an opposite (decreasing) trend during this condition was observed for Participants 1 and 2.

To help clarify the effects of each condition, median performance levels for WCPM were calculated. As indicated in Table 2, both LWR rates led to an increase in median WCPM for all participants. For participants 2, 3, and 4, the Fast rate led to greater increases in median WCPM than the Slow rate. However, the difference between the Slow and Fast rates for Participants 3 and 4 were minimal. For Stephanie, the Slow rate resulted in greater median WCPM than the Fast rate.

Follow-up WCPM data show that some of the gains were maintained for all participants except Stephanie. In fact, Stephanie's median WCPM at follow up was her lowest. Conversely, John's median WCPM at follow up was his highest WCPM.

Reading accuracy. As shown in Table 3, similar levels of median reading accuracy were observed during both LWR conditions. A comparison of median reading accuracy scores indicates that all participants showed an improvement during LWR as compared with baseline. Little difference between median accuracy rates was observed for any of the participants. The greatest increase in accuracy was found for Scott, the participant with the slowest oral reading rate at baseline (91.2% at baseline; 96.6% & 98.1% for the Slow and Fast rate respectively, see Table 3)

Follow-up data show gains in median accuracy were maintained for all participants except for Stephanie. Like her WCPM scores, her median accuracy score at follow up dropped below her baseline score.

Reading comprehension. No perceptible differences in reading comprehension scores were observed from baseline to intervention, between the two LWR conditions, or at follow-up for any of the participants. In general, scores on the reading comprehension measure were found to be highly variable across all phases of the study.


The present study extended the research on LWR by comparing two rates of LWR, one that very closely approximated the student's actual oral reading rate and one that was about 20% faster. While some research has demonstrated increased effectiveness when the rate of LWR more closely approximates the student's actual oral reading rate (e.g., Skinner et al., 1993), the results of this study did not support the hypotheses that greater beneficial effects would be observed as the rate of LWR more closely approximated the reader's actual oral reading rate. The overlap in the data series for the two LWR rates did not allow a clear conclusion to be drawn regarding the relative effectiveness of each condition. However, the results did demonstrate that both LWR conditions (Slow and Fast) led to improvements in WCPM for all four participants. This provides further support for LWR as an effective method for increasing students' oral reading rates (Rose 1984; Rose & Sherry, 1984; Rose & Beattie, 1986).

Contrary to prediction, neither rate was substantially more effective than the other. In fact, results suggested the Fast rate might have led to greater improvements in WCPM than the Slow rate for some participants. Specifically, the Fast rate led to greater increases in median WCPM for all participants, except Stephanie. These results are not entirely contradictory to previous research. For example, Skinner et al. (1993) found no difference between a fast and slow rate of LWR on WCPM even though the rates in that study were considerably faster than those in the present study. Despite these consistent findings, it may be premature to conclude that there is no benefit in matching previewing rate to the student's oral reading rate. Matching the oral reading rate of the student may in fact be beneficial for particular students, such as those who read at very low rates. Future research investigating rates that are similar to the student's oral reading rate should evaluate the effects of this intervention with students who read at very slow rates or, alternatively, incorporate reading materials that are at the frustrational level.

It was also hypothesized that, as LWR more closely approximated participants' oral reading rates, there would be a corresponding increase in participants' reading accuracy. This was not supported by the results. Both conditions minimally improved accuracy, but neither rate resulted in appreciable differences. It may be that the difference between the two rates in this study was indistinguishable and were in effect the same rate. Previous studies have used greater differences between the two rates (Skinner, et al 1993), and improvements in accuracy were noted as it more closely approximated baseline rates. Perhaps differences between two rates of LWR need to be more discernable to see differential effects. Future studies may include one rate below the participants' baseline oral reading rate and one that is discernibly faster (e.g., 20% faster).

Although only slightly improved accuracy was observed, it is important to note that reading accuracy continued to be high even as the number of WCPM increased for all participants. It is also interesting that the participant with the lowest oral reading rate at baseline made the greatest gains in reading accuracy. Again, it may be that more closely approximating the student's oral reading rate during LWR may be most beneficial for those students with the slowest initial reading rates. This hypothesis is consistent with Breznitz (1987) who argued that beginning learners accuracy would benefit from reading material being presented more slowly "at the expense of comprehension (p.242)" however.

The only hypothesis supported by the results related to generalization of effects to non-previewed material. For three of the four participants, gains in WCPM and reading accuracy during the intervention phase were maintained when participants were asked to read non-previewed material during follow up. This is contradictory to Skinner, Robinson, Morse, et al. (1998) who did not find generalization effects to non-previewed material following LWR. It is unclear what factor(s) may have been responsible for the generalization effects observed in the present study. One possible explanation may be the relatively short interval (2 weeks) between the intervention and follow up phases. Future studies should extend the length of time between intervention and follow-up before concluding that LWR results in positive effects beyond the previewed material.

No consistent effects on reading comprehension were noted during intervention or follow up phases. One explanation may be the lack of passage consistency in meeting the criteria for the Oral Retell. Oral Retell, as used here, did not seem to be an appropriate measure of comprehension. The nature of trade books made the criteria for Oral Retell difficult to meet and not all passages contained all the elements of the Oral Retell measure used. Employing basal readers or tailoring the criteria to each passage may be a better fit for use of Oral Retell. Alternatives such as Cloze or Modified Cloze may have been more appropriate in this case, as either of these techniques would have had the advantage of being more closely linked to the actual readings.

Although improving fluency is an important instructional goal in its own right, the ultimate goal of reading is comprehension. Future studies should continue to investigate the link between improving fluency and comprehension. Researchers, however, should be sure to tease out the assessment of reading comprehension from that of listening comprehension, especially in LWR because of the modeling of the passage. Accounting for Listening Comprehension when using LWR, however, can be accomplished when assessing generalization effects. During a generalization phase, no model of the passage is supplied; therefore, maintained gains in reading comprehension in this phase is not attributable to listening comprehension.

There are several design and methodological limitations to this study. First, use of a metronome resulted in stilted and artificial readings. Although relatively accurate in terms of specified rate, the previews did not sound similar to what a listener is accustomed to hearing. Future studies could make use of computer-aided programs, which will further improve the accuracy and consistency of rates, and may sound more similar to natural reading.

All of the participants were at least at the instructional level in the previewed material. In fact, three participants were at the mastery level. Future research should use material that is at the frustrational or instructional levels. Using the frustrational level would be in keeping with Rasinski's (1984) finding that less proficient readers benefit from instruction that focuses on automatic word identification. Also using students' frustrational level would help determine if there is an aptitude-treatment interaction as suggested by Skinner et al. (1993).

Alternating treatment designs are susceptible to multiple treatment interference (e.g., carryover effects), especially when learning is occurring (Barlow & Hersen, 1984). This could explain the lack of a clear distinction in the results during the two LWR conditions. In other words, one LWR rate may have somehow interfered with the effects that would have been seen with the other rate if both had been administered in isolation. One strategy for reducing multiple treatment interference while still using an alternating treatments design is to make the two interventions more distinct so participants can readily discriminate between the two interventions (Barlow & Herson, 1984). Of course, another strategy would be to evaluate each intervention in isolation (although this strategy has its own limitations). Procedures that increase the difference between LWR interventions, and thus decrease multiple treatment interference, should be utilized in future research that employs an alternating treatments design.

Finally, passages used in this study were considerably longer than those used in previous research. For the slowest reader, this could increase preview time by as much as 25% over the amount of time required to preview a passage that is a more typical length. For example, a 200-word passage would take approximately 3-1/2 minutes to preview in the Slow rate condition, while a 300-word passage would take more than 5 minutes in the same Slow rate condition. The extended amount of time required to preview these longer passages, along with other factors such as participants' attention span and short-term memory, may have affected the results obtained in this study.

In terms of practical implications, the results suggest that allowing slow oral readers to take turns reading aloud may be beneficial to their peers, if the goal of instruction is to improve fluency, as long as their oral reading rates approximate their peers' rates of oral reading. Future studies should determine if reading slower than baseline rates is detrimental, or advantageous, to oral reading fluency. Conversely, having slower readers listen to students who read at slightly faster rates may be beneficial to the slower readers oral reading fluency. Future research should determine whether this finding holds true for comprehension as well. At this point in time, it is unclear how reading comprehension is affected by these practices, but these improvements in fluency do not imply concomitant improvement in comprehension.

The results of this study seem to indicate that more closely approximating a student's oral reading rate does not enhance the effectiveness of LWR over that observed with a faster LWR rate. However, the results do add support to the existing body of literature that has shown LWR to be an effective method of increasing students' oral reading fluency. Further investigation in this area is needed to address the limitations of this study. A prime avenue is the use of computer programs that will allow for more control of the reading rates.
Table 1 Average Preview Rates for Slow and Fast Conditions

Participant Slow Rate Fast Rate

Stephanie 2.6% 21.6%
John 4.0% 22.0%
Susan 4.5% 24.6%
Scott 3.2% 19.0%

Table 2 Median WCPM Scores

Participant Baseline Slow Rate Fast Rate Follow Up

Stephanie 84 95.5 87 69
John 67 85 102 107
Susan 65 86 90 84
Scott 56 89.5 94 68

Table 3 Median Accuracy Scores

Participant Baseline Slow Rate Fast Rate Follow Up

Stephanie 96.6 97.8 97.1 95.3
John 92.8 95.5 97.4 98.2
Susan 92.9 96.6 95.4 94.4
Scott 91.2 96.6 98.1 95.5

Note. All scores rounded to the nearest tenth.


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Timothy M. Lionetti

Marywood University

Christine L. Cole

Lehigh University

Author note: Timothy M. Lionetti, Marywood University, 2300 Abrams, Scranton, PA 18509. Phone: (570) 348-6211; E-mail: lionetti@marywood.
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Author:Lionetti, Timothy M.; Cole, Christine L.
Publication:Education & Treatment of Children
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Date:May 1, 2004
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