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Considerable progress has been made toward the goal of addressing effective reading instruction for the beginning reader (National Reading Panel, 2000 [NRP]). However, research on the low-achieving adolescent reader is in the early stages (van Steensel, Oostdam, van Gelderen & van Schooten, 2016). While we know the systematic instruction in lower order skills (i.e. decoding) is effective for the younger reader's comprehension, there is not a strong relationship between decoding and comprehension for a reader past the sixth grade (van Steensel, Oostdam, van Gelderen & van Schooten, 2016).

Adolescents have different requirements as readers in school than do younger students. Middle and junior high school students are required to read and comprehend a variety of complex and lengthy genres, as well as to communicate effectively with a more sophisticated vocabulary (Ghelani, Sidhu, Jain & Tannock, 2004;Wendt, 2013). In order to comprehend text at this level and utilize key terms, adolescent students need to have an enhanced vocabulary, an understanding of complex sentence structure, and the ability to understand the material (O'Connor et al., 2002). If these students have gaps in their skills, they often cannot read grade-level material and therefore have difficulty in subjects that require extensive reading. Yet using simpler materials at their instructional level may not provide the necessary skills for such students to perform the complex comprehension strategies they need in the higher grades, leaving them with limited access to the general education curriculum (Carver & Leibert, 1995). These adolescents are likely to hit a "literary ceiling" because they will not be able to retrieve the information from the books and materials that are part of their curriculum (Schoenbach, Greenleaf, Cziko, & Hurwitz, 2000; Wendt, 2013).

Older struggling readers have many hurdles to jump as they learn to read. Because they have a scattering of acquired skills, such as decoding, these students can manage to read material, but they may have difficulty with fluency and comprehension (Paige, Rasinski, Magpuri-Lavell, 2012; Rasinski, Reutzel, Chard, & Linan-Thompson, 2011). These readers also have poor metacognitive skills; they often cannot make analogies or use other self-monitoring systems to aid in comprehension (O'Connor et al., 2007; van Steensel, Oostdam, van Gelderen & van Schooten, 2016).

An additional factor that should be considered is choice of reading material. Research has demonstrated that adolescents' motivation to read increases when they use material that is interesting to them (Bifuh Ambe, 2007; Boardsman et al., 2008). Adolescent students must be motivated to read, and allowing students to select the reading material will increase their engagement of the learning task. (Cantrell, Almasi, Rintamaa & Carter, 2016).

The purpose of this study was to determine if explicit and systematic reading instruction would improve the comprehension and oral reading fluency of adolescents at some risk for academic failure. By using student-selected, grade appropriate reading material it was proposed that the students' reading performance would improve to a level at which they would achieve grade level targets.


Participants and Setting

This study was conducted in a small urban school in the Northeast.


All students in seventh and eighth grade completed the Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation (GRADE), a standard process completed by the school for these grade levels. The GRADE is a norm-referenced, standardized test of reading achievement. The GRADE components include vocabulary, sentence comprehension, passage comprehension and listening comprehension (Williams, 2001). The reading specialist at the school identified those students whose test scores on the GRADE were between one and two standard deviations below the mean. Forty students were identified by district personnel to participate in this study. Invitations were sent to those forty students and their parents to participate. Twenty students returned consent forms agreeing to participate in the study. Ten students were randomly selected for the experimental group and the other ten remained in the school district instruction condition (control group).


Baseline. To determine the students' reading proficiency at the outset of the study, the Woodcock Reading Mastery-III (Woodcock, 2011) subtests of Word Identification, Word Attack, Passage Comprehension and a grade-level passage to measure a student's oral reading fluency were administered to both the students in the experimental group and the control group.


Prior to starting the intervention, each student completed a survey indicating a preference in the selection of three books that he or she would like to read. These books were selected because they had a lexile level of 800 or below. Each student was given one vote. By consensus, The Maze Runner (Dashner, J. 2009; HL 770L) was selected for the intervention.

During the next 12 weeks, the researchers provided systematic reading instruction for 25-30 minutes three days per week. Intervention was conducted on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Students absent from session were not provided extra intervention. This aligned with the intervention the students in the control were receiving through the school. An interventionist worked with groups of 3 or 4 students in a private room away from the classroom and hall to minimize distractions.

The systematic and explicit reading instruction replaced thirty minutes of the student's regular English/Language intervention period. Student engagement was supported with a reward system. Such systems have been found to increase student compliance and on-task behavior (Daly, Garbacz, Olson, Persampieri, and Ni, 2006). If the students followed all directions and remained on task during the session, they received a ticket. Every two weeks, a student's name was drawn and s/he received a gift card (maximum $10.00) to a local store.

The intervention designed for the groups is summarized in Table 1.

In the first three to five minutes of each session, students reread a segment of the text that had been taught during the preceding session. Research has demonstrated that the Repeated Reading strategy facilitates growth in oral reading fluency (Hapstack & Tracey, 2007; Huang, Nelson, & Nelson, 2008; NRP, 2000).

The second portion of the instruction, also lasting three to five minutes, included word reading and vocabulary instruction in anticipation of the text segment that would be read that day. Ten words with two or more syllables were selected per lesson based on their usefulness for comprehension of the that day's text. Of those ten words, two-three were selected and students were explicitly taught the vocabulary words using robust vocabulary instruction, including a student-friendly definition, explicit examples and checking for understanding (Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002; Archer& Hughes, 2010).

The researchers used choral reading (reading together), whisper reading (students read quietly while the teacher monitored the reading) and reading aloud during the 10-15 minutes of oral reading. Each of these strategies has been identified in the literature as supporting oral reading fluency (MacDonald, 2010; Archer, Gleason, & Vachon, 2003). The strategies were used in alternation simply to provide some variety to the students' experiences. If a student did not know a word, the researcher provided assistance either by requesting that the student sound out the word or providing the word if the attempt failed. Additionally, each group had to read each selection at least twice. This practice is known to improve fluency and word recognition (O'Connor, 2007).

In the final three to five minutes of instruction, the students orally answered prepared questions based in the story. These questions included both literal comprehension questions and higher-order questions that required students to make inferences and predictions based upon the text. If the student had difficulty answering a question and it could be answered by reading the text, the researcher directed the student to read the specific paragraph and asked the question a second time. If s/he still could not answer the question, the student would be directed to the specific sentence and asked the question a third time. If the question was one that required higher-order thinking skills, the student would be asked a question using simpler syntax. The students concluded each session by writing a narrative summary of the story segment they had read that day.



Four assessments from the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test--3 (Word Identification, Word Attack, Comprehension, and Fluency) were completed by each participant in the pre-intervention phase and post-intervention phase of the study. For the Word Identification, Word Attack, and comprehension subtests, scores were calculated on a yes/no basis, and the participants each were assigned the calculated standardized score for that subtest. For the fluency subtest, a raw score was rendered based on how many words each participant read in one minute, with errors subtracted.


A series of independent sample t-tests were conducted, which found that no significant differences existed between the control and experimental group on any measure at the time of pre-test assessment. These scores are summarized in Table 2 Based on the analysis of pre-test scores, any differences found at post-test cannot be attributed to pre-existing differences between groups. After the 12-week intervention was delivered, all four assessments were again given at post-test. As both groups did receive reading help, the researchers expected that both groups would post gains on the post-test reading assessments. Our hypothesis, therefore, was to determine whether significantly greater gains were observed in the experimental condition than in the control group. To make this comparison, the magnitude of the gain was calculated by subtracting scores on the pre-test for each participant from the scores on the post-test for that same participant. Groups were then compared by independent sample t-tests on these gain scores to determine whether gains were significantly greater in the control or the experimental group.

Findings are summarized in Table 3. These comparisons show that the experimental group made significantly greater gains in both comprehension and fluency than the control group did during the 12-week intervention.

Interestingly, for the Word Identification, comprehension, and fluency assessments, the mean gain score for the control group was actually a loss. Only in the Word Attack control group was a mean positive gain posted. However, in all four assessments for the experimental group, a mean positive gain was found. This mean negative gain score in assessments of the control group is notable because both groups received reading help, and thus both groups were expected to show improvements in the post-test relative to pre-test. This finding is surprising, as our expectation was not to find a lack of improvement, only to find greater levels of improvement in the experimental group than the control group.

To further explore this phenomenon, paired sample t-tests were used to determine whether significant differences existed between the pre- and post-test of each assessment for each participant. In the control group, no difference was found between pre- and post-tests on any of the four assessments as indicated in Table 4.

Despite receiving reading help during the 12 weeks, the control group did not appreciably improve in any of the four areas of assessment. This finding suggests that the regular reading instruction the participants were receiving did not, in fact, help them at all. However, for the experimental group, a significant difference was found in both the comprehension and fluency. These findings show that the experimental group made significant improvements in both comprehension and fluency after the 12-week intervention. The intervention was successful in improving reading comprehension and fluency, though, as with the control group, Word Identification and Word Attack showed the intervention did not actually improve the participants' vocabulary or sound identification.


The purpose of this study was to determine whether the intervention improved the fluency and comprehension skills of adolescents who were at-risk of not making grade level gains. After providing our participants with direct and explicit instruction in a variety of areas (word identification, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension), the researchers noted gains in fluency and comprehension. Although most intervention studies have focused on younger children with reading problems because that population is easier to remediate, the present study adds support to the theory that adolescents with reading problems may respond to an intervention that entails direct and explicit instruction (Bruhn & Watt, 2012; Cook et al., 2012; McIntosh, Sadler, & Brown, 2012).

First, we provided the participants with instruction in word reading skills and targeted the intervention around the multi-syllabic words that they may find difficult to read in the story. Students did not show significant gains in their word identification skills on the WRMT-R. This aligns with current research which states--that adolescent students may hit a ceiling when reading words in isolation and it may become insignificant in improving comprehension (Paige, Rasinski, Magpuri-Lavell, Smith, 2014). These students may only need minimal instruction of word reading (i.e., reading the words aloud) in order to assist with other reading competencies (i.e., fluency and comprehension).

Next the researchers had students read and reread passages in order to improve fluency. Additionally, the researcher provided assistance with words students could not read. Providing an adult who was skilled and consistent with this strategy may have aided in the experimental groups' improved fluency (O'Connor, Swanson & Geraghty, 2010).

Finally, the participant had to answer questions and summarize the story. If a student did not know the answer, scaffolding strategies were used to guide the student to the location of the answer in the text. Answering teacher-generated questions is an effective strategy to improve comprehension (Boardsman et al., 2008). Students also had to complete summaries of the text after each selection. Summarizing short selections of the story can aid in comprehension and by providing students with consistent practice and feedback, enabled them to consolidate the most important information from the text (Boardsman, et al., 2008). Using multiple strategies (Edmonds et al., 2009) and providing direct and explicit instruction for summarizing improves reading comprehension (Biancarosa, 2005) and may have been the reason for the marked gains in comprehension.

The findings of this current case study are hopeful and suggest that systematic reading instruction implemented for as little as 25 minutes daily may provide benefits for students having, or at-risk for, reading difficulties. Small group implementation may make the systematic reading instruction attractive to teachers and other school personnel.


Although we were aiming for a larger number of students, we were only able to complete the intervention with ten students. The current study was not designed to follow the students' reading performance longitudinally. It would be beneficial to know whether the gains in students' reading comprehension and oral reading rates were sustained and whether they generalized to typical classroom conditions.


Educators of struggling adolescent readers may consider using this type of systematic reading program to improve their students' reading skills. Tailoring a program to target each student's needs and providing consistent practice in attaining the necessary skills may possibly aid in student success. Also, this program is implemented within thirty minutes and uses general classroom materials. This allows the students to attend their regular English/reading classes and to receive intervention during a study skills period of the day. The social and academic demands placed on students as they advance through middle and high school are not inconsiderable. As students advance through the grades, instruction becomes increasingly reliant on the ability to read and comprehend expository text. Navigating textbooks, which may present multiple expository formats, organizationally complex, lengthy passages and conceptually dense content can present hurdles well beyond the acumen of the adolescent struggling reader. The promise of this study is that it demonstrates that teachers can assist struggling readers to improve their reading proficiency using the same texts that the students are studying in class by implementing a systematic reading intervention in as little as 30 minutes per day.


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Chatham University


Saint Vincent College


Chatham University
Table 1: Intervention Schedule

Time Interval  Procedure

3-5 Minutes    Repeated Reading
3-5 Minutes    Word reading
               Vocabulary Instruction

10-15 Minutes  Oral reading of new section of the
               text (twice)
3-5 Minutes    Summary and
               Comprehension Check

Time Interval  Example

3-5 Minutes    Reread 2 to 3 pages from previous day's reading.
3-5 Minutes    Multi-syllabic words were read aloud and vocabulary
               instruction provided on words in that day's segment of
10-15 Minutes  Choral reading, echo reading and paired (partnered with
               researcher) reading alternated for variety
3-5 Minutes    Oral comprehension questions and student written

Table 2: Comparison of Pre-test Scores on the WRMT-R.

Measure              Control Group   Intervention Group  [t.sub.(18)]
                     Mean [SD]       Mean [SD]

Word Attack           87.60 [18.08]   89.90 [16.10]       0.30
Word Identification   90.30 [19.04]   88.40 [8.30]       -0.29
Comprehension         83.20 [7.32]    77.50 [8.13]       -1.65
Fluency              117.10 [33.36|  134.20 [21.78]       1.36

Measure              p-value

Word Attack          0.385
Word Identification  0.389
Comprehension        0.067
Fluency              0.104

Table 3: Average Gain Independent Means t Test results.

Measure              Control Group  Intervention Group  [t.sub.(18)]
                     Mean [SD]      Mean [SD]

Word Attack          -5.40 [20.62]   4.40 [11.97]       1.30
Word Identification   6.90 [11.98]   8.40 [17.17]       0.23
Comprehension        -4.40 [11.25]   8.50 [6.38]        3.15
Fluency              -2.70 [23.23]  30.60 [18.55]       3.54

Measure              p-value

Word Attack          0.113
Word Identification  0.413
Comprehension        0.006
Fluency              0.003

Table 4: Paired Sample t Tests

Measure                           Control Group
                                  Mean [SD]
                     Pre-test        Post-test       [t.sub.(9)]

Word Attack           90.30 [19.04]   84.90 [10.29]  -0.83
Word Identification   87.60 [18.08]   94.50 [18.78    1.82
Comprehension         83.20 [7.32]    78.80 [11.12]  -1.24
Fluency              117.10 [33.36]  114.40 [26.88]  -0.37

Measure              Control Group     Intervention Group
                     Mean [SD]         Mean [SD]
                     p-value        Pre-test       Post-test

Word Attack          0.215          88.40 [8.30]    92.80 [16.23]
Word Identification  0.051          89.90 [16.10]   98.30 [16.55]
Comprehension        0.124          77.50 [8.13]    86.00 [9.94]
Fluency              0.36           77.50 [8.13]   134.20 [21.78]

Measure              Intervention Group
                     Mean [SD]
                     [t.sub.(9)]  p-value

Word Attack          1.16         0.138
Word Identification  1.55         0.078
Comprehension        4.21         0.001
Fluency              5.22         0.000
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Article Details
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Author:Harty, Kristin; Kanfush, Philip M.; Riordan, Monica
Publication:Reading Improvement
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2019

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