Theresa Jacksis & Lisa Yacoviello
University of Bridgeport
School of Education and Human Resources
This article describes reading intervention strategies at the primary and secondary levels. The primary level focuses on the effectiveness of small group literacy instruction and the role that gender plays in reading achievement. At the secondary level, the reading intervention focus is on a specific reading strategies course and its impact on student achievement. This article gives a rationale for conducting this research and explores previous research in this field as well. At the elementary level, this study provided further support for the benefits of small group instruction and its positive effect on children’s literacy achievement. In addition, the study brought to light the effect that gender can play in small group literacy instruction. The research that was done at the secondary level has shown that intensive, scientifically validated reading programs do make a positive difference in achievement.
The expectations placed upon students today are increasing in a variety of ways. Students are working hard to meet district, state and national standards in all subject areas. Now more than ever, educators are exploring options to find ways to reach the needs of all of their students to help them achieve the goals set before them. The purpose of this paper is two-fold. The primary level will focus upon the effect of small group instruction in the area of literacy as an intervention method as well as the role that gender plays on student achievement in this area. The secondary level will focus upon analyzing the effectiveness of a reading intervention course for struggling readers. The information gained from this study will assist educators in making instructional decisions that will help students progress toward local and national goals.
The importance of early reading cannot be emphasized enough. Educators know that children who are struggling in reading in the primary grades often remain behind their classmates as they progress throughout their academic career. The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Alliance for Excellent Education have reported close to eight million students ranging in grades 4 through 12 are not reading at grade level (Hasselbring, 2002). Now that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) federally mandates and regulates state testing for all students, standardized tests play a major role in education today. Children typically take one or more standardized tests each year and oftentimes teachers devote a significant amount of class time preparing for these tests. Many states administer “high stakes” tests, which can have a significant impact on school assessment and funding, determine students’ placement in classes, or even prevent grade promotion. (Woodward & Talbert- Johnson, 2009)
With all the emphasis placed upon standardized tests, educators at the primary level are evaluating the success of small group instruction as an intervention method as well as the role that gender plays in student learning within a small group setting. At the secondary level, educators are evaluating the effectiveness of a structured reading intervention program.
Review of the Literature
It has been stated that in general, girls perform better than boys in reading, regardless of the criteria used to assess their competency in this area (Moss, 2000). Several researchers have suggested that one reason for this is that boys choose to read nonfiction more than other genres both inside and outside of school (Guzzetti et al., 2002; Topping, Samuels, & Paul, 2008; Moss, 2000; Farris et al., 2009). The reason why this becomes troublesome for boys is, according to Guzzetti et al. (2002) “school reading is more pertinent to the interests of girls than to boys and it showed gender disparities in instructional reading practice” (p. 55). Usually, the majority of books read in classrooms are narrative texts, and boys prefer nonfiction texts which are not typically available to them. Furthermore, it has been shown that boys appear to read less than girls, and proportionately more nonfiction, but as boys continue to advance throughout the grades, they begin to read less carefully, which results in lower reading achievement (Topping, Samuels, & Paul, 2008). Another factor that comes into play when examining the role of gender and literacy achievement is children’s perceptions related to reading achievement (Moss, 2000; Lynch, 2002). According to Lynch (2002) “children’s selfperceptions as readers are significantly related to their reading achievement” (p. 54). In the classroom, when proficiency judgments about reading abilities were made highly visible, boys who were weaker readers (compared to girls who were weaker readers) spent much more time trying to disguise their lack of reading success, and they often began to read more nonfiction than fiction text. Gender grouping also has a noticeable effect upon participation (Guzzetti et al., 2002; Aukrust, 2008). Boys typically participate more across all grade levels, regardless of whether the teacher was male or female; however the difference in girls’ and boys’ participation was less in a classroom with a female teacher rather than a male teacher (Aukrust, 2008). It has been suggested by Guzzetti et al. (2002) that teachers form small groups by gender for discussion because this provides females with more opportunities to participate in discussions and they feel safer participating when grouped on the basis of their gender.
It has been stated that early intervention and quality of instruction are keys to assisting struggling readers (Woodward & Talbert-Johnson, 2009). In order to provide children with the support they need, small group instruction has been utilized in classrooms as an intervention model in all grade levels. Several researchers have described small group instruction as a valuable practice which yields several benefits (Ganske, Monroe, & Strickland 2003; Woodward & Talbert-Johnson, 2009; Wasik, 2008; McIntyre et al., 2005). In a study conducted by Woodward & Talbert-Johnson (2009), classroom teachers reported that small group instruction allows the teacher to focus in on students’ needs with minimal distractions, and teachers were able to work with students in homogenous groups which allowed for student growth. This is further supported by Ganske, Monroe, & Strickland (2003) and Wasik (2008) who stated that the small group setting allows teachers to maintain the focus and attention of children they are working with who may otherwise disengage, and this setting is more conducive for teachers to monitor students’ reading behavior and adjust their instruction. Foorman & Torgesen (2001) contend that instruction for children who have difficulties in reading must be more explicit and comprehensive, more intensive, and more supportive than instruction required by the majority of students. Small group instruction is one approach that can increase the intensity of instruction for children who are experiencing reading difficulties. A study conducted by Menzies, Mahdavi, & Lewis (2008) came to similar conclusions where three research-based strategies were implemented to minimize the occurrence of reading difficulties. One strategy implemented was instruction characterized by high intensity through the use of groups with a low student-teacher ratio. At the outcome of the study, students showed marked improvement in their reading abilities. Small group instruction also allows students more time to interact with adults focusing on literacy (McIntyre et al., 2005) and when children have more opportunities to express themselves, there is a positive impact on their language development (Wasik, 2008).
Secondary and primary levels seek to improve both fluency and comprehension for students as well as increase student achievement in reading among struggling readers. Two important components of comprehension include determining importance and synthesis (Harvey and Goudvis, 2007). When students can construct meaning and then formulate their own opinion and connect prior knowledge to their thinking, they are more equipped to tackle content area reading. In order for students to procure these strategies, explicit teaching is imperative. One way to explicitly model effective comprehension strategies is through an interactive read aloud (Harvey and Goudvis, 2007; Gallagher, 2003). Teachers can explicitly model how to use the reading comprehension strategies when they are reading so students can use them to construct meaning. Research shows that even if teachers teach just one comprehension strategy that can improve students’ comprehension (Gill, 2008). Reading aloud not only enhances comprehension, but it’s an opportunity for teachers to immerse their students in wonderful literature (Harvey and Goudvis, 2007).
Sustained, silent, independent reading is another component that improves fluency and builds vocabulary. Students need to read extensively and the only way to improve is by practice. Teachers need to build time in their day for students to read independently (Harvey and Goudvis, 2007). Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (2007) state that Sustained, Silent Reading (SSR) directly correlates with higher reading scores. The more students read the higher they scored on standardized reading tests (Table 1).
Table 1: Correlation of Minutes Read and Percentile Rank on Standardized Tests
Teachers need to provide a structured reading program. Part of that structure is students recording what they are reading and how many pages read. Having students keep track of their reading shows them the progress they are making as readers. Having students chart their reading progress enables them to recognize their advancement as readers (Gallagher, 2003). Reading takes time and practice. The message students need to hear is that reading is important, and yes, reading is hard. If students are shown how to do it, given time to read, and exposed to high interest materials, teachers will see significant growth in students’ fluency, comprehension, and enjoyment of reading (Gallagher, 2003).
Fluency and vocabulary development come with repeated practice. Students need to be shown how good readers use the context while reading to figure out unfamiliar words. The more practice with that, the greater the chance to improve vocabulary. Though direct vocabulary instruction is still necessary, students need to know that vocabulary acquisition comes from reading a multitude of authors and genres.
Lastly, intensive reading programs can show measurable change in a student’s progress in reading. The format that seems to be most effective is a 90 minute class; Whole group minilesson followed by three rotations of SSR, small group direct instruction with the teacher, and a scientifically validated computer program for about 20 minutes each (WWC, 2009).
The elementary level of this study examined the effect of small group instruction on 3rd grade students’ reading comprehension achievement as measured by the students’ scores on the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) section of the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT). The DRP is a nationally norm-referenced test that measures reading as a process. The DRP assesses students’ ability to use information in the text to figure out the meaning of the text. The DRP is comprised of several nonfiction passages on a variety of topics. Within each passage, words have been deleted and students are asked to select the correct word for each deletion in the text. The items in the test are designed to measure how well students’ process and understand text. (CSDE, 2005) This study also examined the effect of gender on the DRP scores of these students.
At the secondary level, the study focused on the improvement of academic reading performance of students enrolled in a reading intervention course as measured by their performance on the reading strands of the Connecticut Academic Performance Test. The CAPT is a standard measure of assessment utilized in the state of Connecticut. It is aligned with the State’s curriculum framework and provides information about how students are performing in the areas of Reading, Writing, Mathematics, and Science.
Description of the Setting and the Participants
Research for the elementary level of this study was conducted at a suburban school district in the northeast region of the United States. The school has a population of approximately 500 students. This school is in Educational Reference Group B (ERG-B). According to the Connecticut State Department of Education (2009), ERG’s were developed to compare groups of districts with similar characteristics such as median family income, level of parent’s education, and primary language other than English spoken in the home. ERG-A is considered to include the state’s wealthiest communities while ERG-I includes its poorest, ERG-B describes districts that are wealthy, though they are not included in the state’s wealthiest communities. (CSDE, 2005)
The participants of the elementary level of the study were seventeen (17) students, twelve (12) male and five (5) female. The participants were chosen because of their scores on the third grade DRP section of the Connecticut Mastery Test. The participants of the study scored below the goal score for third grade on the DRP or narrowly achieved the goal score. The participants do not include any students in Special Education programs or English Language Learners.
The secondary study took place in a suburban school district in the northeastern part of the United States. The participants were high school sophomores enrolled in the reading intervention course. There were thirteen (13) participants, six (6) female and seven (7) male. The participants were of diverse ethnicities, six (6) of the participants were English Language Learners and seven (7) were identified as receiving Special Education services. The participants were heterogeneously grouped and their learning needs varied from reading below grade level, inability to progress at a continuous rate, slow processing of material, lack of motivation, behavioral, and a lack of focus and/or attention. The results of the CAPT are used on the secondary level to assess the participants’ level of competency in the skill areas necessary for graduation and for the purpose of this study, specifically, Reading for Information and Responding to Literature.
The first step in carrying out the elementary level of this study was closely examining the third grade DRP scores for the 2008-09 school year and identifying students who either scored below the goal score or who narrowly achieved the goal score. The researcher identified students for the study. The Reading Specialist in the school trained paraprofessionals in the school in literacy instruction in order to work with students within small groups. More specifically, paraprofessionals were trained in reading strategies to teach students how to use information in the text to figure out the meaning of the text. The students were then placed into three groups of three and two groups of four for small group instruction. The students were placed in their groups based upon which classroom they were in. The paraprofessionals worked with the students in small groups from the end of September until March (right before the CMT’s were administered). The students were met with four times per week for thirty minutes. The students took the CMT in March of 2010. The CMT’s were scored by the State of Connecticut Department of Education, and the scores were sent to the schools by the end of the summer. After the results of the CMT’s were sent to the schools, the DRP scores of the individual participants were analyzed by the Reading and Language Arts Consultant.
The participants at the secondary level were placed in a reading intervention class as freshmen based on their middle school CMT scores, specifically, not making goal. The participants met five days a week for approximately 42 minutes each day. The researcher began each session with an interactive, high interest read aloud. The researcher modeled strategies through think alouds and questioning. Participants responded to various comprehension strategies orally as a whole group, in partners, and in reading logs daily. The participants also participated in independent, sustained, silent reading in a book at their level or interest. In addition, the participants had practice skill and drill in fluency, phonics, decoding skills, word recognition, vocabulary development, spelling, and comprehension in a scientifically, validated computer program. Lastly, the researcher worked with small groups of participants in vocabulary instruction, summarization, main idea or making connections. The researcher determined which skills the flexible groups needed to master at that time. Groups were ability based determined by scores achieved on a reading survey test to assess reading achievement. Direct instruction was explicit, systematic, and scaffolded.
In the elementary study, all of the participants’ DRP scores improved after receiving the small group intervention. Tables 1 and 2 show the male and female DRP scores before and after intervention (see Appendix A). The goal score for the DRP in fourth grade is 54. Seventy five percent of the male participants and eighty percent of the female participants achieved goal after the intervention. The average point increase for male participants on the DRP was 10.25, and the average point increase for female participants was 6.
The secondary study revealed that after forty weeks of a reading intervention class, eight of the thirteen students (62%) met goal or above on the Response to Literature strand; the control group was slightly higher. However, the number of students meeting goal was lower on the Reading for Information strand on the CAPT exam. Three out of thirteen students (23%) met or exceeded goal. 77% did not. Four students were actually one point away from making goal. The control group was varied.
Due to the fact that all of the participants of the elementary study had an increase in their DRP score, it is evident that small group instruction was an effective intervention method to increase students’ reading achievement. The small group instruction that students were part of in the present study provided them with intense, explicit instruction on reading strategies. This type of intervention has been shown to be effective in several studies carried out in the past (Ganske, Monroe, & Strickland, 2003; Woodward & Talbert-Johnson, 2009; Wasik, 2008; McIntyre et al., 2005). The present study provides further support for small group instruction as a form of quality instruction that supports struggling readers.
In addition to examining the effect of small group instruction on students’ reading comprehension achievement, the present study was focusing upon the effect that gender had on the DRP scores of the students receiving small group instruction. Research has indicated that in general, girls perform better than boys in reading (Moss, 2000). This information would suggest that girls would make more growth in their DRP scores after receiving the small group instruction. However, this is not consistent with the results of the present study. On average, male participants scored 4.25 points higher on their DRP scores than females did. One possible reason for the outcome of the present study is the type of text being utilized within the study. The participants of the study were chosen based upon their DRP scores, and the DRP is a test which uses nonfiction text. Research has shown that boys tend to choose fact books and informational books when reading (Farris et. al, 2009). Since males tend to prefer to read nonfiction text, this could account for the higher level of achievement of males within the present study. The males might have been more engaged during the small group instruction, which would lead to retaining more information that was taught during the intervention, resulting in higher achievement on the DRP test. According to Guzzetti et al. (2002), the majority of books read in classrooms are narrative texts, so most instructional time in reading is focused on fiction texts. Although there is a portion of time allotted to nonfiction in the classroom, it is not given as much attention as fiction. In the present study, there were more male participants than female participants. Since most instruction in the classroom focuses on fictional text, males might not have been attentive in learning and applying strategies that have been taught in class. Females could possibly have used what they learned about reading fiction text and applied it to their nonfiction reading during the initial test on the DRP. Since males might not have been as invested in reading activities taking place in class, they might not have been as equipped with strategies to achieve goal on the initial DRP test. This could be a potential reason for the larger size of male participants in the present study. This could also explain why males outperformed females after they were explicitly taught during the small group instruction how to use the information in the text to figure out the meaning of the text when reading nonfiction.
In the present elementary study, the students were grouped with other students from their homeroom class, but not by gender. According to Guzzetti et al. (2002), it is recommended that teachers form small groups by gender because it provides females with more opportunities to participate and they feel safer in participating rather than when students are grouped heterogeneously by gender. This reasoning could be another possible explanation of the results of the present study. It could explain the higher point increase for males on individual DRP test scores after intervention.
White, Haslam and Hewes (2006) carried out a large scale evaluation of a scientifically validated computer program in Phoenix. This same intervention program was used in the researcher’s study at the secondary level. The intervention groups were low achieving ninth graders from across the district. The intervention groups used this specific scientifically validated computer program for a full school year. At the end of the school year, the intervention groups scored higher on the SAT than the control groups, exactly 1.3 normal curve equivalents (NCE). There were even larger positive effects for ELL students. However, one year later, as sophomores, the intervention groups and control groups had identical scores on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards reading test.
A similar study was conducted in urban areas of Los Angeles, California. Mostly Hispanic students, half of which were ELL and had been retained, received reading instruction through the use of a scientifically validated computer program daily. Again, the intervention groups made substantially greater gains on the reading portion of the SAT compared to their well-matched control group from across the district (Papalewis, 2004). On the contrary, an intervention group composed mostly of African American students from Little Rock, Arkansas who received reading instruction daily through the use of a scientifically validated computer program did not perform as well as their well-matched control group on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) reading portion (Mims, Lowther, Strahl, and Nunnery, 2006).
Why did the intervention groups score significantly better on the reading portion of the SAT but not on the ITBS or the CAPT? Is the SAT designed in such a way that aligns with this specific scientifically validated computer reading program? The intervention group scored significantly lower on the Reading for Information strand of the CAPT and slightly lower on the Response to Literature strand of the CAPT. Since the setting was the researcher’s direct work setting, the researcher noted that there were certain intervention participants more intrinsically motivated to improve than others. Those that were motivated showed progress and increased achievement from their pre to post reading survey test. Evidence shows that with the rate of increase of these motivated participants, perhaps their confidence would grow and they would be able to succeed in all facets of reading. It’s not that they will be the best readers in the general population, but their skills will have improved.
Limitations of Study
One of the limitations of the elementary study is the number of participants. There were 17 students (12 male and 5 female). The small sample size makes it difficult to generalize to the entire population of students. In addition, the paraprofessionals all received the same training in literacy instruction by the Reading Specialist. However, each paraprofessionals’ educational background and prior literacy training is unknown. This could have an impact on the quality of instruction that was delivered within the small groups.
There were several limitations to the secondary study. First, the size of the participant group was small. Secondly, the study focused on quantitative measures of reading and there are qualitative and correlational measures of the intervention program that were not measured by CAPT; and in addition, the scientifically validated computer program is designed to be effective with 90 minutes of daily use, whereas, the intervention group received about 15-20 minutes daily. Finally, because the research site was the researcher’s “immediate work setting” (Creswell, 2003, pg. 184), the researcher acknowledged that bias might have occurred with participants since the classroom was shared by the researcher and a colleague.
The purpose of the study at the elementary level was two-fold. The primary purpose was to investigate the effect of small group instruction on students’ reading comprehension achievement. This study provided further support for the benefits of small group instruction and its positive effect on children’s literacy achievement. The secondary purpose of this study was to examine the role that gender played in the literacy learning of the students in the small group instruction. Throughout this study, it became evident that the type of text that was used with students was a very important variable. It is important for teachers to try to maintain a balance between fiction and nonfiction text in the classroom. Keeping this information in mind can assist teachers in making instructional decisions that will help them to reach the needs of all of their students.
At the secondary level, if students are having difficulties decoding, understanding vocabulary, and comprehending texts, then their achievement in their academic content areas will most likely be impeded. Investigating the nature of this breakdown, focusing exclusively in reading, will lead to determining what factors are interfering in this area. Giving students effective feedback while conferring, will assist them in the process of understanding what is preventing them from being strategic readers and demonstrating the possible strategies they can implement to begin to remediate their difficulties. There are still many integral parts of this puzzle to piece together, but research has shown that intensive, scientifically validated reading programs do make a positive difference in achievement.
The elementary level study provides further support for the effectiveness of small group instruction. It is important for teachers to continue to utilize this method of instruction in classrooms, especially in reading instruction as a way to address students’ diverse needs. This study also highlights the importance of gender in reading instruction. The results of the study reinforce the idea that boys tend to read more nonfiction. It is essential for teachers to try to balance the amount of fiction and nonfiction that is used in the classroom to maintain the interest of the male population in their classrooms. Furthermore, this study leads teachers to think about the importance of explicitly teaching students how many comprehension strategies that they use when reading fiction texts are the same strategies that can be used when reading nonfiction texts. This can assist teachers in maximizing their instructional time and satisfying the reading interests of both males and females in their classrooms. Finally, this study touches upon the idea that females are more able to take risks and participate in group discussions when they are grouped by gender. This could be valuable to teachers when making decisions on instructional grouping.
Since the researcher cannot amend the time periods of the school day at the secondary level, the researcher recommends that the teacher maintain rigor and time-on-task. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 35% of undergraduates took remedial reading classes in 2000 (Christie, 2008). The interventions that are implemented need to be monitored for methodology, quantity, and progress. In this type of program it is imperative that the focus be on students’ needs. The addition of a literacy coach could complement the Reading and Language Arts consultants and assist in meeting the many diverse needs of the remedial population in many academic areas. Another recommendation is for professional development for secondary teachers in adolescent literacy instruction. Many secondary level teachers may not have had instruction in teaching reading, but with sustained, systemic training, and the tools necessary to address adolescent literacy, they will be able to better support literacy achievement.
The information gained from the studies at the elementary and secondary level in conjunction with previous studies that have been conducted in the area of reading intervention will ultimately assist educators in making instructional decisions that will help students progress towards achieving the district, state, and national standards set before them.
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