Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Balanced, Strategic Reading Instruction for Upper-Elementary and Middle School Students with Reading Disabilities: A Comparative Study of Two Approaches

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Balanced, Strategic Reading Instruction for Upper-Elementary and Middle School Students with Reading Disabilities: A Comparative Study of Two Approaches

Article excerpt

In this study we compared the use of two supplemental balanced and strategic reading interventions that targeted the decoding, fluency, and reading comprehension of upper-elementary and middle school students with reading disabilities (RD). All students had significant delays in decoding, fluency, comprehension, and language processing. Two comparable, intensive tutorial treatments differed only in the degree of explicitness of the comprehension strategy instruction. Overall, there was meaningful progress in students' reading decoding, fluency, and comprehension. Gains in formal measures of word attack and reading fluency after five weeks of intervention translated into grade-equivalent gains of approximately half a school year. Analysis of the trends in the daily informal fluency probes translated into a weekly gain of 1.28 correct words per minute. The more explicit comprehension strategy instruction was more effective than the less explicit treatment. Findings are discussed in light of the question of how to maximize the effects of reading interventions for older children with RD.


Despite increasing evidence that systematic approaches to teaching phonemic awareness and decoding skills within a "balanced" literacy environment positively affects the reading abilities of primary-grade students, a significant number of students enter the upper-elementary and middle school grades with significant deficits in their ability to read (Chall, 2000; Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Schatschneider, & Mehta, 1994; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Torgesen et al., 2001). Many of these students are subsequently identified for special education services. Specifically, of the approximately 2,887,217 school-age children in the United States who are receiving services for learning disabilities (LD) (U.S. Department of Education, 2002), the majority are identified based on deficits in reading (Lyon et al., 2001; Shaywitz, 2003). Some of these upper-elementary and middle school children are so delayed in reading that they not only have deficient comprehension skills, but also struggle with basic, automatic word identification, decoding, and fluency (Fletcher, Morris, & Lyon, 2003).

Instructing these older children with reading disabilities (RD) in both word identification and comprehension presents unique challenges as well as opportunities. On the one hand, there is concern that these students have passed the age when reading skills can most easily be gained, and that their reading deficits have become relatively resistant to remediation by the time they reach the upper elementary grades (Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz, & Fletcher, 1996; Lyon et al., 2001). There is the additional challenge of overcoming years of inefficient compensatory strategies and discouragement, and in finding text that is age appropriate and yet accessible. On the other hand, older children provide instructors with the opportunity to take advantage of increasing potential in metacognitive and cognitive strategies, and a growing world knowledge. Increased capabilities and knowledge coupled with the depth of their decoding, fluency, and comprehension deficits suggest that meaningful reading interventions for older children with RD will differ in both intensity and quality from those for primary-age students.

In this study we compared the efficacy of two variations of a balanced reading intervention. The treatments were balanced in that they included a compilation of research-based approaches to accelerating gains in decoding, fluency, and comprehension. While both treatments included direct and strategic instruction in phonemic awareness/analysis, decoding, and fluency, they varied in the degree of explicitness in the comprehension strategy instruction used.

Research on Reading Interventions for Students with RD

In isolating elements of reading, the researcher runs the risk of misrepresenting reading to the learner or missing essential instructional features. …

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