Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Using Experimental Analysis to Identify Reading Fluency Interventions: Connecting the Dots

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Using Experimental Analysis to Identify Reading Fluency Interventions: Connecting the Dots

Article excerpt


This article reviews the conceptualization, measurement, and design of brief experimental analysis for oral reading fluency problems. It presents examples from the literature of how brief experimental analysis results have been used to generate effective treatments for a variety of different applications (e.g., parent tutoring, small group, self-managed interventions). It also describes three different approaches investigators have taken to conducting brief experimental analyses. Finally, the article describes a method for conducting a single trial brief experimental analysis that will allow practitioners to quickly and efficiently identify potential interventions designed to address skill and performance based oral reading fluency deficits. Limitations and areas where future research is needed are discussed.

Keywords: Academic performance, curriculum-based measurement, experimental analysis, oral reading fluency, stimulus control.


Behavior Analysts frequently have legitimate reason to bemoan how their work is characterized by others. Their contributions are often marginalized and criticized in mainstream educational circles by individuals who may prioritize paradigm preferences and philosophical biases over the quality of results produced by differing educational methods. Yet, from time to time a remark from outside of behavior analytic circles rings true and, if we are not too quick to dismiss it, may provide us with fresh insight into the nature of our work. In this case, the comment came several years ago from a then 4-year old daughter of a doctoral student in school psychology. When she saw her mother's graphs of data, the daughter exclaimed, "Oh! It's connect-the-dots!" (Christine Bonfiglio, personal communication, 2002). Lest this commentary be dismissed as merely a cute reflection of an innocent who knew nothing about behavior analytic practices, we wish to point out that this little girl's point reveals a profound truth about our work. Her understanding may be greater than we are willing to give her credit for, even if she understood nothing about principles of reinforcement or stimulus control.

To this little girl, the activity of connecting the dots was sure to produce a picture out of an otherwise incomprehensible jumble of markings on the page. To the behavior analyst, the markings (dots) represent snapshots of behavior at various points in time and under various conditions. And just as the little girl confidently assumed that someone created an order to the dots for her to discover if she persisted with the task, behavior analysts confidently assume that there are predictable functional relationships that will allow them to put meaning and order to the picture in spite of the myriad of variables that may be operating to distract or overwhelm their attention. It is our intention in this paper to provide guidance in how to bring order to the dots associated with oral reading fluency problems. When analyses are appropriately structured, the "connections" between the dots provide valuable stimuli that can be used to occasion more effective teaching methods.

The remainder of this paper will be devoted to unfolding more completely what exactly it is that we are or should be assessing for reading fluency problems and how to fit direct measures of student reading performance into experimental analyses that can inform intervention selection in classrooms and schools. To this end, after conceptualizing the task, we review the literature on experimental analyses whose chief purpose has been to facilitate intervention selection (as opposed to a broader or more comprehensive review of experimental analyses of academic performance). Finally, we outline some ways in which these methods can be used efficiently by educational personnel to resolve reading fluency problems.

Word Reading and Its Measurement

In order for the dots to represent a meaningful educational picture, we must first ask what the conditions are that generate the dots in the first place. …

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