Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Senior Industry Fellow, School of Education, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.


All my blogs can be viewed on-line or downloaded as a Word file or PDF at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/olxpifutwcgvg8j/AABU8YNr4ZxiXPXzvHrrirR8a?dl=0

Complete PDF of the Teaching Reading in Secondary Schools is also here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/olxpifutwcgvg8j/AAAIKplGUIX1XqTgEnXBC4L1a/PDFs?dl=0&preview=Teaching+reading+in+secondary+schools.pdf

Teaching reading in secondary schools: Some theoret

ical and

practical issues.

Teaching reading in secondary schools: Some theoret

ical and

practical issues.

What is known about the reading difficulties experienced by a proportion of students entering secondary school (20-30% according to the National Reading Panel, 2000)?

What does it take to make a difference to their literacy at this relatively late stage in their schooling?

Though there is less known about effective reading intervention for older students, the research does provide us with some pointers. For a fuller description of this research, see Older students’ literacy problems (updated 2017)

How far behind might these student be?

The best way to find out is by screening all intake Year 7 students – either in their feeder schools late in their Year 6 or early in Year 7. It is a little more work to catch them late in Year 6, but it allows more time for intervention planning. Ideally, choose a test that has either a decoding or a word reading subtest. There are many such tests available, and obviously choosing an assessment that allows for group testing is more time-efficient.

Can research provide answers? Is there much research on secondary students' reading?

“Although research specific to adolescent literacy is not as extensive as research on beginning reading (Boulay, Goodson, Frye, Blocklin, & Price, 2015; Herrera, Truckenmiller, & Foorman, 2016; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), there is a strong and growing consensus that if what we currently know about literacy instruction for adolescents were more broadly applied in practice, there is “little doubt that levels of adolescent literacy would improve” (p. 1, Torgesen et al., 2007). A recent quantitative synthesis of reading programs for adolescents found 33 studies published between 1970 and 2007 involving 39,000 students (Slavin, Cheung, Groff, & Lake, 2008).” (p. 38-39)  

Fien, H., Anderson, D., Nelson, N.J., Kennedy, P., Baker, S.K., & Stoolmiller, M. (2018). Examining the impact and school-level predictors of impact variability of an 8th grade reading intervention on at-risk students’ reading achievement. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 33(1), 37–50.

Some relevant research

“The struggling readers in this study were multiple grade levels (3–7 years) behind their typically developing peers in reading ability. Results of both group and individual analyses indicate these older struggling readers can be remediated and for some, gains of two, three, four, or more years can be accomplished with only 1 year of instruction.” (p.588)

Calhoon, M. B., & Prescher, Y. (2013). Individual and group sensitivity to remedial reading program design: Examining reading gains across three middle school reading projects. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 26, 565-592.

 “Students from the 10th and 90th percentiles differ by grade equivalents equal to their grade (i.e., 6 grade difference at the end of 6th grade)”. (Biemiller, personal communication, August 1, 2002) Professor Andrew Biemiller, Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto.

 What comes after screening?

Having completed a screening, it then remains to decide what resources in terms of teachers, aides etc you can commit, and how many periods you can allocate. You then need to make a cut-off point, usually selecting the most needy students for an intervention. You might expect 20-30% of your intake to be in need of help with literacy.

This approach, of course, ignores the cohort of struggling students already enrolled in your school. This creates the dilemma of how to expend resources – on your current students or future students. This is a difficult value decision. The older the student the more difficult the progress, but they are your students right now – whatever year they are in. However, if you focus on your intake students, you can hope to alter their trajectory through the secondary careers. If this occurs, there is a benefit to administration and teachers through the increased academic competence of this cohort over the ensuing years and the lessened demands on the school’s resources of school failure, disciple issues, and early school leaving.

So, where to start?

The most obvious problem that struggling readers are likely to display in class is in their comprehension of subject texts. However, that does not necessarily imply that comprehension should be the main focus of intervention.

First, these problems did not arise suddenly at entry to secondary school. They could have been identified and attended to at or around primary school entry. However, this hasn’t occurred, and it is often not until around Year 4 that the earlier problems are brought into stark relief. Texts become more complex, both in word structure and in vocabulary in this period, and the students who had previously struggled (but it was hoped, would have had an educational growth spurt by now) are now clearly well below the minimum expected reading levels needed to cope with a secondary curriculum.

Second, the comprehension problem is usually contingent upon an underlying decoding and fluency delay. If only comprehension is addressed, progress will be minimal – because getting the words off the page fluently is a pre-requisite to comprehension.

We need to decide whether our scant resources should emphasise decoding or comprehension

 Some relevant research

“Phonological decoding made a significant unique contribution to reading comprehension for the eighth/ninth-grade group, to spelling for the fourth/fifth- and eighth/ninth-grade groups, and to the decoding rate and accuracy measures for all three groups, with only three exceptions”.

Nagy, W., Berninger, V.W., & Abbott, R.D. (2006). Contributions of morphology beyond phonology to literacy outcomes of upper elementary and middle-school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 134-147.

“In 90% of cases, the source of reading comprehension problems is poor word recognition skills (Oakhill & Garnham, 1988).”

Stuart, M. (1995). Prediction and qualitative assessment of five and six-year-old children's reading: A longitudinal study. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 65, 287-296.

“Research suggests that teaching children to read words quickly and accurately can also increase their reading comprehension (Tan & Nicholson, 1997). The theory behind fast and accurate word reading is that good readers are very good at reading words. They have over-learned this skill through much reading practice. As a result, like skilled musicians and athletes, they have developed automaticity, as a result of many hours of word reading practice. What this means is that they have over-learned word reading skills to the point where they require little or no mental effort. As a result, they are able to put all their mental energies into reading for meaning.”

  1. B. Thompson & T. Nicholson (Eds.) (1998). Learning to read: Beyond phonics and whole language. New York: Teachers College Press.

 “The vast majority of school-age struggling readers experience word-level reading difficulties (Fletcher et al., 2002; Torgesen, 2002). This “bottleneck” at the word level is thought to be particularly disruptive because it not only impacts word identification but also other aspects of reading, including fluency and comprehension (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). According to Torgesen (2002), one of the most important discoveries about reading difficulties over the past 20 years is the relationship found between phonological processing and word-level reading. Most students with reading problems, both those who are diagnosed with dyslexia and those who are characterized as “garden variety” poor readers, have phonological processing difficulties that underlie their word reading problems (Stanovich, 1988)” (p.179).

Nelson, J.M., Lindstrom, J.H., Lindstrom, W., & Denis, D. (2012): The structure of phonological processing and its relationship to basic reading. Exceptionality: A Special Education Journal, 20(3), 179-196.


“Without accurate decoding skills, these youngsters’ performance will deteriorate rapidly in the middle elementary grades, when greatly increased demands are made on comprehension and on the ability to recognise a large number of unfamiliar words (Chall, 1983; Mason, 1992)”.

Spear-Swerling, L., & Sternberg, R.J. (1994). The road not taken. An integrative theoretical model of reading disability. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 27(2), 91-103.


"National longitudinal studies show that approximately 75% of those with reading problems in third grade still experience reading difficulties in the ninth grade (Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz, & Fletcher 1996; Shaywitz, Holahan, & Shaywitz, 1992). Students who experience reading difficulties in the early grades often suffer what has been called the "Matthew Effects" (Stanovich, 1986), a gap between good and poor readers that widens through the grades. Mikulecky (1990), for example, found that a group of secondary students two or more years behind their peers in reading ability were differentially affected by their tendency to avoid reading. These students read very little during or outside of school. Over the two-year period of the study, their reading comprehension performance actually declined."

Mikulecky, L. J. (1990). Stopping summer learning loss among at-risk youth. Journal of Reading, 33(7), 516-521.


“There is therefore a significant gap in the evidence base from RCT’s [randomised controlled trials] concerning the efficacy of language comprehension intervention. Clarke, Snowling, Truelove, and Hulme (2010) demonstrated using an RCT the effectiveness of an oral language intervention (comprising strategy use, vocabulary, figurative language and spoken narrative) in improving the reading comprehension skills of primary school students. To date such an approach has not been evaluated using an RCT in secondary schools.” (p.125)

Paul, S-A.S., & Clarke, P.J. (2016). A systematic review of reading interventions for secondary school students. International Journal of Educational Research, 79, 116–127.


What does it take to intervene effectively with older students? Intensity is a key element. That is, half-hearted efforts won’t work



Some relevant research

“Evidence from high-quality studies (Kamil et al., 2008) also indicates there is strong support for the assertion that explicit instruction is a necessary foundation for reading interventions with struggling adolescent readers (e.g., Duffy et al., 1987; Fuchs et al., 1997; Herrera et al., 2016; Klingner, Vaughn, & Schumm, 1998; Schumaker & Deshler, 1992). Explicit and systematic instruction involves a series of sequenced instructional steps that include: (a) teachers explaining and modeling strategy use, (b) teachers guiding students in using the strategy or strategies (i.e., guided practice), and (c) students demonstrating their ability to use the strategies independently under the supervision of the teacher (Gersten, Fuchs, Williams, & Baker, 2001; Kamil et al., 2008). The power of explicit instruction cuts across multiple content areas as a method for providing effective reading instruction for adolescent readers (and younger readers), as it can be used to teach word-level reading, reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006; Kamil et al., 2008; Scammacca et al., 2007; Torgesen, et al., 2007).” (p. 39)  

Fien, H., Anderson, D., Nelson, N.J., Kennedy, P., Baker, S.K., & Stoolmiller, M. (2018). Examining the impact and school-level predictors of impact variability of an 8th grade reading intervention on at-risk students’ reading achievement. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 33(1), 37–50.

“Although it is unlikely that these students will make accelerated progress without intensive interventions, there is evidence that secondary students may experience improved reading outcomes when provided explicit reading intervention with adequate time and intensity for reading instruction (Archer, Gleason, & Vachon, 2003; Torgesen et al., 2001)” (p.932).

Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Wexler, J., Barth, A.E., Cirino, P.T., Fletcher, J.M., Romain, M.A., Denton, C.A., Roberts, G., & Francis, D.J. (2010). The relative effects of group size on reading progress of older students with reading difficulties. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 23(8), 931-956.

“Impressive and unexpected were the large gains made in comprehension by students in the Additive modality, insofar as they receive relatively few hours of explicit comprehension instruction (12–13 h.) in comparison to the other modalities (24–39 h). The theoretical underpinnings of the Additive modality are that reading is hierarchical and that automaticity of lower level skills (decoding, spelling) allows cognitive efforts to then be allocated to attaining higher level skills (fluency, comprehension; LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Reynolds, 2000, Samuels & Kamil, 1984). Clearly, the changes brought about by other aspects of instruction (front loading of phonics instruction, followed by the addition of spelling instruction, followed by the addition of fluency instruction) laid the groundwork for comprehension gains, without having to supply a great deal of explicit comprehension instruction. These older struggling readers were able to master decoding, spelling, and fluency, before comprehension was even introduced into instruction, enabling them to more fully understand strategy instruction and achieve comprehension gains with very little explicit comprehension strategy instruction. These results strongly suggest that it may not be how many hours of instruction for each component that is important, but instead when those hours are incorporated into organization of instruction, that matters most” (p.587).

Calhoon, M. B., & Prescher, Y. (2013). Individual and group sensitivity to remedial reading program design: Examining reading gains across three middle school reading projects. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 26, 565-592.

“Questions have sometimes been raised about the extent to which reading skills of struggling adolescents can be remediated and whether the money spent on such interventions is justified in light of the degree of benefit attained (Vaughn et al., 2010, 2011, 2012). Adolescents who have already gone through years of reading instruction and still lag behind their same age peers are a very heterogeneous group in their reading abilities. Through the use of both group and individual differences analysis we were able to gain a more complete and finely-tuned picture of how these struggling readers respond to treatment. The struggling readers in this study were multiple grade levels (3–7 years) behind their typically developing peers in reading ability. Results of both group and individual analyses indicate these older struggling readers can be remediated and for some, gains of two, three, four, or more years can be accomplished with only 1 year of instruction. While two to three years of gain for students who are four to six years behind by no means closes the achievement gap, these findings are encouraging in providing information on which modality of instruction closes the achievement gap best. ... Most compelling from the current analyses are results directly investigating the differences between three modalities (Alternating, Integrated, Additive) of instruction. Outcomes showed clearly that modality of instruction can matter considerably for these older struggling readers. The differences in gains clearly demonstrate that the Additive modality, with its sequential addition of each component (isolated phonological decoding instruction, followed by addition of spelling instruction, followed by addition of fluency instruction, and finally the addition of comprehension instruction [see Table 1]) is potentially the best modality for remediating reading skills (decoding, spelling, fluency, comprehension) in older struggling readers, of the three approaches that were compared in this research. These students show that they are highly sensitivity to the scheduling of the components and the amounts of instructional time per component; this is an important finding for the development and refinement of reading programs for struggling adolescent readers. While more research still needs to be conducted in this area, this study lends credence to the different requirements this unique population of students may need in order to close the achievement gap in acquiring adequate reading skills” (p.588-9).

Calhoon, M. B., & Prescher, Y. (2013). Individual and group sensitivity to remedial reading program design: Examining reading gains across three middle school reading projects. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 26, 565-592.


“Findings also indicate that a significant acceleration of reading outcomes for seventh- and eighth-graders from high-poverty schools is unlikely to result from a 50 min daily class. Instead, the findings indicate, achieving this outcome will require more comprehensive models including more extensive intervention (e.g., more time, even smaller groups), interventions that are longer in duration (multiple years), and interventions that vary in emphasis based on specific students’ needs (e.g., increased focus on comprehension or word study)” (p.931).

Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Wexler, J., Barth, A.E., Cirino, P.T., Fletcher, J.M., Romain, M.A., Denton, C.A., Roberts, G., & Francis, D.J. (2010). The relative effects of group size on reading progress of older students with reading difficulties. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 23(8), 931-956.


“Increasingly intense interventions. Perhaps the most important distinction among tiers is the intensity of instruction associated with each tier. Instructional intensity, while a term that is commonly understood by educators, merits some discussion in the RTI context. Often educators view increased intensity as something that can be accomplished “primarily by increasing instructional time or reducing size of the instructional group, or doing both” (Torgesen, 2005, p. 3). Mellard (2009) suggests that schools evaluate 10 distinct variables that may be adjusted to increase instructional intensity. These variables include three dosage-related elements (minutes of instruction, frequency, and duration), as well as instructional group size, immediacy of corrective feedback, the mastery requirements of the content, the number of response opportunities, the number of transitions among contents or classes, the specificity and focus of curricular goals, and instructor specialty and skills.

Dosage: Instructional Minutes, Frequency, and Duration

Dosage of intervention is a very fundamental construct of instruction that directly relates to opportunities for learning. Students need sufficient learning opportunities to acquire and practice curricular knowledge, skills, and abilities. To increase instructional intensity by varying dosage, teachers may change three key time-related variables: (1) the instructional minutes given to each student (i.e., minutes per lesson); (2) the frequency of the instruction (i.e., tutoring sessions per week); and/or (3) duration of the instruction (i.e., number of weeks). In an RTI framework, we expect to see increases in some or all of these time elements as an indication of increasingintensity from a lower tier to a higher, more intense tier” (p. 219).

Mellard, D., McKnight, M., & Jordan, J. (2010). RTI tier structures and instructional intensity. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 25(4), 217–225.


Can’t we simply invest in computer aided instruction (CAI) to address the issues?

Some relevant research


“ … the types of supplementary computer-assisted instruction programs that have dominated the classroom use of education technology in the past few decades are not producing educationally meaningful effects in reading for K-12 students.”

Cheung, A.C.K., & Slavin, R.A. (2012). How features of educational technology applications affect student reading outcomes: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 7(3), 198-215.


“Khan and Gorard (2012) reported that previous studies have failed to demonstrate the effectiveness of computer based instruction as a means of improving reading skills. Taken together the evidence suggests that CAI should not be relied on to produce gains in reading ability in secondary school aged students and that in some circumstances using these programmes may have a negative impact on student’s progress (Gorard &Taylor, 2004). An avenue for future intervention design could be to combine computer administered tasks with face-to-face instruction.” (p.124-125)

Paul, S-A.S., & Clarke, P.J. (2016). A systematic review of reading interventions for secondary school students. International Journal of Educational Research, 79, 116–127.

“Averaging across all 12 studies of technology applications without extra time, the mean effect size was +0.06.” (p.25)

Baye, A., Lake, C., Inns, A. & Slavin, R. E. (2017, August). Effective reading programs for secondary students. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education. Retrieved from http://www.bestevidence.org/reading/mhs/mhs_read.htm

How can we teach reading in secondary schools? We're not trained!

So, your plan is to assist these students arriving at school without the basic skills in literacy needed to make sense of the secondary curriculum. However, few teachers in secondary schools have training or experience in teaching reading. So, what to do?

First, ensure that any program you select has a solid evidence support base. Time is of the essence, and you can’t afford to expend precious school resources, and eat into the struggling students’ valuable time without reasonable expectations that the outcomes are worth the cost and effort.

Second, consider a program in which the curriculum comes with a careful set of instructions – that is, it has sufficient specificity to enable a teacher untrained in literacy instruction to successfully implement. These are not the only programs with supporting evidence, but they represent the approach with which I’ve had long experience as a teacher and educational psychologist. Additionally, there are few programs displaying anything like the same degree of carefully constructed curricula and methods of curriculum presentation.

My experience in providing such a program in secondary schools is that the Direct Instruction series on reading, spelling, writing, and language meet the above two criteria. The lessons have been carefully written, revised, field-trialled, and are scripted, so the program’s teacher need not be a reading teacher.

Some relevant research

“Increasing the likelihood of teachers implementing research-based strategies in authentic school settings is a major goal of education leaders. Likewise, decreasing the variability of instruction practices and increasing fidelity of implementation to models of instruction and intervention is particularly difficult (Gersten, Chard, & Baker, 2000; Gresham, MacMillan, Beebe-Frankenberger, & Bocian, 2000). To address these issues in the context of ECRI, we developed highly specified lesson plans and teaching routines to support standard implementation of instruction and intervention materials. Our goal was to increase the level of specificity to ensure that teachers provided students with explicit and, when appropriate, intensive instructional supports (i.e., in the context of both Tier 1 and Tier 2). These routines provided clear expectations to teachers for what content to cover during instruction and intervention lessons and highly specified guidance for explicit and engaging teacher- student interactions. Akin to the Checklist Manifesto (Gawande, 2009), the goal of the specified routines was to increase the degree to which practitioners implement evidence- based practices with fidelity and integrity. The approach of using highly specified instruction and intervention routines can also be used as a tool for coaches and school leaders to define and measure implementation fidelity and to provide subsequent implementation goals for teachers. It is important to note that school based personnel (rather than researchers) delivered both the Tier 1 portion and the Tier 2 portions of the model. Having school personnel as implementers, notably a unique feature of this study, increases the external validity of the study’s results. The study findings also have potential implications for publishers and developers of core reading programs and tier 2 interventions. First, in our opinion, the degree of specificity and guidance provided to teachers for delivering explicit instruction in current reading programs is lacking. Many programs do not provide enough explicit, scaffolded instruction or practice opportunities for learners at risk of reading difficulty (Gersten, 1999). Second, core program and intervention developers and publishers should strive to align instruction and intervention materials to ensure struggling students are delivered a robust and coherent tiered support plan.” (p.617)

Fien, H., Smith, J. L. M., Smolkowski, K., Baker, S. K., Nelson, N. J., & Chaparro, E. A. (2015). An examination of the efficacy of a multitiered intervention on early reading outcomes for first grade students at risk for reading difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 48(6), 602–621.

As for the DI evidence base, see Reviews supporting Direct Instruction Program Effectiveness

and also

 Stockard, J., Wood, T.W., Coughlin, C., & Khoury, C.R. (2018). The effectiveness of Direct Instruction curricula: A meta-analysis of a half century of research. Review of Educational Research, On Line First. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/0034654317751919

and studies specifically on the Corrective Reading program: Corrective Reading program

See also my study with mid-upper primary students: Corrective Reading Decoding: An evaluation

So, what are the hurdles to successful intervention?

There is little doubt that the failure to establish reading skills early leads to a cascading skill deficit that pervades all curriculum areas eventually. Additionally, the deleterious effects on motivation can so severe for some students as to be largely intractable. Further, the years of employing inadequate reading strategies can produce a strong resistance to the modifications of style necessary for literacy progress. The modifications themselves tend to slow the reading rate initially, and also require markedly increased attention to graphemic detail - both of these changes can irritate students sufficiently to reduce their serious cooperation. A group of poor readers will almost inevitably contain a higher than average proportion of students with "interesting" behaviours - making teaching just that little bit more challenging. Additionally, the years of little exposure to print compared with their reading-facile peers can leave these students with a vocabulary insufficient to cope with the complexity of language in secondary school texts.

“Students who have consecutive failing experiences look at failure and success quite differently than their proficient counterparts, and as a result, do not recognize when and how their strategies are effective or ineffective (Walker, 2003). Many students with LD do not believe there is a stable relationship between their behavior and learning outcomes; rather, they believe that learning outcomes are out of their control (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). In addition, students with LD are more likely than their same-age peers to have low academic self-efficacy, to believe their learning capacity is nonmalleable, and to interpret their previously unsuccessful efforts for learning as an indicator of what they are able to learn (Baird, Scott, Dearing, & Hamill, 2009).” (Berkeley & Larsen, 2018, p.2)  

Berkeley, S., & Larsen, A. (2018). Fostering self-regulation of students with learning disabilities: Insights from 30 years of reading comprehension intervention research. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 00(0), 1–12.

There are many compelling reasons for early intervention, neatly described by Stanovich (1986) as the Matthew Effects (The Rich get Richer, and the Poor get Poorer). Despite the potential impact of early intervention on the incidence of older poor readers, we have now and will probably always have a cohort of students whose progress is jeopardised by reading difficulty. Questions arise, such as, what is the optimum focus for intervention; and can intervention be successful?

It is the understanding of the alphabetic principle that allows students to decipher novel words. Using the alphabetic principle as a cipher represents what Perfetti (1991) calls a productive process in contrast to the very limited process of memorising words. Share (1995) sees this phonological recoding process as critical to the development of skilled reading, and describes it as being "... a self-teaching mechanism, enabling the learner to acquire the detailed orthographic representations necessary for rapid, autonomous, visual word recognition" (p. 152). This point is also critically important in designing effective programs for older students. Tempting as it may be to attempt simply to teach the recognition of important whole words to older struggling readers because the phonic strategies seem so ‘babyish’, one cannot bypass the ‘sounding-out’ stage. It is a necessary step on the path to automatic whole word recognition. It is only by practising these steps that ‘word pictures’ arise. An interesting study by Shankweiler, Lundquist, Dreyer, and Dickinson (1996) provides evidence for the location of the fundamental problem areas and provides an intervention focus. “Even among experienced readers individual differences in comprehension of text reflect efficiency of phonological processing at the word level (p.267).

Can intervention be successful, given the circumstances militating against such an outcome? There is not a great deal of published empirical evidence at this level. In the RMIT Psychology Clinic, we have used the McGraw Hill series called Corrective Reading very successfully.

We have trained teachers, aides, and parents to implement the programs. As the programs are self-contained, there is no requirement for the person presenting the program be a reading teacher. Ensuring, program fidelity is very important - in the Clinic we provide initial training, monitor the presenters during the program, employ additional daily progress checks, and ensure all mastery tests are completed. Given these caveats, the Corrective Reading program is measurably and noticeably effective in most circumstances, whether presented by teachers in groups (of up to 15 students) or by parents or aides individually. There is no quick fix however - gains, in my experience are of the order of 18 months in the 3 months or so it optimally takes to complete 65 lessons. An 18 month gain in a Year 7 student formerly reading at a Grade 3 level is impressive, but insufficient to presume the student can subsequently continue progressing unaided. The programs are sequential, so given there is a commitment to daily lessons, continuous progress will occur as more advanced levels are introduced. The effects do not appear to be transient or related to novelty.

In the numerous evaluations I have completed over many years, I have noted that gains have often been maintained, and progress continues while programs are in operation. In my doctoral thesis which involved providing one level of the CRP to 134 mid to upper primary school students, and comparing the outcome with 72 waitlist students, a very large effect size of 1.34 on Word Attack (Woodcock) was noted for the experimental group and an effect size of only 0.15 for the non-intervention group. A few students who continued with a second level of the program achieved a similarly large effect size of 1.63 from the end of the first level to the conclusion of the second level.

So, where to start? Comprehension, decoding and fluency, spelling, writing? Each is important, but few schools have the resources to address these areas simultaneously. So, what focus will provide the most bang for your buck?

As indicated earlier there is evidence that decoding with fluency is pre-requisite to future academic success, including success in the other potential foci. It accords with my experience that most helpful is an initial emphasis on decoding, with intervention ideally supplied at entry to secondary school for those students screened as at-risk late in Year 6 or early in Year 7.


What are the features of the Corrective Reading program?


How is it different to other instructional programs?

The Corrective Reading: Decoding program combines phonics and phonemic awareness instruction. The Direct Instruction model is highly structured and teacher directed. In terms of responsibility for learning outcomes, it emphasises the role of the teacher. The model is in direct contrast to child-centred, discovery approaches in which student responsibility for learning is paramount. There is a priority on the efficient use of time - maximizing the time students spend engaged in the learning activities. The most obvious difference is that DI lessons are scripted. In a traditional reading program, the teacher is given few guidelines on how to present the material. For example, when teaching reading comprehension the teacher might be told, "Discuss the concept of main idea". Loose guidelines such as this leave tremendous latitude concerning what the teacher actually says and does. It is very easy for teachers to unknowingly change the wording used to teach essential skills or concepts leading to ambiguity, thus making it especially difficult for some students to learn. Teachers may use vocabulary that is too sophisticated for some students, leaving success only to those who can understand the language. In a DI lesson, what the teacher says is actually printed out on the page. The students' responses are also printed out on the page. Teacher wording is thereby controlled, making it easier for students to learn.

DI programs are also different from other programs because they have been researched and tested to prove that they work. There are very big differences between DI and most curriculum materials. They are scripted so that the presenter does not need to be knowledgeable about teaching reading. They cover a lot of curriculum material in a short time because lessons are rapid-paced and because errors are kept to a minimum through careful sequencing of the steps.

So, in a secondary school, who should do the teaching? Typically, the first thought is that one or more of the English teachers should take on the role, or if the school has a special ed trained person, then it might be she/he. However, English teachers should not be the only staff to be considered. One of the best DI teachers I worked with was a maths teacher. The style of teaching does not sit comfortably with some teachers, while others do not have the level of classroom management skill that produces the strongest educational outcomes for students.

The Corrective Reading Program (CRP)

The CRP is a remedial reading program designed for students in Year 3 and above. It comprises two strands. Decoding and Comprehension, and within these strands are a number of levels. The Decoding strand has 4 levels (A, B1, B2, C) corresponding to the students’ decoding capacity assessed with a placement test. Its content and instructional methods are consistent with the findings of the National Reading Panel.

 The Corrective Reading Decoding Program has been evaluated on many occasions (the 1978, 1988, 1999, 2008 editions), though its effects on phonological processes have not yet been a focus. Most analyses have emphasised word recognition and reading comprehension as outcome variables, and results for a wide range of poor readers have been strong. Studies have noted positive outcomes for learning disabled students (Holdsworth, 1984; Lloyd, Epstein, & Cullinan, 1981; Maggs & Murdoch, 1979), intellectually disabled students (Polloway & Epstein, 1986; Polloway, Epstein, Polloway, Patton, & Bell, 1986), maladjusted boys (Thorne, 1978), with secondary students (Campbell, 1983; Gregory, Hackney, & Gregory, 1982a; Gregory, Hackney, & Gregory, 1982b; Sommers, 1995), with adults (Herr, 1989), and with gifted students (Noon & Maggs, 1980).

Although it is designed for classroom use with groups, it is also possible to involve parent volunteers or teacher aides in providing individual assistance when a group is not possible, or when a particular student requires a 1:1 approach. Its scripted design allows those without a background in literacy to become competent teachers of literacy.



The Decoding placement test is administered prior to the program and consists of several passages of prose, the rate of accuracy of reading determining the program level for any given student. The test is designed to assess ability at the word level. The story text is not amenable to contextual strategies, and the assessment criteria of rate and accuracy make it difficult for other than skilled decoders to pass unscathed. In the author’s experience it is capable of making the accurate discrimination necessary to place students in any of the 4 levels (A, B1, B2, C), or to detect those whose skills are above or below the entry criteria. Used informally as a posttest measure it frequently has demonstrated that the student would now be correctly placed at the next higher level. This implies that the assessment device is closely related to the specified program objectives.

The placement test also ensures that student groups are relatively homogeneous in their decoding ability, and that they are neither over-challenged by the level of difficulty of the program, nor already competent at that level. The test is administered individually, and takes about five to ten minutes. Detailed instructions are provided in the manual for administration and scoring.

In school settings, the assigned reading group teacher often performs the initial intake screening, and the placement test. Typically, the screening sample is derived from class teacher reports of students in the upper primary school whose reading progress had been of concern. This teacher-identified group is then assessed with the placement test.

The possible outcomes of such assessments are:

  1. the child’s current decoding skill levels are below those of the lowest level of the program (Level A), and would be best addressed with a beginning reading program.
  2. the child is appropriate for placement in one of the four program levels, or
  3. the child has already mastered the decoding skills taught at each level, and any reading deficits are probably not in the area of decoding.

Depending on the range of Year levels included in the assessment cohort, it is possible that, meeting all the students’ needs would require the provision of several of the levels, most frequently Levels A and B1. Schools then decide which group or groups they are able to provide with a program. In some cases schools decide to provide one program as a pilot, and plan subsequent programs after evaluating the first. This is a reasonable decision, but means that some of the identified students will not receive (immediate) assistance.

Program Design

There are two major features evident in the Decoding strand of the Corrective Reading Program (CRP). They are the emphasis on decoding skills (phonics) and the Direct Instruction approach to teaching the phonics content. It includes work on both isolated words and connected sentences, but its major emphasis is at the level of word structure. It is made clear to students that the decoding of novel words involves careful word analysis rather than partial cue or contextual guessing. Students are continually prompted to take account of all letters in a word, and become sensitised to common (and often problematic) letter groupings, for example, those beginning with combinations st, bl, sl, fl, pl, sw, cl, tr, dr; or ending with nt, nd, st, ts, mp, ps, cks, ls, ms, th, er, ing, ers, y. The sentences provided are constructed in a manner which allows few clues for contextual guessing, but provides ample opportunities to practise what has been learned in the teacher-presented word-attack segment of the lesson.

Lessons are designed to be provided in groups of up to 15 students; however, 10 is a more manageable number given the initial lack experience of the teachers with the program, and the observation that in most groups of poor readers there are usually several students difficult to motivate, and maintain on task. This first hurdle is difficult for teachers used to a less directive model of teaching. Lessons are scripted, and most teachers report requiring at least 20 lessons before reasonable comfort with the approach is achieved. Teacher support is valuable in the early stages to assist in this skill development, and to preclude teacher initiated program changes which may jeopardise program success.

The program designers claim that the program combines the benefits of 1:1 tutoring with the effectiveness of group instruction. This is achieved by the use of choral responses from the students prompted by various signals (a new skill for most teachers). Not only must teachers follow a script, but they must be able to reliably signal students when to respond, and then pay attention to each student’s response in order to select the appropriate corrective procedure. The results of this monitoring process help determine lesson pacing by controlling the amount of repetition necessary for mastery. The larger the group, the more difficult it is to continuously monitor every student’s progress - thus smaller group sizes are helpful for novice program presenters. As teachers’ reliance on the script diminishes, and as their signalling improves, so their adroitness at student monitoring improves and they are better able to manage larger groups.

The issues of behaviour management usually looms larger in secondary than primary schools. Participation in the reading program involves parent, but not student, consent. That is, students are not usually volunteers. Most schools considered the needs of the students too important to allow students the right of veto. To help motivate students whose history has made reading a non-preferred activity, the program includes a reinforcement strategy, via a points system for each lesson segment. Most schools perceived the advantage of this system and incorporate it successfully into their plan. The potential for program disruption by a few disillusioned students is an additional reason for beginning with smaller group sizes.

Lessons typically range from 45 minutes to one hour, dependent on the efficiency of teacher lesson pacing, and group size. Typically pacing improves with experience, but initially some teachers were unable to complete a whole lesson in the time allotted. Program design specifies an optimum schedule of five lessons each week. This level of intensity has been found important for students with reading problems, as they tend to have difficulty retaining new skills and knowledge in this domain. For this reason, there is strong emphasis on massed practice for mastery, and spaced practice for retention. If lesson frequency falls too low, retention may be jeopardised - leading to a general progress deceleration. However, not all schools are able to timetable five lessons per week, and even those which do so may find competing events sometimes forced class cancellation. The less ideal arrangement is 4 lessons/week.

The Level A program focuses attention on word structure through reviewing letter sound correspondence, and regular rhyming, blending and segmenting activities. It relates these phonemic awareness activities to the written word by initially emphasising regularly spelled words decomposable by using these skills. When this phonic approach is accepted by students as a viable (even valuable) strategy, common irregular words are introduced. In the authors’ view this sequence is important to prevent the jettisoning of the generative decoding strategies because of their apparent inconsistent results if irregulars are initially encountered at the high rate common in authentic literature.

The following skills are taught in Decoding A:

Letter/sound identification; sounding-out (segmenting) orally presented words, and then saying them fast (blending); decoding words of varying degrees of irregularity; reading whole words the fast way; reading short groups of words; sentence reading; spelling. Related skills such as matching letters, and common letter groupings (such as ing, word completion (for example, rhyming), and symbol scanning are included on the student worksheets.

The basic objective in Decoding A is to teach students that there are regularly spelled words, words that are pronounced by blending the sounds of the letters in them. Once students understand that the identification of a word is related to its spelling, irregularly spelled words, such as said and what, are introduced. These words are spelled one way but pronounced in a different, irregular way. The sentence-reading exercises give students practice in reading words that are presented within a context. Usually students who qualify for this program do not understand what decoding is. This problem is magnified when they try to read sentences. Usually, their sentence-reading strategy involves guessing based on the syntax or the position of words within the sentence. For instance, they guess that the first word is the. The objective of the sentence-reading activities is to retrain students in how to read words in sentences.

The typical Decoding B1 lesson is divided into four major parts: Word-attack skills. Group story-reading. Individual reading checkouts. Workbook activities

Word-attack skills take up about 10 minutes of the period. Students practice pronouncing words, identifying the sounds of letters or letter combinations, and reading isolated words composed of sounds and sound combinations that have been learned by the students. Students earn points for performance in the word-attack portion of the lesson.

Group story-reading follows immediately after word-attack skills. This part of the lesson takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Students take turns reading aloud from their student book (storybook). Students who are not reading follow along. The stories are divided into parts. If the group reads a part within the error limit, the teacher presents specified comprehension questions for the part.

Individual reading checkouts follow the group story-reading and take about 10 minutes. Assigned pairs of students read two passages. The first is from the lesson just read by the group; the second is from preceding lesson. Each member of the pair first reads the passage from the current story, then the passage from the preceding lesson. A student can earn points for both passages. Points for the first passage are earned if the student must read the passage within a specified rate criterion and also a specified error criterion. (For instance, the student must read 85 words in one minute, with no more than two errors).

Workbook activities are presented as the last part of the lesson. Some of these activities are teacher-directed and are very important to the students’ skill development. During lessons 1 through 5, students read only isolated sentences (totalling about 75-100 words). The stories begin on lesson 6 and continue on each lesson. Their length increases from about 200 words to 700 by lesson 60.

Students receive practice in comprehension skills with the following activities:

  • Orally answering questions about each part of the story after reading the part within an error limit.
  • Writing answers to a variety of comprehension items that require call of story events, sequencing, and characters

The daily oral reading checkouts provide each student with a lot of practice in reading connected sentences. Because the student work in pairs, the entire checkout doesn’t take very long, about 10 minutes for both checkouts help students gradually develop acceptable reading rates (from 55 words per minute at the beginning of the program to 90 words per minute at the end).

The workbook activities are carefully integrated with the word-attack activities and with the stories that the students read. From lesson to lesson, there is a careful development of skills in the workbook. It is considered very important for the students to do the workbook activities as part of each lesson. Each worksheet is one page. The different activities provide students with practice in writing sounds copying, answering comprehension questions, spelling and transforming words. Many of the activities deal with word details because these are the details the problem reader tends to ignore.

Facts about the Problem Reader

Adapted from: Corrective Reading Series Guide

Engelmann, S., Hanner, S., & Johnson, G. (1999). Corrective Reading-Series Guide. Columbus, OH, SRA/McGraw Hill.

 The Corrective Reading program series is designed to change the behaviour of the problem reader, The specific decoding tendencies of the problem reader suggest what a program must do to be effective in changing this student's behaviour.

  • The problem reader makes frequent word identification errors.
  • The student makes a higher percentage of mistakes when reading connected sentences than when reading words in word lists.
  • Often the student reads words correctly in word lists and misidentifies the same words when they are embedded in connected sentences.
  • The specific mistakes the reader makes include word omissions, word additional confusion of high‑frequency words (such as what and that, of and for, and and the).
  • The student also reads synonyms (saying pretty for beautiful).
  • The student often guesses at words, basing the guess on the word beginning or ending. And the student is consistently inconsistent, making a mistake on one word in a sentence and then making a different mistake when re‑reading the sentence.
  • The student doesn't seem to understand the relationship between the arrangement of letters in a word and the pronunciation of the word.
  • Often the student is confused about the "word meaning" (a fact suggested by "synonym reading," "opposite reading," and word guessing). The strategy seems to be based on rules the student has been taught.
  • The problem reader follows such advice as: Look at the beginning of the word and take a guess; Think of what the word might mean, and Look at the general shape of the word. The result is a complicated strategy that is often backwards: The student seems to think that to read a word one must first understand the word, then select the spoken word that corresponds to that understanding.
  • Although the problem reader may use a strategy that is meaning based, the reader is often preempted from comprehending passages. The reason is that the student doesn't read a passage with the degree of accuracy needed to understand what the passage actually says. (Omitting the word not from one sentence changes the meaning dramatically.)
  • Furthermore, the student's reading rate is often inadequate, making it difficult for the student to remember the various details of the passage, even if they were decoded accurately. Often the problem reader doesn't have an effective reading

 The student receives daily practice in oral reading, with immediate feedback.

(Only through oral reading can we discover what the student is actually reading.)

The student reads word lists with information about how to pronounce various letter combinations (such as th and or). The student also reads sentences and passages composed of words that have been taught. The sentences and passages are designed so they are relatively easy if the student approaches words as entities that are to be analyzed according to the arrangement of letters, but difficult if the student guesses oh the basis of the context or syntax of the sentence. (The sentences are designed so that guesses often lead to mis-identification of the word.)

The mastery tests and checkouts in the series assure that the student observes progress in reading rate and reading accuracy. The series presents comprehension items in a way that demonstrates the relationship between what is decoded and how it is to be understood. Initially, the comprehension activities are deliberately separated from the decoding activities so that the student's misconceptions about reading are not exaggerated. The comprehension activities, however, show the student that what is read is to be understood.

Finally, the series addresses the problem reader's poor self‑image. The series is designed so the student can succeed on real reading tasks. Furthermore, a point system that is based on realistic performance goals assures that the reader who tries will succeed and will receive reinforcement for improved performance.

In summary, the series uses a two‑pronged approach. Each level teaches effective reading skills to replace the student's ineffective approach to reading. Each level also contains an effective management system that turns students on to reading. This turn‑on is not achieved by "seducing" the reader with entertaining topics but by rewarding the reader for steady improvement in reading performance. The approach WORKS.

Finally, the poor reader is not a highly motivated student. For this student, reading has been punishing. The student often professes indifference: "I don't care if I can read or not." But the student's behaviour gives strong suggestions that the student cares a great deal. The student's ineffective reading strategies and negative attitudes about reading become more ingrained as the reader gets older. To overcome them requires a very careful program, one that systematically replaces the strategies with new ones and that provides lots and lots of practice.

The problems

An effective corrective reading program must address the specific needs of the problem reader.

  1. The learner must learn to look at the order of letters in a word and learn that this order suggests the general pronunciation of the word. Furthermore, the student must learn that the game is simple: First figure out how the letters suggest one should say the word. Then see if the word you say is one that you recognize, one that has meaning. (Note that this strategy is basically the opposite of the one the typical problem reader uses.)
  2. The problem reader must receive practice in reading connected sentences that are composed of words that have been taught in isolation. Merely because the student reads words in lists does not imply transfer to written sentences.
  3. The student must receive strong reinforcement for working on reading because the task is very difficult and frustrating for the student. The student has received a great deal of evidence that reading is a puzzle that can't seem to be solved.
  4. Finally, the student must receive practice in reading a variety of passages. If the student practices reading only narrative passages, the student will not "automatically" transfer the reading skills to textbooks, articles, or other forms of expository writing. Therefore, different styles must be introduced.

The Corrective Reading decoding programs are successful with problem readers because they provide the careful integration, the practice, and the management details that the problem reader needs to succeed.


Decoding A

Who it’s for

Decoding A is appropriate for extremely poor readers in the second half of grade 3 through high school who virtually lack decoding skills.  These students read so inaccurately and haltingly that they are prevented from comprehending what they read. For Level A grade level reading is probably around the lower first grade level. One can expect students to gain a year level in decoding for each 60 -70 lessons (around 12 weeks) of a given program level. This implies a strong acceleration, as these students must have been progressing at a rate of much less than one year gain per year of instruction.

What is taught

The following skills are taught in Decoding A.

  • Identifying the sounds of letters.
  • Sounding out words that are presented orally and then saying them fast.
  • Decoding irregularly spelled words.
  • Reading words “the fast way”.
  • Reading short selections
  • Reading sentences
  • Spelling.

Related skills such as matching, word completion (for example, rhyming), and symbol scanning are included on the student worksheets.

The basic objective in Decoding A is to teach students that there are regularly spelled words, words that are pronounced by blending the sounds of the letters in them.  Once students understand that the identification of a word is related to its spelling, irregularly spelled words, such as said and what, are introduced.  These words are spelled one way but pronounced in different, irregular” way.

The sentence-reading exercises give students practice in reading words that are presented within a context.  Usually students who qualify for this program do not understand what decoding is.  This problem is magnified when they try to read sentences.  Usually, their sentence-reading strategy involves guessing based on the syntax or the position of words within the sentence.  For instance, they guess that the first word is the.

The objective of the sentence-reading activities is to retrain students in how to read words in sentences.  Although work on isolated words (in lists) teaches word-attack skills, practice in reading sentences ensures that students apply these skills.

 Outcome behaviour

Upon completion of Decoding A, students should be able to do the following activities.

  • Read sentences, such as She was a master at planting trees. These sentences are composed primarily of regularly spelled words (containing as many as six sounds).
  • Read short selections, such as the following:

Ten men got in a truck.

They went to the creek and set up a tent.

How can ten men fit in the tent?

They can not.

Six men will sleep under a tree.

  • Read common irregular words such as what, was, do, said, to, of, and you with only infrequent errors.
  • Read words that begin with difficult letter combinations such as st, bl, sl, fl, pl, sw, cl, tr, dr.
  • Read words that end with difficult letter combinations such as nt, nd, st, ts, mp, ps, cks, ls, ms, th, er, ing, ers, y.
  • Pronounce commonly confused words parts such as the k sound in trick, the e sound in set, the s ending sound in mats, runs, and munches.
  • Spell simple words that have a clear sound-symbol relationship, including words that contain th, wh, sh, ch, and various other letter combinations.
  • Independently perform on various simple activities, such as matching sounds and completing words with missing letters.

Other activities are independent.  The workbook activities take about 10 minutes.  Students earn points by staying within an error limit for errors on the worksheet for the lesson.

The following activities are included in word-attack skills.

  • Pronouncing words with consonant blends (slam, cast, flip), orally constructing words with endings (adding ed to show to pronounce showed), and identifying the component sounds of orally presented words.
  • Identifying the long and short sounds of the vowels o, e, a, and I.
  • Identifying the sounds of consonants.
  • Identifying the sounds of letter combinations (th, ee, sh, or, ol, ch, wh, ing, er, oo, ea, oa, ai, ou, ar, oul, ir, igh, al) and reading words with those combinations.
  • Reading lists of regularly spelled words, such as mat and trip, and irregularly spelled words, such as what and said.
  • Reading words that contain difficult consonant blends (drop, splash, slip).
  • Reading words with endings (dropping, rested)
  • Reading silent-e words (save, times, hoped).
  • Reading compound words (herself, anybody).

Practicing patterns drills that demonstrate consistent phonic relationships (big, bag, beg, bug).

DECODING B1 Who it’s for

Decoding B1 is appropriate for most problem readers in grades 4 through 12.  They guess at words.  They have trouble reading words like what, that, a, and the when the words appear in a sentence context.  They add or omit words.  They often read synonyms for printed words and are generally inconsistent in their reading behaviour (reading a word correctly one time and missing it the next time). For Level B1 students - their grade level reading is probably around the beginning of second year level. One can expect students to gain a year level in decoding for each 60 -70 lessons (around 12 weeks) of a given program level. This implies a strong acceleration, as these students must have been progressing at a rate of much less than one year gain per year of instruction.

What is taught

The typical Decoding B1 lesson is divided into four major parts.

  1. Word-attack skills
  2. Group story-reading
  3. Individual reading checkouts
  4. Workbook activities

 Word-attack skills take up about 10 minutes of the period.  Students practice pronouncing words, identifying the sounds of letters or letter combinations, and reading isolated words composed of sounds and sound combinations that have been learned by the students.  Students earn points for performance in the word-attack portion of the lesson.

Group story-reading follows immediately after word-attack skills.  This part of the lesson takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes.  Students take turns reading aloud from their student book (storybook).  Students who are not reading follow along.  The stories are divided into parts.  If the group reads a part within the error limit, the teacher presents specified comprehension questions for the part.

Individual reading checkouts follow the group story-reading and take about 10 minutes.  Assigned pairs of students read two passages.  The first is from the lesson just read by the group; the second is from preceding lesson.  Each member of the pair first reads the passage from the current story, then the passage from the preceding lesson.  A student can earn points for both passages.  Points for the first passage are earned if the student must read the passage within a specified rate criterion and also a specified error criterion.  (For instance, the student must read 85 words in one minute, with no more than two errors).

 Workbook activities are presented as the last part of the lesson.  Some of these activities are teacher-directed and are very important to the students’ skill development.

Although the content “distracts” the reader, for the reader to read with acceptable accuracy.

During lessons 1 through 5, students read only isolated sentences (totaling about 75-100 words).  The stories begin on lesson 6 and continue on each lesson.  Their length increases from about 200 words to 700 by lesson 60.

Students receive practice in comprehension skills with the following activities:

  • Orally answering questions about each part of the story after reading the part within an error limit.
  • Writing answers to a variety of comprehension items that require call of story events, sequencing, and characters

The daily oral reading checkouts provide each student with a lot of practice in reading connected sentences.  Because the student work in pairs, the entire checkout doesn’t take very long, about 10 minutes for both checkouts help students gradually develop acceptable reading rates (from 55 words per minute at the beginning of the program to 90 words per minute at the end).

The workbook activities are carefully integrated with the word-attack activities and with the stories that the students read.  From lesson to lesson, there is a careful development of skills in the workbook.  It is very important for the students to do the workbook activities as part of each lesson.

Each worksheet is one page.  The different activities provide students with practice in writing sounds copying, answering comprehension questions, spelling and transforming words.  Many of the activities deal with word details because these are the details the problem reader tends to ignore.

Outcome behaviour

Upon completion of Decoding B1, students’ progress can be seen in both improved accuracy and improved rate.  Following is one part of the story lesson 60.  Students can read this passage with 99 percent accuracy and at a minimum rate of 90 words per minute.

The sentences in this program are designed so that there is low probability of guessing a word correctly.  If students guess the next word in a sentence on the basis of the preceding words, they most likely will be wrong.  The low probability feature provides students with consistent evidence that guessing is not effective.  A guess equals a mistake; therefore, students quickly abandon the guessing approach and use the decoding skills being taught.

The story-reading exercises give students practice in decoding material similar to what they will encounter at the beginning of Decoding B1 and in answering comprehension questions about what they have read.

The stories in Decoding B1 increase in length, difficulty, and interest.  All stories are composed of words that have been taught in the series or words that the students can already read.  After new  words and word types are introduced in the word-attack activities, the words are incorporated in stories.  Furthermore, the introduction of words in stories is cumulative, which means that once words have been introduced, they recur in the stories.

The syntax and structure of the stories are designed for the problem decoder and are designed to correct the mistake s the reader typically makes.  Early stories are “low interest” stories because the poor reader must concentrate on a new game - looking at words and identifying the, without guessing.  With higher interest stories, the reader becomes preoccupied with the content of the story and reverts to habitual, inappropriate decoding strategies, which means that errors increase greatly.  Later in the program, after students have practiced the game of accurate decoding, the stories become more interesting. appropriate strategies are now strong enough

Jean was trying to think of everything that had happened just before the drams went to sleep.  She remembered how she had been running with the drams biting her.  She ran and fell into a hole in the floor.  She remembered getting out of the hole and running again.

But were the drams biting her then?  “Think, think.”

“No,” Jean said to herself.  “I don’t remember being bitten after I fell into the hole.  Something must have happened before I fell into the hole.”

Jean Tried to think of everything that happened before she fell into the hole.  She looked at the beach.  More drams were marching closer to the barracks.  They were marching over the sleeping drams.   “Bzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

DECODING B2 Who it's for


Decoding B2 is appropriate for students in grades 4 through 12 who have some decoding problems, who do not read at an adequate rate, who still tend to confuse words with similar spellings, and who tend to make word-guessing mistakes.

What is taught:

Decoding B2 follows the same format as Decoding B1. Each lesson is divided into four major parts.

  1. 1. Word-attack skills
  2. 2. Group story-reading
  3. 3. Individual reading checkouts
  4. 4. Workbook activities

The following activities are included in word-attack skills.

  • Identifying the sounds of letter combinations (tch, ir, ur, er, wa, oi, ce, ci, tion, ea, ge, gi, kn) and reading words with those combinations
  • Reading lists of regularly spelled words, such as risks, and irregularly spelled words, such as league
  • Reading words that contain difficult consonant blends (flip, drop, splash)
  • Reading words with endings (dropping, rested)
  • Reading silent-e words (fine, taped)
  • Reading compound words (greenhouse)
  • Practicing pattern drills that demonstrate consistent phonic relationships (sigh, sight, night, fight, flight)

The stories in Decoding B2 increase in length, difficulty, and interest. All stories are composed of words that have been taught in Decoding B2 or words that the students can already read. The syntax and structure of the stories are designed for the problem decoder and are designed to correct the mistakes the reader typically makes. Story length increases from about 500 words to nearly 900 words by lesson 65.

Students receive practice in comprehension skills by orally answering questions about each part of the story after reading the part within an error limit and writing answers to a variety of comprehension items that require recall of story events, sequencing, and characters.

The daily oral reading checkouts help students develop both accuracy and reading rates (from 90 words per minute at the beginning of the program to 120 words per minute at the end).

The workbook activities are carefully integrated with the word-attack activities and with the stories that the students read. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR THE STUDENTS TO DO THE WORKBOOK ACTIVITIES AS PART OF EACH LESSON.

Outcome behavior

Upon completion of Decoding B2, students' progress can be seen in both improved accuracy and improved rate. Following is one part of the story from lesson 53. Students can read this passage with 99 percent accuracy and at a minimum rate of 115 words per minute.

"No," Jean said to herself. "I don't remember being bitten after I fell into the hole. Something must have happened before I fell into the hole."

Jean tried to think of everything that happened before she fell into the hole. She looked at the beach. More drams were marching closer to the barracks. They were marching over the sleeping drams. "Bzzzzzzzzzzz."

Tony's hands were sore. His back was sore. So were his legs. He was beginning to realize that Salt had been right when he'd said that the real work was just beginning. For the past three hours, Tony had hauled rocks from the pile. At first the pile had been about two meters high. Now it was only about half a meter high.

Tony bent down and grabbed another rock. When he picked it up, he saw something below it. "Hey, Rosa," he said. "What's that?" Rosa tossed a rock into the underbrush. Then she wiped the sweat from her eyes. She bent down and looked where Tony was pointing. "It looks like a knife handle," Rosa said. "I'll pull it out."

Decoding C: Skills Applications

The fourth and most advanced level of the decoding programs in SRA's Corrective Reading series is Decoding C Skill Applications. This program is designed to teach advanced word-attack skills. The basic thrust of the program is to help students develop the skills necessary to decode a wide variety of words and to handle different sentence constructions as they appear in many kinds of reading materials.

By completing Decoding B2, students have become far more accurate decoders. However, poor decoders have practised faulty decoding strategies-guessing on the basis of word beginnings, context, syntax, and so on-for many years. Usually, the habits built up during this period are not neutralized through only 1 school year of work. Although in 1 year students acquire the basis of a new strategy, they need continued practice in using word-attack skills to firmly establish the newly formed accuracy habits. And the students need more than to merely practice the word attack and story-reading skills presented in Decoding B1 and B2. In those programs,. the vocabulary and syntax of the fictional selections are highly controlled. Students are not confronted with either the vocabulary or the sentence forms that appear in textbooks. The passive voice, the use of parenthetical (non restrictive) clauses, the longer multi-clause sentences, and similar constructions are deliberately avoided in Decoding B1 and B2.

One goal of Decoding C is to fill the gap between tightly controlled syntax and vocabulary presentations and presentations typically encountered in traditional reading materials.

Another goal is to present the meaning of words frequently encountered in text materials. Vocabulary exercises are presented so students will be introduced to new words before reading them. Many of the more than 600 words included in the vocabulary exercises are words students have already encountered; however, students frequently have only a vague or incorrect notion of their meaning. .

Another goal is to provide reinforcement of a broad variety of comprehension question types. The types include literal comprehension, vocabulary, new information facts, and inferential reading.

Another goal of Decoding C is to help students apply the decoding skills taught in the program to reading material encountered outside the program. Because the procedures used in Corrective Reading instruction are unique, students sometimes fail to realize that the skills are applicable to material outside the program. After all, for years these students have not been able to handle material in various subject areas successfully. Unless they receive pointed demonstrations that undermine the 1-can't-do-this attitude, students may continue to read successfully in the Corrective Reading group and still not apply these skills to other reading situations. Decoding C demonstrates how to apply new skills to reading newspapers, magazines, and textbooks.

The final goal of this program is to decrease students' dependence on highly structured presentations and to place greater emphasis on their independent, self-initiated work. Students contribute subject-matter ideas for the reading material that comes from outside the program. Then they select word-attack words from this outside material. Although students continue to receive adequate repetition of words in the word-attack portion of the lesson, the teacher's role as guide is generally reduced.

In summary, Decoding C bridges the gap between a carefully controlled and directed presentation and an independent one in which vocabulary and syntax have not been screened. The program exposes students to new vocabulary words and new kinds of comprehension items. Oral reading practice continues throughout the program to provide the teacher with a means of assessing students' reading accuracy. The scope of the reading material expands as students progress through the program, and the amount of silent reading and independent work increases. Students who are carefully taught will complete the program with decoding skills that will allow them to read a variety of fictional and expository materials.

 Who it’s for.

Decoding C is designed for relatively poor readers in grades 3 through 12. The program is appropriate for students who understand English and whose scores on the Corrective Reading placement test indicate that they belong in the program.

Decoding C is not appropriate for students who do not speak any English, or whose grasp of English is quite weak.

Extensive use of Decoding C has demonstrated that the program works effectively with students who traditionally would be identified as learning disabled, educationally handicapped, or perceptually handicapped. As long as students demonstrate the skill level necessary to enter the program, they may be placed in the program.

Finally, students who meet the rate and accuracy criteria at the end of Decoding B2 qualify for this program. There is no need to re-administer the placement test to these students unless the test is used as a criterion-referenced mastery measure.

What is taught

The skills taught in Decoding C are word attack, selection reading, and comprehension.

The following activities are included in Word Attack Exercises.

  • A review of words containing sound combinations such as th, oa, ea, ai, ou, ar, ir, er, ur, igh, oi, tion, c(e,), g(e,i)
  • Introduction of the sound combinations ure, aw, au, tial, cial
  • Introduction of the meaning of more than 400 vocabulary words
  • Introduction of the meaning of the affixes ex, ly, un, re, dis, pre, tri, sub, less, ness, able
  • Practice in reading words containing the various sound combinations and affixes
  • Practice in writing complex words as root words plus affixes

The following activities provide practice in selection-reading skills.

  • Reading selections that give specific factual information on a particular topic
  • Reading selections that are fictional
  • Reading selections that contain a high percentage of new words
  • Reading selections from magazines, newspapers, and other sources

The following activities provide practice in comprehension skills.

  • Answering orally presented comprehension questions about the selections that are read
  • Writing answers to a variety of comprehension questions, including both literal and inferential items

The materials

The materials for Decoding C consist of this Teacher's Guide, two Teacher Presentation Books with answers for the student Workbook, a non-consumable Student Book, and a consumable student Workbook.

This guide contains basic information about the program and specific information for presenting exercises and correcting mistakes. The Guide also includes a copy of the Decoding Placement Rest (Appendix A), a Scope and Sequence Chart (Appendix B), a list of Behavioural Objectives (Appendix C), an alphabetical Glossary of Defined Words (Appendix D), and a Skills Profile Chart (Appendix E).

Teacher Presentation Book C1 covers Lessons 1-60; Book C2 covers Lessons 61-125. Both books contain a glossary of defined words. The Teacher Presentation Books contain a script for each lesson. Scripts specify what you say and do and how students are to respond. This blue type indicates what you say. (This type indicates what you do.) This italic type shows the students' response.

What are the limits of instructional influence on student progress?

The instructional emphasis expressed in the Corrective Reading program does not preclude an acknowledgment that causes of failure can reside within the individual, but allows for the possibility of resolving problems by manipulating instruction regardless of the source of the difficulty. There are a number of elements within the Direct Instruction programs that may have the effect of enhancing student progress. For example, the within-program attention to student responses allows for the identification of difficulties at the time they occur, rather than at the program’s conclusion.

In particular, the program requirements for repeating tasks until mastery is achieved, of monitoring each student’s responses and their daily rate and accuracy checks - should be examined when considering any student’s failure to progress as assessed by the phonological processing measures. The mastery tests provided for the program (at mid-point and conclusion) also provide a safeguard against a student’s failure remaining unobserved throughout the program. Even motivational/attentional variations are addressable through the incentive program integral to the Corrective Reading program.

It may be that there are treatment resisters in most groups, and their identification is dependent upon teacher monitoring skills, and teachers’ preparedness to follow the program’s guidelines in this regard. It is possible that variation in these teacher/program interactions may be an important focus for future research in reducing the problem of student failure to progress.

There are several safeguards against failure addressed by the program. One involves information provided to teachers on how best to react to any incorrect student responses detected during the lesson. There are clear scripted correction procedures specific to different tasks, designed to redirect students to the appropriate response. It typically involves an instantaneous correction sequence in which the teacher models the correct response, leads the student through the correct response, and finally tests the student for the correct response.

Teachers are exhorted at the conclusion of most teaching routines to repeat until firm. This is designed to provide additional practice when errors are noted, the practice intended to reduce error incidence in the future. If errors are continually made by the same one or two students, the teacher is faced with a dilemma - to slow the pace of the lesson, provide more practice of each task for the entire class, or, to continue at the pace comfortable to most of the class, and hope that the stragglers at least derive some benefit.

A more humane, though resource expensive option is to coopt an aide or parent volunteer to pre-teach each lesson prior to the regular group lesson. This allows for individually appropriate pacing, tailored to the student’s need, and allows the student to continue a rate of progress in concert with his peers during the group session. Usually this double-teaming has the effect of supporting the student in the critical early stages of foundation skill development, improving the student’s adaptation to the program structure, and increasing the student’s confidence to respond with the group. In the author’s experience, and in the outcomes for several students in his doctoral study, a short burst of this added assistance allows for successful return to reliance on the group instruction alone.

Another instructional decision point occurs when most of the group makes an incorrect response. In this case, the teacher should examine instructional variables - faulty (perhaps ambiguous) presentation, overly rapid lesson pacing, and, the presence or absence of pre-skills necessary for correct responding during the current task.

The major issue arising from the foregoing discussion is the emphasis on instructional considerations in any attempts to increase the breadth of a program’s success. Both the early detection of problems (monitoring) and the planned response to detected problems should be critical foci in such attempts. As the Corrective Reading program was carefully designed to allow continuous monitoring of student progress, a failure to present the curriculum in the prescribed manner (if the deviations are deleterious) should become readily apparent. Some of the deviations noted by the author in schools merely comprise unnecessarily verbose explanations, or interesting but largely irrelevant excursions into other topics. These minor deviations may detract from the elegance of the design, thus reducing efficiency, but they are unlikely to jeopardise outcomes for students.

Other departures from the prescribed program such as omitting some elements, for example, timed reading checkouts, individual turn-taking, or specific tasks, may have a significant effect on the average group progress (if the departures are severe). Alternatively, the modifications may interfere with the progress of some (probably the most vulnerable) students, for it is the most vulnerable students who adapt least easily to ambiguous or incomplete instructional sequences. The early detection of difficulties in any given student is critical to the achievement of broadband success.

The program designers argue that the Corrective Reading program is an individual program, but presented in a group format. For this efficiency to succeed, the teacher must observe each student’s responses by first ensuring that choral responding is precise, thus enabling the detection and teacher correction of incorrect responses. The teacher also requires well-developed powers of observation to systematically attend to each response of each student. The extent to which teachers can do this successfully depends upon several factors, such as hearing acuity, ability and determination to ensure their students achieve truly choral responding, and the group size. The teachers’ manual recommends group sizes of 12 or less for Level A, and 15 or less for Level B. In the author’s experience, inexperienced Direct Instruction teachers should reduce the number to below 10 until they become more skilled. The vigilance provided by teachers regarding student response is a major defence against any student’s failure in the program. Given that there can be students who do not progress as hoped, this may be an area in which additional training and monitoring of teachers should be a priority.

Thus, several elements of program fidelity appear critical. In a cumulative curriculum, it is essential that all tasks are mastered if students (especially the vulnerable) are to progress. The inbuilt continuous progress evaluation is valuable in detecting quickly individual or group difficulty at any point. It is through these program features that problems of progress resistance can be addressed, and hence students spared the fate of participating in an ineffectual educational process.

Though not viable currently, according to the research described earlier, in the longer term, it may be that individual programming enabling appropriate and immediate response to student difficulty can more precisely be delivered through the use of computer-based methods in conjunction with voice recognition software. In such a scheme, variations in student learning rates could be effectively and efficiently compensated for through differential presentation rates, error correction, and massed and spaced practice. Student responses could then determine the lesson structure that would, in turn, be capable of adjustment as the needs of the student alter. In the meantime, it should be noted that, as opposed to relying on access to computer programs as instructional agents, there is acknowledged benefit in including such activities in the practice phase of learning.


Other program characteristics and effectiveness

There is a consensus that the earlier the intervention for at-risk learners the more rapid and widespread is the success; however, in secondary schools, the students have already experienced some years of reading failure, and the habit of employing ineffective strategies for reading is firmly ingrained. The effects of resistance born of failure can form obstacles to progress at least as difficult to overcome as the original source of the reading difficulty. For this reason, the Corrective Reading program includes a motivational system based on assigning points for maintaining speed and error limits. Teachers’ comments suggest that this element of the program should not be underestimated in making judgements about which are the program’s most effective elements. Numerous positive comments have been made about the student enjoyment and increased on-task behaviour attributable to the points system. Additionally, the system has helped to capture the cooperation of many students initially negative about being involved in the program.

One difficulty evident in much of the reading research involves ensuring students transfer their newly developed knowledge and skills to the task of everyday reading. For this to occur, the students need to notice that the new strategies are superior to the old (in which available strategies may be confined to using context cues and initial letters, for example). If the program uses uncontrolled (also called authentic) text, it is likely to be more difficult for students to effectively use their knowledge, and they may not appreciate the long term benefits of careful word analysis. The Corrective Reading stories used in daily reading are carefully constructed to be decoded using word attack strategies (though not predictable from context cues), and by using the individually taught sight-words. This provides students with a supportive reading environment that allows for success when the decoding strategies are used, and practice, so that the decoded words gradually become recognisable as wholes.

An element contributing to the impressive gains no doubt involves the time and intensity of the intervention. Longer interventions allow for greater content coverage and adequate practice, though of course there is no guarantee that all intervention designs specifically incorporate such effective teaching characteristics.

Program intensity involves a combination of lesson length, lesson density, and lesson frequency. Lesson length for the Corrective Reading programs was about 50-60 minutes. This period allows for a reasonable content coverage in each session and for the integration of new knowledge into the existing structure. As the programs involve a cumulative sub-skills approach to reading - the introduction of new skills, the practice of recently acquired skills and the amalgamation of these with the already-established core - requires careful lesson planning and sufficient time for this amalgamation to occur. Program density involves the extent to which students are actively engaged in learning during the lesson time. Various concepts such as time on task, academic engaged time, and academic learning time have been employed to address the issue of student engagement. An observational study by Allington, Stuetzel, Shake, and Lamarche (1986) noted that typically only about one third of the time allocated to remedial reading instruction was actually spent in direct reading activities, the rest consumed by management issues, waiting, transition, and absence from the room. One way of promoting student engagement is to plan for overt responses. When students are producing overt responses it is apparent that students are participating, and their learning can be monitored. The additional advantage of overt responses involves the opportunity to provide corrective feedback.

Another element of lesson density involves the proportion of correct to incorrect responses. Students who struggle with reading require high rates of success if they are to adopt new strategies, transfer new skills across tasks, and persevere with the new strategies. Teachers in this study have commented on the high success rates achieved daily through careful lesson design, and student placement at the appropriate program level. The author once counted 300 responses from a student in a 10 minute word attack segment of a Corrective Reading program lesson. This represents a very high intensity of participation; additionally, the success rate was very high, above 90%.

Lesson frequency appears to be important, perhaps because of the need for spaced practice of newly mastered skills. It has been noted that students, particularly those at-risk, readily forget what they have learned when lesson frequency is too low. If this occurs, additional time is spent in relearning rather than in incorporation activities. Frustration and disengagement are the possible negative outcome of under-scheduling. The program guidelines recommend five lessons per week, although this may not achieved by all schools. Most schools allow for five sessions per week, but almost inevitably other priorities intrude. These usually involve activities such as school swimming programs and other sports, visiting guests and excursions. Often a period of school holidays (either 2 or 6 weeks) interrupts the lesson sequence. The effect of variable frequency impacts most notably on the students most at-risk. They are the students most likely to lose hard-won gains through forgetting.

The total contact hours are also relevant. Each level of the Corrective Reading program entails about 50 hours of instruction.

Program Fidelity

Teacher Training

The Direct Instruction model as explicated in the massive Follow Through experiment paid significant attention to the issue of fidelity of implementation. The designers’ examination of implementation research had found moderate to high correlations between student outcome and degree of adherence to prescribed procedures (Engelmann, Becker, Carnine, & Gersten, 1988). The training program for their teachers involved several elements: presenting the rationale, demonstrating technique, providing practice and feedback in response to teacher performance, and, observing real classes - weekly for the first four months, then fortnightly. That process may take a year overall, with the level of complexity of the skills to be introduced increasing over that period. In examining the training modules it is evident that the model of teacher training adopted by the designers involves the same direct instruction principles as underlie the student skill development programs.

In the design of the delivery system, the focus was on those teacher behaviours that resulted in optimum student achievement. This concern for detail mirrored the designers’ approach to field testing instructional routines also. In that process, theoretical principles of instructional design drove the initial development of content, but it was multiple-setting field testing that determined the final design. For example, the Corrective Reading program (Level B Decoding) underwent nine revisions before publication (Hanner & Engelmann, 1984).

Engelmann (1988) argues that the average teacher would need to practise an exercise in a reading program at least a dozen times before the fluent orchestration of component presentation and correction skills is attained. These skills involve comfortable and facile use of the specified teacher wording, using lesson pacing appropriate to the example and to the student group, using signals in an unambiguous and natural manner, and providing adequate (but not excessive) reinforcement. In his view, this practice and associated feedback should not take place in the classroom but in less complex settings such as “dummy” runs with colleagues, etc. Such practice is considered important as a beneficial precursor (though not sufficient) to the transfer of training to the real world of the classroom. Engelmann’s experience has been that, without safeguards, less than 30% of the skills practised (outside the classroom) will be evident subsequently in classrooms. Thus, the provision of in vivo coaching was found to be especially important for the acquisition of skill. This is unsurprising given the increased salience of observing a model performance in one’s own classroom. Glang and Gersten (1987) commented on the value for teachers in seeing how their own students responded to the expert instructional techniques presented by the visiting supervisor. Unfortunately, this level of support is rarely available in our educational settings.

 There is research evidence that interventions are more likely to be effective if the school buys in to initial teacher training in the selected program along with subsequent coaching. It has been observed that DI teachers may take several years to reach a level of expertise that produces the optimal student outcomes.

“The vast majority of the studies demonstrating positive or potentially positive effects also involved ongoing support or coaching for instructors, who were most likely to be typically hired school staff. Importantly, eight of the 12 studies observed small to moderate effects on a high-stakes assessment, such as a state accountability measure. It is also important to note that the Herrera et al. (2016) review summarized research findings from all studies of adolescent literacy interventions that met review criteria, which includes studies planned and conducted by researchers to test the effects of particular interventions under ideal conditions, as opposed to only studies that are implemented under naturalistic conditions (i.e., those in which districts select the programs and practices they will implement, even if the evaluation is conducted through support from an external evaluator, as is the case in the current study). In reviews of studies of literacy interventions where districts and schools select and implement interventions, even fewer studies demonstrate positive or potentially positive effects on student literacy outcomes. For instance, a recent review of the Striving Readers grant program, in which 16 school districts were paired with an external evaluator to study the effects of district-selected and district-implemented literacy interventions, identified only three interventions that resulted in positive or potentially positive effects on a literacy-related outcome, although effect sizes were small, ranging from 0.0 to 0.21 (Boulay et al., 2015).” (p. 39)  

Fien, H., Anderson, D., Nelson, N.J., Kennedy, P., Baker, S.K., & Stoolmiller, M. (2018). Examining the impact and school-level predictors of impact variability of an 8th grade reading intervention on at-risk students’ reading achievement. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 33(1), 37–50.

Within Program Controls

In most schools it has not been possible to provide the intensity and duration of teacher-training recommended by the authors. It has been noted in other studies that program fidelity can be a major issue in the success of an intervention. Schneider, Kuspert, Ruth, Vise, and Marx (in press) found that whilst differences in focus and duration (time allotted daily and overall program length) had a significant effect on outcome; so did the degree of pre-program and within-program teacher training have an influence on the degree of success experienced by students.

A major difference in implementing the Corrective Reading program compared to most experimenter-developed curricula involves the extent of within-program control of curriculum and delivery. The programs used in this study are very prescriptive - the teacher making few judgements about curriculum issues. The content and delivery are scripted, and the teachers’ role is relatively transparent. The teachers’ skill revolves around classroom management, task presentation, and response monitoring (making decisions about the degree of repetition needed, or the need for error correction).

By contrast, some less prescriptive approaches allow for significant variation among teachers, whose expertise in teaching is assumed. This assumption may not be justified as studies by Lindamood (1993) and Moats (1994b) have shown. A significant proportion of teachers do not themselves have good phonemic awareness, and hence may be expected to have difficulty in both teaching phonological skills, and monitoring their development. In addition, teacher training institutions have been criticised for under-emphasising the importance of language structure, failing to provide a good knowledge base in this area for their graduates. The call for renewed emphasis on phonics in initial reading instruction may well fall on “deaf” ears!

Thus, one source of variation in “loose” programs may involve limitations due to the under-developed teaching abilities of some teachers. Another source in programs that provide only general lesson plans (or even less structured, topic areas), is the variation in the manner in which different teachers may choose to present the curriculum - the degree of teacher directed vs. self directed learning, the amount of massed and spaced practice, the error correction opportunities, for example. Such variables are known to impact on student outcomes, and variation at this level can be confounded with the effects of program content.

The level of prescription in the Direct Instruction programs is valuable in reducing, though not eliminating, teacher differences. It has been noted that there is usually reasonable consistency of results across different schools in the sense that the effects tend to be described as large by most schools. This suggests that the designers’ intent of reducing the impact of teacher differences has been achieved to some extent. This is a non-trivial finding as the requirement of training in some programs has been a significant added cost to be considered in conjunction with program effectiveness. For example, in the Foorman et al. (1997) studies, teacher training involved between 30 and 90 hours initially, and subsequent twice monthly lesson observation.

It is possible that an increased level of initial training and subsequent monitoring of teacher presentation skills can increase student achievement levels. It is also possible that as teachers become more experienced their effectiveness increases. However, the reported improvements evoked by teachers who are inexperienced in the program are educationally and educationally significant at the current low levels of support, an important finding in the real world of inadequate funding. Pressley and Beard El-Dinary (1997) make the point that designers cannot afford to be too precious when their excellent results are not replicated because schools fail to exactly duplicate the procedures used in the evaluation studies. An important research question for any offered program is the degree to which it is robust to changes in its content or delivery across a range of settings.

Where to for these students?

An issue for schools is whether to continue upon completion of one program level for any given group. Some schools consider that all needy children should have an opportunity to participate; whereas, others prefer to follow the same cohort through several levels. The issue is a vexed one when resources are insufficient to meet the longer term needs of all the students. Felton (1993) made the point that, for disabled learners, several years of Direct Instruction may be necessary before they are able to make adequate progress in reading without requiring additional educational assistance. This is particularly so for secondary students who have a long history of failure, and whose reading problems have impaired their vocabulary development compared to that of their peers.

One measure which may assist schools in determining which students should be in the continuers group involves consideration of reading volume. The students who participate in the program are likely to have done much less reading than their more facile peers, and evidence as to any increase in the volume of reading undertaken by the students may be valuable. Stanovich (1986) pointed to the effect of volume of reading on reading progress, and it may be that a mediating variable between program conclusion and the need for further intervention resides in the amount of reading subsequently performed. The likelihood of students reverting to poor reading strategies is unknown, but could be a hazard when an intervention does not include a longitudinal component. It is possible for students to develop strong word attack strategies and to make progress in reading generally, but for such skills to have little or no impact on day to day reading, or to lose their impact after program completion.

It is for this reason that the continuous within-program tests of rate and accuracy should be important elements in the overall evaluation of program success. There are clear behavioural objectives to be achieved by the end of the program. For example, by the end of Level A students are expected to be reading the daily stories and regular mastery tests at a rate of 60 words per minute at a specified error rate, and for Level B1, 90 words per minute. It is not possible to meet those speed and accuracy criteria if the reader adopts contextual cues, partial word cues, or word shape analysis strategies. Thus, the program does prompt the practice of effective reading strategies. These may be strengthened by within-school and home-based programs designed to promote and monitor increased reading volume in the post-program period. Regular subsequent assessment could be used to ascertain the degree to which student progress in reading can be achieved independently for any given student. Some students may have reached the independence level (self-teaching) described by Share (1995); whereas the progress of other students may stall, indicating the need for a further program level at the least.

Allington, R. L., Stuetzel, H., Shake, M., & Lamarche, S. (1986). What is remedial reading? A descriptive study. Reading Research and Instruction, 26(1), 15-30.

Engelmann, S., Becker, W. C., Carnine, D., & Gersten, R. (1988). The Direct Instruction Follow Through model: Design and outcomes. Education and Treatment of Children, 11(4), 303-317.

Hanner, S., & Engelmann, S. (1984, May). Learner verification for the Corrective Reading Program. AADI Newsletter, 3-5.

Engelmann, S. (1988). The logic and facts of effective supervision. Education & Treatment of Children, 11(4), 328-340.

Foorman, B., Francis, D., Beeler, T., Winikates, D., & Fletcher, J. (1997). Early interventions for children with reading problems: Study designs and preliminary findings. Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 8, 63-71.

Glang, A., & Gersten, R. (1987, Winter). Coaching teachers. Direct Instruction News, pp. 1, 4, 5, 7.

Pressley, M. & Beard El-Dinary, P. (1997). What we know about translating comprehension-strategies instruction research into practice, Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30, 486-488.

Schneider, W., Kuspert, P., Roth, E., & Vise, M. (1997). Short and long term effects of training phonological awareness in kindergarten: Evidence from two German studies. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 66, 311-340.

Share, D. L. (1995). Phonological recoding and self-teaching: Sine qua non of reading acquisition. Cognition, 55, 151-218.

A useful resource: Corrective Reading program - Parent/Tutor Information Sheet

  • Read the instructions about how the program is designed and how to present the program
  • Read Lesson 1 several times until you are reasonably confident about presenting it smoothly
  • For practice, present Lesson 1 to a colleague or your partner; trying to present it smoothly
  • Remember the importance of sticking closely to the scripts every lesson
  • Discuss the points system, and whether it’s helpful in this situation.
  • Note which segments are unnecessary in 1:1 format, because they were designed to facilitate group instruction
  • Remember importance of doing “endings buildup” correctly. That is, use a format that is erasable - whiteboard, blackboard, overhead transparency overlaid on a paper page (not ink on a page - the erasure of part of a word is important to direct attention to the similarities between different words
  • Remember the need to instantly correct all errors (except during the timed reading), don’t wait for your child to self-correct
  • Remember to practise the various Correction Procedures
  • Note the requirement to return to the first word in a line, column or sentence following an error. Remember to “repeat until firm”
  • Remember that discomfort is normal for the new presenters (parents and teachers often need 20 lessons to feel comfortable)
  • In a one-to-one setting signals are usually unnecessary - usually used only if a child is inclined to consistently respond too slowly
  • Remember the value of reasonably rapid pacing of lessons
  • Remember the rationale for the focus on sound combinations, especially in the middle of words - they are the most difficult decoding skills to master
  • Remember the “Reading Checkouts”, and particularly the timed checkout (which is always on yesterday’s story)
  • Fill in the Corrective Reading Program data sheet that enables you to maintain records of progress for discussion with clinician during the program
  • Don’t forget the mid-program (L. 35) and end-of-program (L.65) Mastery Tests

One secondary school’s experience with Corrective Reading:

This latter experience involved the period from 1983 until 1988 in a semi-rural Melbourne secondary school at which the author was the consulting educational psychologist.  Over a number of years, the school had been concerned at the prevalence of reading problems throughout the school.  The school was at the time officially designated as a disadvantaged school, for reasons of low socioeconomic status, high unemployment, and a significant population of Koori students.

In 1979, the Progressive Achievement Test of reading comprehension was administered to Year 7 students at the high school.  Compared to an expected value of 23% (stanine 1-3), 43% of Year 7 students were below the State average.  This finding galvanised the school into taking remedial action, and from 1983-1988 the school offered the Corrective Reading Program to Year 7 (and at times also to Year 8) students with severe reading problems.  The author trained and monitored teachers, and performed evaluations each year including the Woodcock Tests of Reading Mastery, and parent, teacher, and student questionnaires.

Results (student outcomes) were consistently impressive over that period, but not without travail as secondary aged students can be difficult to motivate.  In addition, some staff believed that it should not be necessary to teach such basic skills in a secondary school.  As the existence of the reading group relied upon the other English teachers agreeing to have larger classes (about three or four additional students per class) to allow for a small remedial group (15 students maximum), it was often a struggle to obtain the agreement to continue the program each year.  Nor was it usually easy to convince a secondary English teacher untrained in reading instruction to volunteer for the task, with its consequent imposition of regular visits and advice from the educational psychologist. 

Effects of implementation in primary schools

Partly because of these hurdles, but also for reasons of humaneness to struggling students, it was decided that the same interventions could be provided earlier in the students’ careers more easily, and to greater effect.  In the years 1986-1989, the same or similar programs were introduced at local feeder primary schools.  It was hoped that by earlier intervention the number of students entering the high school with severe reading problems would be reduced.  This approach was quite fruitful as progressively fewer students from those feeder schools reached secondary school with extreme levels of reading difficulty.  Although the process of convincing then assisting a number of schools (rather than only one) to provide the intervention was more complex and time consuming, nevertheless the outcomes were especially pleasing.

Of particular interest at that time was the effect on students’ measured comprehension skills (assessed via the Progressive Achievement Test at the end of Year 6) of a strongly focussed decoding program.  In other words when the students’ decoding deficit was addressed, they were able to bring their existing oral comprehension skill to the reading task, a strategy not previously available to them.  Additionally, the students’ phonemic awareness ability as applied to the written word (assessed by the Word Attack subtest of the Woodcock Tests of Reading Mastery) also indicated excellent gains, usually exceeding the number of months needed to present the program.

In 1986, there were 26 students whose reading problems were sufficient to place them at serious risk in the secondary school, and they participated in the Direct Instruction reading groups. In 1987 there were 20 such students, in 1988 there were 14 such students, and in 1989 there were 5 such students.  During this period enrolments in Year 7 remained relatively stable, yet the numbers of at-risk students were consistently falling as the students who had participated in the Corrective Reading Program at the feeder schools arrived at the secondary school.

In 1989, 12% of Year 7 students were below the state average in reading, comparing more than favourably with the expected value of 23%.  Compared with the figure ten years earlier (43%), this was a very pleasing result for the secondary school, and also for the feeder schools.  The other figures for 1989 were: 62% of Year 7 students within the State average (expected value 54%), and 26% of Year 7 students above the State average (expected value 23%).  Unfortunately the secondary school’s response to the program’s success was to drop all remedial programming from the timetable, rather than to extend the at-risk students’ skills in reading, or in other curriculum areas.

The effects on phonological processes of the Corrective Reading Program as noted in the pseudoword decoding task of the Woodcock Tests of Reading Mastery were of particular interest because of the pre-eminence given to these skills in the current research literature.

Pseudo-word decoding, (is) an indicator of phonological recoding ability, and potent predictor of reading ability at all levels. (Stanovich, 1988).

The outcomes were consistent across a number of years, involving several teachers, and also appeared to support a dose-response relationship, in the sense that progress continued as long as instruction did.  As can be seen in the accompanying charts there is significant improvement in each year that the program results were available, and those students involved in more than one program continued to improve.

In the years 1985-6, and 1986-7 two cohorts of students completed Decoding Level B (140 lessons in the earlier 1978 version), followed by Decoding Level C (140 lessons) in Year 8.  The continued success over a two year period renders explanations based on Hawthorne (novelty) effects implausible.

Interestingly, with the 1986-7 group it was possible to examine the effects of treatment, employing a non-equivalent group quasi-experimental design, as there were sufficient school resources to provide for teaching Decoding Level B to two groups in Year 7.  Both groups (13 students) were selected according to the placement test, and thus were similar in their reading skills.  There was an average Word Attack score difference of 4 months, and gains were similar for each group during 1986, as shown by the almost parallel gain slopes.  The groups were provided with similar programs and schedules, but by different teachers.  In 1987 only one group was able to continue on to Decoding Level C, as school resources were insufficient to allow program duplication.  The teacher who was assigned to take a group in 1987 elected to continue with the group she had taught the previous year, and the remaining group became the control group.

Cooke and Campbell (1979) describe the trend line crossover evident in this comparison as “Outcome 5” (p. 111).  They consider the only plausible interpretation of this interaction pattern is the presence of an experimental effect, indicated by the lower scoring pretest group surpassing the initially higher scoring control group.  They do not consider regression effects can account for such a difference.  The results of visual inspection of the gains of the two groups strongly suggest a conclusion that the Corrective Reading Program is an effective program, and capable of inducing sustained change even over long periods of an intervention, and with populations considered resistant to reading improvement.

Lest you think that resolving the literacy concerns of struggling students in secondary school is easy:

The difficulty involved in catchup.

Below is a graphical representation of what is known as learning trajectory. Graphing allows visualising what happens when students make progress over time in a given domain, for example, reading development. The average student is seen to make about a year’s progress for each year of instruction. The slope of the line is an indicator of the rate of this progress. In reality, of course, this is an over-simplification. However, it is a useful device when considering the complexities of catchup.

In the first graph, we note that at the end of grade 1 the student’s achievement in reading (grade 1 level) corresponds to that expected after the year of instruction. By the end of grade 7 the progress has been more or less constant, and the attainment corresponds to grade 7. The angle of the line (the slope) in this graph represents an average rate of progress, and the trajectory is 1:1. It takes 7 years to make 7 years progress.

A student who makes more rapid progress would have a steeper slope, with a trajectory greater than 1:1. For example, a student reading at a grade 10 level in grade 7 would have a trajectory of 10:7.

In the second graph, we see that from the start a student is making consistently slower progress. After 7 years the student’s attainment is about a grade 4 standard. The slope in this graph represents a below average rate of progress, and the trajectory is 4:7. It takes 7 years to make 4 years progress. In many cases, progress of the struggling student is better represented by a curve rather than a straight line.

In the third graph, we see the two graphs superimposed and the schooling extended to grade 10. Here we see represented the challenge in starting an intervention after the early years. If the student is to catch up in reading by grade 10, the slope of progress must be dramatically increased. In the next 3 years, the student must make 6 years progress. This would represent two years progress for each year of instruction. The trajectory from grade 7 to grade 10 would be 2:1. This is a steeper slope than even the rapidly progressing students have accomplished. Remember too that the rapidly progressing student continues to do so (assuming motivation is maintained) because the skills and domain knowledge preceding the current learning challenge have been entrenched and automatized over the years through practice. These develop as a consequence of reading volume (both instructional and for pleasure), and include vocabulary growth, a higher developed sense of syntax, and conceptual/world knowledge. The difference in reading volume between even the average reader (50th percentile) and the struggling reader (10th percentile) is of the order of 15 times (Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988).

These lower order components of learning are now automatic for the rapidly progressing students, allowing them to focus only on the new challenge. By contrast, the student with a history of learning struggles hasn’t fully internalised those earlier skills and knowledge systems. So, many of the new challenges faced by the student require regularly reviewing those earlier components that are taken for granted even by his average progress peers.

There is also the impact of long-term failure on the student’s sense of self-efficacy and motivation. See these pages Literacy and mental health; Literacy and behaviour for an extended coverage of the behavioural and mental health issues that may impede catchup.

This may partly explain the disappointing findings from some of the research into the progress made by students whose early struggles have not been addressed until late in elementary or early high school. In the literacy domain, the research has pointed to the possibility of reasonable success in addressing a student’s decoding skills, although the instructional intensity of interventions needed (even when evidence-based approaches are employed) is all too rarely achieved. Even so, catch-up in reading fluency and reading comprehension has proved more elusive (Spencer & Manis, 2010).

So, you need to provide instruction that will have your struggling readers learn at a more rapid pace than the high progress readers have been able to achieve over their career. Is that realistic? Yes, because, for the most part, few students ever receive the full power that exemplary instruction can supply. So, you need a superbly constructed curriculum that is presented regularly with efficient use of instructional time. This has been described as increasing academic learning time (ALT).

“A high level of ALT exists when: 1) students are covering important (tested/evaluated) content; 2) students are on-task most of the class period; and 3) students are successful in most of the assignments they complete (Carroll, 1963). … Students engaged in learning for as little as 38% of a typical school day. Observed distractions were inefficient classroom management, time spent in maintaining discipline, ineffective instructional techniques, and inappropriate curriculum, and that only 38 % of a typical school day was allocated to engaged learning (Aronson, Zimmerman, & Carlos, 1999).” (Mulholland  & Cepello, 2006, p. 63-4)

So, there is room to streamline and supercharge instruction. However, it is likely that long-term, intensive, multi-component evidence-based interventions are required by most of these students, and the increased  time and resources needed to achieve this is a serious challenge to the school system (Vaughn et al., 2011; Wanzek, Wexler, Vaughn, & Ciullo, 2010).

The above graphs are simplifications of what occurs. In fact, most readers’ progress is not linear, but rather has both rises and plateaux. For many struggling readers even a fall may be evidenced, for reasons described above.

Some relevant research

“A major goal of Tier 2 or secondary intervention is to allow the majority of students with learning (e.g., reading) difficulties to attain grade-level expectations. If students with below-grade- level performance are to catch up with normally developing students, their rate of growth must be accelerated; simply learning at an average rate will only maintain the deficit. Thus, Tier 2 interventions must be intensive enough to not only improve students’ performance, but to actually enable students with learning difficulties to progress at rates that are faster than the learning rates of average students. At the same time, these interventions must be feasible for teachers to implement and sustain” (p.433).

Vaughn, S., Denton, C. A., & Fletcher, J. M. (2010). Why intensive interventions are necessary for students with severe reading difficulties. Psychology in the Schools, 47(5), 432–444.

“Older struggling readers fall into a wide range of developmental levels, presenting a unique set of circumstances not found in younger more homogeneous beginning readers (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004). These struggling adolescents readers generally belong to one of two categories, those provided with little or poor early reading instruction or those possibly provided with good early reading instruction, yet for unknown reasons were unable to acquire reading skills (Roberts, Torgesen, Boardman, & Sammacca, 2008). Additionally within these two categories, older struggling readers are extremely heterogeneous and complex in their remediation needs (Nation, Snowling, & Clarke, 2007; Torgesen et al., 2007)” (p.566).

Calhoon, M. B., & Prescher, Y. (2013). Individual and group sensitivity to remedial reading program design: Examining reading gains across three middle school reading projects. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 26, 565-592.

Further thoughts on catch-up

In considering the provision of additional instruction to older struggling students, catch up is a laudable goal. However, the longer a student has been falling behind, the less likely a school can provide the intensity of instruction required to even make headway against his average achieving peers. So, the task of elevating a year 1 student to the average range in, say, reading is much less demanding than attempting to do so for a third grade student. Beyond that, the difficulty does not increase in a simple linear progression, but much more severely.

The process has some of the characteristics of compound debt, a situation that arises when a debt cannot be fully serviced, and so the capital upon which the interest rate is calculated is rising rather than falling. Thus, a student who makes less than average progress in his first year accumulates a debt. If, through intervention, he makes average progress in his second year, he will remain behind because he is moving from a lower base than his peers. However, it is more likely that his progress in second year (assuming no intervention) will also fall below the average rate, and he is now even further behind because he has been unable to fully service his debt. His skill-capital, upon which progress depends in his third year, has now fallen further behind. He is beginning to experience an inability to make sense of average classroom instruction because of this deficit. He will lose touch with the curriculum, no matter how hard he tries. In a double whammy, it is likely that his resilience has been sorely tested over the preceding years, and now his efforts are diminishing – and his progress slows even further. Meanwhile, his peers have built upon their skill-capital, classroom instruction is pitched at a level they can understand. Further, their sense of self-efficacy has been enhanced by success, and they provide the effort to achieve. During these three years they have been engaged in lots of reading, and their vocabulary and knowledge store have kept pace with grade level expectations. The struggler has been able to gain little from text, his vocabulary and knowledge store have not kept pace, and his capacity to follow the language of classroom instruction is impaired.

The longer this process occurs, the greater the compounded loss and the more difficult is effective intervention. So, by the times our student has reached high school, the Matthew Effect (see What are these Matthew Effects?) have made life very difficult for him.

As indicated earlier, few secondary schools have the will, the knowledge, or the resources needed to provide anything like catch up for these students. Research has yet to provide more than ballpark estimations as to what might be required to create even a measurable acceleration in literacy skills, such as reading (decoding fluency and comprehension), vocabulary, writing, spelling, mathematics – without even considering the resulting loss of time taken from participation in the normal secondary curriculum.

Despite having noted the hurdles for secondary school interventions with struggling students and, in particular, the unlikelihood of complete catch-up, the above information is best read as a reality check, but not as grounds for despair and doing nothing.

Who can say what long-term outcome might derive from an intervention, even when it doesn’t produce major documented short term change? I’ve known students for whom the empirical outcomes were moderate, but whose subjective experiences were quite different. For example, it was often expressed by the participants that this was the first time in their life that learning to read made sense to them, and that they could now appreciate that it is possible to do it. Further, they no longer believed that they were dumb. Sometimes, a small step can have consequences that lead to major steps in the future – and these major steps may not have eventuated without the initial successful small steps evoked by the reading program. I've seen attitudinal shifts in previously disheartened students who couldn't seem to lift themselves towards higher achievement. This sometimes occurs when even moderate gains are achieved, so catchup may not have been achieved by the intervention, but the changed demeanour of the student may enable a concerted longer term effort on his part that is ultimately rewarding.

Of course, a preventative step could also be contemplated by a secondary school, as occurred in the case study I mentioned earlier. That is to work with feeder schools to ensure that similar interventions are provided prior to secondary schooling. Progress is much more readily obtained the earlier is the screening and program provision.

Some relevant research

“This survey showed the difficulty of closing students’ gaps in the middle years (from 4th to 8th grade). Fewer than 10%” of far off track students (more than one standard deviation below benchmark in 4th grade) caught up in the four years to 8th grade. Between 8th grade and 12th grade only 6% of those far off track students in 8th grade reached benchmark by 12th grade”.

Dougherty, C. (2014). Catching up to college and career readiness: The challenge is greater for at-risk students. ACT Research & Policy, May 2014. 1-12. Retrieved from Catching up to college and career readiness

“A child with a reading disability who is not identified early may require as many as 150 – 300 hours of intensive instruction (at least 90 minutes a day for most school days over a 1 – 3 year period) if he is going to close the reading gap… between himself and his peers. And, of course, the longer identification and effective reading instruction is delayed, the longer the child will require to catch up” (p.259)

Shaywitz, S. (2003). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

In reality, making a huge difference is a monumental task taking a great deal of time

So, Corrective Reading: Decoding is a worthy program for struggling secondary students, and for adults for that matter. It should be clear, however, that there is more to be done if a dramatic and enduring effect is expected.

“While the null effects are disappointing, they are not entirely surprising when we examine the level of intensity of the interventions that schools delivered to students with protracted reading difficulties in the middle grades. For example, many of the interventions determined to be effective in reviews of adolescent literacy interventions involved support for teachers to implement the intervention, whereas the current study evaluated districts’ existing intervention practices and did not provide teachers with coaching or professional development. Additionally, the interventions in the Striving Readers evaluation (Boulay et al., 2015) that were shown to be effective for improving reading achievement were typically delivered for 90 minutes per day, five days per week, whereas reading interventions schools selected and implemented in the current study were administered for 47 minutes per day, 4.3 days per week. … A final implication for practice of this study involves the level of intensity that is necessary for solving such intractable issues as improving adolescent reading achievement. Although the evidence base is converging on the level of intensity that should be brought to bear to improve reading outcomes for older readers, and the schools and districts involved in the current study indicated they were acutely aware of the level of intensity necessary for reading interventions to be efficacious in the middle grades, they chose to implement intervention plans that fell quite short of the these evidence based recommendations (Boulay et al., 2015; Herrera et al., 2016). As evidenced by the few studies of adolescent reading interventions that have improved reading achievement for students in middle school, the intensity required to turn the dial on student outcome is substantial. In addition, districts seeking to improve adolescent literacy outcomes should consider matching interventions to student need, using interventions that employ explicit instruction, and providing ongoing support for teachers to implement interventions.” (p. 46, 48)  

Fien, H., Anderson, D., Nelson, N.J., Kennedy, P., Baker, S.K., & Stoolmiller, M. (2018). Examining the impact and school-level predictors of impact variability of an 8th grade reading intervention on at-risk students’ reading achievement. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 33(1), 37–50.

“How Malleable are Reading Skills at this Age Among Students with this Degree of Difficulty? A second potential explanation for the lack of differential results for reading comprehension outcomes points to the diminished malleability of reading comprehension in comparison to word-level reading skills in late elementary grades and beyond. This interpretation disregards the observed standard score gains as artifacts of measurement error or regression to the mean, and posits that the failure to find between groups differences is because the targeted construct (reading comprehension) demonstrates limited malleability and it is unrealistic to expect robust growth in interventions dosages that are measured in hours rather than years. Standardized mean differences for annual growth in reading achievement diminish dramatically as students progress from early elementary grades into late elementary and beyond (Lipsey et al., 2012; Scammacca, Fall, & Roberts, 2015aa). This phenomenon is most likely due to changes in the reading task over time. In earlier grades, text complexity is limited; constrained word level skills are highly predictive of reading comprehension (Schulte et al., 2016). In later grades, the broader constructs of language and background knowledge are increasingly predictive of reading comprehension (Ahmed et al., 2016; Catts, Adlof, & Weismer, 2006). Thus, to improve reading comprehension in late elementary and secondary grades, it may be necessary to affect the relatively unconstrained constructs of language and background knowledge—a difficult task in under 40 hours of intervention per year. Perhaps the results of this study and others that fail to find robust differential effects in reading comprehension indicate that the task of remediating persistent reading comprehension deficits in late elementary and secondary school will require interventions of greater duration and dosage than previously studied. … This growing body of literature affirms one key takeaway: there is no silver bullet to remediate years of difficulty in reading. With this reality in mind, practitioners should work to avoid isolated, piecemeal intervention strategies. Successful intervention programs will require high-quality, long term interventions in which effects cumulate across years (Fletcher &Wagner, 2014). Similarly, researchers should redouble efforts to maximize the effects of interventions, to identify causal mechanisms, and to study interventions of greater intensity and duration than are typically studied.” (p.33, 35)

Miciak, K., Roberts, G., Taylor, W.P., Solis, M., Ahmed, Y., Vaughn, S., & Fletcher, J.M. (2018). The effects of one versus two years of intensive reading intervention implemented with late elementary struggling readers. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 33(1), 24–36.

So, to have the level of effects we'd like, additional related programs will be needed. As the students in Corrective Reading will have become used to the DI model of instruction, they will feel more comfortable participating in another program that already feels comfortable in its style of presentation and participation. For example, to aid reading comprehension, I’ve found the sister program Corrective Reading: Comprehension has also been helpful. As with the Decoding series, the Comprehension program has three levels with placement tests determining the appropriate level.

To further aid literacy achievement (improving spelling further aids reading and writing progress) Spelling Through Morphographs is very effective. For information, see: Spelling through Morphographs

See also Spelling Mastery and Spelling through Morphographs

See also Feel like a spell? for more research findings on teaching spelling.

Why include spelling instruction if reading is the main area of concern?

“Graham and Santangelo (2014) investigated the impact of spelling instruction on reading, writing, and spelling outcomes for students with and without disabilities in grades K through 12. Formal spelling instruction improved spelling outcomes when compared to no instruction or incidental instruction (ES = 0.54) and positively impacted reading performance (ES = 0.44). Similar results were found by Weiser and Mathes (2011) in their synthesis of the impact of encoding instruction (i.e., directly teaching students how to spell phoneme-grapheme correspondences in writing and with manipulatives) on reading and spelling outcomes for at-risk elementary students and older students with LD who read below a third-grade level. Encoding instruction was found to increase students’ knowledge of the alphabetic principle, development of phonemic awareness, and growth of reading and spelling skills. Wanzek et al. (2006) synthesized the literature from 1995 to 2003 involving reading and spelling interventions and their impact on spelling outcomes for students with LD in grades K through 12. Studies that used explicit instructional methods and incorporated multiple opportunities for practice and immediate corrective feedback led to the largest increases in spelling achievement. Williams, Walker, Vaughn, and Wanzek (2017) replicated and extended the Wanzek et al. (2006) synthesis to include studies from 2004 to 2014. Again, interventions that included explicit instruction or self-correction strategies improved spelling outcomes for words directly taught in the interventions (Williams et al., 2017). ... The results from the aforementioned reviews and meta-analyses emphasize not only how spelling deficits impact students’ reading and writing performance, but also the importance of teaching spelling to improve spelling, reading, and writing outcomes.” (p. 291, 2)

Williams, K. J.; Walker, M. A.; Vaughn, S.; & Wanzek, J. (2017). A synthesis of reading and spelling interventions and their effects on spelling outcomes for students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50(3), 286-297.

Why include writing instruction if reading is the main area of concern?

“Spelling and writing are incorporated in some reading interventions because the skills associated with successful reading—such as phonological knowledge, text structure knowledge, and reasoning—also play a role in spelling and writing (Abbott & Berninger, 1993; Graham, Harris, & Chorzempa, 2002; Wanzek et al., 2006) (p.166).

Wanzek, J., Vaughn, S., Scammacca, N.K., Metz, K., Murray, C.S., Roberts, G., & Danielson, L. (2013). Extensive reading interventions for students with reading difficulties after Grade 3. Review of Educational Research 8(2), 163-195.

To aid writing skills directly, Expressive Writing and Essentials for Writing are two programs I’ve found valuable for this student group.

So, addressing literacy issues in secondary school is challenging, but with the right commitment to evidence-based programs and intensive instruction, worthwhile benefits can accrue to students who would otherwise languish in their classes, feel like failures, and be prey to early school leaving and the attendant consequences in employment and participation in society. Good luck.

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