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What Does Research Say About Remedial Reading?

by David Raudenbush, studioD

Remedial reading programs have existed in schools for decades, but they expanded widely in the early 2000s after federal legislation required all schools to show yearly progress improving standardized reading test scores. Remedial programs target students who lag behind their peers by a grade level or more on reading tests. Research on the effectiveness of remedial reading interventions shows a mixed bag of results but also points to effective methods to support struggling readers.

Early Interventions

Research shows that kindergarten and first grade are the best times to reach students who fall behind their peers in reading. According to Richard Allington, a reading professor at the University of Tennessee, intervention should begin early when students demonstrate difficulty identifying letters or letter sounds. For this reason, Allington concludes kindergarten teachers need additional training to identify and correct early delays. Research indicates that as students grow beyond the primary grades, interventions become less effective than they are for kindergarteners and first graders.

Targeting Interventions

Research has not found any single remedial reading program that works for all struggling readers, according to a National Institute of Health report. Allington believes this indicates a need to match students individually to the intervention that will work best. Many districts choose computer-based remediation programs. However, Allington notes that no research exists proving these programs work better than teachers working directly with students. Effective reading remediation involves teachers modeling for students the abilities they struggle with and guiding students as they practice these skills. Interventions should focus on teaching students how to sound out and recognize words and how to use strategies to improve comprehension. As students grow older, they also need reinforcement that shows how these skills are relevant outside of school.

Improving Self-Efficacy

Successful reading interventions address how children feel about themselves as readers, according to a National Institute of Health report. Research reveals that students who describe themselves as poor readers have a difficult time making progress. As students progress through school as struggling readers, they become increasingly self-defeating, a trend which is hard to reverse. Therefore, motivating students to want to read is a common factor in research-supported remedial reading programs. Research shows that building self-efficacy -- the way students feel about themselves -- needs to begin in the earliest grades. Research also supports teaching reading comprehension strategies as a way to give students a greater sense of independence and self-reliance. Viable strategies include predicting, monitoring comprehension, making inferences and drawing conclusions.

All Day Support

Allington found that 30 to 60 minutes of supplemental reading instruction is not effective for improving test scores or supporting readers. He determined that the reason these attempts fail is that students spend the rest of the day working in other classes with textbooks that are too hard for them to understand. Gains they make in reading support sessions disappear when students open texts they find incomprehensible. The ensuing frustration contributes to students' lack of motivation to read. To correct this, Alllington says remedial students need classrooms instruction that allows them to choose from appropriate texts written at a level they can understand. For example, rather than all student reading the same science textbooks, students should be allowed to choose from a library of nonfiction texts on the class topic.

About the Author

David Raudenbush has more than 20 years of experience as a literacy teacher, staff developer and literacy coach. He has written for newspapers, magazines and online publications, and served as the editor of "Golfstyles New Jersey Magazine." Raudenbush holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education.

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