The significance of effective reading instruction at the elementary level cannot be overemphasized. Good reading skills are a predictor of later academic achievement. A learner’s progress is strongly dependent on his or her ability to comprehend what is read. Therefore, teaching reading effectively is key to producing successful young readers. This paper reviews research on three instructional strategies for children at risk of reading development. A discussion of the findings, classroom applications, and future research areas follows this analysis.
The effectiveness of comprehension teaching depends on the approach used (explicit vs. implicit). A quasi-experimental study by Pilonieta et al. (2019) involving 47 first and second graders suggests that explicit CSI combined with guided and partner reading significantly improves reading comprehension in these learners compared to standard instruction. A secondary finding was that this instructional approach supported the students’ capacities to apply the taught strategies in reading over the course of the academic year. Overall, higher comprehension scores were strongly correlated with knowledge of these methods. Thus, explicit CIS approaches help build strategic young readers with internalized reading strategies that support better comprehension.
Students already identified as at-risk can benefit from explicit instruction. Berninger et al. (2019) examined the relationship between parent-rated listening, speaking, reading, and writing and achievement scores for learners with and without learning disabilities. They found significant correlations of language by ear, mouth, eye, and hand with success in the four measures. This finding suggests that flexible approaches for which instruction is explicit (not just multisensory) are appropriate for students with dysgraphia, dyslexia, and other reading or writing disabilities given the individual differences in language learning abilities. In an extension study, parental ratings were significantly correlated with fMRI connectivity with motor areas involved in speaking, writing, and listening. Thus, motor planning and control are critical to literacy learning and should be considered in language instruction for students with learning disabilities.
Developmental spelling can indicate a young learner’s comprehension of spoken sounds of written words and explicit instruction can align the two. Dussling (2019) gives an empirical demonstration that supplemental small group reading sessions to build phonemic awareness and understanding of the alphabet improves achievement in spelling tests among non-native English language learners (ELLs). The posttest results revealed significant gains in spelling ability. Further, the combined improvements for all non-native ELLs and native English speakers instructed explicitly had a medium effect size for spelling. The learners also demonstrated significant growth in letter-sound agreements from the baseline. Thus, explicit instructional intervention focusing on phonological awareness and letter-sound correspondence can improve spelling achievement for young children.
Addressing phonological deficits can improve word spelling and reading comprehension in early grades. Schlesinger and Gray (2017) studied the impact of multisensory language instruction on reading and spelling for second graders with and without dyslexia. In their study, the authors used systematic graphemes, phonemes, words, teaching cards, and a spelling matrix to teach the treatment and control groups. However, the multisensory approach also used visual, auditory, and tactile engagement methods. The authors found that both interventions resulted in better letter-name and letter-sound production and reading and spelling growth for both groups of learners. No significant differences were found in these measures between students with and without dyslexia using multisensory instruction.
The multisensory component is provided to students using different modalities. A study conducted by Lee (2016) on Malay and English Grade 2 learners found that the blending and segmenting effects of using conventional letter cards and iPads for multisensory instruction are not significantly different. The treatment provided materials to form and disassemble non-words in both modalities. Furthermore, phonological tasks, writing systems, or non-word tests did not moderate the effects of these methods, which are mainly tactile-kinesthetic. This finding suggests that both multisensory modalities activate the shoulder-arm-hand system that supports analytical and sensory processes for blending or segmenting tasks regardless of the medium used.
Peer-assisted learning can help learners achieve competence in the tasks that need collaboration. Völlinger et al.’s (2018) evaluation of the effects of reading strategy instruction that included a peer-assisted component found significant improvement in reading competency in the intervention group compared to the control arm across multiple measurement points. The students were first taught fluent and strategic reading in class sessions before working on assigned texts with peers. The within- and between-group comparisons showed that peer-assisted instruction significantly improved the reading comprehension of the third-grade students. This finding supports the efficacy of teaching strategic reading in a whole-class context and allowing learners to practice these strategies with peers.
Peer tutoring is useful for not only addressing academic needs but also disruptive behavior. Sinclair et al. (2019) implemented an A-B-A-B design to evaluate the effects of peer-assisted instruction on a learner exhibiting recurrent disruptive behavior and reading-comprehension difficulties. Post-intervention results indicated a decline in the frequency of problem behavior, which the authors attributed to the student’s access to peer attention. Socially acceptable academic conduct was also seen in paired children due to the engaging, structured instruction provided using peer-assisted learning strategies (PALS). However, the study found no correlation between the intervention and passage reading fluency scores of the learners partly due to the short implementation period.
PALS can also promote early reading skills in students with special needs. Rafdal et al. (2011) studied the effectiveness of PALS for kindergartners with disabilities but without problem behavior. The study found that students assigned to kindergarten PALS performed better than controls in learning the alphabet and oral reading. The effectiveness of PALS for students with disabilities is due to the systematic and direct instruction provided and the opportunity for learners to practice words and receive immediate feedback. However, additional booster sessions for PALS teachers did not significantly improve the students’ scores. Furthermore, the level of support did not affect alphabetic and reading outcomes.
Extending PALS to incorporate lived experiences can improve the reading outcomes of diverse learners. Thorius and Graff (2018) describe the extended goals, resources, methods, and assessment of a PALS intervention to improve literacy among learners from minority groups. The central objectives should be teaching strategic reading and comprehension and promoting their growth as readers, friends, and problem solvers. Appropriate PALS materials for these students are books or websites exploring issues in the school or community that need fixing. The PALS methods include pairing a high-performing reader with a low-performing learner and motivating students by awarding points. Equitable assessments can eliminate the educator’s bias in evaluating PALS dyads. The authors recommend observing the students’ behaviors to establish their interests and abilities during PALS implementation.
Several PALS programs are available with varying levels of effectiveness. The Institute of Education Sciences (2010) reviewed evidence comparing the efficacy of PALS and standard reading instruction in improving reading and mathematics achievement and language development. Three studies were excluded, as one used a randomized control design and had high attrition, while the others did not use an appropriate protocol – English language learners were few – and the intervention and control groups were not equivalent. The accepted study provided weak evidence of statistically significant improvement in posttest reading achievement but not mathematics scores and English language development. This positive effect suggests that PALS leads to better reading outcomes for young students.
The studies analyzed by topic indicate that teaching young children reading strategies enables them to grow into effective readers. The findings suggest that explicit instruction is correlated with improved comprehension and spelling due to internalized strategic reading, phonological awareness, and letter-sound correspondence. On the other hand, multisensory instruction did not show any significant differences in reading and spelling between dyslexic learners and controls but the tactile-kinesthetic aspect of this modality helps improve blending and segmenting tasks. In contrast, the evidence consistently correlated peer-assisted instruction with significant positive effects on reading for different student groups.
The results of this review show that reading instruction is very critical. Instructors who engage learners in explicit reading instruction, use multisensory modalities and employ peer-assisted learning produce beginning readers with better outcomes. The studies demonstrate that reading comprehension increases because of internalized reading strategies that learners are able to use in literacy activities. However, their focus is limited to reading and spelling achievement. Other literacy domains, including mathematics outcomes and language development, have not been examined; hence, weakness or limitation in methodology. A research gap identified is that the three instructional techniques have not been implemented in combination to improve reading. The findings of this review should form a basis for teacher development. Educators should be prepared to engage learners strategically using multisensory and peer-assisted instruction to produce successful readers.
The results of this review suggest that explicit, multisensory, and peer-assisted instruction are highly effective in promoting reading and comprehension in young children, including those with learning difficulties or disruptive behavior or those from minority groups. They build word recognition and letter-sound correspondence skills that are critical to higher reading achievement. However, the effectiveness of these instructional approaches in supporting students’ reading comprehension needs further research.
Berninger, V. W., Richards, T. L., Nielsen, K. H., Dunn, M. W., Raskind, M. H., & Abbott,
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Dussling, T. (2020). English language learners’ and native English-speakers’ spelling growth after supplemental early reading instruction. International Journal of Education & Literacy Studies, 8(1), 1-7. Web.
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