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By Kelly Ryan Hicks and James B. Hale

Reading Club

Commercial Reading Programs: Being an Informed Consumer

Commercial reading programs are useful as they may provide the instructional methods and materials all in one package. Most websites and promotional materials “sound good” when first looking at them. This makes it difficult to determine which programs may be useful and which programs need more evidence, especially for children with learning disabilities (LDs). In considering a commercial reading program, you must determine if it is evidence-based.

Programming decisions must be practical and effective for most children, but none of them will likely meet the needs of all children, especially for children with LDs in reading, who have different causes for their reading problems (e.g., Fiorello, Hale, & Snyder, 2006).  Unfortunately, some schools may purchase a commercial package, and then put all children with reading difficulties in the same program regardless of the specific processing deficit and particular reading problem.

In addition, our time, effort, and money are precious commodities so commercial reading programs must be effective at what they claim to provide. Commercial reading programs that are evidence-based include the best quality research in their program development.

Commercial Program Considerations: Here are three important considerations in choosing a commercial reading program:

  • Does the intervention target a specific literacy skill or series of skills?
  • Are the program outcomes supported by evidence, and if so, how strong is the evidence? (e.g., number of peer-reviewed journal articles, significance of differences and replication)
  • Is that evidence credible? (e.g., quality of experimental designs, independent investigations without conflict of interest, differences between children with LDs and children without LDs in the control group)

Commercial Program Caveats:  Before we examine the major commercial reading programs available, we offer two important caveats to keep in mind:

Buyer Beware!

Just because a website claims to have research to support its program does not mean the program is evidence-based. Be a vigilant consumer and read the “fine print” on websites. Investigate publisher’s claims about evidence. Google Scholar and/or ERIC databases can help you see the actual peer-reviewed research that has been conducted on a given commercial program to make sure

Read the Research!

A comprehensive review of research, like the reviews found in the National Reading Panel and/or Institute for Education Sciences (IES), can inform our decisions. For example, What Works Clearinghouse and The National Centre on Intensive Interventions present current research on reading interventions

Commercial Reading Programs for Students with LDs

Many studies review the effectiveness of commercial reading programs. Less common are studies reviewing the effectiveness of intervention programs for students with LDs. Below is a review of evidence supporting commercial reading interventions that are supported by rigorous scientific evidence specifically with students with LDs. Unfortunately, there have been very few studies using commercially available programs that have differentiated between learning disability subtypes (e.g., phonological, orthographic, phoneme-grapheme correspondence, rapid naming, receptive/expressive language; Fiorello et al., 2006).

These commercial reading programs highlight the differing orientations, instructional methods, measurement tools, and outcomes available to consumers targeting students with LDs. These programs are listed in alphabetical order, not in the order of importance, value, research support, or other criteria.

Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes

Authors: Patricia Lindamood and Nanci Bell

Assessment and Intervention Material Described on Website

  • Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing® Program for Reading, Spelling, and Speech (LiPS®).
  • Seeing Stars®: Symbol Imagery for Phonological and Orthographic Processing in Reading and Spelling (SI™)
  • Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking® (V/V®)
  • Talkies®: Visualizing and Verbalizing for Oral Language Comprehension and Expression (Talkies®)


  • 50 Learning Centres available internationally, school training and partnerships available
  • Teachers work in large or small groups, or with individual students
  • Students become more aware of the mouth movements that produce speech sounds
  • Students learn to identify sounds within words and teach them to self-correct in reading, spelling, and speech.
  • Visual-orthographic strategies and visualization/verbalization strategies focus on sound-symbol and comprehension respectively
  • Recommended four to six months for 1 hour/day or 4-6 weeks for 4 hours/day
  • Computer supported activities and materials are engaging and enjoyable
  • LIPS advantage is it provides strategies for phonology, orthography, receptive and expressive language learning disability subtypes, but not as focused on reading fluency/rapid automatic naming or working memory subtype needs

Research Supporting LiPS®

  • Positive effects for the LiPS® treatment group in the areas of, reading fluency, and math for students with learning disabilities (Torgesen et. al. 2001, What Works Clearinghouse, 2010b)
  • LiPS® and Earobics® also found to be effective in improving phonological awareness, word attack, and letter-word identification of beginning readers in the general population (Torgesen et al. 2003, What Works Clearinghouse, 2010b)
  • Improved phonemic awareness and sound/letter association with LiPS® (McIntyre, Protz, & McQuarrie, 2008)
  • LiPS® and Earobics® show increased phonemic awareness after 6 weeks of intervention, but no differences in reading and language found (Pokorni, Worthington, & Jamison, 2004)
  • Changes in brain structure/function related to remedial instruction and response to intervention(Eden et al., 2004; Simos et al., 2002)

Additional Web-Based Materials and Links


Authors: Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham

Assessment and Intervention Material Described on Website

Teachers incorporate five components for effective reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension) into their lesson plans.

  • Stage 1 Training includes phonemic awareness, multi-sensory strategies for reading, writing and spelling, syllabication patterns for encoding/decoding, reciprocal teaching for reading comprehension, multi-sensory techniques for sight words, student assessment techniques
  • Stage 2 Training includes encoding and decoding with morphemes, higher level lesson planning, Greek and Latin roots, vocabulary, writing and grammar.

Approach based on theory, knowledge, and practice with over 70 years of validation


  • An approach; not a method, program, system, or technique; several commercial reading programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach
  • Instructional approach intended primarily for use with persons who have difficulty with reading, spelling, and writing, but can be used for all learners
  • One-to-one, small group, or classroom instruction based on learner need
  • Effective for primary, elementary, intermediate, secondary, college, and adult levels
  • Approach has explicit focus for persons with language processing problems associated with specific learning disabilities
  • Neuroimaging research shows that language-based and multi-sensory approach to teaching and learning, can help compensate for processing deficits affecting reading
  • Structured, sequential, and cumulative approach
  • Flexibility in diagnostic approach (instructor continuously monitors problems and progress of student) and prescriptive approach (diagnostic information informs planning for future lessons), so good for linking assessment to intervention
  • Programs typically focused on word analysis level, and is quite effective for children with LDs in this area; higher level comprehension areas may or may not be addressed sufficiently

Research supporting Orton-Gillingham Approach

  • Positive effect on both reading and spelling for both remedial and non-remedial classes following Orton-Gillingham multisensory approach (Vickery et al., 1997)
  • Improved phonological awareness, word decoding, and reading comprehension in inner city children (Joshi, Dahlgren, & Boulware-Gooden, 2002)
  • Positive effects in word reading, word attack/decoding, spelling, and reading comprehension across settings, including students with and without LDs; positive effects also noted in college-aged students with LDs (Ritchey & Goeke, 2006)
  • Improved phonemic awareness and alphabetic skills with 30 minutes of supplemental instruction per day, with Hispanic females showing greatest alphabetic principle gains (Scheffel, Shaw, & Shaw, 2008)
  • Approach more effective than FastForward (Click here to access this resource.) in word attack skills, but similar for increasing phonemic awareness (Hook, Macaruso, & Jones, 2001)
  • Significant gains in phoneme awareness and reading outcomes for language delayed individuals (Warrick et al., 1993)
  • Ritchey and Goeke (2006) review several studies, reporting positive and equivocal findings, suggesting more research is needed (Click here to access this resource in PDF.)

Additional Web-Based Materials and Links

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS)

Authors: Doug Fuchs, PhD, Lynn Fuchs, PhD, Vanderbilt University

Assessment and Intervention Material Described on Website

  • Kindergarten PALS  includes letter-sound correspondence, decoding, phonological awareness, and sight words.
  • Grades 1 – 6 PALS includes decoding, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. Activities include Partner Reading, Paragraph Shrinking, Prediction Relay, and Re-telling
  • High School PALS is similar but uses age-appropriate motivational and helping strategies.


  • Structured, peer-mediated learning activities
  • Preschool-Grade 6 and High School
  • Students assigned to pairs; take turns as “coaches” and “players”
  • Increases student engagement while decreasing direct teaching burden
  • Includes many teaching materials, but also uses authentic content such as library books or short stories
  • 3-4 times /week for 30-35 min depending on grade for K-6, 5X/week @ 25 minutes for HS

Research Supporting PALS:

  • PALS was found to have positive effects on reading fluency and reading comprehension for students with and without learning disabilities (Fuchs et al., 1997; Gersten et al., 2001), equally well in English Language Learner populations (Saenz et al., 2005)
  • PALS improved vocabulary recognition compared to controls (Zarei & Naamaei, 2014).
  • Positive effects on phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, letter recognition, print awareness, and phonics (Stein et al., 2008) and reading comprehension (Mathes & Babyak, 2001; Stein et al., 2008), and all areas of reading achievement (Calhoon, 2005)
  • PALS better at improving reading comprehension than reading fluency in high school population (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Kazdan, 1999)
  • Children in PALS classes more socially accepted and enjoy similar social status (Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, & Martinez, 2002)
  • PALS non-responders randomly assigned to individualized modified PALS not as effective as adult one-on-one instruction (McMaster, Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2005)
  • PALS leads to better reading skills and attention when supplemental intervention offered, but those with inattentive problems did not become better readers (Dion et al., 2011) as attention mediates responsiveness (Miller et al., 2014)
  • PALS is quite valuable for children with LDs in reading in inclusive classrooms, less stigmatizing; could extend program “down” to earlier grades for older children with LDs where they “teach” younger children skills they are learning, furthering self-esteem, confidence, and repeated practice for automaticity

Additional Web-Based Material and Link

Read Naturally

Authors: Candyce Ihnot and Tom Ihnot

Assessment and Intervention Material Described on Website

  • Benchmark Assessor Live
  • Quick Phonics Screener
  • Reading Fluency Progress Monitor
  • Read Naturally Live (Web-Based/iPad Ready)
  • Read Naturally Encore (Print/CD)
  • One Minute Reader (iPad App)
  • Read Naturally GATE (Small-Group Instruction)
  • Word Warm-ups
  • Take Aim! at Vocabulary
  • Signs for Sounds
  • Funēmics


  • Individual and small group instruction largely to build reading fluency
  • Programs target kindergarten to grade 8
  • Combines strategies of teacher-modeling, repeated reading, progress monitoring
  • Individualizes instruction and improves reading proficiency
  • Variety of intervention programs including web-based, ipad, books & cd’s
  • Uses audio support, progress tracking, high-interest material
  • Improves fluency, vocabulary and comprehension
  • May be most useful for children with receptive/expressive language, rapid naming, working memory causes for their reading LD

Research Supporting Read Naturally

  • Positive effects on reading fluency and writing for students with learning disabilities (Chenault et al., 2006)
  • Effectiveness for the adolescent population (not identified with a learning disability) in general literacy achievement (Heistad, 2008)
  • Positive effects on reading fluency and accuracy in general population (Christ & Davie, 2009; Tucker & Jones, 2010)
  • Use with Phono-Graphix (Click here to access this resource.) program in Tiers 1 and 2 approach led to better word reading, reading fluency, and reading comprehension (Denton, Fletcher, Anthony, & Francis, 2006)
  • Normalizing of brain function and improved reading in adequate responders (Simos et al., 2007)

Additional Web-Based Materials and Links

Introducing Read Live Video

Evidence Based Interventions for General Population (not necessarily identified with LDs)

  • Review of research evaluating the effectiveness of Read 180 for the general adolescent population identifies positive effects on reading comprehension and general literacy skills (WWC, 2009).
  • Lexia Reading was found to have positive effects on alphabetics and comprehension for the beginning reading population (Gale, 2006; Macaruso, Hook, & McCabe, 2006; Macaruso & Walker, 2008).
  • Earobics®was found to have positive effects on alphabetics and reading fluency (Gale, D., 2006, Rehmann, R., 2005, and Valliath, S., 2002).
  • Wilson Reading System®was found to have positive effects on alphabetics (Torgesen et al, 2006).
  • Reading Recovery®was found to have positive effects on general reading achievement, alphabetics, reading fluency, and comprehension for beginning readers (WWC, 2013).
  • Process Assessment for Learner-II (Reading and Writing) (Berninger et al., 2010; Berninger & May, 2011) extensive academic, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging NICHD research for both assessment and evidence-based interventions, largely carried out by investigator team.


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