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By Carole Boudreau, Anne Rodrigue, Julie Myre-Bisaillon, Véronique Parent, and Annick Tremblay-Bouchard


Image of a Schoolgirl and teacher reading a book in class


Effective reading is primarily a function of two important components: reading automaticity (accuracy) and reading fluency (Tressoldi, Vio, & Iozzino, 2007). In this respect, various meta-analyses (Therrien, 2004, National Reading Panel, 2000) have demonstrated a positive relationship between improved fluency and comprehension. Given the role of fluency in the development of the ability to read, intervention programs for improving this skill in students with learning disabilities (LDs) must include the following:

  • Clear performance criteria for students;
  • A systematic progression towards more difficult tasks when students achieve the target level;
  • The implementation of reading practices in the presence of an adult;
  • A review of mistakes and feedback from the adult.

According to Rasinski et al. (2005) and Mokhtari and Thompson (2006), interventions for fluency must take into consideration the development of skills related to:

  • Decoding and reading speed;
  • Comprehension of the lexicon;
  • Prosody; and
  • Comprehension of sentences and syntactic segments (groups of words).

This article describes two approaches for improving reading fluency, which in turn improves the reading skills of students with LDs. These approaches are taken from two recent studies and share certain characteristics (Spencer & Manis, 2010; Tressoldi, Vio, & Iozzino, 2007). The authors present each study, describing the context for the research, the approach that was tested, and the study results.

Study 1: Great Leaps Reading Program (Spencer & Manis)

Research Context

In 2010, Spencer and Manis studied the impact of a program entitled Great Leaps Reading Program on reading fluency. Sixty grade 6 to grade 8 students in special classes, in two different schools, participated in the study. The students were divided into two groups, one experimental group and one control group, in each school. Thus, 30 students received interventions from the Great Leaps Reading Program; the other students (n=30) participated in a program entitled Skills for School Success. The goal of this second program was to improve students’ work methods, by reading instructions and doing exercises, followed by teacher feedback. Pre- and post-experiment measurements were taken in order to determine the impact of the program on fluency. The experiment was carried out over a six-month period (October to April) for ten minutes each day.

Description of the Approach

During short sessions (10 minutes/day), performed with one student at a time, the educator suggested reading activities that were repeated. The student was required to perform three types of reading: reading phonemes and isolated words, reading short sentences, and reading complete texts. The educator would ask the student to read one page as quickly and accurately as possible in 1 minute. This page contained either phonemes or isolated words, short sentences or complete texts. Thus, in one session, the student had to read three pages, i.e., one page for each type of reading. When the student was able to read one page, making fewer than two errors, he or she could start with a new page at the next session. If the student read a page containing only phonemes and isolated words and made fewer than two errors, he or she was given a new page of phonemes and isolated words to read at the next session. The same method was applied to the other two types of reading (short sentences and complete texts).

When a student was not able to read with a minimum of errors (two words or fewer), the teacher offered feedback and metacognitive support during the correction process. This correction process was based on the types of errors made by the student. The student then practised again, using the same words (or sentences or texts). The routine remained the same from session to session. At the end of the session, the teacher offered feedback again and either reviewed the correction strategies or suggested new ones.

Basis for the Efficacy of the Approach

The study showed that the students in the experimental group improved in terms of reading words and pseudowords, as well as in terms of reading speed and reading a paragraph. The results also showed that the students in the experimental group reinvested these skills in other types of reading. According to Spencer and Manis (2010), the Great Leaps Reading Program is interesting because it offers three types of reading, it is easy to implement in a regular high school with students with reading disabilities, and it does not require additional staff.

Study 2: Sub-syllabic Intervention (Tressoldi, Vio, & Iozzino)

Research Context

Tressoldi, Vio, and Iozzino (2007) studied the impact of sub-syllabic[1] intervention on fluency. They found that reading instruction based on syllable recognition enabled students with reading disabilities to develop orthographic representations of frequent syllables, which facilitated rapid, automatic word identification. Sixty-three students, from the end of grade 2 to the end of grade 8, participated in the study. These students were divided into three groups. They received a weekly intervention during the first month and a bi-monthly intervention thereafter. They were required to perform reading exercises at home, five times a week, for 10 to 15 minutes, and to keep a journal of the type of exercise they had done and the amount of time they had spent on them.

Description of the Approach

Two versions of the sub-syllabic approach – the Self-Paced (SP) version and the Automatic (AUT) version – were studied in two experimental groups. The sub-syllabic method consists of reading a variety of texts to students using software programs (Special Reader and WinABC) that facilitate the visual identification of syllables. In the SP version, the student is responsible for pressing the space bar on the computer keyboard to move to the next syllable, based on objectives set by the educator. In the AUT version, the computer presents each syllable automatically and the student follows along at the pace set by the computer. This intervention focuses on the reading of texts; other researchers (Martin-Chang & Levy, 2005; Tressoldi, Vio, & Lonciari, 2000), report that students find it easier to generalize words when they are presented in context, rather than in lists of isolated words. The control group received interventions consisting of exercises to improve phonemic blending and assisted reading of isolated words and simple texts, without any emphasis on syllable recognition.

Basis for the Efficacy of the Approach

All of the students who presented with reading disabilities, and who participated in the study, improved their reading accuracy. Gains in fluency varied according to the type of intervention. Students in the control group and the SP group experienced similar gains: gains over 5 months for the control group and 3 months for the SP group. Students in the AUT group experienced higher gains than either of the two other groups. Further measurements taken three months after the experiment showed that the gains of the students in the AUT group continued to increase after the interventions ended.

Tressoldi, Vio, and Iozzino (2007) concluded that, with the help of the right intervention, it is possible to continue to improve reading fluency. In particular, the AUT method allowed students with reading disabilities who participated in the study to increase their reading speed by 25%. According to Tressoldi et al., the visual identification of syllables, rapid recognition of syllables, and the frequency of the interventions helped to improve reading fluency quickly.


These studies by Spencer and Manis (2010) and Tressoldi, Vio and Iozzino (2007) demonstrate that specific, intensive interventions on reading phonemes, syllables, and short sentences have a positive impact on reading speed, word identification, reading pseudowords, and reading paragraphs. Moreover, irrespective of the type of program, intervention frequency can influence the progression of reading fluency.


Click here to visit the Great Leaps website and learn about the Great Leaps Reading Program.


Martin-Chang, S.L. & Levy, B. A. (2005). Fluency transfer: Differential gains in reading speed and accuracy following isolated word and context training. Reading and Writing, 18, 343-376.

Mokhtari, K. & Thompson, H. B. (2006). How problems of reading fluency and comprehension are related to difficulties in syntaxic awareness skills among fifth graders. Reading Research and Instruction, 46, 73-94.

National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Rasinski, T. V., Padak, N. D., McKeon, C. A., Wilfong, L. G., Friedauer, J. A. & Heim, P. (2005). Is reading fluency a key for successful high school reading? Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 48, 22-27.

Spencer, S. A., & Manis, F. R. (2010). The effects of a fluency intervention program on the fluency and comprehension outcomes of Middle‐School students with severe reading deficits. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 25(2), 76-86.

Therrien, W. J. (2004). Fluency and comprehension gains as a result of repeated reading. Remedial and Special Education, 25, 252-261.

Tressoldi, P. E., Vio, C., & Iozzino, R. (2007). Efficacy of an intervention to improve fluency in children with developmental dyslexia in a regular orthography. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40(3), 203-209.

Tressoldi, P. E., Vio C. & Lonciari, I. (2000). Treatment of specific developmental reading disorders, derived from single- and dual-route models. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33, 278-285.

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[1] Tressoldi, Vio, and Lonciari (2007) coined the methodology term sub-syllabic, which refers to automatizing the recognition of syllables within words in connected texts.

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Julie Myre-Bisaillon is a full professor at the Département des études sur l’adaptation scolaire et sociale (Department of Academic and Social Accommodation Studies) in the Faculty of Education at the University of Sherbrooke. She is in charge of the Collectif de recherche sur la continuité des apprentissages en lecture et en écriture (CLÉ) (Research Group on the Continuity of Learning to Read and Write), a research team with roughly twenty members. Her research interests focus on teaching accommodation for special education students, using by-project approaches based on children’s literature from a multidisciplinary perspective, and on reading and writing awareness in disadvantaged areas. She has also taught at the high school level and performed remedial work.  

Carole Boudreau teaches at the Département d’études sur l’adaptation scolaire et sociale (Department of Academic and Social Accommodation Studies) at the University of Sherbrooke. Before accepting this position, she worked as a remedial teacher in the school environment, as a guidance teacher specialized in hearing impairment and as a project officer for the Quebec Ministry of Education’s Direction de l’adaptation scolaire (Academic Accommodation Branch). Her research interests focus on reading and writing difficulties as well as remedial instruction. She is a member of the Collectif de recherche sur la continuité des apprentissages en lecture et en écriture (CLÉ) (Research Group on the Continuity of Learning to Read and Write).

Véronique Parent is a psychologist and professor at the Département de psychologie (Department of Psychology) at the University of Sherbrooke. Her research interests focus on cognitive disorders related to learning disabilities and accommodation. She is also interested in using novel intervention approaches in school environments, such as the use of cognitive training programs, to promote the development of special education students’ learning potential. She is a member of the Collectif de recherche sur la continuité des apprentissages en lecture et en écriture (CLÉ) (Research Group on the Continuity of Learning to Read and Write).

Anne Rodrigue is a Ph.D. student in the Département des études sur l’adaptation scolaire et sociale (Department of Academic and Social Accommodation Studies) at the University of Sherbrooke. She was trained as a remedial teacher and for over 10 years has been dividing her time between research at the University and practice in schools.

Annick Tremblay-Bouchard is a Masters student in Education Science focusing on academic accommodation at the University of Sherbrooke. Trained as a primary school teacher, she specializes in students with hearing disabilities.