Written by Lyne Bessette, Ph.D., Remedial Teacher
In our schools, teachers devote a lot of energy to teaching students to read so that they become competent readers. Research plays an important role in supporting teachers in their professional practice since it highlights theoretical components that are necessary for developing the act of reading. As part of my Ph.D. project, I was a practitioner-researcher in addition to working as a remedial teacher in Quebec schools, which are wrestling with a consistent increase in reading difficulties. I developed and tested a program of teaching activities to help students in regular classrooms with reading, including those with and without learning difficulties. This teaching activity program was designed and tested in the three tiers of the Response to Intervention (RTI) model. During the testing, 149 primary school students from Grade 2 to Grade 4 received targeted instruction in reading, from October to May, in regular classrooms, as well as in subgroups for remedial instruction. The objectives of this research were to evaluate the effects of the trial teaching activity program on the development of reading fluency, as well as to describe and analyze reading fluency progression at the three tiers of the RTI model, from Grade 2 to Grade 4 at the primary level.
Progression in the three components of reading fluency was evaluated and compared to that of 111 students in the control groups. Thus, in total, 260 students were involved. The results obtained indicate that the students who participated in the trial teaching activity program made great strides at each grade level. The most marked effects were observed for the accuracy component. Students in the experimental groups (n=46) advanced to a higher level, whereas those in the control groups (n=36) remained at the same level. Indeed, our teaching activity program had a statistically significant impact on reading accuracy for students in Grade 2 and Grade 4. According to my research findings, it would seem that reading accuracy is more important than speed for understanding the texts that are read. In September, the students in the experimental and control groups were evaluated in a pre-test and, in May, in a post-test, using the same text. It should be noted that only the students in the experimental group participated in the teaching activity program implemented in regular classrooms over 32 weeks in Tier 1 of the RTI model.
The Act of Reading
Reading is critical in our lives as we are constantly required to read written materials. Nowadays, it is understood that the act of reading is complex, and there are numerous ways to approach reading. The act of reading can be summarized as an interaction between the reader and a written text. The ultimate purpose of reading is to access the meaning of the text, i.e., to understand it. Reading is intended to be both an active and interactive process between the reader and the written text (Giasson, 2003).
In Canada, the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network (2009) focuses on six areas of intervention in line with those of the National Reading Panel (2000): written language awareness, phonological awareness, vocabulary, fluency, reading comprehension, and writing.
Acquiring good reading fluency does indeed appear to be a protective factor against reading failure. The development of reading fluency is very important and, according to researchers, should be given more consideration at school when students are learning to read (MELS, 2005). Thus, exceptional students must develop better reading fluency in order to lessen their cognitive load. The cognitive load calls upon working memory, which has limited capacity. Hence, if the required task is arduous for the student, it will place very significant demands on working memory, causing cognitive overload. In attempting to reduce the cognitive load generated by this task, we want to improve the cognitive availability of students so that they can focus on understanding the text (Giasson, 2011). One study showed that students who obtain the lowest scores in fluency also obtain the lowest scores in comprehension (Jenkins, Fuchs, van den Broek, Espin and Deno, 2003).
Defining Reading Fluency
In light of the different definitions and the state of knowledge in the area of reading fluency, the concept of fluency is defined as follows in this study: reading fluency consists of reading quickly, accurately, and prosodically in order to understand (Allington, 2009). The three components of reading fluency are speed, accuracy, and prosody.
The Response to Intervention (RTI) Model
The Response to Intervention model (RTI) originated in the United States. It aims to address the various challenges posed by regular classrooms today. In the United States, the RTI model has been the subject of a number of scientific studies, and piloting this systemic model is mandatory in some states in order to improve the chances of success for all students.
Figure 1. The Tiered Approach to Intervention; commonly referred to as Response to Intervention (RTI). Adapted from: Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011; Matattall, 2008; Katz, 2012.
Response to Intervention (RTI) is thought to be a more effective model for addressing the various challenges involved in teaching reading (Vaughn and Fuchs, 2003). It is a three-tiered intervention model that was designed to foster learning for all students and prioritizing early intervention. In Tier 1 of the RTI model, reading is taught in regular classrooms using teaching practices whose effectiveness is supported by research findings. These practices include explicit instruction, rereading, also called repeated reading, assisted reading, and the provision of feedback. In Tier 2, students who have not reached the expected level of fluency participate in more targeted activities, in a small subgroup with the classroom teacher and/or the remedial teacher. In Tier 3, students who did not reach the expected level of fluency in Tier 2 engage in individual activities or participate in a very small subgroup with the remedial teacher.
According to researchers, effective reading instruction in regular classrooms is sufficient to ensure that 70 to 80% of students make progress. However, 20 to 30% of students seem to require additional supportive intervention, and 5 to 10% appear to need intensive interventions (Vaughn and Klinger, 2007). Several studies have shown that the RTI model improves learning for exceptional students, and also reduces the number of students who experience reading difficulties or who repeat grades (O’Connor, Harty and Fulmer, 2005; Fuchs, Fuchs and Vaughn, 2008). This model, focusing on prevention and early intervention, adopts teaching practices whose effectiveness has been demonstrated empirically. Stakeholders tend to think that this model is intended only for students struggling with learning challenges, but all students can benefit from it.
Teaching Activities to Develop Reading Fluency
Following a literature review, we identified several teaching activities that have had significant effects on the development of reading fluency.
Oral rereading is an activity that appears to contribute to developing reading fluency. With support from a teacher or a tutor, oral rereading apparently has a significant impact not only on fluency but also on word identification and comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000). Research has shown that this activity enhances fluency and that, between the first and the third reading, reading speed increases significantly. Students make fewer mistakes and become more skillful at detecting and correcting their mistakes. They read with greater facility and understand the text better (Giasson, 2003). Oral rereading can be done in various ways, including choral reading, partner reading, readers’ theatre, and rhythm walks.
In choral reading, the teacher and the students read the chosen text aloud together, with accuracy, speed, and expression (EDU, 2007). To access the meaning of the text, before reading it, students make predictions about the subject of the text, based on the title and the accompanying image. Next, several students read the text, together, in choral reading (Giasson, 2003). Then, they collectively try to verify whether their predictions were right and give their assessment of the text before answering a few comprehension questions orally.
The Whisper Phone
A number of studies have shown that learning is more effective when different senses are called upon (Block, Parris and Whiteley, 2008; Hoffman, 1991). In this activity, the sense of hearing is added, as students will hear themselves read instead of reading silently. Students read the text by holding the whisper phone, a small curved cylinder as if they were placing a telephone up to their mouth and ear. When they read aloud, they hear their voice being amplified, which helps to isolate their reading from the other noises in the classroom. Research has been carried out using these phones known as “whisper phones”. The findings show that there are beneficial effects for the improvement of fluency, word decoding, and comprehension (Rasinski, 2002; Rasinski, Flexer and Boomgarden-Szypulski, 2006).
In a study conducted with primary school students, Peebles (2007) incorporated rereading, or repeated reading, with walking, which she calls “rhythm walks”. The purpose of rhythm walks is to help students to break up sentences into groups of function words or phrases. It is suggested to repeat the rhythm walk from three to ten times, accompanied by rereading. Through repetition, students develop confidence and their reading improves. Therrien (2004) contends that exceptional students not only find it difficult to read individual words but also to read properly by groups of function words or phrases. Furthermore, Pressley, Gaskins, and Fingeret (2006) recommend using multidimensional approaches to intervene with exceptional students who are struggling to read fluently.
Assisted reading appears to be derived from rereading. A model reader, either an adult or a student, coaches a less experienced student or one who is experiencing difficulties with reading. If the reader pauses for more than 5 seconds, the model reader helps them by correctly reading the word, and the student repeats this word and then continues to read. If the student makes a mistake, the model reader gives them a chance to try again and, if needed, reads the word correctly for them (Nichols, Rupley, Rasinski, 2009).
Partner (or Paired) Reading
Partner or paired reading is done with model readers. A few students who can read “fluently” and who are among the older readers can then read the text and serve as models for the younger students. Next, the students who are the subjects of the intervention read in turn, and the “expert” reader makes annotations about the students’ reading and then gives them feedback (Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network, 2009). According to the findings of a meta-analysis that determined which methods were effective to teach reading to exceptional students at the primary level, partner reading ranks second (Bissonnette et al., 2010). Rereading a written text several times helps to read it fluently, but modeling by a proficient reader helps students read with fluency and comprehension. A lack of fluency in reading is one of the factors that can cause average readers to develop difficulties (Brown, 2007).
Oral rereading (or repeated oral reading) combined with feedback is one of the best ways to improve reading fluency, in an environment where an adult is able to assist the student (Hasbrouck, Ihnot and Rogers, 1999; Rasinski, 1990; Smith and Elley, 1997). In 2002, a synthesis of several research studies on effective interventions to improve reading fluency yielded the same findings (Chard, Vaughn, Tyler, 2002).
There are other activities to approach rereading and assisted reading (Cahill and Gregory, 2011). A study carried out with Grade 2 students involved a teacher who wanted to motivate her students by creating workshops to develop fluency. The teacher would first model the reading and then would read aloud to the students every day, ensuring that she used the right expression and speed. Next, she would allow parent volunteers to attend demonstrations to enable them to assist with reading fluency activities in the classroom.
Readers’ theatre is a form of rereading (Rasinski, 2003). It also entails time spent on assisted reading and feedback. It is an effective and motivating approach for students who are struggling with reading. By participating in readers’ theatre as a teaching activity to practice rereading, students become engaged and persevere with the goal of presenting their play in front of an audience. Short plays with around four to six characters can be chosen. These plays do not require any costumes or sets. Their purpose is simply to develop good skills in telling a story with fluency. However, this requires preparatory work, choosing characters, and allocating responsibilities to the various students in the group. Readers’ theater is an authentic and dynamic activity since it involves a public performance at the end of this intervention. It is a reading performance that requires rehearsals. Thus, it is natural to include rereading and assisted reading. It is the readers’ fluency that will allow the audience to understand the meaning of the play (Young and Rasinski, 2009). This is therefore interpretive oral reading (Giasson, 2011). In this way, students gain fluency and acquire the skills for capturing attention using their voices.
The teaching activities that we have just presented are organized into a program that takes place over four days in a regular classroom in Tier 1 of the RTI model, and some of these teaching activities are implemented in Tiers 2 and 3 of the model.
In order to analyze the findings obtained for the three components of reading fluency, we selected three charts.
Firstly, reading “accuracy” was measured using the chart validated by Fuchs, Fuchs, Deno (1982); Leslie and Caldwell (1995), as well as Gillet and Temple (2000), and Rasinski and Padak (2005). Accuracy is measured by calculating the student’s error rate in relation to the number of words read. The three levels of accuracy range from “frustration level” (less than 92% success rate) to “functional level” (92 to 98% success rate) to “independent level” (99 to 100% success rate). The most recent chart by Rasinski and Padak (2005) follows criteria based on current texts: the student should be able to identify 95% of the words in the text with accuracy, and below 92%, the text is too challenging.
Here are the charts used to assess fluency in terms of reading accuracy (Gillet and Temple, 2000; Rasinski and Padak, 2005; Rasinski, 2010).
|99 to 100% success rate: is able to read independently, without any help|
|92‒98% success rate: is able to read with help
|Frustration Level||Less than 92% success rate: has reading difficulties, even with help
Table 1. Accuracy Levels as per Rasinski and Padak (2005)
Secondly, in order to analyze the reading “speed” or “rate”, we used Hasbrouck and Tindal’s chart (2006). This chart was previously used in many studies, including those of Deno, Mirkin and Chiang (1982); Fuchs, Fuchs and Maxwell (1988); Marston (1989), as well as Rasinski and Padak (2005). Hasbrouck and Tindal’s chart (2006) allows us to rank students by grade level and according to the season of the year, by revealing their percentile rank and providing information on the progress made in terms of the number of words per minute that the student should attain each week.
Table 2. Reading Fluency Norms as per Hasbrouck and Tindal (2006)
Thirdly, in order to analyze reading expression or prosody, we used a chart from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 1995). It allows us to rank students at one of four levels, starting with level 1, where the student reads word by word, up to level 4, where the student has functional reading skills. This chart was then designed to assess Grade 4 students through a reading test. To this day, a number of authors are still using this chart: Kuhn, (2009); Padak (2008), Rasinski, (2010), Kuhn and Rasinski (2011).
|Level 1||The student primarily reads word by word and occasionally 2 or 3 words consecutively. Reads without expression or intonation. Has difficulty reading.
|Level 2||The student primarily reads 2 words at a time, and occasionally 3 or 4 words. Has trouble reading groups of words. Little or no intonation and expression.
|Level 3||The student primarily reads 3 or 4 words and sometimes more. Syntax is adequate in most sentences. Parts of the text are read with expression and intonation.
|Level 4||The student reads functionally by groups of words and occasionally makes mistakes, but the structure is maintained. Most of the text is read with expression and intonation. Reads orally with ease.
Table 3. Levels of Expression (National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1995).
Presentation of Findings
The findings will be presented in two stages for the purpose of meeting our two research goals, namely, comparing the results obtained in the experimental group with those obtained in the control group, and describing and analyzing student progress in the experimental group in the three tiers of the RTI model.
Comparing the Results Obtained in the Experimental Group with Those Obtained in the Control Group
Figure 2: Comparison of Pre-test and Post-test Results of the Experimental Group with Those of the Control Group for the Three Components of Reading Fluency.
As shown in Figure 2, an improvement in reading rate was noted on average for primary Grade 2 students. It can be seen that the number of words that the students read correctly per minute went from 34.5 in the pre-test to 78.4 in the post-test, which represents an increase of 44 words per minute. According to Hasbrouck and Tindal’s chart (2006) in Table 2, the expected progress for the duration of the teaching activity program, i.e., 32 weeks, should have been 38.4 words per minute. In addition, it should be noted that the experimental group initially had more exceptional students than the control group. In fact, the gap between the two groups can already be seen in the pre-test results.
In terms of accuracy, the results indicate an average gap between the pre-test and the post-test. The students’ accuracy rate rose from 86.8% to 96.9% from the pre-test to the post-test, for an average increase of 10.1%. At pre-test, the resulting average placed the Grade 2 students at the frustration level (Table 1), whereas at post-test, the results ranked them at the functional level. It is worth noting that these results were statistically significant for the experimental group.
In terms of expression or prosody, at pre-test, the results placed the students at level 1 for expression, where students mainly read word by word, and reading is laborious and difficult. At post-test, the results placed the students at level 3, where students are able to read several words at a time while reading the text with expression. This represents a significant gain for these students.
Results Obtained by Tier of the RTI Model for Grade 2 Students
Figure 3: Comparison of Pre-test and Post-test Results of the Experimental Group for the Three Components of Reading Fluency in the Three Tiers of the RTI Model.
As shown in Figure 3, with regard to the “speed” component, all students made great strides regardless of the RTI model tier. However, it can be seen that the Tier 2 students stood out and improved by 49.1 words per minute.
For the “accuracy” component in Tier 1, the students’ results went from 92.3% to 97.8% from the pre-test to the post-test, representing a 5.5% increase, allowing the students to reach the functional level. The results of the Tier 2 students increased from 72.9% to 97.7% from the pre-test to the post-test, thus an average increase of 24.8%, also enabling the students to reach the functional level, whereas they were initially below the frustration level.
For the “expression” or “prosody” components, one can see that the students in the three tiers made gains corresponding to one level, enabling them to access the next level. These are significant gains as the students are in Grade 2 and fluency is beginning to be acquired.
In conclusion, the results show that the development and testing of the teaching activity program were beneficial. This program will be able to contribute to enriching the teaching of reading fluency. It should be emphasized that the program is easy to implement in regular classrooms and requires no specific materials, which could be an influential factor in increasing teacher support for the program. The implementation of this teaching activity program in new schools, particularly in Grade 2 at the primary level, could have positive short- and medium-term effects on the prevention of learning difficulties in reading in order to foster fluency, i.e., reading with speed, accuracy and prosody in order to understand the text (Allington, 2009).
At the end of the teaching activity trial program, the results obtained showed positive effects on the three reading fluency components among the Grade 2 student participants, at the three tiers of the RTI model. More pronounced effects were obtained at Tiers 2 and 3 of the RTI model. In addition, the students obtained statistically significant results for the “accuracy” component. Let us recall that the teaching activity trial program proposed in this project was beneficial for all students regardless of whether they have reading difficulties. However, it was the Tier 2 and Tier 3 students who made the most progress, for the three components of reading fluency.
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