Does One-Size-Fits-All Reading Instruction Work for Everyone Part II

  • 03 September, 2017
  • 8 Comments

 The Learner Characteristic that Leads to Different Learning

      Last week, I pointed out that research had found few interactions in literacy learning. That is, research hasn't actually uncovered many situations in which different kinds of kids learn differently—despite many claims to the contrary.

      The idea that research would identify important aptitude-treatment interactions has been trumpeted for a long time (Cronbach & Snow, 1977). It just hasn’t panned out, for the most part, when it comes to reading instruction.

      Individual differences are extensive in reading—and in lots of variables that have a big impact upon learning (e.g., IQ, SES, language). Nevertheless, these variables tend to have a pretty consistent impact upon literacy progress.

      There certainly are some interesting instructional interactions—like the fact that kids seem to learn more when taught in smaller groups than in larger ones(Schwartz, Schmitt, & Lose, 2012). But that impact doesn’t vary by the type of kid. Children generally learn more when taught individually than when taught in somewhat larger groupings—no matter who the kids are.

      But does that mean that there are no important individual differences when it comes to learning to read? Not exactly—and that’s where it gets interesting. There is at least one important characteristic that consistently has distinguished learners from one another and that influences how much is learned; and, in that sense, the idea that one-size-doesn’t-fit-all makes a lot of sense.

        What distinguishes learners?

    To help answer that, let’s turn our attention to some studies by Carol Connor and her colleagues. Over the past decade or so, their work has been demonstrating that one particular child characteristic does lead to learning differences in reading, and that characteristic is….  wait for it…  what the students already know about reading.

        For example, there has been no more consistent research finding than that explicit phonics instruction is beneficial to young readers (NICHD, 2000). Teaching the relationship between letters and sounds and spelling patterns and pronunciations have been found to improve decoding ability, spelling ability, oral reading fluency, and even the reading comprehension of first-graders. 

      But that isn’t what Connor and her colleagues found (Connor, Morrison, & Katch, 2004).

They examined first-graders’ decoding growth and whether there were interactions between the kind of instruction provided and what children already knew about decoding and vocabulary. As they described it:

“We predicted that children with stronger fall vocabulary or decoding skills would achieve stronger decoding skill growth in classrooms that provided more child-managed implicit decoding instruction and less teacher- managed explicit decoding instruction. In contrast, we expected children with weaker fall vocabulary or decoding scores to achieve stronger decoding skill growth in classrooms that provided more teacher-managed explicit decoding instruction and less child-managed implicit decoding instruction.” (Connor, Morrison, & Katch, 2004, p. 310).

The kids who were more advanced in literacy and language at the beginning of the year didn’t respond as well to explicit phonics instruction. These kids did better when provided the opportunity to apply those already-obtained phonics skills by engaging in real reading and writing activities, especially those that students could manage themselves (such as independent silent reading, or independent completion of worksheets).

Their less knowledgeable classmates evidenced the opposite learning pattern. They, being less advanced, learned the most about decoding when their teachers provided them with explicit teaching in letters, letter-sound associations, phonological awareness, spelling or decoding words—especially when the teachers themselves managed these activities.

Other studies have found the same pattern with phonics instruction—that it is significantly more beneficial for kids who are low in phonics knowledge (Wolff, 2016), and this is true even with older struggling students (Solis, Vaughn, & Scammacca, 2015). Connor and her colleagues found something very similar with reading comprehension instruction for third-graders (Connor, Morrison, Fishman, Giuliani, et al, 2011): poorer readers gain a comprehension benefit from reading coherent text, while text coherence doesn’t seem to enhance the reading of better readers, presumably because they are already skilled enough to provide that themselves (Lien, 2013). And, other researchers have reported similar patterns (Müller, Richter, Krizan, Hecht, & Ennemoser, 2015).

I suspect that the occasional demographic interaction that does turn up in reading studies is not due to real differences in learning nor to statistical aberrations.

What is really going on is due to differences in what the students happened to already know about reading at the time of the study (Crowe, Connor, & Petscher, 2009). Thus, a method that looks to be particularly advantageous for poverty kids or second-language learners may just be apt for kids with a particular level of literacy attainment.

If one were to try out the same method with better-achieving kids from those same demographic groups, the supposed advantage would likely disappear.

It is rare that students will benefit from being taught what they already know, and more support—instructional or textual—will usually be most helpful for those who need that support than for those skilled enough to get on by themselves.

When we think of all of the demographic differences—real and invented—that supposedly divide us (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, religion, region, learning styles), maybe we aren’t that different after all. What it takes to become literate appears to be pretty much the same for all of us. We all need to learn the same things about reading and text to be literate and we all benefit from the same kinds of instruction.

But while that appears to be true, learning—learning to read, learning to use reading to learn about our world—affects us. Learning changes our brains, our interests, our abilities, and it’s those changes, ultimately, that need to be adjusted for in our teaching.

If children already know their letters and sounds, devoting time to such instruction is a lost opportunity. This time would be better dedicated to guiding kids to apply those skills to writing or text reading; or to teaching more advanced skills.

If youngsters can already read a text with a relatively high degree of accuracy and comprehension, such as is the case with texts at the so-called independent or instructional levels, then there is little opportunity for kids to learn from those texts (Morgan, Wilcox, & Eldredge, 2000). Kids who are placed in books in that way are at a learning disadvantage; one would expect greater learning to accrue from more challenging book placements. 

And, if youngsters can already read a text fluently, practicing fluency with it won’t help much. It would make greater sense to do this work with a harder book (Kuhn & Stahl, 2003) or to shift the attention to comprehension or writing.

Is it true that one-size-doesn’t-fit-all when it comes to learning?

If we’re talking about what kids need to learn to become literate or what kinds of instruction are likely to effective in guiding kids to master reading, then the answer is, we’re pretty darn similar, and one size is just fine.

However, what we learn changes us. Instruction should be respectful of those differences in knowledge and skill because doing so can provide learning advantages. Teachers should use assessment information to ensure their teaching focuses on guiding kids to master what has not yet been accomplished. In that sense, research supports the notion of instructional differentiation and one-size-definitely-does-not-nor-ever-will-fit-all in reading instruction. 

References     

Connor, C.M., Morrison, F.J., Fishman, B., Giuliani, S., Luck, M., Underwood, P.S., Bayraktar, A., Crowe, E.C., & Schatschneider, C. (2011). Testing the impacts of child characteristics X instruction interactions on third graders’ reading comprehension by differentiating literacy instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 46, 189-221.

Connor, C.M., Morrison, F.J., & Katch, L.E. (2004). Beyond the Reading Wars: Exploring the effect of child-instruction interactions on growth in early reading. Scientific Studies in Reading, 8, 305-336.

Cronbach, L., & Snow, R. (1977). Aptitudes and instructional methods: A handbook of research on interactions. New York: Innovations.

Crowe, E.C., Connor, C.M., & Petscher, Y. (2009). Examining the core: Relations among reading curricula, poverty, and first and third grade reading achievement. Journal of School Psychology, 47, 187-214.

Kuhn, M.R., & Stahl, S.A. (2003). Fluency: A review of development and remedial practices. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 3-21.

Lien, C.S. (2013). Text coherence, reading ability, and children’s scientific understanding. Bulletin of Educational Psychology, 44, 875-904.

Love, K., & Hamston, J. (2004). Committed and reluctant male teenage readers: Beyond bedtime stories. Journal of Literacy Research, 36, 335-400.

Loveless, T. (2015). How well are American students learning. Washington, DC: Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings.

Merisuo-Storm, T. (2006). Boys and girls like to read and write different texts. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 50, 111-125.

Morgan, A., Wilcox, B.R., & Eldredge, J.L. (2000). Effect of difficulty levels on second-grade delayed readers using dyad reading. Journal of Educational Research, 94, 113-119.

Müller, B., Richter, T., & Krizan, A., Hecht, T., & Ennemoser, M. (2015). Word recognition skills moderate the effectiveness of reading strategy training in Grade 2. Learning & Individual Differences, 40, 55-62.

Musu-Gillette, L., Robinson, J., McFarland, J., KewalRamani, A., Zhang, A., & Wilkinson-Flicker, S. (2016). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups 2016. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: reports of the subgroups. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

Neuman, S.B., & Celano, D. (2001). Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities: An ecological study of four neighborhoods. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 8-26.

Nielsen, J. A., Zielinski, B. A., Ferguson, M. A., Lainhart, J. E. & Anderson, J. S. (2013). An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging. PLoS ONE, 8, e71275–11.

Schwartz, R.M., Schmitt, M.C., & Lose, M. (2012). Interactions between size of groups and learning. Elementary School Journal, 112, 547-567.

Solis, M., Vaughn, S., & Scammacca, N. (2015). The effects of an intensive reading intervention for ninth-graders with very low reading comprehension. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 30, 104-113.

White, T. G., Kim, J. S., Kingston, H. C., & L. Foster (2013).  Replicating the effects of a teacher-scaffolded voluntary summer reading program: The role of poverty. Reading Research Quarterly, 49, 5-30.

Willingham, D. T., Hughes, E. M., & Doboly, D. G. (2015). The scientific status of learning styles theory. Teaching of Psychology, 42, 266-271.

Wolff, U. (2016). Effects of a randomized reading intervention study aimed at 9-year-olds: A 5-year follow-up. Dyslexia: An International Journal of Research and Practice, 22, 85-100.

 

 

Comments

See what others have to say about this topic.

Jo-Anne Gross
Sep 04, 2017 03:03 PM

I work with bottom kids and train their teachers,sometimes:).
I believe that those children have a deficit and they need intervention that is highly scientific.

I follow Fletcher,Foorman,Lyon,Ehri,Torgesen,Shaywitz,David Kilpatrick

There is a spectrum of difficulty in those that can`t spell and write -letters have rudimentary primal shapes even at age 10,11,short vowels all wrong(no ability to discrim),no phoneme sequencing,left is spelled as letf or latf,no awareness of the grapheme that represents the phoneme,reading is based on guessing..these kids are on a spectrum from worst to not so bad.
They need Orton Gillingham and the added juice of Reid`s ideas on linguistic gymnastics that activates involvement in the left brain processor.I really strongly believe in Dr. Kilpatrick`s ideas on orthographic mapping that solidifies and stabilizes the connection for learning to read in those kids with weak phonemic awareness to a full fledged phonological deficit.

Dr. Shanahan,write to us about the L.D. child,1 in 5.

Timothy Shanahan
Sep 05, 2017 12:26 PM

Jo-Anne--
Like many practitioners, you tend to buy into one particular model of instruction and to claim it is the one that is scientific. For example, the research results on Orion-G are mixed and yet you conclude it is the one that works. Or you take a list of researchers and conclude that they are in agreement on all of these kinds of things....they are not.

Tim

Jo-Anne Gross
Sep 05, 2017 02:27 PM

I.D.A. and all their chapters and new laws on the 1 child in 5 who is dyslexic-an orthographic processing disorder.
I`ve taught hundreds of these kids personally,had my own child who attended the Gow School and received their own O.G. based curriculum,trained many teachers in school boards and clinics..developed my intervention for 5 years in a clinic devouring the above research and dealing with the pain and frustration of parents-have you seen Dr. Shaywitz`s MRI images?
I stand by my statement.



Harriett Janetos
Sep 07, 2017 02:58 AM

I'm wondering if in fact you're not both on the same page. Tim, your Seidenberg quotes on PA ("the evidence that the phonological pathway is used in reading and especially important in beginning reading is about as close to conclusive as research on complex human behavior can get") show that you obviously agree that PA instruction is important, but since many of us use methods other than OG (I was trained in phono-graphix and now really like Isabel Beck's Making Sense of Phonics when working with struggling first graders) then it's not the science of PA that is in question but the efficacy of how we teach it that might be the issue. Jo-Anne, do all kids "need Orton Gillingham" or do they all need to understand "Dr. Kilpatrick`s ideas on orthographic mapping that solidifies and stabilizes the connection for learning to read in those kids with weak phonemic awareness to a full fledged phonological deficit"?

Harriett Janetos
Sep 07, 2017 03:39 AM

That is to say, I think it's not that all kids need OG, but that all teachers need to understand Kilpatrick's points about orthographic mapping and find effective ways to deliver that instruction.

Timothy Shanahan
Sep 07, 2017 02:09 PM

I definitely believe that PA and phonics are essential to reading development, and that deficits in those areas block many readers. I believe those things because the research clearly shows them to be true. However, the research does not show O-G to be most effective (it doesn't even show that multimodal approaches to be most effective), so I don't believe that and don't tout that as the only effective way to teach kids to decode. Dr. Killatrick theorizes that kids need more PA instruction than research has shown to be the case. He might be right, but st this stage it is just an interesting hypothesis, so I would not prolong PA instruction beyond what research has shown to be useful. Following the research means following the research--not just using it to confirm one's beliefs. Thanks

Jo-Anne Gross
Sep 07, 2017 04:30 PM

Harriet,O.G.,is basically language triangle theory,hear it"phoneme",say it,see it(grapheme taught at same time)spell it in something they can feel-simultaneously-it leaves nothing to chance-it`s a great river to travel on as far as giving these kids and all struggling kids a way to take in something that for them feels so difficult,you end of course by reading and working on fluency after you spell and write with accrued phonemic knowledge.

Tim,I think the research on O.G. isn`t good because the old fashioned way didn`t include beginning with the ear,it went straight to phonics,we all know now that PA has to come first.

Our kids teach us what works so well and takes them off the failure highway and boy do they suffer emotionally.It`s an unnecessary tragedy.God,the NICHD research has been sitting on the shelf since 1995.It`s about time we get on with it.

Jo-Anne Gross
Sep 07, 2017 04:30 PM

Harriet,O.G.,is basically language triangle theory,hear it"phoneme",say it,see it(grapheme taught at same time)spell it in something they can feel-simultaneously-it leaves nothing to chance-it`s a great river to travel on as far as giving these kids and all struggling kids a way to take in something that for them feels so difficult,you end of course by reading and working on fluency after you spell and write with accrued phonemic knowledge.

Tim,I think the research on O.G. isn`t good because the old fashioned way didn`t include beginning with the ear,it went straight to phonics,we all know now that PA has to come first.

Our kids teach us what works so well and takes them off the failure highway and boy do they suffer emotionally.It`s an unnecessary tragedy.God,the NICHD research has been sitting on the shelf since 1995.It`s about time we get on with it.

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Does One-Size-Fits-All Reading Instruction Work for Everyone Part II

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