What works for struggling readers

One-to-one tutoring by teachers is the most effective intervention for struggling readers, concludes a Johns Hopkins research analysis.

1. One-to-one tutoring works. Teachers are more effective as tutors than paraprofessionals or volunteers, and an emphasis on phonics greatly improves tutoring outcomes.

2. Although one-to-one phonetic tutoring for first graders is highly effective, effects last into the upper elementary grades only if classroom interventions continue past first grade.

3. Small group tutorials can be effective, but are not as effective as one-to-one instruction by teachers or paraprofessionals.

4. Classroom instructional process approaches, especially cooperative learning and structured phonetic models, have strong effects for low achievers (as well as other students).

5. Traditional computer-assisted instruction programs have little impact on reading.

The review lists reading programs with strong evidence of effectiveness; the list includes Success for All (developed at Johns Hopkins) and Direct Instruction.

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  1. Diana Senechal says:

    Interesting that the report (like the studies it summarizes, apparently) focuses on pedagogical practices and processes and not curriculum. Wouldn’t instruction in history, science, literature, and other subjects have a great effect on students’ reading?

  2. Interesting that the one on one approach is what Literacy Volunteers specializes in to teach literacy (reading, English, math, computer) to adults. We deal with the adults who were ill-served by “the system” and have trouble learning in small groups. Because all the tutors are volunteers, these programs produce a lot of results for comparatively little money.

    If you believe in teaching a person how to fish instead of simply giving a fish, then your local Literacy Volunteers organization is worth donating to.

  3. I found the analysis disappointing. Most of the studies used to draw conclusions about a program’s effectiveness did not even include the random assignment of students to interventions. Random assignment is an essential requirement to any truly scientific educational research.

    For a more meaningful assessment of the various reading programs, you might want to try the What Works Clearinghouse (http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/). When it comes to reading comprehension, the evidence for Success for All is mixed, and Direct Instruction doesn’t have any research that meets scientific standards.

  4. Soapbox0916 says:

    I was drawn to the title that what works is one-on-one tutoring and also the word struggling.

    I work with the homeless/disabled/post prison populations and there is just no substitute for one-on-one help for people who are struggling. There is no one size fits all solution for those (that for whatever reasons) fell out of mainstream society. I have had enough with programs that try to aim for efficiency, or fastness, or an over-emphasis on improving group performance measurements, but forget the human element. These can be worthwhile goals, but people are not widgets in a factory.

    Those who are stuggling, whether they be the homeless or regular students, there is just no substitute for personal one-on-one teaching (tutoring/mentoring/etc).


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