Better reading with DI and SFA

Direct Instruction and Success for All work best for students, writes John Wills Lloyd at Teach Effectively, citing a meta-analysis of 142 studies in the December 2009 issue of the Review of Educational Research.

Robert Slavin and colleagues reported that reading programs that provide extensive professional development on instructional strategies which promote student participation, strengthen phonics competence, and explicitly teach comprehension strategies are the best bets for improving reading achievement.

“Comprehensive programs such as DI and SFA should be at the core of coordinated, school-wide efforts to improve students’ outcomes,” Lloyd writes.

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  1. The extra from students being able to read is that they can keep up without difficulty in other classes. In my science classes, no matter how smart the student, if he can’t read fluently, it is difficult to assist him to pass the End of Course test, which, of course, depends on his reading the questions. Even if read to him, passing is difficult.
    That’s true of most high school and middle school classes. If the students can’t read well, they start daydreaming, drawing, and trying to sneak a listen at their music players or cell phones. They are bored, because THEY CAN’T READ!!!!!! Not because I’m boring, or the class isn’t challenging enough – but because they can’t read.
    Lack of reading extends to difficulty with writing, and making sense of what amounts to story problems in math (which is what they have to do in lab classes). And, now for my pet peeve in high schools (I’ve been in 3 states and 7 systems) –
    They NEVER offer a reading class – oh, they offer “communications” and “literacy” classes. What they don’t do is return to ground zero, with honest-to-God phonics, and actually TEACH it like they think this kid is NOT stupid, and can grasp it. They act like that kid is too stupid to ever comprehend.
    Which they can.
    Because the Laubach method (all phonics) is used with those adults who can’t read (dyslexic or not), and – guess what – they freaking learn to read.
    But, it’s my thought that the reading specialists really don’t want those nearly-adult kids to learn to read. Because that would make nonsense of all their excuses for not teaching him in the first place.
    Better to have many adults illiterate, than to call into question the holy reading theory.

  2. Cardinal Fang says:

    Maybe Direct Instruction and Success for All are the best reading programs for students in elementary school. But neither Slavin et al. nor Lloyd say what Joanne says they say. Let’s quickly review here.

    Slavin et. al. do a meta-analysis of different kinds of reading programs for elementary school students: “instructional process” programs (programs that change teaching methods), technology programs like having kids work on reading drills on a computer, reading curricula alone without any “instructional process,” and combinations of “instructional process” and reading curricula. (I don’t understand how one could have “instructional process” without an accompanying curriculum, but apparently that’s possible.)

    They discover that “instructional process” programs are the most successful in increasing student achievement (for elementary students, here, remember– they are studying elementary grades only), but do not cite any programs in particular. By an amazing coincidence, Slavin and a co-author just happen to be the developers of Success for All, a reading program that uses “instructional process.”

    Neither Slavin et al. nor John Lloyd say, “Direct Instruction and Success for All work best for students.” Both Slavin and Lloyd say that programs like Direct Instruction and Success for All (but not necessarily those particular programs) are the best for elementary students. As it turns out, in a different study ( Slavin found no particular method standing out as the most successful for adolescents.

  3. I find Slavin’s continuing promotion for his reading program, Success for All, to be almost embarrassing. If you check the What Works Clearinghouse, you’ll find that Success for All has a modestly positive effect on reading comprehension with an overall improvement index of +8. This isn’t bad, but it’s worth noting that Kaplan SpellRead and Early Intervention in Reading have an improvement index of +20 and +18 respectively.

    The research on Direct Instruction is badly outdated. They have not been able to produce any modern studies that meet the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences standards, which are generally acknowledged as the “gold standard” for education research.

    If Slavin truly believes that his reading program is all that effective, he needs to produce research that supports this.

  4. Ray,

    Before you go labeling Robert Slavin’s behavior as “embarassing”, you’d be well served to learn how to read a research summary.

    The What Works Clearinghouse rating of SFA is based on 6 studies of SFA meeting their evidence standards with reservations and 1 study as meeting evidence standards. Combined these studies included almost 4000 students.

    The What Works Clearinghouse rating of Kaplan SpellRead was based on two studies that met their standards both of which included a combined 208 students.

    The What Works Clearinghouse rating of EIR was based on one study that met their standards. It included 59 students.

    The numbers you cite “show the average and range of student-level improvement indices for all findings across the studies.”
    Great. You’re citing a +18 that represents the average of one study. That only evaluated 59 students.

    It is ridiculous to try and treat the evidence for these programs’ effectiveness as anything close to equal.

    The evidence of effectiveness for SFA (and all educational programs) should be rigorously scrutinized. What you’re doing here is the opposite of that.


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