Getting it right: Enhancing extracurriculuar reading programs through complementary benefits

Archibald, Lisa M.D. | $93,243

Ontario Western University (The University of Western Ontario) 2021 SSHRC

Children with a learning disability often struggle to learn to read, write, or do math in school. Some 80% of individuals with learning disabilities have a specific reading disability. Regarding reading education, these children have been disadvantaged in two ways over the past two years and more. In the forefront is the extended school closures due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. This unprecedented move has limited children’s access to education, which can be expected to have the greatest impact on our most vulnerable learners. An ongoing but more subtle problem is the nature of reading instruction in Canada’s schools. There is growing recognition that literacy curriculum in our primary schools is not consistent with the current, strongest evidence regarding the science of reading. Inefficient instruction is particularly problematic for children with learning disabilities who require systematic, consistent teaching over time. As a result, many Canadian parents are seeking extracurricular supports for their children. Given the costs of such programs, it is important that extracurricular reading programs are not only evidence-based, but also enhance outcomes, if possible.

The proposed grant seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of a scientifically-driven, multi-component, extracurricular program for enhancing reading in children with learning disabilities. The work is informed by the most influential models of reading, the Simple View of Reading, according to which reading comprehension is supported by word recognition and language comprehension. We have designed evidence-based reading programs to correspond with each component of the model: In a skills-based approach focused on word recognition, instruction addresses the five critical skills: phonemic (speech sound) awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. A skills-based program focuses on systematic, repeated practice in order to help students achieve skill mastery. In a reason-based approach such as structured word inquiry, children are guided to take a scientific approach to the investigation of words to discover the deepest structure representing meaning and explaining spelling. Meaning connections and inferencing skills are strengthened to help the child build language knowledge and comprehension. Results of our pilot crossover trial with these programs suggest that completing the reason-based prior to skills-based approach enhances reading outcomes. The proposed study will replicate and expand these findings in order to gain a better understanding of the combined benefits of these approaches.

A Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial (SMART) will be conducted with 300 children with learning disabilities in grades 4 to 8. A SMART has an adaptive design that incorporates tailoring variables capable of triggering a change in instruction, if needed. In stage 1, participants will be randomly assigned to complete either the skills-based or reason-based reading intervention program, and each child’s responder status determined. In stage 2, responders will continue with the same intervention whereas nonresponders will be randomized to receive either a double intensity of the intervention they were receiving or the other intervention. Outcome measures will include phonemic awareness, word and nonword reading, reading fluency, spelling, oral language, and vocabulary. In addition to examining the most effective treatment regime, the extent to which profiles of strengths and weaknesses in pre-assessment measures, engagement, and socioeconomic status can predict individual responses will be evaluated. The findings will be of interest to those studying disability and learning, and to parents, educators, and community groups involved in reading instruction.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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