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Best Practices Literature Review Focusing on Struggling Readers

Deb. D Schmidt
University of New England

D. Schmidt


The research topic I choose Best practices for struggling readers and student
achievement is a seemingly dynamic topic. My intent was to increase my
knowledge in the field of best practices to improve my instructional planning,
when working with struggling readers in small group settings as well as with
teachers in collaborative settings to address the how to and what to do with
struggling readers. The articles I reviewed gave an overview of different,
research-based practices that are essential in helping struggling readers. It
became very evident that there was a general concern among the authors about
the lack of pertinent knowledge needed to be an effective teacher. Specifically,
research showed how a teachers professional, practical and personal knowledge
(experiences) of the basic language process in reading can impact student
achievement (Duffy & Akinson (2001). Duffy & Akinson (2001) & Washburn,
Joshi, & Cantrells (2011) research emphasizes the alarming results obtained
from their studies involving beginning teachers and the lack of professional
knowledge. For the purpose of this assignment I will use the term beginning
teachers (those teachers finishing their Education degree) as opposed to the US
term preservice teachers. Within the readings I was able to determine how;
student achievement, knowledge of the reading processes, best practices
and assessments are linked and how they are all key elements in the web
design of instructional planning.
Is student achievement linked to teacher experience/knowledge in
reading? Duffy & Akinson, (2001) based their research on how beginning
teachers make the connections of personal, practical and professional


knowledge and how it can impact student achievement in a way that shapes the
design of their reading instruction. There is evidence that many beginning
teachers had misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding reading
instruction, practices, principles and terminology (Duffy & Akinson, 2001 p 89)
prior to their learning. In contrast, even though a teacher may be in tune with
research on best practices it does not necessarily mean that their practices are
impacted (Hiebert & Stigler, 2000 as cited by Duffy & Akinson, 2001). Duffy &
Akinson (2001) also cited Duffys, (1997b) findings that the quality of instruction
could improve if teachers do not passively following programs, texts or materials
but rather make personal connections. I believe asking a question like, Why
am I doing what I am doing? is powerful. If I cant give a professional answer I
am more of a passive learner. Ross (2004) as cited by Fawson et al., (2006)
shares findings on student achievement in a study where teachers who were
given 6, 60 minute sessions on learning to administer and interpret the results of
running records to be able to guide their reading instruction. Their results
showed students who were in these teachers classes outperformed those who
were not. Clearly this correlates with the findings of Duffy & Atkinson (2006), that
teachers need to have practical knowledge as part of their teaching tools.
Knowledgeable teachers who have a solid understanding of reading components
and effective instruction can have an impact on future reading achievements in
the early grades (Moats, 1994: Snow et al., 1998; Taylor, Pearson, Clark &
Walpole, 1999 as cited by Washburn, et al., 2011). The article by Washburn, et
al., (2011) seems to summarize the same principles and connects with much of


the other articles and authors perspectives. However, they do add an extra
component-dyslexia, an area that teachers appear to have misconceptions and
lack information on. I admit I am one of them. Its another strand to research in
the future.
What best practices are encouraged for working with struggling readers?
Direct instruction seems to be a key component/strand in the development of
an effective practice in the web design of teaching instruction. (Duffy, 2002 as
cited by Ness, (2011). This strand is key to building the reading process through
the following five major components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency,
vocabulary, and comprehension (Rupley, Blair, & Nichols, 2009; Washburn,
Joshi, Cantrell, 2011). Numerous amounts of research show this to be the case.
Implementing instruction that is systematic and direct, impacts reading skills
and strategies that struggling readers need to be successful. Giving the child an
opportunity to learn through planned/guided practice, the use of effective
practice activities, ongoing evaluation of the activities, with positive
constructive feedback enables students to achieve a higher rate of success.
The ultimate goal is for students to become proficient in reading comprehension.
Block, Gambrell, & Pressley, (2006) as cited by Ness, (2011) agree in terms of
past researchers that comprehension is the most important aspect of reading.
Duke & Pearson, (2002) as cited by Ness, (2011) adds a couple of more
steps/strands (to the web design) after direct instruction takes place modeling of
the strategy happens, collaborative use of the strategy, guided practice
using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility and finally students


use the strategy independently. Since each student is unique in their reading
abilities a different instructional technique may be needed for those learners.
Individual differences need to be addressed. (Rupley, et al., 2009). Its also well
document that the following strategies are significant teacher practices in direct
instruction to increase student reading comprehension; predicting, questioning,
and summarizing (Pressley, 1998; Rosenshine, Meister, & Chapman, 1996) as
cited by Ness (2011).
Are there informal/formal (formative) assessments recommended for
determining specific areas of weakness in reading skills to guide instruction?
The following diagnostic assessments are listed in Duffy & Akinsons (2001)
article. I will list them and include the reference for each.

Running records (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996)

Informal reading inventories (Leslie & Caldwell, 1995)
Literacy assessments (Johnston, Invernizzi, & Juel, 1998)
Spelling inventories (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 1996)
Anecdotal records (Rhodes & Nathenson-Mejia, 1992)
Interviews (Shearer & Homan, 1994).

Beginning teachers were to administer and analyze these assessments to guide

their instruction of struggling readers after determining what each of the students
strengths and needs were. Fawson et al. (2006) examined the use of running
records in depth (a very popular assessment used by teachers), its reliability and
teacher delivery. Running records are untimed tests of contextual reading
accuracy, used to monitor students reading growth and to diagnose reading
strengths and weaknesses (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996 as cited by Fawson et al.,
2006). Running records help determine which reading level a student is at as are
identified by Rathuon, (2004) cited by Fawson et al. (2006);


1. Independent level - beyond 95% accuracy

2. 2nd Instructional level - between 90%-95% accuracy
3. Frustration level - below 90% accuracy.
These are used as benchmarks to identify a students level in reading.
Specifically, teachers record deletions, insertions, omissions and so forth. It
allows teacher to analyze this data to make informed instructional decisions.
There is a high correlation (Ross, 1994, p 114 as cited by Fawson et al., 2006)
between teachers who assess students reading through running records on a
systematic basis with students reading achievement. So what do you do after
youve determined their level? Interesting enough some teachers used running
records three times a year, some monthly, some weekly and some daily to
assess student reading. I dont know how its even possible to on a daily basis
but the if you can do it frequently enough to gage student learning and inform
instruction then as research indicates, its effective. Also, Snow, Burns & Griffen
(1998); Torgesen et al., 1999; Vellutino et al., 1996 as cited by Washburn, et al.,
2011) found that several decades of research acknowledges the practice of early
intervention to be an important prevention practice of reading difficulties
continuing in the lower elementary grades. On the basis of finding out areas of
weakness in a students reading, good formal/informal assessments should be
used. To rely on standardized test scores only is not a means in determining
whos a weak reader (Duffy & Akinson, 2001). There was concern as identified in
1996 by Fisher, Fox & Paille, (p 430) as cited by Duffy & Akinson, (2001) that
teachers were limited in their knowledge of assessment back then. Teachers are
realizing the important need for multiple and continuous assessments in the


classrooms (Mallette et al., (2000); Hoffman et al., 1999 (p257) as cited by Duffy
& Akinson, (2006). Effective teachers who share their regular progress
monitoring and diagnostic assessment data have successful results with
improved student achievement (Hoffman, (1991); Matsunura, Patthey-Chavez,
Valdes & Garnier, (2002); Ross, (2004); Wharton-McDonald et al., (1997); Wray,
D., Medwell, J., Fox, R., & Poulson, L., (2000); Taylor et al., (2000) as cited by
Fawson et al., (2006). As noted in his article Fawson, et al., (2006) feels
students reading results are too varied when using Reading Recovery or A-Z
leveling structures. This would be the only negative aspect I encountered and
question the validity of the statement. What is important is the knowledge of
assessment and what the results can do for teachers by way of monitoring and
adjusting instruction as the need arises for each student.
I have gained understanding in how a teachers personal, professional and
practical knowledge can impact student achievement in reading regardless if, in
my opinion, youre a beginning or seasoned teacher. Ongoing professional
development is huge. If teachers could share, and collaborate on a continual
basis theres more potential for powerful learning to emerge, all teachers need to
appreciate the idea that learning never stops. I will continue to answer the
question Why am I doing the activities that Im doing? on a continual basis.
Theres evidence that teachers are not adequately spending enough instructional
time modeling the process of reading comprehension. Much of the time is spent;
assigning activities, ensuring students are on task, and providing corrective
feedback to correct students errors. They did not teach, model, explain, or


demonstrate strategies and skills that students could use to successfully

comprehend text. To find that some 20 years later Pressley, Wharton-McDonald,
Hampston & Echevarria, (1998) as cited by Ness, (2011) found similar results is
rather perplexing. I see this happening in our schools today. To be an effective
teacher we need to understand that student achievement is affected by our
knowledge of the reading process. Learn and apply effective practices in a
meaningful way, be an active teacher as opposed to a passive one. Lastly,
analyze and administer assessments systematically. These key elements are all
part of (what I like to think of it as) the web design of instructional planning for
students who are both struggling and non-struggling readers.


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