More Personalized Instruction Benefits Struggling Readers

A team of researchers at the Center for Research and Reform in Education has completed a comprehensive review of research on programs for struggling readers in middle and high schools.

In their report,Effective Reading Programs for Secondary Students,” Bob Slavin, director of the center, and colleagues Ariane Baye of the University of Liege in Belgium (who did a six-month visiting scholarship at Johns Hopkins last year), Cynthia Lake and Amanda Inns found that the most successful categories of programs involved one-to-one tutoring or small-group tutoring, as well as individual successful studies that applied technology or teaching of metacognitive skills. One successful study emphasized building relationships between teachers and students, and this improved reading and math outcomes.

Many of the studies provided remedial teaching in extra daily periods. Providing extra time did not, on average, make any difference in reading. In addition, programs that provided benchmark assessments designed to help teachers and students determine students’ strengths and weaknesses did not make any difference.

“We found 77 very high-quality studies,” said Slavin, “with all but eight using random assignment to experimental and control groups. Overall, the study concluded that struggling adolescent readers benefit more from social and personalized environments, in which they take active roles, rather than adding instructional time.”

A Multiyear Study

In other research, the center is initiating a multiyear research study of an initiative by National University to launch six “Sanford Harmony and Inspire Demonstration” San Diego-area schools focusing primarily on students’ social emotional learning and development.

The broad goal of Sanford Harmony and Inspire is to “develop educators who have outstanding instructional skills and the ability to provide student-centered caring environments.” It strives to achieve this goal by connecting research, development and practice via a consortium of higher-education institutions and PK-12 school districts.

Core strategies link academic achievement to the effective integration of social-emotional and cognitive strategies. The “harmony” component of the program, said Steven Ross, a co-principal investigator of the study and a senior research scientist and professor at the Center for Research and Reform in Education, focuses on teaching students understanding and empathy through an integrated program of varied classroom activities, discussions, stories and lessons.

The study will use mixed methods to perform case studies of the six demonstration schools. Measures will include school climate, classroom observations, student achievement and the perceptions and experiences of students, teachers, principals and parents. The other co-principal investigator of the study is Jennifer Morrison, an assistant professor at the Center for Research and Reform in Education.