Reading and Writing

, Volume 23, Issue 8, pp 889–912 | Cite as

Reading interventions for struggling readers in the upper elementary grades: a synthesis of 20 years of research

  • Jeanne Wanzek
  • Jade Wexler
  • Sharon Vaughn
  • Stephen Ciullo


A synthesis of the extant research on reading interventions for students with reading difficulties and disabilities in fourth and fifth grade (ages 9–11) is presented. Thirteen studies with treatment/comparison study designs and eleven single group or single subject studies were located and synthesized. Findings from the 24 studies revealed high effects for comprehension interventions on researcher-developed comprehension measures. Word recognition interventions yielded small to moderate effects on a range of reading outcomes. Few studies were located implementing vocabulary and multi-component interventions.


Reading intervention Reading difficulties Learning disabilities 


  1. Blachman, B. A., Schatschneider, C., Fletcher, J. M., Francis, D. J., Clonan, S., Shaywitz, B., et al. (2004). Effects of intensive reading remediation for second and third graders. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 444–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bruce, M. E., & Chan, L. K. S. (1991). Reciprocal teaching and transenvironmental programming: A program to facilitate the reading comprehension of students with reading difficulties. Remedial and Special Education, 12, 44–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bryant, F. B., & Wortman, P. M. (1984). Methodological issues in the meta-analysis of quasi-experiments. New Directions for Program Evaluation, 24, 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Buly, M. R., & Valencia, S. W. (2002). Below the bar: Profiles of students who fail state reading assessments. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24(3), 219–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Butler, F. M. (1999). Reading partners: Students can help each other learn to read!. Education and Treatment of Children, 22, 415–426.Google Scholar
  6. Chall, J. S. (1983). Stages of reading development. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  7. Chall, J. S., & Jacobs, V. A. (1983). Writing and reading in the elementary grades: Developmental trends among low-SES children. Language Arts, 60, 617–626.Google Scholar
  8. Chall, J. S., & Jacobs, V. A. (2003). Poor children’s fourth-grade slump. American Educator, 2(1), 14–15. (see also 44).Google Scholar
  9. Daly, E. J., III, & Martens, B. K. (1994). A comparison of three interventions for increasing oral reading performance: Application of the instructional hierarchy. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 459–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Das, J. P., Mishra, R. K., & Pool, J. E. (1995). An experiment on cognitive remediation of word-reading difficulty. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 28, 66–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Das-Smaal, E. A., Klapwijk, M. J. G., & Leij, A. (1996). Training of perceptual unit processing in children with a reading disability. Cognition and Instruction, 14, 221–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Denton, C. A., Fletcher, J. M., Anthony, J. L., & Francis, D. J. (2006). An evaluation of intensive intervention for students with persistent reading difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 447–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dynarski, M., Clarke, L., Cobb, B., Finn, J., Rumberger, R., & Smink, J. (2008). Dropout Prevention: A Practice Guide (NCEE 2008–4025). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved December 4, 2008, from
  14. Edmonds, M. S., Vaughn, S., Wexler, J., Reutebuch, C. K., Cable, A., Tackett, K. K., et al. (2009). A synthesis of reading interventions and effects on reading outcomes for older struggling readers. Review of Educational Research, 79, 262–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Felton, R. (1993). Effects of instruction on the decoding skills of children with phonological-processing problems. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26, 583–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ferkis, M. A., Belfiore, P. J., & Skinner, C. H. (1997). The effects of response repetitions on sight work acquisition for students with mild disabilities. Journal of Behavioral Education, 7, 307–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fletcher, J. M., Lyon, G. R., Fuchs, L. S., & Barnes, M. A. (2007). Learning disabilities: From identification to intervention. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  18. Gillon, G., & Dodd, B. (1997). Enhancing the phonological processing skills of children with specific reading disability. European Journal of Disorders of Communication, 32, 67–90.Google Scholar
  19. Grigg, W. S., Daane, M. C., Jin, Y., & Campbell, J. R. (2003). National assessment of educational progress. The nation’s report card: Reading 2002. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  20. Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77, 81–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hirsch, E. D., Jr. (2003). Reading comprehension requires knowledge- of words and the world: Scientific insights into the fourth-grade slump and stagnant reading comprehension. American Educator, 27(1), 10–13. (see also 16–22, 28–29, 48).Google Scholar
  22. Institute of Education Sciences (2003). What works clearinghouse study review standards. Retrieved January 10, 2005 from What Works Clearinghouse Web site:
  23. Jenkins, J. R., & O’Connor, R. E. (2002). Early identification and intervention for young children with reading/learning disabilities. In R. Bradley, L. Danielson, & D. P. Hallahan (Eds.), Identification of learning disabilities: Research to practice (pp. 99–149). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  24. Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., & Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A practice Guide (NCEE#2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  25. Lederer, J. M. (2000). Reciprocal teaching of social studies in inclusive elementary classrooms. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33, 91–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lovett, M. W., Lacerenza, L., Borden, S. L., Frijters, J. C., Steinbach, K. A., & DePalma, M. (2000). Components of effective remediation for developmental reading disabilities: Combining phonological and strategy-based instruction to improve outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 263–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mason, L. H. (2004). Explicit self-regulated strategy development versus reciprocal questioning: Effects on expository reading comprehension among struggling readers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 283–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mason, L. H., Snyder, K. H., Sukhram, D. P., & Kedem, Y. (2006). TWA + PLANS strategies for expository reading and writing: Effects for nine-fourth-grade students. Exceptional Children, 73, 69–89.Google Scholar
  29. Mathes, P. G., Denton, C. A., Fletcher, J. M., Anthony, J. L., Francis, D. J., & Schatschneider, C. (2005). An evaluation of two reading interventions derived from diverse models. Reading Research Quarterly, 40, 148–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mathes, P. G., & Fuchs, L. S. (1993). Peer-mediated reading instruction in special education resource rooms. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 8, 233–243.Google Scholar
  31. McCardle, P., & Chhabra, V. (2004). The voice of evidence in reading research. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  32. McMaster, K. L., Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L. S., & Compton, D. L. (2005). Responding to nonresponders: An experimental field trial of identification and intervention methods. Exceptional Children, 71, 445–463.Google Scholar
  33. Miranda, A., Villaescusa, M. I., & Vidal-Abarca, E. (1997). Is attribution retraining necessary? Use of self-regulation procedures for enhancing the reading comprehension strategies of children with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30, 503–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nation, K., Clarke, P., Marshall, C. M., & Durand, M. (2004). Hidden language impairments in children: Parallels between poor reading comprehension and specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing research, 47, 199–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nation, K., & Snowling, M. J. (2004). Beyond phonological skills: broader language skills contribute to the development of reading. Journal of Research in Reading, 27(4), 342–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. National Center for Education Statistics. (2005). National assessment of educational progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  37. National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  38. O’Connor, R. E., Bell, K. M., Harty, K. R., Larkin, L. K., Sackor, S. M., & Zigmond, N. (2002). Teaching reading to poor readers in the intermediate grades: A comparison of text difficulty. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 474–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. O’Connor, R. E., White, A., & Swanson, H. L. (2007). Repeated reading versus continuous reading: Influences on reading fluency and comprehension. Exceptional Children, 74, 31–46.Google Scholar
  40. Rich, R. Z., & Blake, S. (1994). Collaborating for autonomy: Inducing strategic behaviors in students with learning disabilities. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 5, 359–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Scammacca, N., Roberts, G., Vaughn, S., Edmonds, M., Wexler, J., Reutebuch, C. K., et al. (2007). Intervention for adolescent struggling readers: A meta-analysis with implication for practice. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.Google Scholar
  42. Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78, 153–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Swanson, H. L., Hoskyn, M., & Lee, C. (1999). Interventions for students with learning disabilities. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  44. Takala, M. (2006). The effects of reciprocal teaching on reading comprehension in mainstream and special (SLI) education. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 50, 559–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Taylor, L. K., Alber, S. R., & Walker, D. W. (2002). The comparative effects of a modified self-questioning strategy and story mapping on the reading comprehension of elementary students with learning disabilities. Journal of Behavioral Education, 11, 69–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Thaler, V., Ebner, E. M., Wimmer, H., & Landerl, K. (2004). Training reading fluency in dysfluent readers with high reading accuracy: Word specific effects but low transfer to untrained words. Annals of Dyslexia, 54, 89–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Therrien, W. J., Wickstrom, K., & Jones, K. (2006). Effect of a combined repeated reading and question generation intervention on reading achievement. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 21, 89–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Torgesen, J. K. (2000). Individual differences in response to early interventions in reading: The lingering problem of treatment resisters. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 15, 55–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Torgesen, J. K., Alexander, A. W., Wagner, R. K., Rashotte, C. A., Voeller, K. K. S., & Conway, T. (2001). Intensive remedial instruction for children with severe reading disabilities: Immediate and long-term outcomes from two instructional approaches. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 34, 33–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Torgesen, J. K., Houston, D. D., Rissman, L. M., Decker, S. M., Roberts, G., Vaughn, S., et al. (2007). Academic literacy instruction for adolescents: A guidance document from the Center on Instruction. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.Google Scholar
  51. Torgesen, J. K., Wagner, R. K., Rashotte, C. A., Rose, E., Lindamood, P., Conway, T., et al. (1999). Preventing reading failure in young children with phonological processing disabilities: Group and individual responses to instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 579–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Vaughn, S., Kim, A., Sloan, C. V. M., Hughes, M. T., Elbaum, B., & Sridhar, D. (2003). Social skills interventions for young children with disabilities: A synthesis of group design studies. Remedial and Special Education, 24, 2–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Vellutino, F. R., Scanlon, D. M., Sipay, E. R., Small, S. G., Pratt, A., Chen, R., et al. (1996). Cognitive profiles of difficult to remediate and readily remediated poor readers: Early interventions as a vehicle for distinguishing between cognitive and experiential deficits as basic causes of specific reading disability. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 601–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wright, M., & Mullan, F. (2006). Dyslexia and the phono-graphix reading programme. Support for Learning, 21, 77–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Xin, J. F., & Rieth, H. (2001). Video-assisted vocabulary instruction for elementary school students with learning disabilities. Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual, 12, 87–103.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeanne Wanzek
    • 1
  • Jade Wexler
    • 2
  • Sharon Vaughn
    • 2
  • Stephen Ciullo
    • 2
  1. 1.Florida State University, School of Teacher Education and Florida Center for Reading Research C234B PsychologyTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.The University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations