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The effect of a dialogically oriented intervention program on the reading abilities of struggling readers in second grade

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Abstract

Studies have shown that dialogic instruction can promote reading comprehension, but its contribution to lower-level skills like reading fluency is not as well understood. The paper reports on a dialogically oriented small group intervention for struggling second-grade Hebrew readers, targeting both comprehension and fluency. Rather than top-down instruction, the program focused on providing ample opportunities for students to engage with literacy in enriching and meaningful ways. Nine schools from the same Israeli city were randomly assigned to the intervention or business-as-usual control conditions. Sixty students from the five intervention schools were selected as participants based on RTI Tier 2 criteria. The control group comprised 39 students from the remaining four schools. The groups were matched on measures of reading and reading comprehension. The intervention was administered by participants’ teachers, each working with five children twice weekly for a total of 18–20 sessions. Teachers followed specially designed lesson plans while receiving guidance from the research team. Post-intervention assessments showed that the groups did not differ in reading comprehension, but the intervention group had a significantly higher average reading rate coupled with lower accuracy. Considering the well-known phenomenon in Hebrew reading development, where transitioning from piecemeal decoding to higher-order strategies results in a phase of faster but less accurate reading, these results point to an improvement in participants’ reading fluency. The intervention’s effect on reading fluency and lack of effect on reading comprehension are discussed, as well as the implications of dialogic instruction for broader aspects of literacy and student well-being.

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Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Sample lesson plans

Unit 2: Monkeys and coconuts

Lessons number 3-4

Below is a description of the first two lessons in the second thematic unit of the program, lessons number 3 and 4 in the overall count. These lessons come after the first unit, which introduces the participants to the topic of monkeys, showcasing the amazing variety of existing monkey species. The second unit is based on an informative text called “monkeys and coconuts” which was adapted for the purposes of the program and prepared as an illustrated booklet. In the two lessons described below, the participants read the text together and discuss its content. Of course, these two lessons can extend over more than two sessions in practice, depending on each group’s pace and preferences.

Lesson #3

  • The teacher invites the students to recall the funny video they watched last time about the naughty city monkeys and all the mischief that they did. She then tells the children that today they will continue learning about monkeys and read an interesting text about monkeys in Thailand.

  • The teacher hands each student a copy of the booklet “monkeys and coconuts”. The booklet contains 16 pages, each with a short passage of text (1–3 sentences) accompanied by illustrations. The booklet first presents the country of Thailand, each page focusing on another feature of the country, e.g., where it is located on the globe and how far it is from Israel, the beautiful beaches, the jungles and wildlife, the Thai people, and the Thai language. The booklet then moves on to give information on coconuts, which grow in abundance in Thailand, including how they look, their different parts, what dishes they are used in, and the tall palm trees that they grow on. All of this provides background for presenting the problem of how to reach the coconuts at the top of the tall palm trees and one particularly interesting solution people have found, namely, training gibbons to do this task for them. The booklet is designed to be inviting and appropriate for struggling readers in second grade, being comprised of very short, fully pointed passages in a large font, which are accompanied by many colorful and interesting illustrations.

  • The teacher first asks the students to look at the cover of the booklet and read the title. She then encourages a short discussion by asking some questions: What do you know about coconuts? Have you ever eaten a coconut? What do you think the connection can be between coconuts and monkeys?

  • The group then starts reading the booklet. The five students and the teacher take turns reading one page at a time aloud. The teacher encourages every student to participate in reading but does not force them to. Every page of the booklet may spark conversation, e.g., about participants’ experiences from vising Thailand or other countries, about the differences between Thailand and Israel, etc. The teacher and students are encouraged to read in a leisurely manner, taking their time looking at the interesting pictures and freely reacting to the text, asking questions, making comments, discussing, and sharing relevant knowledge and experiences.

  • The group stops reading at about the middle of the booklet, after the parts dedicated to Thailand and coconuts. The teacher tells the students that they will finish reading the booklet in the next lesson.

  • The lesson is concluded with an activity called “reading to the tune”. This activity is meant to allow an experience of fluent reading, taking advantage of the unique structure of written Hebrew words, which are based on recurring morpho-orthographic patterns (a recurring “tune”), e.g., the verbs holxim ‘(they) walk’ and pogʃim ‘(they) meet’. Each participant reads a series of five short sentences, each containing verbs in a recurring morpho-orthographic pattern. Relating to the topic of the booklet, the sentences are about things people do when they travel abroad, e.g., holxim lemuze’on ‘going to a museum’ and pogʃim anaʃim xadaʃim ‘meeting new people.’

Lesson #4

  • The teacher invites the students to recall what they have read last time about Thailand and about coconuts. The participants then open their booklets on a page with a picture of a very tall palm tree with coconuts at the top. The text reads: “People in Thailand love eating coconuts. But they have a problem… What do you think their problem could be?”. After thinking about this question and raising some possibilities, the group continues reading the booklet in turns. The remainder of the booklet describes how difficult it is to get to the top of the trees and how gibbons are trained to climb up there and throw the coconuts down. The final page says that if you walk around coconut trees and see monkeys in the treetops you should be very careful… and ends with the question “why should you be careful?”. Reading the booklet concludes with a discussion of this amusing question.

  • After they have finished reading, the group moves on to an activity which is based on the information in the booklet. This activity involves the group collaboratively reading and answering four multiple-choice questions about the text. In each round, each of the group members (the teacher and five students) gets a card. One card contains the question (for instance: What problem did the people of Thailand have? How did they solve their problem?), and the other five cards contain possible answers. The participant who got the question reads it aloud and then each of the other participants reads their answer and says whether they think it is a good answer or not. The group then discusses and tries to decide which is the best answer. This is repeated with the remaining three questions. While there is always one answer which best reflects the information in the text (e.g., “The people of Thailand solved their problem by training monkeys to pick the coconuts for them”), there are other answers that may also be seen as correct or at least possible (e.g., “They practiced hard and learned how to climb the palm trees themselves”) alongside answers that are more clearly wrong or nonsensical (e.g., “They decided to give up on coconuts and eat potatoes instead”). This makes the activity more amusing and encourages reasoning and argumentation. The written instructions given to the teachers emphasize that the group does not necessarily have to decide on the canonically “correct” answer, or even reach a consensus. The important thing is that the students express their opinions, explain their thinking to the group, and critically weigh possible answers. Additionally, the students are encouraged to go back to the text to look for evidence supporting their claims.

  • After discussing all multiple-choice questions, one last card remains on the table, with a final, open question: “Do you think training monkeys to pick coconuts is a good idea? Why?”. One of the participants reads the question and then the issue is discussed in the group. This is a complex question that can be viewed from different angles. The teacher allows the students to freely express different opinions and explain their thinking to the group. She is also encouraged to express her own opinion as well as suggesting other possible perspectives that are not represented in the group. For instance, if there is consensus that using the monkeys is a wonderful solution, the teacher can suggest that it may have some downsides from the point of view of the monkeys and encourage the group to explore this possibility. As always, the children thinking about the question and discussing it with their friends is more important than reaching a final conclusion. The group will have a chance to continue thinking about this complex issue in the following lessons, where they will watch videos and read additional, shorter texts about other animals that people use for different purposes.

  • Finally, each participant gets a colorful and illustrated worksheet with the same five questions that the group has discussed earlier (four multiple-choice questions and one open question). The participants answer the four multiple-choice questions and the open question by themselves and then share their answers with the group. This gives the students an opportunity to experience successful independent reading of content they already know, as well as an opportunity to further process the issues involved and express their thoughts – this time in writing. The teachers are reminded not to evaluate the students’ answers in definitive terms of right and wrong. However, they are encouraged to take their students’ answers seriously, which may involve challenging answers they do not understand or do not agree with and asking for clarification and elaboration.

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Brandes, G., Evanhaim, N., Dalal-Zarotski, S. et al. The effect of a dialogically oriented intervention program on the reading abilities of struggling readers in second grade. Read Writ 36, 2221–2249 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-022-10378-z

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