Sara Flanagan, Assistant Professor of Special Education
Danielle Gabrielli, University of Maine
Reading is a complex, fundamental skill for all students. Effective reading instruction is crucial, especially since students may continue to struggle in reading if they are not reading on grade level in third grade (Lesnick et al., 2010). Despite the importance of reading and effective instruction, ineffective instructional practices impact instruction.
Ineffective Instruction: Colored Overlays and Lenses
Colored overlays over text or colored lenses in glasses students wear when reading are based on the assumption that a specific color supports how the eye processes printed text by reducing visual distortions (e.g., “moving,” slanted text). This is a misperception about how students read and comprehend text, and, specifically, those with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a neurological, language-based learning disability where a student’s brain, not eyes, is not correctly processing language beginning at the phonological level of reading. Colored overlays and lenses do not impact reading accuracy, rate, or comprehension; any reading growth when using them is usually due to reading instruction or practice (Griffiths et al., 2016; Law, 2019). Colored overlays and lenses are not the same as highlighting keywords in a passage or word problem. If a student complains about visual distortions, this warrants an eye exam.
Ineffective Instruction: Special Fonts
Fonts like the Dyslexie Font or OpenDyslexic are often aimed at students with dyslexia or other reading difficulties. These claim to reduce reading challenges due to the fonts’ design. The fonts are not based on credible information about how students read, and may reduce or not meaningfully change reading. Research suggests that any temporary, positive change in reading is due to the letter spacing and not the actual font; this same change is found with “normal” fonts with similar letter spacing (Kuster et al., 2018; Wery & Diliberto, 2017). Instead, use easy-to-read fonts with consistent spacing and at an appropriate size for students’ grade such as Calbri, Times New Roman, or Arial.
Ineffective Instruction: Learning Styles
Teaching to students’ learning style in any content area, including reading, is not an evidence-based practice, and could reduce learning and generalization. Learning styles were not meant to be applied to instructional practices. Students need to learn using multiple modalities (e.g., seeing, hearing, speaking, touching, doing), not just a preferred “style” (Bozarth, 2018). Instead, consider Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to purposefully design and deliver instruction to give flexible options and reduce barriers for how students learn and demonstrate knowledge (for more information, https://www.cast.org/). For example, if students experience difficulties with reading comprehension, teachers might pre-teach vocabulary, provide a graphic organizer, and give an option to listen to the text.
In addition to UDL, explicit instruction is a “gold standard” instructional practice that supports students’ learning across grade levels and content areas including in reading. Explicit instruction includes three stages: (1) I do where the teacher describes the purpose of the lesson and connects it to what students already know, provides background information, and models; (2) We do when the teacher uses guided practice with prompts, scaffolds, and corrective feedback; and (3) You do when students work independently to demonstrate their knowledge with corrective feedback (see Figure 1 for a summary). Each stage includes effective supports like graphic organizers and other scaffolds, strategies for specific areas of reading like decodable books, manipulatives, and technology. Additionally, instruction using multiple modalities supports reading; for example, when teaching students to read and spell a word, a student might listen to the word, read the word, build the word with letter manipulatives, then write the word in sand. When using such strategies within explicit instruction, these strategies fall in the guided practice (“we do”) stage. This type of instruction is particularly useful for struggling readers because they can practice multiple ways while being provided feedback in a structured, explicit manner (Archer & Hughes, 2011; Bursuck & Damer, 2015).
While some ineffective instructional practices might not “hurt” students, these take away from instructional time, potentially delaying reading progress. Finding reliable information can be difficult when search results might give conflicting or inaccurate information. When exploring an intervention, strategy, or curriculum, ask the following:
- Is it “too good to be true?”
- Does it match accurate information on reading?
- Can I find the same information across multiple, credible sources and on websites other than blogs or a company’s website?
See Table 1 for a list of credible, free reading instruction websites.
Table 1. Useful Websites
|Reading Rockets||website provides a wide range of information on reading and writing instruction.||readingrockets.org|
|Adlit.org||includes information on supporting adolescents’ reading and writing.||adlit.org|
|The Florida Center for Reading Research||has lesson plans, student activities, and other resources on reading.||fcrr.org|
|National Center on Improving Literacy||has resources on reading for students with literacy-related needs.||improvingliteracy.org|
|Really Great Reading||has reading diagnostic assessments, instructional tools, and information.||reallygreatreading.com|
|Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk||is not specific to reading, but it provides intervention resources.||meadowscenter.org|
|The National Center on Intensive Intervention||has resources and lessons on reading, math, and behavior. NCII has tool charts that review assessments and interventions.||intensiveintervention.org|
|What Works Clearinghouse||reviews research on interventions and includes practice guides (research summaries).||ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc|
- Gain students’ attention and state the purpose of the lesson
- Provide background knoweldge, review
- Use examples and nonexamples
(Teacher & Student)
- Guided practice with students using scaffolds and prompting
- Use corrective feedback
- Reteach as neeeded
- Give students independent work to practice without prompting
- Use corrective feedback
- Preview next lesson with how it connects to current lesson
- Assign homework/independent work
Archer, A., & Hughes, C. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. The Guilford Press.
Bursuck, W. D. & Damer, M. (2015). Teaching reading to students who are at risk or have disabilities (3rd edition). Pearson.
Bozarth, J. (2018). The truth about teaching to learning styles and what to do instead?
Griffiths, P. G., Taylor, R. H., Henderson, L. M., & Barrett, B. T. (2016). The effect of coloured overlays and lenses on reading: a systematic review of the literature. Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics, 36(5), 519–544. https://doi.org/10.1111/opo.12316
Law, J. (2019). A rose-tinted cure: the myth of coloured overlays and dyslexia.
Lesnick, J., Goerge, R., Smithgall, C., & Gwynne, J. (2010). Reading on grade level in third grade: How is it related to high school performance and college enrollment. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Kuster, S. M., van Weerdenburg, M., Gompel, M., & Bosman, A. M. (2018). Dyslexie font does not benefit reading in children with or without dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 68(1), 25-42.
Wery, J. J., & Diliberto, J. A. (2017). The effect of a specialized dyslexia font, OpenDyslexic, on reading rate and accuracy. Annals of Dyslexia, 67(2), 114-127. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11881-016-0127-1