Evidence-Based Reading Intervention

Students with reading problems need to build solid foundational word-reading, fluency and spelling skills. The inquiry revealed that many schools are not using evidence-based interventions to meet this need.

School boards should provide clear direction on what evidence-based programs to use, and fund these programs directly so that all schools can access them. This would be more equitable and result in cost savings based on economies of scale.

Word Recognition Difficulties

Many children with reading difficulties have problems in recognizing the individual parts, or syllables, of words. They may not understand that words are separated into sounds in spoken language and mapped to letters on the page, or they may have trouble learning how to segment and reconstitute those sounds to read words (Catts, Adlof, & Weismer, 2006).

Children with word recognition difficulties usually benefit from organized instruction in sound-to-letter correspondence, and strategies for breaking up words into syllables. They also need to practice decoding words with varying vowel patterns, and strategies for identifying multisyllabic words.

Educators should provide students with the time and intensive intervention required to build these foundational skills. They must help students apply these skills to text-based learning experiences so that they can gain automaticity, which is needed for comprehension. Children with these struggles often struggle with fluency, which can impede reading comprehension because the attention necessary to sound out words takes away resources that could otherwise be used for understanding a text’s meaning (Catts, Adlof, and Weismer, 2006)..

Spelling Difficulties

Spelling difficulties can be frustrating for children. They can also be a sign of an underlying learning difference. The good news is that spelling difficulties can be overcome with the right intervention.

The same processing challenges that impact word decoding in students with dyslexia impact spelling. Dyslexic individuals find it difficult to split words into their component sounds (phonemes) and to remember spelling patterns for high-frequency service words.

Several strategies are effective for overcoming spelling difficulties. These include incorporating spelling into daily reading and writing, teaching students to use a spelling dictionary, providing students with frequent opportunities to write and practice their spelling skills (including writing in sentences) and offering a variety of strategies to teach irregular words. A behavioral concept called “shaping” (developed by Skinner in 1957) is also a useful tool for helping students to develop their spelling skills. This involves delivering reinforcers for successive approximations towards achieving an objective. For example, a student who is struggling to spell could be rewarded for each correct word they successfully complete.

Reading Comprehension Difficulties

Comprehension is an important reading skill that combines a reader’s ability to decode and understand words with his or her ability to interpret what is read and make connections between the reading material and knowledge of the world around him. Readers with strong comprehension skills are able to think deeply about the material and draw conclusions about what is read, for example, “what is the most important information in this passage?”

Children who have SRCD tend to have mild weaknesses in broad vocabulary or language comprehension and typically do not exhibit speech-language difficulties (Nation, 2005). Thus, they may be better served by a multicomponent reading intervention that includes oral presentation of grade-level text to support phonics instruction and vocabulary development than by a single-component approach to reading intervention such as practice reading and questioning.

While the pattern of reading difficulty provides only a partial explanation for an individual child’s struggles, it is valuable information to have as teachers prepare to implement reading intervention programs. For example, Ms. Jackson can use this information to help her differentiate classroom instruction by providing students with one group that receives additional explicit phonics instruction to focus on breaking down multisyllabic words and building sentences and another group that is provided with additional reading-comprehension instruction.


When students have difficulty reading, they may not be motivated to do so. Whether or not they are successful, they do not have the same incentive as their peers to keep trying. This is because the forces that energize motivation are different from those that energize the behaviours that allow a student to obtain desired outcomes (for example, circadian factors energize food seeking actions but not reading efforts).

School psychologists can play a significant role in motivating students who have trouble reading by providing a range of intervention suggestions including word study phonics and semantic mapping approaches as well as teacher mediation and review strategies. See Telzrow’s chapter on intervention integrity in this volume for more information.

The inquiry found that many Ontario students have very limited access to evidence-based interventions. Currently, schools typically start with commercial programs that have little basis in research and often mirror instruction approaches that do not work in classrooms. Students then endure years of ineffective support in tier 1 and tier 2 before finally being offered an evidence-based program in Grades 3-4 or later, if they are lucky.

Evidence-Based Reading Intervention
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