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FIRST-GRADE READING GAINS FOLLOWING ENRICHMENT: PHONICS PLUS DECODABLE TEXTS COMPARED TO AUTHENTIC LITERATURE READ ALOUD BRENDA L. BEVERLY Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology University of South Alabama REBECCA M. GII.F.S Department of Leadership and Teacher Education University of South Alabama n KERI L. BUCK Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology University of South Alabama Purpose: Phonics instruction with decodable texts reading prac- ' tice was compared to ahernate reading enrichments. I Method: Thirty-two first-graders participated. One group prac- ' (iced reading Uecodable texts after phonics instruction. Another I group heard authentic hterature read aloud, and the third group participated in phonics combined with authentic literature. Addi- lionally an untreated classroom was compared lo a treated classroom for a school-based reading measure, DIBELS. Results: Significant gains on DIBELS were found for the treat- ed classroom compared to an untreated classrotim following the . semester of the enrichment. All treatment groups showed mea- , surable reading gains, but the effect of the treatment text varied by reading level. Below-average readers demonstrated greater comprehension increases ihan average readers given phonics plus decodable texts, but average readers had greater improve- ments following authentic literature read aloud. Conclusions: Explicit phonics instniction and reading practice with decodable texts can be a prerequisite to successful compre- ; hension for beginning readers; however, as readers advance, they are more likely to benefit from challenging and meaningful I literature. Key Words: beginning reading, decodable texts, authentic liter- ature, phonics, struggling readers Introduction for beginning and struggling readers Two chief classroom influences on first- (Adams. 1990; Briggs & Clark. 1997; grade reading ability are the methods of National Reading Panel. 2000), the best reading instruction and the texts used for type of text for beginning and struggling word recognition practice. While system- readers continues to be debated (Hiebert, atic phonics instruction is considered an 1999; Hofiman, Sailors. & Patterson. 2002: essential reading component, particularly National Reading Panel, 2000). A broad 191

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  • FIRST-GRADE READING GAINS FOLLOWINGENRICHMENT: PHONICS PLUS DECODABLE

    TEXTS COMPARED TO AUTHENTICLITERATURE READ ALOUD

    BRENDA L . BEVERLYDepartment of Speech Pathology and Audiology

    University of South Alabama

    REBECCA M . GII.F.S

    Department of Leadership and Teacher EducationUniversity of South Alabama

    n

    KERI L . BUCK

    Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology University of South Alabama

    Purpose: Phonics instruction with decodable texts reading prac-' tice was compared to ahernate reading enrichments.

    I Method: Thirty-two first-graders participated. One group prac-' (iced reading Uecodable texts after phonics instruction. AnotherI group heard authentic hterature read aloud, and the third group

    participated in phonics combined with authentic literature. Addi-lionally an untreated classroom was compared lo a treatedclassroom for a school-based reading measure, DIBELS.

    Results: Significant gains on DIBELS were found for the treat-ed classroom compared to an untreated classrotim following the

    . semester of the enrichment. All treatment groups showed mea-, surable reading gains, but the effect of the treatment text varied

    by reading level. Below-average readers demonstrated greatercomprehension increases ihan average readers given phonicsplus decodable texts, but average readers had greater improve-ments following authentic literature read aloud.

    Conclusions: Explicit phonics instniction and reading practicewith decodable texts can be a prerequisite to successful compre-

    ; hension for beginning readers; however, as readers advance,they are more likely to benefit from challenging and meaningful

    I literature.

    Key Words: beginning reading, decodable texts, authentic liter-ature, phonics, struggling readers

    Introduction for beginning and struggling readersTwo chief classroom influences on first- (Adams. 1990; Briggs & Clark. 1997;

    grade reading ability are the methods of National Reading Panel. 2000), the bestreading instruction and the texts used for type of text for beginning and strugglingword recognition practice. While system- readers continues to be debated (Hiebert,atic phonics instruction is considered an 1999; Hofiman, Sailors. & Patterson. 2002:essential reading component, particularly National Reading Panel, 2000). A broad

    191

  • 192 / Reading Improvement

    range of options - including decodabietexts, basais, easy readers, authentic chil-dren's literature, and nonfiction - havebeen championed (see for example, Brown.1999/2000).

    Decodabie texts often accompany pro-grams of systematic phonics instructiontoassist children in applying phonetic knowl-edge (Brown, 1999/2000; Jenkins, Peyton,Sanders, & Vadasy, 2004; Juel &Roper/Schneider, 1985; Mesmer. 1999;National Reading Panel, 2000). Decod-ability, however, is a matter of degree(Beck & Juel. 1995). No text is entirelydecodabie because high frequency func-tion words (e.g., is, are, the) andphonetically irregular content words (e.g..said, mountain) are included. Other typesof decodabie texts emphasize a lesson-to-text match, or the use of letter-soundcorrespondences that have been presentedin prior reading lessons (Jenkins et al..2004). In general.decodabie texts are char-acterized by controlled text emphasizingletter-sound correspondences, spelling pat-terns, and high frequency irregular sightwords embedded in simple sentences, basicstorylines, and limited information perpage (Brown 1999/2000).

    Endorsement of decodabie texts spansthe past 20 years (Anderson, Hieben, Scott,& Wilkinson, 1985; Beck & Juel, 1995;Jenkins. Vadasy. Peyton. & Sanders, 2003;Mesmer, 1999; Stahl. Duffy-Hester, &Stahl. 1998) with recent advocacy by statepolicy makers (e.g.. California Departmentof Education, 2000; Dentn. 1997). Foor-man. Fletcher, and Francis (1997) havetaken one of the strongest positions in favorof decodabie texts stating that. "To

    immerse children in a print environmentwithout instruction in letter-sound corre-spondences and practice in decodabie textis to doom a large percentage of childrento reading failure" (p. 16). Supporters positthat regular reading practice using decod-abie texts reinforces students' alphabeticknowledge, resulting in increased wordidentification, phonemic awareness,spelling proficiency, and reading fluency.

    Despite these claims, a lack of researchregarding the usefulness of decodabie textsin teaching reading was reported by theNational Reading Panel (2000). Researchsupporting systematic phonies approach-es often includes decodabie texts as onefactor (Jenkins et al., 2003; National Read-ing Panel. 2000; Pullen. Lane. Lloyd.Nowak. & Ryals, 2005); however, fewstudies have attempted to isolate the effectofdecodability. Juel and Roper/Schneider( 1985) found that readers who used basalpreprimers containing shorter, phonetical-ly regular words, more word repetitions,and words built on word families weremore likely to attempt to decode novelwords based on letter-sound correspon-dences compared to readers who usedpreprimers with longer and more irregularwords. Authors concluded that, "emphasison a phonics method seems to make littlesense if children are given initial texts toread where the words do not follow regu-lar letter-sound correspondencegeneralizations" (p. 151). Similarly, Menonand Hieben (2005) reported a significantreading increase by two first-grade class-es given "little books" for reading practice.They gained 2.8 text levels compared totwo first-grade classes using school-select-

  • First-Grade Reading Gains,.. / 193

    ed literature-based basal readers whogained 1.8 text levels, leading authors toconclude thai these beginning readers ben-efited from phonetically regular words.fewer total words, more words repeated,and increased picture support.

    In contrast. Jenkins and colleagues(2004) found no differences in word attack.word identification, or reading efficiencybetween at-risk first graders tutored usinghighly decodable texts and those tutoredwitb less decodable texts. It appears, how-ever, that there were minimal differencesbetween the decodability of the texts forthe two groups, which may have limitedfindings. More importantly, tutors mediatedchildren's reading practice in both groups.Authors concluded that supplementalphonics instruction with mediated readingpractice, regardless of text decodability.supported at-risk first graders' readingachievements.

    The purpose of this study was to inves-tigate reading improvements by firstgraders using decodable texts withinenrichment sessions. Specifically, differ-ences in accuracy for word recognition,oral reading fluency, and reading compre-hension were examined. First graders whoreceived systematic phonics instructionwith reading practice using decodable texts(labeled the Texts group) were comparedto first graders who received phonicsinstruction without reading practice (thePhonics group) and first graders who wereread aloud to from authentic literature (theLiterature group). The Texts group was theprimary experimental group. The Phonicsgroup was included to separate effects ofphonics instruction with and without

    decodable texts, and the Literature groupwas considered a treated control group. Itwas hypothesized that both the Texts andPhonics groups would outperform the Lit-erature group in reading accuracy andfluency. If the Texts group showed greatergains than Phonics, then there would beevidence for the differential benefit ofdecodable texts. Reading comprehension,although not a targeted skill, was assessedbecause children in the experimentalgroups might demonstrate comprehensionimprovements secondary to improvedreading accuracy.

    MethodParticipants

    Thirty-two children {M age = 6 years;9 mos., range = 6;2-7;7) from two first-grade classrooms in a southern publicschool participated. There were 14 girlsand 18 boys: 15 participants were AfricanAmerican, and 17 were white. Fourteenparticipants. II boys and 3 girls, were con-sidered by investigators to havebackgrounds at-risk for reading difficultybased on a ca.se history questionnaire com-pleted by parents. At-risk factors includedrepeating a grade, being identified asspeech-language or reading impaired, hav-ing late speech onset and immediate familymembers who were speech-languageimpaired, or having a significant birth his-tory. The majority of participants. 26. werefrom two-parent households with at leastone parent (i.e., 22 fathers and 25 moth-ers) who had progressed beyond highschool educationally.

    Because of the relatively small groupsizes, several factors that can affect early

  • 194 / Reading Improvement

    reading success were considered duringgroup assignment. Participants whose his-tories were significant for speech,language, or reading concerns were quasi-randomly distributed across the threegroups with attention to gender and eth-nicity. Consequently, each group had 6girls. 5 African Americans, and 6 partici-pants whose histories were unremai'kablefor speech, language, or reading concerns.Statistics confirmed that there were no sig-nificant differences between groups forperformance on the reading pretests or forchronological age,/? values > .03. Familystatus among groups was judged similarbased on visual inspection of parent edu-cation data sorted by group.

    ProceduresThe Gray Oral Reading Test, 4th Ed.

    (GORT-4; Weiderholt & Bryant, 2001 ) anda benchmark reading assessment associ-ated with Preventing Academic Failure(PAF; Benin & Perlman, 1998) were usedfor pre- and posttesting. Participants wereassessed individually at the end of Janu-ary. Examiners were blind to groupassignments at pretesting. For reliabilitypurposes, sessions were audio recordedusing a digital voice recorder and down-loaded to digital computer files.

    For the GORT-4. participants were ran-domly assigned to either Form A or FormB, and, as specified in standardized pro-cedures for administration, participantswere directed to read individual storiesaloud smoothly and quickly and to prepareto respond to content questions. Each storywas timed, and the number of miscues wascounted. Interval scores (0-5) were

    assigned and summed across stories tocompute the Rate and Accuracy scores.These were added to get a Fluency score.The Comprehension score was the numbercorrect out of five possible questions perstory. All participants began with the firststory and progressed until they reached thedesignated Fluency and Comprehensionceilings. Statistical analyses for Rate, Accu-racy, Fluency, and Comprehension werebased on summed scores. The Oral Read-ing Quotient (ORQ), a scaled score basedon overall Fluency and Comprehensionperformance, was also included.

    The PAF benchmark consisted of 14sections of 20 words grouped by wordstructure (e.g.,CVC words with short vow-els, words with R-Controlled Vowels, andregularly phonetic multisyllabic words).Testing was discontinued in each sectionwhen there was only one correct pronun-ciation for five words attempted. Scoringconsisted of correct or incorrect yieldinga Total Correct Words Read out of 280 pos-sible.

    Treatment was 16 sessions - eightweeks of twice-weekly, 30-minute enrich-ment sessions. The Texts and Phonicsgroups received 10 minutes of multisen-sory, systematic phonics instruction usingmaterials associated with PAF (see Appen-dix). PAF was seiected because it is asystematic phonics approach with keywords for letter-sound correspondences,published workbooks, and a set of decod-able texts, the Merrill Readers, Levels A-F,5lh Ed. (Bertin. Perlman. Mercer, Rudolph,& Wilson, 1999) that fit PAF's scope andsequence. For the remaining 20 minutes,the Texts group practiced reading from the

  • First-Grade Reading Gains... /195

    Merrill Readers, but the Phonics groupjoined the Literature group. The Literaturegroup was read aloud to for the entire ses-sion using books selected from tbe YonkersPublic School System Summer 2004 Read-ing Lists, K-2. Examples included The Taleof Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter andArthur's Valentine by Marc Brown. Bookswith a phonological emphasis, includingpoetry, alphabet books, and other bookswith rhyme or alliteration, were removedto prevent additional phonological expo-sure. During each session, approximatelythree books, varied somewhat for gradelevel, length, topic, and genre, were readaloud by a teacher, who paused periodi-cally to pose prediction questions.

    The two classes participated separate-ly, and treatment order for the classesalternated. Thineen of the 16 treatment

    sessions were digitally audio-recorded fortreatment integrity purposes. Actual treat-ment time averaged 26 minutes. Posttestingwas completed in three weeks during April.The PAF benchmark and the alternatingform of the GORT-4 were administered toeach participant. Reading measures wererescored for reliability purposes and 100%agreement was found for scoring Rale andComprehension on the GORT-4. Reliabil-ity for Accuracy on the GORT-4 and thePAF was over 90%.

    ResultsDifference scores - posttesting scores

    minus pretesting scores - depict changeon the GORT-4 subtests - Rate, Accuracy,Fluency, and Comprehension {see Figure1). Both the Texts and Literature groupsshowed similar patterns for Rate, Accura-

    oRaten Accuracy Fluency Comprehension

    Texts Phonics Literature

    Figure J. Groups' mean difference scores based on pretesting and posttesting summed scores forRate, Accuracy, Fluency, aiid Comprehension from the Gray Oral Reading Test. 4* Ed.(Weiderholt & Bryant, 2001).

  • 196 / Reading Improvement

    D PreORQ PostORQ

    Texts Phonics Literature

    Figure 2. Groups' pretesting and postlesting mean Oral Reading Quotients (ORQ) from the GrayOral Reading Test, 4" Ed. (WeiderhoU & Bryant. 2001).

    280 -,

    240

    200

    120

    80

    40

    0

    D PrePAF PostPAF

    T

    T

    r = ^

    74.1 ^ ^ H

    M , -Texts

    T

    mnH102.9 ^ ^ B ^ _ ^ _ ^ _ _

    Phonics

    66.3 H1 -mfc_^

    Literature

    Figure 3. Pretesting and posttesiing Total Correct Words Read on the benchmark associated withPreventing Academic failure (Bertin & Perlman, 1998).

  • First-Grade Reading Gains... /197

    cy, and Fluency. The Phonics groupshowed little to no increase for Accuracy.For Comprehension, the Literature group'sgains appeared largest (M = 4.7), whileTexis' mean difference was -0.6. Varia-tion was high. As shown in Figure 2, theLiterature group had the largest gain forthe GORT-4 ORQ. approximately 8 points,and Phonics showed a small increase. Themean ORQ for the Texts group wasunchanged, largely due to poor Compre-hension results. Figure 3 depicts pre- toposttesting increases in Total CorrectWords Read from the PAF benchmarkassessment. All three groups had averageincreases of approximately 35 words.

    Group statistical measures wereemployed to test for significant differences.The dependent variables were scores fromthe six reading measures: GORT-4 Ratesummed score. GORT-4 Accuracy summedscore, GORT-4 Fluency summed score,GORT-4 Comprehension summed score,GORT-4 ORQ, and the Total CorrectWords Read from the PAF benchmark. Thealpha level to determine statistical signif-icance was set at 0.05. A mixed-model (6Reading Measures X 2 Times X 3 Groups)analysis of variance (ANOVA) was con-ducted with Group as the between-subjectsfactor and two within-subjects factors,Reading Measure and Time, pre- andposttesting. Significant main effects ofReading Measure (/? < .001) and Time (p< .001) and a significant interactionbetween Reading Measure and Time (p .05).Six paired-samples / tests were con-

    ducted to examine the Reading Measure XTime interaction. A one-time Bonferronicorrection resulted in alpha equals .008.Statistically significant increases werefound for: GORT-4 Rate. Accuracy, andFluency, and the PAF benchmark TotalCorrect Words Read. Pre- to posttestincreases for GORT-4 Comprehension andORQ were nonsignificant.

    Additionally, four paired-samples t testsfor pre- and posttesting scores for Fluen-cy. Comprehension. ORQ. and PAF wereconducted for each participant group.Holm's sequential Bonferroni was used tocontrol for false positive research findings.The Texts group showed significant dif-ferences for the PAF benchmark (/? = .001 )and GORT-4 Fluency (p < .001). The Lit-erature group made the most gains,showing significant differences on all mea-sures: PAF (p < .001). GORT-4 Fluency(/? < .001 ), GORT-4 Comprehension {jj =.008). and GORT-4 ORQ (p = .005). ThePhonics group had a significant increase onthe PAF (p = .009).

    Gains were revealed for all groupsregardless of treatment. For this reason,authors pursued comparison of treated par-ticipants to untreated participants usingdata from a school-based reading measure.Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Liter-acy Skills (DIBELS; Good & Kaminski,2002). DIBELS consists of three subtests:Phoneme Segmentation Fluency (PS),Nonsense Word Fluency (NW), and OralReading Fluency (OR). Each subtest scoreis the number of items completed correct-ly in one minute. DIBELS data were

  • 198 / Reading Improvement

    Table J.

    DIBELS Gam Scores for the First and Second Half of First Grade for One Treated Class andOne untreated Class

    Treated Class(rt = 19)

    Untreated Class(n = 18)

    DIBELS Gain Aua

    PS

    2.53(16.71)

    9.78(13.03)

    NW

    36.68(30.62)

    22.28(11.58)

    -Dec

    OR

    10.21(19.47)

    12.17(25.23)

    DIBELS Gain Dec

    PS

    7.63(12.91)

    4.78(13.52)

    NW

    22.37(20.60)

    6.11(4.77)

    -April

    OR

    29.21(20.86)

    22.94(31.08)

    Note. Group means (standard deviations) for Ihree subtests - PS = Phoneme SegmentationFluency. NW = Nonsense Word Reading Fluency, and OR = Oral Reading Fluency - onDynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS; Good & Kaminski, 2002).

    administered by the reading resourceteacher at the start of the school year,midyear, and end-of-year. DIBELS datafrom one treated class (n = 19) were com-pared to DIBELS data from an untreatedclass ( = 18). Because all identifying infor-mation was removed from DIBELS dataprior to analysis, no additional descriptionof children in the untreated class was avail-able. Gain scores for the first half and thesecond half of the school year are shownin Table I. When classes were comparedfor gain scores on the three DIBELS sub-tests for the first half of the year, nosignificant difference was found, indicat-ing no differences between classes priorto the reading enrichment sessions. At thesecond half of the year, however, the treat-ed class had gain scores that weresignificantly greater on the DIBELS sub-tests compared to the untreated class {F -

    4.52,p = .041 ). Note that the effect size forthis difference was moderate (d = .46).

    Treatment effects for the Texts groupversus the Phonics or Literature groupsmay have been difficult to measure in thisinvestigation, because of participant dif-ferences in reading ability; therefore,results were re-examined by reading level.Pretreatment GORT-4 ORQs were used toclassify participants by reading ability:"average" was an ORQ > 83, "below aver-age" ORQ of 84-77, and "significantlybelow average" 76 or less, 1.5 SDs belowthe test mean. Using these criteria, 18 of32 participants were in the average range,6 were below average, and 8 were signif-icantly below average. The number ofchildren at each reading level differedsomewhat in the three groups. That is, theTexts group had a large number of partic-ipants (5 of 11) who were significantly

  • First-Grade Reading Gains... /199

    J

    1

    I

    1

    T

    1 'Croup

    Figure 4. Cliiiiicnal box plols for Comprehetision difference scores frum Ihe Grai' Oral ReadingTnt. 4* Ed. (GORT-4; Wejderholl & Brj'anl. 2(X) I ) for pnnicipants cliissirreJ by reading levelaiHlgivup

    below average. Figure 4 depicts box plotsof GORT-4 Comprehension differencescores by reading level within groups. Allreading levels in the Literature groupshowed Comprehension gains, but gainswere smallest for significantly below aver-age readers. Increased Comprehension inthe Phonics group also was represented inlarge part by average readers. In contrast,all below average and significantly belowaverage readers in the Texts group hadincreases in Comprehension, but few aver-age readers showed gains. Statisticalanalysis revealed nonsignificant differ-ences between average and below averagereaders; however, a significant difference{p = .017) was indicated for the Textsgroup. That is, gains pre- to posttestingwere significantly greater for below aver-age readers than the gains for averagereaders in the Texts group.

    DiscussionFindings revealed significant reading

    gains by first graders following 16 read-

    ing enrichment sessions during the secondhalf of the school year. All groups, regard-less of the type of text for reading practice,showed significant improvements fordecoding phonetically regular words ofincreasing complexity and significantimprovements for reading fluency. Thismay be because children typically demon-strate substantial reading achievementsduring the second half of first grade. How-ever, one classroom receiving ourinvestigation enrichment demonstrated sig-nificantly greater increases on aschool-based reading measure. DIBELS,when compared to an untreated classroom.That is. approximately 30 minutes of read-ing enrichment activities provided twiceweekly for eight weeks resulted in statis-tically significant reading outcomes.

    The original purpose of this study, how-ever, was not to consider readingenrichment in general. Rather, we wereinterested in the role of phonics instruc-tion plus decodable texts. Inclusion of atreated control group. Literature, was

  • 200 / Reading Improvement

    meant to facilitate isolation of treatmenteffects. This study, like many other inter-vention studies, resulted in positiveoutcomes for the treated control group.The original hypothesis was that the Textsgroup, who received phonics instructionplus reading practice with decodable texts,would show the greatest improvements inaccuracy and fluency. Although gains wereobserved, similar results occurred for theLiterature group. Thus, a differential effectof decodabie texts cannot be concluded.Other researchers (e.g., Compton et al.,2005) have lamented the challenges ofdetecting group effects in the transfer ofdecoding skills following intervention.Gains in reading comprehension were notobserved for the Texts group, but this wasnot surprising because reading accuracyand fluency, not comprehension, were thefocal points of the experimental treatment.Not hypothesized wore increases in wordrecognition by the Literature group, whoalso showed gains in comprehension.

    The Phonics group received the samephonics instniction with the Texts groupbut without reading practice from decod-able texts. Instead, they were read aloud towith the Literature group. In this manner,isolation of the effect of decodable textsfrom systematic phonics instruction wasattempted. In fact, the Phonics groupshowed the smallest reading gains over-all. Gains for the Phonics group were mostnotable on the PAF benchmark, the mea-sure specifically designed to assess thephonics skills in this curriculum. One dif-ference for the Phonics group was thetreatment group size. Texts and Literaturegroups both received some small-group

    time (i.e., group size of 6 or 7), but thePhonics group was always paired witheither Literature or Texts, resulting in larg-er treatment groups ( 12-14). lt is interestingto consider whetlier or not group size couldbe a factor. The National Reading Panel(2000) reported no differences in the effec-tiveness of direct phonics readinginstruction for small group versus wholeclassroom investigations.

    Another barrier to interpreting differ-ences between the Texts and Phonicsgroups comes from the significant increas-es displayed by the Literature group. Infact, the Literature group made significantgains on all measures of fluency and wasthe only group to show a significant com-prehension gain. Although nothypothesized, this finding is not necessar-ily surprising. The benefits of reading aloudlo children are well known, especially forvocabulary development (Elley, 1989;Robbins & Ehri, 1994; Scarborough &Dobrich, 1994; Snow, 1983). These estab-lished outcomes have made reading aloudto children, both at home and school, themost frequently recommended activity forencouraging language and literacy (e.g.,Adams, 1990; Anderson et al., 1985).Authentic literature in beginning readingprograms defined a shift in basal readingtextbooks away from skill-ba.sed to qual-ity literature that occurred in the early1990s (e.g., California Department of Edu-cation, 2000; Dentn, 1997; Hoffman etal., 2002). For that reason, many basal read-ers in classrooms continue to contain alarge amount of classic and currently rec-ognized children's literature (Hoff'man etal.,2002; Reutzel & Larsen, 1995). Unlike

  • First-Grade Reading Gains... /201

    decodable texts, authentic literature is notlimited for word choices or sentence struc-ture by phonetic aspects. Consequently,authentic literature is characterized by richvocabulary, complex sentence structures,and varied literary styles (Beck & McKe-own. 2001; Brown 1999/2000). andchildren benefit from hearing this chal-lenging content. Feitelson. Kita, andGoldstein (1986) reported that disadvan-laged children in Israel showed decodingincreases, in addition to comprehensionand oral language improvements, whenteachers read aloud.

    This investigation did not attempt tocontrol for participants' reading ability.Instead, reading ability varied substantial-ly, consistent with the wide variationpresent in first-grade classrooms, and find-ings suggest that this was a factor. Belowaverage readers in the Texts group showedcomprehension gains while average read-ers did not. This indirectly supports theinvestigators' original premise that explic-it phonics instruction and reading practicewith decodable texts are prerequisites tosuccessful comprehension for beginningreaders. These struggling readers improvedin comprehension, a skill not taught dur-ing the Texts treatment, highlighting theimportant relationship between decodingand comprehension. On the other hand,participation in the Texts group appeareddetrimental to average readers' compre-hension . According to Beck and McKeown(2001 ), text needs to be conceptually chal-lenging, requiring readers to mentallymanipulate and construct ideas and toengage actively in meaning construction.Unlike authentic literature, which includes

    rich details and carefully crafted story ele-ments, meaning construction withdecodable texts was not supported by eitherthe texts or the investigator. Children inthe Texts group repeatedly questioned theinvestigator regarding word and text mean-ings, but their questions were avoided inorder to maintain the experimental focus.

    A current philosophy is the recognitionof the value of different texts for individ-ual readers at specific ages and stages intheir reading development (Brown,1999/2000; Jenkins et al., 2003; Mesmer,1999). Within this framework, decodabletexts represent only one of several types ofliterature promoting reading acquisition(Hiebert. 1999), and decodability is onlyone aspect of "text leveling" (Compton,Appleton. & Hosp, 2004). Decodable textsmay persuade beginning or struggling read-ers of the importance of phonics in reading(Jenkins et al., 2003) or serve as a transi-tion to less controlled, more variedauthentic stories (Mesmer, 1999). Decod-able texts also can assist beginning readersto achieve automaticity for newly learnedletter-sound correspondences and struc-tural analysis strategies. Decodable texts,however, may not be requisite for theseachievements. Other beginning reader textscan serve similar purposes. Moreover,overuse of decodable texts for averagereaders, beyond the preprimer level, mayactually inhibit reading growth. As textsincrease in decodability, predictability andengagingness tend to decrea.se (Hoffmanet al., 2002). These are important consid-erations. Predictability within text impactschildren's reading fluency, and engaging-ness of texts affects children's reading

  • 202 / Reading Improvement

    motivation.Reading is a complex interaction that

    cannot be easily broken into a few com-ponents. Instead, a balanced literacyprogram - consisting of an effective com-bination of skills instruction withmeaning-making authentic reading expe-riences in a highly engaging environment- is recommended (see Pressley. 2002).Successful teachers provide balanced lit-eracy skills instruction by teaching wordrecognition and comprehension explicitlywhile fostering children's self-monitoring(Pressley et al., 2001). Highly effectiveteachers provide skills instruction in reac-tion to children's needs, prodding studentsto new heights.

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    MA; MIT Press.

    Anderson. R. C . Hiebert. E. H.. Scott, J. A.. &Wilkinson. I. A. G. (1985). Becoming a nationof readers: The report of the commission onreading. Washington, DC: National Insviiuteof Education. U.S. Department of Education.

    Beck. I. L.. & Juel. C, ( 1995), The role of decod-ing in learning to read. The American Educator,5,21-25.39-42.

    Beck. I. L... & McKeown. M. G, (2001 ). Text talk:Capturing the benefit of read-aloud experi-ences for young children. The ReadingTeacher, 55(1), U-56.

    Bertin. P.. & Perlman. E. (1998). Preventing aca-demic failure. White Plains. NY: MonroeAssociates.

    Bertin, P.. & Perlman. E. (2002). Stepping up inreading: Building accuracy and fluency. Books. 2. & .. Cambridge. MA: Educators Publish-ing Service.

    Benin, P.. Perlman. E.. Mercer, C. D.. Rudolph.M. K., & Wilson. R, G. (1999). Merrill read-ers, 5th Ed. Levels A - F . Columbus, OH:SRA/McGraw-Hill.

    Briggs, K. L.. & Clark, C. (1997). Reading pro-grams for students in the lower elementarygrades: What does the research say? Austin;Texas Center for Educational Research. (ERICDocument Reproduction Service No. ED420046)

    Brown. K. J. (1999/2000). What kind of text: Forvt-hom and when? Textual scaffolding forbeginning readers. The Reading Teacher,5.(4), 292-307.

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