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Acquisition and generalization of word decoding in students with reading disabilities by integrating vowel pattern analysis and children's literature.
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Cohen, E. Judith
Brady, Michael P.
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Name: Education & Treatment of Children Publisher: West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Family and marriage; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia ISSN: 0748-8491
Date: Feb, 2011 Source Volume: 34 Source Issue: 1
Product Code: 6020123 Bank Individual Retirement Accounts NAICS Code: 52311 Investment Banking and Securities Dealing
Organization: International Reading Association

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This study investigated the effects of a reading intervention that integrated vowel pattern analysis and children's literature on the word decoding performance of second graders with reading disabilities. The intervention evaluated students' abilities to decode a set of training words using 3 common vowel patterns (syllable types), in isolation and in context. Additional sets of novel words and nonsense words using the same vowel patterns were presented to evaluate generalization of the reading intervention. A multiple-baseline design across vowel patterns was used to analyze the experimental effects of the decoding performance of 5 students. All 5 second graders demonstrated substantial gains in their ability to decode words with the 3 vowel patterns. The students increased their accuracy reading words in isolation, as well as in context. In addition, all students increased their decoding accuracy of both novel a nd nonsense generalization words. These increases in decoding accuracy were maintained during follow-up observations. The effects suggest the value of integrating code-based and meaning-based teaching strategies when designing interventions for students with reading disabilities.

Learning to read is among the most critical academic accomplishments of childhood, and teaching a child to read is one of the most important tasks of a teacher. Over the years, the approaches to reading instruction have varied greatly. Advocacy of different reading methods has been as much a function of ideology as research (Adams, 1994; Chall, 1989; NRP, 2000; Vellutino, 1991). In recent years, most educators have come to agree that effective reading instruction should include elements that teach five critical areas of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension (NRP, 2000). To deliver effective reading instruction that promotes learning in these areas, instructional approaches have been designed that incorporate both meaning-based and code-based instruction (Blachman et al., 2004; Pressley, 1998; Rasinski & Padak, 2008; Simmons, Kuykendall, King, Cornachione, & Kame'enui, 2000).

While the logic and creativity of a more balanced approach is encouraging, two problems to the development of "balanced" reading approaches exist. First, there is no universally agreed upon model of balanced reading instruction. Each model of balanced reading instruction places a different emphasis on the scope and sequence of skill instruction; indeed there remains tremendous variability in the visibility and implementation of skill instruction in some models (Lapp & Flood, 1997; Rasinski & Padak, 2008). In an early review of balanced instruction, Freppon and Dahl (1998) pointed out that although the importance of code-based instruction within meaningful text is accepted universally across reading philosophies, huge differences existed in the implementation of teaching approaches. Some reading researchers advocate integrating skills in context and de-emphasizing explicit instruction of the code (Lapp & Flood, 1997), while others promote separate and explicit skill instruction (Pullen, Lane, Lloyd, Nowak & Ryals, 2005).

A second challenge to delivering balanced reading instruction involves the limited empirical support for the various models of combined instruction (IDEA, 2002-2004; Pikulski & Chard, 2005; Pressley, Gaskins, & Fingeret, 2006; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Indeed, the very nature of academic research often results in de-constructing instructional packages to assess the relative contributions of each component of instruction. While this effort provides critical information about the value of the individual methods, it hinders investigations of combined or integrated instructional packages. This focus on combined methods has increasingly been recommended by many reading researchers in recent years (Blachman et al., 2004; NRP, 2000; Rasinski & Padak, 2008).

To date, much of the empirical support for integrated approaches to teaching reading has been applied by logical extension of sound investigations of single approaches. For example, there is unequivocal support for (a) reading aloud to children (Bus, van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995), (b) enhanced exposure to print materials (Clay, 1991; Prior & Gerard, 2004), (c) attention to the alphabetic principle (Blachman et al., 2004; DiLorenzo, Rody, Bucholz, & Brady 2011; McGuinness, McCuinness, & Donohue, 1995; Ritchey, 2004), (d) development of phonemic awareness (Foorman et al., 2003; Shaywitz, 2003), (e) development of fluency and accuracy (Good, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 2001; Katzir et al., 2006; Ming & Dukes, 2008; Samuels, 2002), (f) the linkage of reading to writing and vocabulary development (Campbell, Brady, & Linehan, 1991; Nelson & Stage, 2007), and (g) the use of repeated readings (Nelson, Alber & Gordy, 2004; Yurick, Robinson, Cartledge, Lo & Evans, 2006). What has yet to be studied systematically is how combinations of different instructional strategies might be integrated to promote reading.

The purpose of this study was to explore a reading intervention that integrated code-based strategies (vowel pattern analysis) along with reading-for-meaning elements (children's literature) on the decoding performance of second graders with reading disabilities. Consistent with the recommendations of reading researchers, this investigation incorporated several principles (IRA/NAEYC, 1998; NRP, 2000; Rasinski & Padak, 2008) of balanced instruction, including designing instruction:

* in a "whole-to-part-to-whole" sequence (i.e., reading instruction begins with connected text, then proceeds to skill development, then concludes with skill application in meaningful text);

* with systematic and explicit instruction; and

* where decoding skills are taught within the context of children's literature.

In this study, the integrated intervention included both meaning-based and code-based elements, where skills were taught explicitly and in the context of children's literature.

Research Questions

Two questions were addressed:

1. Will students who receive a reading intervention integrating meaning-based and code-based strategies increase their reading accuracy on training words that contain three common vowel patterns, in isolation and in context?

2. Will students who receive this intervention increase their reading accuracy of novel (untrained) words and nonsense words that contain the same vowel patterns as the training words?


Participants and Setting

Five students (three boys; two girls) with reading disabilities diagnosed by school psychologists were selected from a class in a private elementary school for students with learning disabilities. All children were from upper middle-class families, and spoke English as their primary language. Two students had at least one Hispanic parent, and all were Caucasian. All students read below grade level; on Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests-Revised (WRMT-R) (Woodcock, 1987), students ranged from 9 months to 1 year-8 months below their chronological ages on Word Identification scores, 8 months to 2 years-1 month on Word Attack scores, and 8 months to 1 year-7 months on Comprehension scores. Two students (Laurie and Mike) participated in the special education program the previous year; none of the other students had been enrolled previously in special education programs. None of the participants received medication. A summary of participant characteristics is found in Table 1.

Six criteria were used to select students for the study. This included (a) second-grade placement, (b) willingness of parent and child to participate, (c) regular attendance, and (d) full-scale IQ > 90. The fifth criterion involved students' phonics abilities. The phonics criteria included the ability to (a) produce consonant sounds when shown letter symbols, with at least 80% accuracy, (b) match consonant sounds to letter symbols, with at least 80% accuracy, and (c) score less than 50% accuracy reading words that contained two or more of the three vowel patterns (i.e., Magic e, Double Vowels, and Closed). To demonstrate the first two phonics criteria, a teacher-made consonant symbol-sound test was administered individually to each prospective participant. The student was asked (a) to say the appropriate consonant sound when presented with the letter symbol, and (b) to point to the letter symbol when given the consonant sound. To assess accuracy with the three vowel patterns, the monosyllabic real and nonsense words subtest of the Decoding Skills Test (Richardson & DiBenedetto, 1985) was administered. Students were asked to read monosyllabic real and nonsense words (i.e., words containing short vowels, long vowels with silent e, and vowel digraphs) that conform to the three common vowel patterns. The performance of the five students matched against the phonics criteria is presented in Table 2.

Finally, the sixth criterion required a substantial discrepancy between students' IQ scores and their word identification scores on the WRMT-R. Any discrepancy of one or more standard deviations can be considered evidence of a significant reading disability. All five participants showed at least a full standard deviation discrepancy between (a) either their full scale IQs or their verbal IQs, and (b) their WRMT-R word identification scores (see Table 1).

Dependent Measures

Pre- and post-intervention measures. The WRMT-R was selected as the pre-test/post-test measure. Form G was used as the pre-test and Form H was used as the post-test. Three subtests were used for this study: word identification, word attack, and passage comprehension.

Reading accuracy: Training words. Two procedures were used to measure accuracy in reading the training words. First, accuracy of reading words in isolation was measured. To do this, a master list of 150 training words containing 50 of each of the three vowel patterns was developed. This was called the "training set." Each day, 15 words (5 words representing each vowel pattern) were selected randomly from the master list by picking individual word cards from large envelopes containing all possible words. Each student was asked to read these words as the words were presented individually on 3" x 5" white index cards in mixed order.

Second, reading accuracy in context was evaluated. To do this, sentence strips containing the "training set" words were developed. These sentences were taken directly from the books used for the training set. The target word(s) were written on the back of each card. Each day, 5 sentences that included training words from each vowel pattern were selected randomly from large envelopes containing all possible sentences (a total of 15 sentences). Each student was asked to read each sentence as it was presented individually on 3" x 11" sentence strips in mixed order.

Reading generalization: Novel words and nonsense words. Two measures of potential generalization were assessed: accuracy of novel words and accuracy of nonsense words. First, reading accuracy of novel words (different than "training set") was measured. To do this, a master list of 150 novel words containing 50 of each of the three vowel patterns was developed. Only novel words that did not rhyme with the "training set" words were selected. Each day, 5 words from each of the three vowel patterns were selected randomly from the master list (a total of 15 generalization novel words) from large envelopes containing all possible words. Each student was asked to read these words as they were individually presented on index cards in mixed order.

Second, reading accuracy of nonsense words was evaluated. A list of 150 nonsense words containing 50 of each of the three vowel patterns was developed. Each day, 5 nonsense words from each of the vowel patterns were selected randomly from the master list (a total of 15 generalization nonsense words). Each student was asked to read these words as they were individually presented on index cards, also in mixed order. The purpose of using novel and nonsense words was to evaluate transfer and generalization of the three vowel patterns.

To determine the order of presentation, a coin was tossed. Words in isolation (training set) and novel words (generalization set) were presented first when "heads" occurred; conversely, words in context (training set) and nonsense words (generalization set) were presented first when "tails" appeared. However, training words were always presented before generalization words.

All the word cards and sentence strips used for daily measurement were computer generated and then laminated. They were printed with black ink, and the size, shape, and format were consistent. The index cards selected for individual words (training words in isolation, novel words, and nonsense words) were 3" x 5" and white in color. The training words in context were printed on sentence strips, approximately 3" x 11".

Data Collection

For potential pre- and post-test changes, the word identification, word attack, and passage comprehension subtests of the WRMT-R were administered individually to each participant. Form G was used prior to baseline (pre-test) and H was used during the last week of the study (post-test). All assessments were administered by a doctoral level special educator who worked as a reading diagnostician and teacher at the school.

For the daily reading accuracy measures, a data collector recorded each word and sentence presented to each student as "correct" or "incorrect." These data were collected during a morning homeroom period, approximately 23 hours after the previous day's reading intervention (i.e., data were not collected during or immediately after the intervention). Data were collected separately for training words in isolation, training words in context, novel words, and nonsense words.

Three individuals served as data collectors including a doctoral student in special education, a master's student participating in a student teaching internship, and a paraprofessional employed by the school. In training sessions conducted prior to the study, each observer demonstrated a minimum of 80% agreement on each coding category for training and generalization words, against both other observers.


Each day, approximately 40 minutes of group instruction was provided to all students in the class, including the 5 participants selected for the study. The instruction consisted of two components: shared reading of children's literature (i.e., meaning-based activities with Big Books), and explicit phonics instruction using vowel patterns (i.e., code-based instruction of syllable types). The time allocated for instruction was divided evenly between these two components (i.e., 20 minutes for meaning-based activities, followed by 20 minutes for the code-based activities). The intervention lasted 15 days for the "Magic e" vowel pattern, 11 days for "Double Vowels", and 5 days for "Closed Vowels." The teacher remained the same throughout the study, and all of the reading instruction occurred only during this time. On 6 occasions an additional investigator observed to assure the fidelity of the intervention. During these observations the investigator compared the delivery of the intervention to the sequence of planned activities. On each occasion there was complete agreement between the planned sequence and the delivered intervention.

Meaning-based instructional activities. Each day the group instruction began with a shared reading of a specific story from one of 10 books from the Big Books series (Wright Group, 1998; 1996). Each book was selected because it contained at least 5 examples of different words of the vowel pattern targeted for instruction. For example, instruction on the "Magic e" vowel pattern incorporated the books The Jigaree and My Sloppy Tiger Goes to School; instruction on the "Double Vowels" incorporated the books My Boat and Meanies; instruction on "Closed Vowel" patterns used the books Grandpa-Grandpa and Mrs. Wishy Washy. Each time a Big Book was introduced, the teacher followed a three-step activity sequence. First, the teacher read the story. Second, students were asked to join the teacher as she read the story again (choral reading). Finally, individual students who volunteered read short segments of the story aloud.

Each Big Book was used for a minimum of two consecutive days of instruction. The first day a Big Book was introduced, the teacher drew a semantic map of the story on the board. The semantic map served as a graphic organizer and summarized story grammar (e.g., characters, settings, problems, and solutions). The teacher used the semantic map as a medium for guiding students' discussion. The mapping was followed by guided questioning, which targeted both literal and inferential comprehension of the story. The second day a Big Book was used, the teacher prompted students to illustrate parts of the story by drawing their favorite characters or events from the story. Following the illustrations, students wrote words, phrases, or sentences about their illustrations. When a Big Book was used for more than two days, the teacher drew from the full range of instructional activities.

Code-based instructional activities. Following each day's shared reading activities, explicit instruction was provided on one of the three targeted vowel patterns in this study ("Magic e", "Double Vowels," and "Closed Vowels"). The teacher provided instruction on a single vowel pattern at a time: "Magic e" was the first pattern introduced. When the intervention on "Magic e" was withdrawn, instruction on the "Double Vowel" pattern began. The "Closed Vowel" pattern was taught after the "Double Vowel" intervention was withdrawn.

To deliver the code-based instruction, the teacher selected words from the story in the Big Books, and wrote them on the whiteboard. The words were written using a black marker for the consonants and the vowels were written in red. (For example, in the story The Jigaree, three of the "Magic e" words are take, ride, and home; for the word take, the a and e were written in red.) Next, the teacher described the rule for the vowel pattern, applied it to the words on the whiteboard, and emphasized the position of the vowels within the word. (For example, "in the word take, the 'Magic e' at the end gives all its power to the a in the middle, so it can say its long vowel sound - /[bar.a]/. Since the e gave all its power to the a, the final e is silent.")

Following the whiteboard activity, the teacher provided each student with word cards, each of which contained a single word that incorporated the targeted vowel pattern. These cards included words from the Big Book used that day, as well as other words from the same word family or rime (for example, the word take from The Jigaree was one of the words on the card, and other cards included cake, bake, and snake). These word cards became the training words in this study, and were the medium for subsequent instructional activities. To use the word cards, each student first read the word on the card, and then copied it into the correct position on a Vowel Pattern Chart, a graphic organizer that contained the six common vowel patterns or syllable types (Cheyney & Cohen, 1999); for this study, only three patterns were used. Next, students traced the vowels in the word on the chart using a red marker, and made the American Sign Language hand sign for the letter representing the vowel. On alternate days, students constructed words related to the Big Book stories (training words selected by the teacher) using poker chips, where each chip had a single letter, with black letters for consonants, and red letters for vowels. Whenever the poker chip activity was used, students followed that with a guided spelling activity. During guided spelling the teacher drew blank lines on the whiteboard (black lines for consonants, red lines for vowels), and asked students to spell the selected word by inserting a letter onto each blank line. Students who did not participate in the activity at the whiteboard did this activity on response boards at their desks.

Summary. The intervention included multiple components, and no effort was made to isolate or evaluate any individual elements of it. To the contrary, the meaning-based instructional activities were intended to provide a story context to learning, while the code-based activities provided explicit instruction of the rules and conventions of regular vowel use. This integration provided a purpose for learning particular decoding strategies.

Booster sessions. Additional instruction was provided for two of the five students (Eddie and Christie) whose progress appeared "stalled" after several days of the group intervention. To provide the additional instruction the students met with the teacher for 5-10 minutes of practice on a portion of the group lesson that was provided earlier in the day. During the additional practice sessions, the students received individual guidance on the vowel pattern presented earlier in the story, identified the training words, and explained the rule that applied to the vowel pattern. This additional instruction was not different from the group instruction provided earlier in the day, but provided an opportunity for more practice and individual feedback. The additional booster sessions occurred between Days 15 and 37 and were conducted approximately 4 hours after the group instruction. Christie received 9 booster sessions; Eddie received 15.

Research Design and Data Analysis

A multiple-baseline design across vowel patterns was implemented for each of the five students in this study. Replication of the experimental effects within each student was observed for each of the three vowel patterns. Replication across the five students was observed when similar effects were obtained only after the intervention was applied to them. Data were collected daily to measure students' accuracy when reading words with the targeted vowel patterns in (a) training words in isolation, (b) training words in context, (c) novel words, and (d) nonsense words.

Each student's multiple baseline design consisted of three phases. During Baseline, students participated in group reading activities that did not include any instruction on vowel patterns. These activities included small group reading games and independent worksheets with all participants. This phase included repeated measures of performance concurrently on the three dependent measures (vowel patterns). Baseline on the Magic-e words for all participants lasted from Day 1-6. Baseline for the Double Vowel words lasted from Day 1-22, and for the Closed Vowel words, baseline lasted from Day 1-33.

During Intervention, the group instruction with the meaning-based and code-based activities was implemented. The intervention was applied to one vowel pattern at a time so that the Magic-e intervention was implemented on Days 7-22. The intervention for the Double Vowel pattern was implemented from Day 23-33; intervention with the Closed Vowels was delivered from Day 34-38.

Follow-up probes were conducted to determine whether potential increases in decoding were maintained. This phase also was implemented one vowel pattern at a time, after the intervention for each vowel pattern ended. During the follow-up, there was no further instruction on the previous vowel pattern. In other words, when the Magic-e intervention ended, the follow-up observations of Magic-e began, and the intervention on Double Vowels started. The first follow-up observations were made during the students' daily reading lessons. Following these daily sessions, additional follow-up probes were made across a total of seven weeks, including probes made after a two week winter vacation. Follow-up observations started on Day 23 for Magic-e words, Day 34 for Double Vowels, and Day 39 for Closed Vowels.

This study was implemented in a classroom (group) context, with the results of each student examined individually. Although the traditional, single subject research standards for implementing phase changes were in place (i.e., trend, directionality, and stability of the data), not all of the students' data met those standards simultaneously for both their words in context and their isolation words. To maintain a group instruction format, phase changes were implemented based on a majority trend, so that proceeding from baseline to the intervention for from intervention to the follow-up) met the traditional standards for at least 3 of the 5 participating students.

The pre- and post-test scores were analyzed by raw score, standard score, and age-equivalents for each child. Age-based norms were used to obtain standard scores. To control for maturation, a derived age-equivalent gain was calculated by subtracting four months (length of the study) from the actual age-equivalent gain.


Interobserver Agreement

To establish agreement on the accuracy of observers' recording, the following procedure was used. While one observer scored each word, a second observer was positioned between and to the side of the primary observer and the student, such that she could view each word card, but could not view the data collection sheet held by the primary observer. Interobserver agreement checks were calculated for each category of vowel patterns for both the training and generalization words. To determine the level of agreement, we used the exact agreement calculation for each vowel pattern (A / A+D x 100 = %).

On 48% of the study days, at least one student participated in an agreement check. Agreement checks on individual students ranged from 9% to 11 % of their observation sessions. Agreement on all vowel patterns combined averaged 98%, and ranged from 85% for the lowest vowel pattern (Closed Vowels in novel words for one student) to 100% for 45 of 60 categories (vowel patterns x types of training and generalization words x students).

Effects on Training Words

The effects of the intervention on training words are presented for each student in Figures 1-5. Each vowel pattern was analyzed separately for words presented in isolation and in context. Group mean scores for each vowel pattern, during each phase of the study, are presented in Table 3.

The Magic e vowel pattern results indicate a low level of accuracy during baseline for all five students. Accuracy for words presented in isolation was consistently lower than for words in context. During intervention, the overall mean score for words in isolation was 56% (compared to 13% during baseline), and 70% for words in context (compared to 38% during baseline). When instruction on the Magic e vowel pattern was removed, all five students continued to recognize this Magic e pattern. The mean score for words in isolation was 96%, and 98% for words in context.

The Double Vowel pattern showed higher but more variable scores during baseline. When the intervention was applied, the overall mean score for words in isolation increased from 33% to 81%, and from 54% to 88% for words in context. The change was fairly rapid; gains were noticeable in most students in three to four days. During the follow-up condition, all five students continued to recognize the Double Vowel pattern. The mean score for words in isolation was 95%, and 99% for words in context.

Accuracy of the Closed Vowel pattern was higher than the other patterns but inconsistent during baseline. When the intervention was implemented, the change was rapid, and gains were noticeable almost immediately. The overall mean score for words in isolation was 98% (compared to 81% during baseline), and 97% for words in context (compared to 88% during baseline). Follow-up results continued to be positive, with mean score averages of 98% accuracy for both types of training words.

Effects on Generalization Words

The effects on generalization words are presented in Figures 6-10. Group mean scores for the novel and nonsense (generalization) words each vowel pattern, during each phase of the study, are presented in Table 4.

During baseline, accuracy of the Magic e vowel patterns for the novel and nonsense words (generalization words) was low and stable for all five students. When the students received the intervention on the training words, the overall mean score for novel words increased to 41% (compared to 4% during baseline), and 31% for nonsense words (compared to 2% during baseline). During the follow-up, all five students continued to recognize the Magic e pattern on the generalization words. The mean score for novel words was 87%, and 83% for nonsense words.

The Double Vowel pattern was low for most students, and variable for all of them during baseline. When the intervention was implemented with the training words, the mean accuracy for generalization words (novel words and nonsense words) increased to 55%. During follow-up, the mean score for novel and nonsense words increased to 89% and 88% respectively.

The Closed Vowel pattern was variable and inconsistent during baseline. When the intervention was implemented with the training words, the mean score for generalization novel words increased to 88% (compared to 55% during baseline), and 82% for nonsense words (compared to 47% during baseline). Follow-up results continued to be positive, with mean scores of 93% and 91%.

Effects on Standardized Test Measures

Effects on the three subtests of the WRMT - R (i.e., word identification, word attack, and passage comprehension) are provided in Table 5. For the word identification subtest, all five students made positive gains in all measures (i.e., raw scores, standard scores, and actual age equivalent). Overall, the mean score gain for the five students was 12.8 words correct (raw score), 6.4 points (standard score), 5.6 months (actual age equivalent), and 1.6 months (corrected age-equivalent). Raw score means increased from 21.4 (pre-test) to 34.2 words correct (post-test), while actual raw scores ranged from 5 to 29 (pre-test) and from 26 to 42 (post-test). Standard score means increased from 76 (pre-test) to 82.4 (post-test), while actual scores ranged from 61 to 84 (pre-test) and from 77 to 92 (post-test).

Difference scores also were calculated for each student. For raw scores and standard scores, this figure represents posttest minus pretest scores. However, to correct for the length of the study, 4 months was subtracted from each student's age-equivalent gain, resulting in a corrected age-equivalent (age-equivalent difference figure on Table 5). Differences in raw scores (range of 6 to 21), standard scores (range of 1 to 16), and actual age-equivalents (range of 2 to 8 months) were notable. Even the corrected age-equivalents (range of -2 to +4 months) deserve mention considering norms are based on an average population, and this study included five students with reading disabilities. Mike demonstrated the most obvious difference score (21 for raw score, 16 for standard score, 8 for actual age-equivalent, and 4 months for corrected age-equivalent), while Eddie displayed the smallest difference scores (6 for raw score, 1 for standard score, 2 for actual age-equivalent, and -2 for corrected age-equivalent). Overall, these gains were substantial given the fact that the words used in the intervention were monosyllabic and followed regular vowel patterns, whereas many of the words in this subtest were multisyllabic and irregular.

For the word attack subtest, all five students made substantial gains. In fact, the greatest gains were observed in this subtest. The overall mean score gain was 7.4 words correct (raw score), 7.8 points (standard score), 8.2 months (actual age-equivalent), and 4.2 months (corrected age-equivalent). Raw score means increased from 6 (pre-test) to 13.4 words correct (post-test), while actual raw scores ranged from 2 to 13 (pre-test) and from 7 to 17 (post-test). Standard score means increased from 79.4 (pre-test) to 87.2 (post-test), while actual scores ranged from 65 to 93 (pre-test) and from 80 to 94 (post-test).

Differences in raw scores (range of 5 to 14), standard scores (range of 1 to 15), and actual age-equivalents (range of 5 to 14 months) were notable. The corrected age-equivalents (range of 1 to 10 months) are notable considering the reading difficulties of these children. Individually, Mike demonstrated the most obvious difference scores (13 words correct for raw score, 14 points for standard score, 14 months for actual age-equivalent, and 10 months for corrected age-equivalent). Christie showed similar difference gains (9 for raw score, 15 for standard score, 10 months for actual age-equivalent, and 6 months for corrected age-equivalent). Laurie displayed the smallest difference scores (4 for raw score, 1 for standard score, 5 months for actual age-equivalent, and 1 month for corrected age-equivalent). The word attack subtest is usually considered the most difficult because it contains mono- and multisyllabic nonsense words, and students must rely on their phonetic ability alone to decode them.

For the passage comprehension subtest, overall increases also were demonstrated. The mean score gain was 6 responses correct (raw score), 3.4 points (standard score), 4.8 months (actual age-equivalent), and .8 months (corrected age-equivalent). Raw score means increased from 11.6 (pre-test) to 17.6 (post-test), while actual raw scores ranged from 8 to 15 (pre-test) and from 15 to 21 (post-test). Standard score means increased from 78.4 (pre-test) to 81.8 (post-test), while actual scores ranged from 71 to 87 (pre-test) and from 79 to 85 (post-test). Differences ranged from 3 to 9 (raw score), from -3 to +8 (standard scores), and from 2 to 7 months (actual age-equivalents). The corrected age-equivalent differences ranged from -2 to +3 months.


In recent years some reading researchers have called for an increased focus on combining meaning-based and code-based instructional methods when teaching reading (Blachman et al., 2004; NRP, 2000; Rasinski & Padak, 2008). This study combined the elements most commonly cited as a balanced literacy (i.e., meaning-based and code-based) intervention (Campbell et al., 1991; Eldredge, 1991; Mather, 1992; Rasinski & Padak, 2008; Ritchey, 2004; Simmons et al., 2000). Meaning-based reading approaches serve as important motivators to learning for children, but integrating code-based strategies (e.g., vowel pattern analysis) is critical for improving reading acquisition.

The results of this study demonstrate that students with reading disabilities benefited from a reading intervention that integrated teaching strategies based on vowel pattern analysis and children's literature. All five students substantially increased their word reading accuracy after the intervention was implemented, and their accuracy generally became much more stable. Positive changes were seen on all three vowel patterns that were targeted during the instruction for the training words in isolation and in context. Positive changes also were observed for the novel and nonsense generalization words. In addition, the gains were maintained throughout the follow-up observations. In fact, performance during the follow-up condition actually improved in some instances, surpassing the accuracy obtained during intervention (see Tables 3 and 4). This might be attributed to time and practice; once the intervention for each vowel pattern was withdrawn, the students continued to read books that included the previously taught patterns. This additional practice during the follow-up condition might have allowed students to develop automaticity on words with the targeted vowel patterns. Overall, the changes in this study occurred within a relatively short period of time, and because the intervention was delivered within the context of whole group, class-wide instruction, these results were encouraging.

One positive result of the intervention was the increase in decoding accuracy for training words, both in isolation and in context. This result is understandable since the training words were the foundation of the intervention. Among the training effects, words in context (story sentences from the books) were more easily read than the training words in isolation. We believe that connecting the vowel pattern instruction to literature provided, in part, a "purpose" for students to learn these graphophonic skills. For the words in isolation, the students had to depend on the graphophonic cueing system alone; in the absence of context cues, acquisition of training words in isolation was less impressive. Although some research suggests that students might rely on context cues at the expense of code-based cues (Nicholson, 2004), other work shows that context can serve to strengthen reading by providing a purpose for learning the code (Blachman et al., 2004; DiLorenzo et al., 2011; Freppon & Dahl, 1998; Mudre & McCormick, 1989; Rasinski & Padak, 2008).

In addition to the improvements on the training words, all students showed increases in decoding generalization (i.e., novel and nonsense) words, although novel words were recognized more easily than nonsense words. This too might be due, in part, to the meaning attached to the words; the novel words were "real" and had real referents. They were likely encountered in children's oral, if not written, language experiences and might have been the source of the meaning that made the difference. The nonsense words, of course, had no meaning. Applying the vowel pattern strategy to the novel generalization words might have been aided by the meaning and familiarity of the actual words. Without word meaning, students were less able to decode the nonsense words with similar ease. For these words, students had to rely on the decoding strategies alone. These results support Lovett et al.'s (1994) findings that strategy training is an effective means of increasing decoding generalization. Whether taught to use phonological analysis, blending skills, letter-sound correspondence or various metacognitive decoding strategies, students in the Lovett study showed substantial generalization. In the current study, teaching students to decode patterns of vowels (rather than individual sounds) formed the basis of our decoding strategy, and was used by the students to decode the novel and nonsense words. These results are important given the Lovett et al. (1994) observation that, "generalization ... is necessarily the true test of efficacy for any intervention" (p.820).

Limitations and Future Research

Despite these encouraging findings, the study has several limitations. Our effort to deliver the instruction as a whole-group intervention precluded making experimental changes solely on individual student performance. As a result, phase changes were made when at least 3 of the 5 participating students met the traditional standards for behavior analytic studies. Ideally, experimental alterations would have called for delaying implementation of the intervention, for example, in instances where a student's baseline data were highly variable. As a result, the experimental control across all 5 students, 3 vowel patterns, and 3 experimental conditions was sometimes compromised, and the results must be considered with this limitation in mind. In addition, a convention of behavior analytic research is that 20% of all observations typically have a secondary assessment. Although we conducted an agreement check on 48% of the study days, the absence of a secondary observer to conduct an agreement check on at least 20% of each student's sessions is a clear limitation. Fortunately, this limitation is mitigated somewhat by high degree of agreement across the different coding categories.

Another limitation involves the choice of training and generalization words. Throughout the study, some decoding errors did not reflect vowel miscues, but rather errors with consonant blends, digraphs, reversals, and transpositions. For example, Eddie read "tain" for train, "wish" for with, and "flo" for foal. This limitation could have been avoided had we developed a coding system that discriminated vowel pattern errors from errors related to consonant blends, digraphs, and soft c and g sounds. Alternately, we could have explicitly taught these graphemes prior to implementing the study, thus decreasing the probability that errors would include the non-vowel types.

Because the intervention integrated a number of different strategies that were either code-based or meaning-based, it is impossible to cull out the most and least effective elements. This limits any conclusions about which components of the intervention might be unnecessary in the delivery of decoding instruction. Although reading researchers increasingly recommend interventions that bring more balance to instruction (IRA/NAEYC, 1998; Rasinski & Padak, 2008), there is much to be learned about the relative contributions of different instructional approaches. This study did not isolate these contributions; rather, this study presented a full package of strategies in a whole-class setting. Given the encouraging results, we hope to further investigate different elements of the intervention, and urge others to pursue a component analysis as well.

There are several opportunities for future research. A logical question involves comprehension. In our study, there was no repeated measure of story comprehension, although the post-test measure of comprehension from the WRMT-R suggested some gains. It is unclear whether interventions that integrate vowel pattern analysis and children's literature might improve comprehension of the target stories (a training effect) or other more global measures of reading comprehension (a generalization effect). Future research should examine potential co-varying relationships that occur between decoding and comprehension as a result of these integrated interventions. In addition, future investigations might incorporate decodable books (books that contain phonetically controlled text) rather than children's literature that frequently incorporates irregular words that do not follow the phonetic code. Also, investigations are needed on ways to teach other vowel patterns that were not used in this study, apply syllabication rules to multisyllabic words, and to use vowel pattern analysis to improve reading fluency. Finally, many reading researchers continue to search for the most and least effective components of intervention packages, and this will require multiple component analysis studies.

In conclusion, this study demonstrated that a reading intervention that integrated vowel pattern analysis and children's literature was effective in increasing the decoding performance of young children with reading disabilities. The increases were observed in training words as well as generalization words. In addition, these increases were maintained well after the intervention ended. This intervention offers a practical and effective approach to reading instruction, that can help students with reading disabilities conquer the code and master the meaning, thereby linking the "romance, precision, and generalization" (Whitehead, 1929) of reading.


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Author Note

The authors wish to thank Dr. Kyle Bennett of the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at Florida Atlantic University for his graphing skill and effort.

E. Judith Cohen

Florida International University

Michael P. Brady

Florida Atlantic University

Correspondence to Michael P. Brady, Dept. of Exceptional Student Education, Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton, FL 33431; e-mail:
Table 1

Participant Characteristics

Student     Age    Gender   Full  Verbal  WRMT * WID  Gates-MacGinitie
          (yr-mo)          scale    IQ                       **

                                                        Vocab  Comp

Eddie       7-8      M      104     121        80        1.2    1.4

Christie    8-2      F      103     104        74        1.5    1.4

Laurie      7-8      F      102      95        84        1.3    1.4

Mike       7-10      M      109      95        61        1.0     K

Ricky      7-11      M       94     102        81        1.6    1.5

* Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests - Revised, Word Identification
Subtest, standard score.
** Cates-MacGinitie Reading Test scores are grade equivalents based on
administration one month prior to baseline.

Table 2

Phonics Criteria

Student    Produce     Match    Accuracy     Accuracy      Accuracy
          consonant  sounds to  magic e   double vowels  closed words
           sounds     letters    words

Eddie        81%        100%       0%           0%           10%
Christie     95%        100%       0%           0%           30%
Laurie       90%        100%       0%           0%           50%
Mike         86%        100%       0%           0%           30%
Ricky        95%        100%       0%           0%           80%

Table 3

Training Word Accuracy: Group Means

Vowel Pattern  Baseline  Intervention  Follow-up

                     Words in Isolation

Magic e          13%         56%          96%
Double vowels    33%         81%          95%
Closed           81%         98%          98%

                      Words in Context

Magic e          38%         70%          98%
Double vowels    54%         88%          99%
Closed           88%         97%          98%

Table 4

Generalization Word Accuracy: Group Means

Vowel Pattern  Baseline  Intervention  Follow-up

                        Novel Words

Magic e           4%         41%           87%
Double vowels    22%         55%           89%
Closed           55%         88%           93%

                       Nonsense Words

Magic e           2%         31%           83%
Double vowels    17%         55%           88%
Closed           47%         82%           91%

Table 5

Effects on Standardized Test Measures: Woodcock Reading Mastery

Student       Word Identification  Word Attack   Passage Comp

                  RS  SS   AE      RS  SS    AE  RS  SS    AE

  Pretest         22  80   6-9      2  77   6-1  12  83   6-9
  Posttest        28  81  6-11      7  83   6-7  16  82   7-0
  Difference       6   1    -2      5   6    +2   4  -1    -1

  Pretest         23  74  6-9       2  65   6-1   9  71   6-7
  Posttest        33  75  7-1      11  80  6-11  18  79   7-2
  Difference      10   1    0       9  15    +6   9   8    +3

  Pretest         28  84  6-11     13  93   7-0  15  87   7-0
  Posttest        42  92    7-     17  94   7-5  18  84   7-2
  Difference      14   8    +3      4   1    +1   3  -3    -2

  Pretest          5  61   6-2      3  76   6-2   8  72   6-6
  Posttest        26  77  6-10     16  90   7-4  15  79   7-0
  Difference      21  16    +4     13  14   +10   7   7    +2

  Pretest         29  81  6-11     10  86  6-10  14  79  6-11
  Posttest        42  87   7-6     16  89   7-4  21  85   7-5
  Difference      13   6    +3      6   3    +2   7   6    +2

Note. Time between pre- and posttest = 16 weeks
Standard scores derived from age-based norms.
Difference for RS (raw score) and SS (standard score) = posttest minus
pretest scores.
Difference for AE (age equivalent) = AE gain minus 4 months (length of
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