Study: Simple Teaching Tool Boosts Student Reading Performance

For Immediate Release

Matt Shipman | News Services | 919.515.6386

Release Date: 08.29.2011
Filed under Releases

Research from North Carolina State University shows that utilizing a freely available literacy tool results in significant advances in fundamental reading skills for elementary school students, without requiring schools to drastically overhaul existing programs. The research focused on children who were characterized as “struggling readers” at risk for a learning disability in reading.

“Our goal is to put effective tools in the hands of teachers,” says Dr. John Begeny, an associate professor of school psychology at NC State, lead author of the study and creator of the literacy tool. “This research shows that our program works, and it’s easy to use.”

Researchers found that teachers whose reading curriculum incorporated the HELPS program saw a significant increase in fluency and other reading skills.

Begeny developed the literacy program, Helping Early Literacy with Practice Strategies (HELPS), to give teachers a new tool to promote reading “fluency.” Reading fluency is effectively a child’s ability to read with sufficient speed and accuracy, while also reading with good expression – for example, pausing at commas when reading out loud. When students read fluently, the have a greater capacity for understanding what they read, and they are also more likely to choose to read.

Begeny focused on fluency, in part, because it has been the most neglected component of early reading instruction, with some studies showing that as many as 40 percent of U.S. students are not fluent readers.

In the study, researchers found that teachers whose reading curriculum incorporated the HELPS program saw a significant increase in reading fluency – and several other reading skills – compared to students whose curriculum didn’t include HELPS. Specifically, the study showed that the HELPS program also led to improvements in reading comprehension and basic reading skills (such as sounding out words).

Because schools have limited resources, the HELPS program is available to teachers and parents for free. This is made possible by a nonprofit organization Begeny founded, called the HELPS Education Fund.

The paper, “Effects of the HELPS Reading Fluency Program when Implemented by Classroom Teachers with Low-performing Second Grade Students,” was published online this month by the journal Learning Disabilities Research and Practice. The paper was co-authored by Begeny; Scott Stage, an associate professor of psychology at NC State; NC State Ph.D. students Courtney Mitchell and Mary Whitehouse; and community volunteer Fleming Harris.The research was supported by a grant from NC State.

NC State’s Department of Psychology is part of the university’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Effects of the HELPS Reading Fluency Program when Implemented by Classroom Teachers with Low-performing Second Grade Students”

Authors: John Begeny, Courtney Mitchell, Mary Whitehouse, Fleming Harris, & Scott Stage

Published: August 2011, Learning Disabilities Research and Practice

Abstract: The Helping Early Literacy with Practice Strategies (HELPS) Program was developed by integrating eight evidence-based fluency-building instructional strategies into a systematic program that can be feasibly implemented and accessed for free by all educators. This study examined the effects of HELPS when implemented by teachers with second grade, low-performing readers. Findings showed that students receiving HELPS significantly outperformed control group students across five measures of early reading, with effect sizes ranging from medium to large. Previous research indicated positive effects for students receiving HELPS, but this was the first study in which HELPS was implemented by classroom teachers (opposed to research assistants), and solely with low-performing readers. Implications of these findings and future research directions are discussed.

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