Monday, April 29, 2024

This blog post is part of our Research Article of the Month series. For this month, we highlight “Designing an Intervention in Reading and Self-Regulation for Students With Significant Reading Difficulties Including Dyslexia,” an article published in the journal Learning Disability Quarterly in 2021. Important words related to research are bolded, and definitions of these terms are included at the end of the article in the “Terms to Know” section.

Why Did We Pick This Paper?

Self-regulation is the ability to modify one’s thinking, emotions, and behavior to achieve a goal. Some self-regulation strategies include setting goals, becoming aware of emotions, practicing positive self-statements (“I am doing my best” or “I will not give up”), and believing in the ability to grow and learn. 

Self-regulation contributes to reading proficiency (Berkeley & Larson, 2018), and students with reading difficulties tend to have impaired self-regulation (Cutting, et al., 2009). Fortunately, training in self-regulation has been shown to improve the use of self-regulation strategies and reading comprehension outcomes (Spörer & Schünemann, 2014). This study examined the feasibility and effects of a reading intervention that explicitly teaches self-regulation strategies. Reading interventions that target self-regulation may support the reading outcomes of students with reading disabilities (RDs). 

What Are the Research Questions or Purpose?

This study examined the feasibility of implementing a specific reading intervention with self-regulation instruction by addressing the following questions:

  1. Is the intervention associated with stronger effects on reading outcomes than the interventions currently provided to students with RDs in the participating schools?
  2. Can teachers implement the intervention as designed?
  3. What are the barriers to consistent implementation and to student progress in the intervention?
  4. What are teachers’ perceptions of the self-regulation component of the intervention?
  5. What parts of the intervention should be maintained as they are and how should the intervention be revised?

What Methodology Do the Authors Employ?

To assess the feasibility of the intervention and explore its potential effects on reading outcomes, the study employed a quasi-experimental design. 

A group of special education teachers, dyslexia specialists,  and reading interventionists were randomly assigned to teach the intervention (the experimental condition) or continue delivering their typical instruction (the business-as-usual, or BAU, condition). Instruction was delivered in small groups of 2-4 students, 4 days a week for 26 weeks.

A total of 21 instructors participated in the study (10 in the intervention and 11 in the BAU condition), as well as 43 students in Grades 2-4 (23 in the intervention and 20 in the BAU condition).

The students were assessed on a number of reading skills, including word recognition, decoding, reading comprehension, and oral reading fluency, at the beginning and end of the study. Pre- and post-test scores were compared in order to assess students’ growth in the measured skills over the course of the study.

The intervention consisted of word study, text reading, reading comprehension, and self-regulation, as described below:

  • Word study: The word study component included instruction in phonemic awareness, decoding, word recognition, and spelling. 
  • Text reading: For the text-reading component, students read high-interest, motivating decodable texts that included phonics and spelling patterns the students had been explicitly taught. They also applied these skills on authentic texts to practice extending these skills to new contexts. 
  • Comprehension: The comprehension component included guiding questions to focus students’ attention and activate prior knowledge. Teachers asked questions that would stimulate students to recall events, generate inferences, make connections across texts, paraphrase, identify main ideas, monitor their understanding, generate questions, and visualize. Teachers modeled comprehension skills and provided students with multiple practice opportunities. 
  • Self-regulation: The self-regulation component included activities designed to support a growth mindset (the belief that one can grow and achieve success in the future despite present challenges), emotional self-regulation (the ability to identify emotions), reflection on comprehension strategy use, positive self-statements, and goal setting. 

These components were delivered in two phases: the first phase focused on foundational reading skills, and the second phase addressed more advanced skills. For all components, students received direct instruction and modeling from teachers, and they practiced skills using multiple modalities (e.g., reading, writing, and manipulation of letter tiles). 

Students in the BAU condition received instruction using other evidence-based programs.

The researchers monitored the fidelity and quality of implementation for the intervention by recording videos of classroom instruction. The researchers conducted an analysis of covariance with pre- and post-test scores to determine whether the intervention was associated with greater effects than traditional instruction. The intervention teachers also participated in two focus groups to provide feedback on the feasibility of the intervention. 

What Are the Key Findings?

Research Question 1: Is the intervention associated with stronger effects on reading outcomes than the interventions currently provided to students with RDs in the participating schools?

Students’ pre-test scores on all reading skill variables were higher in the BAU condition compared to the experimental condition, but there were no significant differences between groups for any measures on the post-test. Thus, the intervention was not associated with stronger effects on reading outcomes than other interventions used in the participating schools.

Research Question 2: Can teachers implement the intervention as designed?

The fidelity and quality of implementation were reported as a percentage to measure if the intervention was implemented as designed. The mean word study and text reading fidelity rating was 88%, and the quality rating was 92%. For comprehension and self-regulation, the mean fidelity rating was 81%, and the quality rating was 94%. The lower fidelity rating for the comprehension and self-regulation components indicates that these components were more difficult for teachers to implement as intended. 

Research Question 3: What are the barriers to consistent implementation and to student progress in the intervention?

Teachers identified context barriers, including scheduling, limited school resources, limited instructional and planning time, and logistics related to providing the intervention at two different schools on the same day. They also identified student-related barriers, including student frustration with literacy tasks, lack of confidence and inconsistent focus, and behavior management. 

Research Question 4: What are teachers’ perceptions of the self-regulation component of the intervention?

In focus groups, teachers voiced their support for the self-regulation component of the intervention, citing the positive effects of growth mindset instruction on students’ confidence and self-esteem. Teachers also noted the benefits of recognizing negative self-statements and substituting them with positive ones. 

Research Question 5: What parts of the intervention should be maintained as they are and how should the intervention be revised?

The teachers requested a better approach for organizing and managing materials (e.g., letter tiles, books, visual aids). They suggested that future versions of the intervention should focus more on active student participation rather than teacher talk. They wanted a stronger fluency component of the intervention and guidance on incorporating technology into instruction. Overall, the teachers highlighted that the strengths of the intervention include its well-designed curriculum and content, the material resources provided, and the variety of activities that support student interest and participation.

What Are the Limitations of This Paper?

The study examined the implementation of a multi-component intervention for reading and self-regulation for students with RDs. Teachers highlighted several challenges they faced in implementing this intervention, including managing materials and coordinating the pace of the different lesson components. This complexity could potentially limit the intervention’s ease of implementation, as educators may struggle to implement it effectively without substantial preparatory training or additional support and technology. Enhancing teacher readiness through targeted professional development sessions, along with providing ongoing support and technology, could improve the fidelity and quality of implementing of this complex intervention. 

Additionally, the study was constrained by its small sample size, which limits the statistical power in detecting the possible effectiveness of the intervention. A small number of participants can make it challenging to detect smaller but statistically significant effect sizes or subtle differences between treatment and BAU groups. For further research on the effectiveness of the intervention, a greater number of participants is needed to validate the results and conclusions drawn from this study. 

Terms to Know

  • Feasibility: A feasibility study follows the implementation of a project or process (such as a new reading instructional program) in order to assess its potential for success. Researchers may gather data and feedback to inform future revisions.
  • Quasi-experimental: Experimental research aims to determine whether a certain treatment influences a measurable outcome—for example, whether a certain instructional method influences students’ reading comprehension scores. To do this, participants are assigned to one of two groups: the experimental group, which receives the treatment, and the control group, which does not receive the treatment. In an experimental study, these groups are randomly assigned, meaning each participant has equal probability of being in either the treatment or the control group. A quasi-experimental study is similar to an experimental study except that participants are not randomly assigned to groups. In educational research, groups often are assigned by classroom rather than through random assignment, making this kind of research quasi-experimental. In either case, participants in both groups are tested before and after the treatment, and their results are compared.
  • Business-as-usual (BAU) condition: The business-as-usual condition is another name for the control group in an experimental or quasi-experimental study. This group does not receive the experimental treatment and therefore serves as a point of comparison for the experimental group. 
  • Fidelity: Fidelity is a measure of the extent to which a process, such as an instructional approach, is implemented as intended.
  • Covariance: Covariance, in statistics, is a measure of the relationship between two variables and the extent to which they change together.
  • Effects: In statistics, effect size is a measure of the strength of the relationship between two variables in statistical analyses. A commonly used interpretation is to refer to effect size as small (g = 0.2), medium (g = 0.5), and large (g = 0.8) based on the benchmarks suggested by Cohen (1988), where “g” refers to Hedge’s g, a statistical measure of effect size.
  • Focus groups: A focus group gathers participants for a guided discussion or interview in order to elicit feedback about a product or process.


Berkeley, S., & Larsen, A. (2018). Fostering self–regulation of students with learning disabilities: Insights from 30 years of reading comprehension intervention research. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 33(2), 75-86. 

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Routledge Academic.

Cutting, L. E., Materek, A., Cole, C. A. S., Levine, T. M., & Mahone, E. M. (2009). Effects of fluency, oral language, and executive function on reading comprehension performance. Annals of Dyslexia, 59, 34–54. 

Denton, C. A., Montroy, J. J., Zucker, T. A., Cannon, G. (2021). Designing an intervention in reading and self-regulation for students with significant reading difficulties, including dyslexia. Learning Disability Quarterly, 44(3), 170-182. 

Spörer, N., & Schünemann, N. (2014). Improvements of self-regulation procedures for fifth graders' reading competence: Analyzing effects on reading comprehension, reading strategy performance, and motivation for reading. Learning and Instruction, 33, 147-157.