Neena’s Top Reading Research Picks for October - MetaMetrics Inc.
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Reading Research Recap

Neena’s Top Reading Research Picks for October

Reading Research Recap

Welcome to the Reading Research Recap!

I am Dr. Neena Saha, Vice President of Science of Reading at MetaMetrics and founder and CEO of Elemeno, now a part of MetaMetrics. My focus as an executive is the same as it is as a researcher–to bridge the research-practice gap so that educators can access real-time tools to support reading success. In my role expanding the understanding of research to inform teaching and learning strategies, I put together this monthly compendium of the relevant and must-read research that impacts the reading and learning landscape. I offer research highlights in digestible summary slices. Hopefully, the data and findings you see here are useful to you as researchers, educators, and district and edtech leaders. Email me at to share what you find insightful, and how we can make this regular installment more useful to you in your work supporting early learning success.

Read on to find out…

  • What a new meta-analysis says about the importance of group size, dosage, and multisensory interventions for struggling readers.
  • Which specific type of child temperament showed positive outcomes 5 years later from a (very) light-touch shared book reading intervention.
  • Which strategy parents (or teachers) of young children can use to increase expressive vocabulary.

Forty Years of Reading Intervention Research for Elementary Students with or at Risk for Dyslexia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (open access!)

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so it is good timing that this recent meta-analysis on reading interventions for struggling readers just came out!

  • Why This is Important: I always try to feature meta-analyses when they come out because they provide a nice overview of the state of a given research topic, in this case: reading interventions for children with Dyslexia. While there have been 7 recent meta-analyses on reading interventions, the authors focused their meta-analysis specifically on children with word-reading difficulties: “The most important way in which the present meta-analysis differed from the seven previous meta-analyses described above is our narrowed inclusion criteria regarding the participant sample: We required that students have or be at risk for word RDs as measured by a norm-referenced measure of word reading, spelling, or skills foundational to word reading or spelling.”
  • Key Findings: They found that word reading interventions were effective in increasing word-reading skill for children who struggle with word reading (kind of obvious, but good to confirm). There were some additional interesting findings regarding the different moderator variables (variables that influence how well students performed in the intervention):
    • Dosage: Previous studies have been conflicted as to whether increasing dosage yielded greater benefits, or had no effect. But this meta clearly found that increased dosage was beneficial: “Our finding that increased dosage is associated with accelerated reading development provides more evidence supporting recommendations to intensify interventions by increasing dosage to accelerate gains for students who are at risk for or have dyslexia.”
    • Grade Level: They did not find grade level to be a significant moderator. In simpler terms, this just means that the grade at which students received intervention did not have an effect. This is a bit of a “weird” finding, given that other studies have found stronger effects for interventions in earlier grades. If you are interested in the authors’ explanations for this, make sure to check out the full article via the link above.
    • Additional instruction (in morphology or vocabulary, encoding, or phonological awareness) did not have additional benefits beyond the word reading instruction.
    • Multisensory interventions: Interventions that delivered instruction in a multisensory manner did not appear to provide any benefits over non-multisensory interventions.
    • Group size: This meta found that small group instruction was as effective as 1:1 instruction. This differs from other studies which found 1:1 to be more effective. The authors cautioned that more research is needed on this because their results could be underpowered.
  • What Can We Do: So, how do we make sense of the above findings and what does it mean for instructional practice? Well, we know word-reading interventions work for struggling readers (kinda obvious). We also know from this study that increasing dosage leads to slightly better outcomes, so that is also something teachers and reading interventionists can do if students are not responding to the initial intervention. The other moderators listed above (grade level, group size, morphology/vocabulary/encoding instruction etc.) still need more research, so we can’t say anything definitively about those yet when it comes to practice.

Tracking the long-term effects of the Bookstart intervention: Associations with temperament and book-reading habits (open access!)

  • Why This is Important: Shared book reading is an important activity for developing childrens’ language skills as books contain richer vocabulary and grammar than parent-child conversations. This study investigated whether a ‘light-touch” shared book reading intervention known as Bookstart had effects on children’s language development years later. Bookstart is said to be “light-touch” because it offers parents no in-person coaching, just two books and a sheet describing the benefits of shared book reading (more on Bookstart here).
  • Key Findings: The researchers found that the Bookstart intervention was not effective when they looked at the entire sample of children. However, when they looked at the disaggregated data (or, data divided up by child temperament), they did find some interesting results. Specifically, children who were said to have a “reactive” temperament (whining, crying, fussing, squirming, kicking during feeding, etc. as measured by a parent questionnaire) benefitted from the Bookstart intervention and showed follow-up effects even 5 years later on a kindergarten language test. Children who did not have a reactive temperament, but received the Bookstart intervention showed no such benefits.
  • What Can We Do: This study shows that shared book reading, starting at an early age, can lead to positive literacy outcomes, even years later, for infants with a reactive temperament. Therefore, the authors state: “So, it is a necessary policy to remind young parents of the relevance of book reading and the need to keep trying to begin early, even if their child often responds negatively to their attempts.” It is also important for researchers to include variables that measure how well an intervention might work: “The current findings highlight how essential the differential susceptibility concept is to evaluate intervention programs. We would not have included children’s temperaments in the final model if we had not been aware of this model, and we would not have found any long-term effects of Bookstart. Targeting the temperamentally more reactive children enabled us to make visible that Bookstart is indispensable to prevent unnecessary lags in many young children’s language and literacy development.”

Predictive brain signals mediate association between shared reading and expressive vocabulary in infants (open access!)

  • Why This is Important: We know that reading to young children, from an early age, is important as it develops language skills. But, exactly how this happens, from a mechanistic/neural standpoint remains unclear. One hypothesis is that top-down sensory prediction is what helps spoken (expressive) vocabulary development in children. Top-down sensory prediction is “…the ability to predict future events based on prior sensory information.” This study investigated brain responses from infants (12 month olds) using fNIRS, a non-invasive neuroimaging method where children wear electrode-implanted caps while performing a task (in this case just watching stimuli on a screen). The electrodes in the caps pick up changes in the blood-oxygen level near the surface of the brain that researchers can use as a signal of brian activity/response.
  • Key Findings: The researchers found that a richer shared reading experience (between parent and child) strengthens children’s predictive signals in the brain (the neuroimaging signal) and, in turn, facilitates expressive language acquisition. This is the first study that provides evidence of a mechanism for how shared reading leads to better expressive vocabulary, which I thought was neat.
  • What Can We Do: Neuroimaging studies are fascinating, but often have few direct implications for teaching. That said, this study does speak to the importance of shared reading and allowing for children to make predictions: “Furthermore, the role of prediction in shaping educational outcomes emphasizes that preschoolers develop better language skills when given more opportunities to predict the forthcoming information during shared reading; for example, when parents used more strategic pauses to prompt children to predict upcoming words or more frequently requested children to predict forthcoming events in the story.”

Additional Research of Interest

Phonics, Word-Reading

A great summary on phonics, word-reading & computational models “The quality and scope of the scientific evidence today means that the reading wars should be over. But strong debate and resistance to using methods based on scientific evidence persists,” they wrote. …Reading scientists, teachers, and the public know that reading involves more than alphabetic skills,” Castles and colleagues explained. “We believe that the relative absence of discussion of processes beyond phonics has contributed to ongoing resistance to the use of phonics in the initial stages of learning to read.”

Evaluation of a School-Based Headsprout Intervention for Improving Literacy (open access!) “Headsprout Early Reading is a computer-based program designed on behavioral principles to enhance the basic skills that underpin the initial development of reading…Both groups showed increased scores on all measures over the 6 months of the study, but the intervention group showed markedly greater improvement. Importantly, the mean scores on sentence reading age and phonics reading age for the intervention group increased by over 17 months and 12.1 months, respectively, as opposed to 7.6 months and 7.8 months with the control group. These findings also validated the use of the flashcard-based phonics identification test with this population. This study indicates that widespread use of Headsprout Early Reading in mainstream education could be highly effective.”

How Do Word Reading and Word Spelling Develop Over Time? A Three-Year Longitudinal Study of Hong Kong Chinese–English Bilingual Children “In the present study, we compared the longitudinal word reading–spelling relationship in L1 (Chinese) and L2 (English), together with early cognitive-linguistic skills…Predictors of word reading and word spelling differed between Chinese and English. Longitudinally, there were no bidirectional or unidirectional relationships between word reading and spelling in Chinese. In contrast, a reciprocal relationship between word reading and spelling was revealed in English. This study underscores similarities and differences in the development of literacy skills among biscriptal readers of L1 Chinese and L2 English.”

Are Vocabulary and Word Reading Reciprocally Related? “We followed a sample of 172 English-speaking Canadian children (82 girls, 90 boys; Mage = 75.87 months at the first measurement point) from the beginning of Grade 1 until the beginning of Grade 3 and assessed them three times on vocabulary and word reading…Results of cross-lagged analyses revealed only unidirectional relations: word reading in Grade 1 predicted vocabulary in Grades 2 and 3…These findings suggest that once children reach a basic level of proficiency in word reading this allows them to be independent readers and enhance their vocabulary.”

Towards a model of word reading acquisition in children from low income backgrounds “The present study examined a six-component theoretical model of word reading acquisition in 449 Spanish-speaking children from low socioeconomic backgrounds…The approach revealed a conditional dependence structure between the components as follows: (1) vocabulary depends on parent education; (2) PA depends on vocabulary; (3) letter name-sound knowledge depends on PA; (4) letter name-sound knowledge explained 76% of the variance in word reading; (5) vocabulary indirectly influences word reading through PA and letter name-sound knowledge. Plausible interpretations of the results regarding early reading acquisition among children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are discussed.”


Teaching Fluency through Whole-Class Repeated Reading (open access!) “…Whole-class repeated reading (WCRR), an extension of RR, was designed not as an intervention but as a fluency instructional method which involves students in a class in the fluent reading and discussion of a text as they rehearse for a performance. Eighteen second grade students attending Mrs. Wright’s class participated in a six-week mixed methods study of WCRR.  Students reread selected text, in company with their classmates, rehearsing for a performance. Findings reveal a significant increase in the number of words students could identify correctly in the final assessment along with improvements in the elements of the Multi-Dimensional Fluency Scale (MDFS) (expression and volume, phrasing, smoothness, and pace).”

Using Repeated Readings to Support Fluency and Comprehension: This is more of a review article, not a peer-reviewed research study.

Vocabulary & Comprehension

Examining mindset and grit in concurrent and future reading comprehension: A twin study. “Weak and moderate positive correlations were found between both mindset and grit and with each reading ability score and neither were significantly related to change in reading ability. Twin modeling suggested little to no common genetic or environmental influences between mindset and grit to reading ability. In total, our results do not lend support to the notion of mindset or grit being a mechanism of change for reading ability.”

Personalized Expert Guidance of Students’ Book Choices in Primary and Secondary Education (open access!) “…Study 1 focused on readers in prevocational secondary education (Grades 7 and 8; N = 136). Study 2 included younger readers from primary education (Grades 4–6, N = 99). Students in the experimental condition met with a librarian to discuss book choices every two weeks for three months. In both studies, the intervention stabilized the reading attitude decline, although, in Study 1, only for more advanced readers. In Study 2, reading comprehension of the most proficient readers also improved. This indicates that guidance in selecting books can preserve students’ reading attitude and increase reading proficiency growth.”

Classroom-based Oral Storytelling: Reading, Writing, and Social Benefits (open access!) “There is a clear, urgent need to address oral academic language in schools due to its integral relation to reading and writing. A focus on narratives offers a promising approach for accomplishing this. We presented oral storytelling as a versatile option for promoting academic language of diverse students and offered recommendations for getting started. Although the recommendations are supported by a solid experimental literature (Favot et al., 2020; Pico et al., 2021; Stetter & Hughes, 2010) showing the effects of monolingual and bilingual oral storytelling interventions on listening comprehension, vocabulary, personal generations, reading comprehension, and writing of students in preschool to third grade, with and without disabilities (Gillam & Gillam, 2016; Hessling & Schuele, 2020; Petersen et al., 2020, 2022; Spencer et al., 2013, 2020), the true test will be in its transportability to real-world classrooms…”

Gender differences in reading: Examining text-based interest in relation to text characteristics and reading comprehension “…In a sample of 514 elementary students (47.2% girls), this study examined whether text topic, protagonists’ gender, and text difficulty affect boys’ and girls’ text-based interest and whether interest and reading comprehension are intertwined. Based on a repeated within-subject design using fourteen narrative texts, the results indicated that boys’ interest was higher in texts with male-attributed topics, male protagonists, and in more difficult texts. In contrast, girls’ interest was only affected by text difficulty.”

MOCCA-College: Preliminary Validity Evidence of a Cognitive Diagnostic Reading Comprehension Assessment “As access to higher education increases, it is important to monitor students with special needs to facilitate the provision of appropriate resources and support. Although metrics such as ACT’s (formerly American College Testing) “reading readiness” provide insight into how many students may need such resources, they do not specify why a student may need support or how to provide that support. Increasingly, students are bringing reading comprehension struggles to college. Multiple-choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment-College (MOCCA-College) is a new diagnostic reading comprehension assessment designed to identify who is a poor comprehender and also diagnose why they are a poor comprehender…”

Comparing Reading Comprehension of Narrative and Expository Texts Based on the Direct and Inferential Mediation Model “The direct and inferential mediation (DIME) model of reading comprehension subsumes factors that influence reading comprehension. It was tested separately regarding narrative text as well as expository text in English; however, both have not been tested by directly comparing them to each other…Results of two path analyses indicate the general applicability of the model for another language and additionally for both genres. However, some differences are highlighted that may be of importance in future science-specific studies as well as for teaching science.”


Does a specialist typeface affect how fluently children with and without dyslexia process letters, words, and passages? (open access) “…Results showed no differences in word or passage reading between the two typesfaces, but letter naming did appear to be more fluent when letters were presented in Dyslexie rather than Calibri text for all children. The results suggest that a typeface in which letters are designed to be distinctive from one another may be beneficial for letter identification and that an intervention in which children are taught letters in a specialist typeface is worthy of consideration.”

Striving Adolescent Readers’ Motivation “This review of research examines definitions of reading motivation, instruments for measuring reading motivation, reading motivation interventions and instructional designs, and student outcomes related to reading motivation…Definitions of reading motivation were generally ambiguous or ill-defined in relationship to the construct being measured. A variety of established reading motivational scales were identified, as well as some that were author-constructed. Although evidence from previous studies demonstrates a positive contribution of reading motivation to student outcomes, there were less significant relationships found between student outcomes and those students with reading disabilities or reading difficulties.”

The relationship between formative assessment and reading achievement: A multilevel analysis of students in 19 countries/regions “The results show that clarifying goals and monitoring progress, and instruction adjustments are positively linked to reading achievement, but providing feedback alone has no significant impact. These findings highlight the complexity of formative assessment as a multifaceted concept and the different impacts of formative assessment strategies on student learning.”

Dialect density, language abilities and emergent literacy skills of prekindergarten children who speak African American English “Whereas African American English has a significant, unique and complex relationship with formal reading skills, our research indicates that the relationship between African American English use and emergent literacy skills is modest…Because African American English dialect can be a key part of cultural identity, it is important that early childhood educators are respectful of their students’ dialect use.”

Bringing Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) technology to scale: Exploring the process from development to implementation “Bringing effective, research-based literacy interventions into the classroom is challenging, especially given the cultural and linguistic diversity of today’s classrooms. We examined the promise of Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) technology redesigned to be used at scale to support teachers’ implementation of the individualized student instruction (ISI) intervention from kindergarten through third grade. In seven randomized controlled trials, A2i and ISI have demonstrated efficacy. However, the research version of A2i was not scalable. To bring A2i to scale in schools serving linguistically diverse students, we carried out the current study across two phases…”

Early Prediction of Reading Risk in Fourth Grade: A Combined Latent Class Analysis and Classification Tree Approach “Fourth grade typically involves shifting the instruction from learning to read to reading to learn, which can cause students to struggle. However, early reading intervention guided by assessment has demonstrated effectiveness in preventing later reading difficulties (RD). This study presents a classification and regression tree (CART) model predicting fourth-grade reading groups using first-grade measures….While the CART and logistic regression models’ classification accuracy was similar, CART has the advantage of offering a more intuitive way for practitioners to determine risk. Multivariate screening can be time-consuming, but CART models offer the potential to reduce false positives and guide targeted interventions, leading to better use of school resources.”

An Evaluation of Evidence-Based Information on Interventions for Learning Disabilities in Reading Found within Pinterest-Linked Websites: A Multi-Site Content Analysis: This is a Master’s thesis, not peer-reviewed.