Research to the Classroom - Dyad Reading - Part 1

Boys Hiding Behind Books

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Hi there. Welcome to the Structured Literacy Podcast. It's Jocelyn here, and I am so pleased to welcome you this week because we have a brand new series for you. One of the things I remember so vividly is being in school as a teacher and then leader, really wanting to keep up with readings and research and just not having the bandwidth to be able to do it. So we've started a brand new series for you called Research to the Classroom. It's a series of three episodes on a topic. The first episode is a discussion of a research paper. The second episode being some sharing about specific instructional routines or very practical applications of this research. The third episode is a conversation with a real-live teacher, someone who is employing these practices in their classrooms and can share the good things and the tricky bits with you to help you shortcut success. 

The Effects of Dyad Reading and Text Difficulty on Third Graders Reading Achievement 2017
This week we are getting into a discussion of something called dyad reading or assisted reading. The paper that I'm sharing with you is called 'The Effects of Dyad Reading and Text Difficulty on Third Graders Reading Achievement.'  It was published in 2017 by Lisa Trottier Brown, Kathleen Moore, Bradley Wilcox, and Tyson Barrett, and they're from Utah State University. The journal that it was published in was the Journal of Educational Research. The main focus of this study was to, in the author's words, replicate previous research about dyad reading. This issue of replication is an important one because anyone can do some research and say, well, our research showed this, but it's through the replication through getting similar outcomes and similar results over time that we can see that something is likely to be reliable and that we can actually know that it's going to work. So this was a replication, and I'm going to talk in a little moment about something that was different and that the authors were looking for from previous papers.

You can find the open-access paper here

What Does the Research Say?
142 third-grade students across six classrooms were the participants in this study. One of these classrooms served as the control, so there was no special treatment given to them. They just had their business-as-usual instruction, and they were used to having a look at the comparison between the students who had this particular treatment and those who didn't. In this study, all students received instruction through the Wonders program, and the brochure for this program states that it includes workshop focus, blended learning, project-based learning, and a focus on authentic literature, and as the McGraw Hill website clearly states, Wonders is a balanced literacy program, a feature of which is levelled text. So, all students received their main literacy instruction, their year three instruction, through this program. The difference was that the control groups just had 15 minutes of independent free-choice reading, whereas the treatment groups, the experimental groups, did something different, and we'll talk about that in a moment. Now, why this study matters is that partner reading is increasingly becoming a feature of our classrooms, with repeated reading very common. Repeated reading involves students literally reading a passage more than once with minimal assistance, usually. Many classroom teachers are using repeated reading, which is an evidence-informed strategy. This current paper is interesting because it examines another kind of reading, which is assisted reading. This kind of reading provides students with an explicit model to essentially be the guide for the fluent reading we want them to do. This whole issue of fluency and repeated reading has been on researcher's minds since the 1970s. This is not new. We're not going back that far today, but I think it's important to know that repeated reading and assisted reading have been examined for a very long time. Now in their year 2000 paper called 'Fluency, a Review of Developmental and Remedial Practices', Melanie Kuhn and Steven Stahl compared repeated and assisted reading and found them both to be generally effective for students beginning to make the transition from purposeful decoding to fluent reading, but they found clear differences in how effective the two approaches are. What they found was that assisted reading, where you had someone there to be the guide, was better than simply having children read the same passage repeatedly. These findings are shared by Tim Rasinski in a 2014 article called 'Delivering Supportive Fluency Instruction Especially for Students Who Struggle.' Rasinski discusses that students are more likely to succeed if they know what good reading sounds like. Having someone read aloud to you is important. Rasinski also talks about assisted reading and discusses that it can take many forms, including group reading and paired reading. He even suggests that technology can help us here. Now, remember the old listening posts that we used to have in the classrooms? Maybe they could have been doing more good than they were if we actually had the children read aloud as they were listening. Also, in 2014, Tim Rasinski and Chase Young wrote about assisted reading. They described how most students will improve reading fluency just by increasing the independent and instructional reading they do but that students who struggle need something more intensive. I don't think that will surprise any of us. So when it comes to assisted reading, the literature is supportive. The evidence stacks up, and this brings us back to the current paper, which focuses specifically on a technique called dyad reading.

What is Dyad Reading?
Dyad Reading is a form of NIM or Neurological Impress Method. This is from Heckleman from 1969, and in their paper, Brown and colleagues (2017) discuss NIM and that it has been shown to be effective in research studies often, but not always. The paper we're looking at today discusses various studies of NIM, the Neurological Impress Method, which is essentially having a stronger and a weaker reader reading a text together at the same time, so you might think of it as choral reading. The stronger reader reads slightly ahead of the weaker reader, and often that stronger reader is an adult tutor.

More Research - What Happens When They Change the Difficulty of the Text?
Now, while there have been many studies conducted, Brown and colleagues were interested in specifically examining what would happen when they changed up the difficulty of the text the students were reading. As we've heard, there are 142 Year 3 students who were divided into six classes, with one acting as the control. They all had balanced literacy instruction as their core teaching. The difference was that the control group had the independent reading, and the other groups did 15 minutes of dyad reading. To examine the impact of text difficulty, student reading was assessed so that they could be partnered with a stronger and weaker reader. The critical difference in this study was that some students were given text two-grade levels above the assisted reader's level. A second group had text three grade levels above the assisted reader's level, and a third group had text four grade levels above the assisted student's level. This is really interesting when we think about that whole idea of levelling and that we're coming to understand that we need to give children more complex texts, but how complex do they need to be? Then each day for 15 minutes, the pairs read the text, the idea being that they read the text aloud at the same time with the stronger reader modeling great phrasing and expression. Students had the same partner for eight to nine weeks, and this continued for 95 sessions in total. So a good amount of time. There were some rules for these sessions. They were: share one book, have two voices, sit side by side, read not too quickly but not too slowly, track with one smooth finger, have your eyes on the words and have fun. They also noted what they called crazy words, which were unfamiliar words that the students couldn't work out together.

Let's look at what happened as a result of this study. In short, the mean test scores at the end of the study exceeded those in the control group, though dyad reading was more impactful than independent reading. Not only did the assisted students make gains, but so did the stronger readers who were acting as the models. The suggestion shared by the authors is that perhaps this was because the models or the lead readers were working hard to read really well and be great fluent readers. And so, just in doing that, they improve their own reading capacity. Most exciting was the finding that the assisted students in the dyad reading made triple the gains of the control group. It's worth noting that DIBELS was one of the assessments used to measure growth. Now, what about the differences in text complexity? The group that made the greatest gains overall was the group who were reading text two year levels above the determined level. They used the Scholastic Reading Inventory, that gives a Lexile score. The authors came to the conclusion about the two-year levels bit, cautiously. So let's not get carried away about being too precise about trying to figure out what texts belong in what grades. The authors were happy to say that reading challenging texts with a more capable partner yielded good results but were not prepared to claim the full answer about deciding on the optimal level of challenging texts. It's interesting to note that not all lead readers in the study were proficient. Some of them tested as being below expectations in their reading at the start of the study, but they were the stronger reader in the pair, and the assisted partner made significant growth in their reading as a result of being a lead reader. And remember, the lead readers also made gains.

Things We Should Consider
Now the authors have a couple of cautions about this study. The first one is that, once students were broken up into groups and then pairs, the sample sizes became quite small because they had the control and three trial groups. The control group was only one classroom. That's their second caution. The third limitation was that the students came from more advantaged backgrounds, and the authors have suggested that it would be great to see this study replicated with a different demographic. Finally, they didn't include word-level reading measures, so they're not able to comment on the impact of dyad reading at word level, only at text level. But for my money, it occurs to me that one of the key things that must happen if you want to make an instructional routine work is that students need to be trained in how to use the routine effectively. An adult needs to monitor what is happening and give feedback. We can't just throw a routine at the kids and let them get on with it while we prepare for the next lesson. The quality of the interactions matters. The next issue I see with this is teachers getting hung up on finding the perfect text for students to read. The study described in this paper used Lexiles, but these can vary wildly in which level a book is assigned to. And I tend to think that if you are aiming for a text that's a bit harder than the students can read on their own but not so hard that they can't access it, you'll be in the ballpark. 

Resource Room Members, You're Set.
Resource room members, you could use any of the background knowledge texts from our text-based units, but teachers will all have texts that are suitable and available to them. Dare I say it, you could even use levelled texts if those texts were a little bit trickier than the students would be able to manage on their own. Finally, I just want to remind you that the study involved Year 3 students who were, presumably, through the decoding phase and into word recognition. They were not novices who were sounding out sound by sound. I couldn't find any studies involving younger children to comment on, but I did find one for Year 2, that study focused on how much the students liked the experience and how they engaged with different types of text, not necessarily how measurable reading outcomes were improved.

My Thoughts.
So if you teach younger grades and want to try out dyad reading, use caution. I'd also suggest that students need to be old enough to follow through with the role of lead reader, and this would be a stretch for many younger students. As discussed in the paper, word-level reading was not measured in the study. So it's questionable that the activity would be useful for students who are not moving into word recognition yet and are still decoding sound by sound. 

I hope that you've enjoyed this first Research to the Classroom episode of the Structured Literacy Podcast. I know that reading research papers was not something I had time for, and it's not something that most of us have experienced in our pre-service teacher education or even as teachers once we've landed into the profession. So if I can help you out and do some of the heavy lifting for you, I'm really happy about that. The link to this open-access paper and the other articles and papers I've discussed today can be found in the show notes for this episode at 

In our next episode, we'll be unpacking a specific instructional routine that you can use to put this research into practice in your classroom. Until then, see you later. 


Brown, Lisa & Mohr, Kathleen & Wilcox, Bradley & Barrett, Tyson. (2017). The effects of dyad reading and text difficulty on third-graders’ reading achievement. The Journal of Educational Research. 111. 1-13. 10.1080/00220671.2017.1310711.

Kuhn, Melanie & Stahl, Steven. (2003). Fluency: A review of developmental and remedial practices. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 3-21. Journal of Educational Psychology. 95. 3-21. 10.1037/0022-0663.95.1.3. 

Rasinski, Timothy.  Reading Today; Newark Vol. 31, Iss. 5,  (Apr/May 2014): 26-28. 

Young, Chase & Mohr, Kathleen & Rasinski, Timothy. (2015). Reading Together: A Successful Reading Fluency Intervention. Literacy Research and Instruction. 54. 67-81. 10.1080/19388071.2014.976678. 



Do you discuss with the students their role as the 'leader/mentor' once they have been paired?

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Jocelyn Seamer

Hi Holly. That's what they did in the study and it makes sense to me.  All my best, Jocelyn 

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Thank you so much for making us classroom teachers life so easy! I thoroughly enjoy listening to all your podcast and conversations about reading. It really helps understand the research behind it especially for someone like me who has used one program for so many years and always thought why there was such a massive gap between a students reading and writing abilities. 

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Jocelyn Seamer

Hi Reena, 

I am so pleased that our work is helping you to do the work you do.  Thank you for your kind feedback. You raise a great point about programs.  While I write them and encourage their use (even if it's not mine!) we need to be more informed than simply doing what the programs say.  After all, it's being able to respond to a range of student needs in a way that works in our context that leads to the best results.  The next two weeks will bring episodes about how to put this into action in your classroom and we have more 'Research to the Classroom' series coming over the year. 

Take care, Jocelyn 

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