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Guided Reading as an Intervention for Dyslexia. NOT!

GUIDED READING has been backed by research as being one of the best methods of leading readers through the reading process. It incorporates mini lessons that address good strategies such as think alouds, decoding practice, comprehension monitoring and correction, fluency building, and fostering a love of reading. Researchers such as Fountas and Pinnell have been the front runners in designing and mapping out guided reading for quite a few years, starting with their seminal work: Guided Reading: Good First Reading for All Children, and later in their voluminous and more explicit volume Guiding Readers and Writers.

However, it is important to remember that these strategies were designed for students who do not need compensatory, remedial, or intensive reading instruction. Guided reading is an excellent component to every balanced reading program, but should it be the primary INTERVENTION for struggling or dyslexic students? No! Why? Well first of all, if guided reading really worked for the dyslexic student, then the student wouldn’t still be struggling. Many a good teacher feels like pulling his or her hair out when dyslexic students do not improve with guided reading. It feels as though these students are stuck, not responsive, and resistant to treatment–which is exactly the case. Sometimes teachers even question their ability to teach … So does it make sense to keep doing the same thing over and over again and watching the child not make any progress?

In particular I am amused with Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention. It is simply a watered down version of guided reading using texts that flip-flop between a student’s instructional and independent levels. It is once againguided reading! The strategy may work for some struggling readers because it does boost confidence, but most of the strategies in this program do not address what a dyslexic student really needs. Furthermore, one research study that was conducted worked with  suburban and rural schools. Only 11% of the students at the rural school were diagnosed with a disability and only 6.9% of the students at the suburban school were diagnosed with a disability. The rest of them were “struggling”–but not necessarily dyslexic. The special education students did not make significant gains, while the ELL students made statistically significant gains. Remember, ELL students are NOT dyslexic. Of course there were more studies and Fountas and Pinnell claim that special education students made significant gains … but I’m still not so sure.

My guess is that students who have benefited from this program fall into one of these categories: 1. They did not have good guided reading instruction  2.They were environmentally or educationally deprived or 3. They really benefited from having small group help. But truly dyslexic students did not show much growth, if any. I know. I used the program, and my dyslexic students still struggled and made slow progress at the end of it. Because Fountas & Pinnell are the “big guns” of guided reading, many people do not question the reliability, validity or effectiveness of this program–but they need to.

I think a program like this is a good accommodation for struggling readers in a regular classroom, but it’s not going to address what a dyslexic student really needs! I’m not trying to slam Fountas & Pinnell, but once again, we need to question programs that claim to be interventions, when they aren’t. Sally Shaywitz delineated what a good reading program looks like for dyslexic students in her book, Overcoming Dyslexia. And, according to the National Institute of Heath, Orton Gillingham is still considered to be the front line treatment for students with dyslexia–not guided reading. Let me describe what Dr. Shaywitz has described as a good reading program or intervention for dyslexic students.

1. Systematic and direct instruction in:

    • Phonemic Awareness (noticing, identifying, and manipulating the sounds of spoken language)
    • Phonics (how letters and groups of letters represent sounds of spoken language)
    • Sounding out words (decoding)
    • Spelling
    • Reading sight words
    • Vocabulary and concepts
    • Reading comprehension strategies

2. Practice in applying these skills in reading and in writing

3. Fluency Training

4. Enriched language experiences

This sounds like guided reading doesn’t it? But it’s not. The skills are sequential (systematic) and direct (nothing else is being taught but that skill). So the first step is to apply an Orton Gillingham type of program that teaches phonemic awareness and phonics, along with all the other foundational structures of language. Phonemic awareness is the most important foundational skill needed to become a good reader. If this is not addressed, dyslexic students will continue to fail.

Then the other components are taught as well but in a direct, explicit fashion with hands on, multisensory approaches.

When I teach dyslexic students I begin my lessons with an OG program and then I teach other skills and tools–at a level that is easy for them and not overwhelming. It doesn’t look anything like guided reading. It is very specific and very direct. Sight words are not taught by flashcards, but by using a multi-interactive approach that I developed, allowing the student to find the word in context, read it context, spell it in context, and write the sight word in the context of three different sentences. This is explicit and direct. This is an intervention for dyslexic students.

While I could go on and on about what explicit instruction looks like… I think I made my point. It’s specific to the skill you are trying to teach without muddying up the waters with too much other information and skills. Guided reading brings a lot of components into the session–this is too overwhelming for dyslexic students. One characteristic of dyslexic students is that they have a poor short-term memory. If you teaching a bunch of skills all at once–you’ve lost them. Remember …. guided reading is GOOD, but it is not an appropriate INTERVENTION for dyslexic students.

Fountas and Pinnell Study

To discuss this or any other posts in more detail please post to my free forum!!


About Ann Gavazzi

Reading specialist and English teacher with a particular interest in treatment of dyslexia. Also interested in education and education policy at large and current reading research. Owner of the Reading Innovations Center, a tutoring center that specializes in one-to-one tutoring for struggling readers and math students.


27 thoughts on “Guided Reading as an Intervention for Dyslexia. NOT!

  1. I apologize for the first version of this post. It was riddled with typos. Note to self: don’t post at night without completing a spell check!! AG

    Posted by Ann Gavazzi | September 3, 2011, 1:52 pm
  2. Very nice, i suggest webmaster can set up a forum, so that we can talk and communicate.

    Posted by Deborah | September 4, 2011, 3:10 am
  3. I am lucky that I detected this blog , exactly the right information that I was looking for! .

    Posted by renren876 | September 18, 2011, 2:01 am
  4. Wow! That’s an interesting slant.

    Posted by Jeffrey Lawrie | September 18, 2011, 6:03 am
  5. Dear Ann

    In your experience with teaching students with dyslexia what reading program do you find to be the most effective?
    I have heard Wilson and Language! are both very good have you heard of any others?

    Thanks Pam

    Posted by Pam | February 11, 2013, 5:21 am
    • Hi Pam,

      There are lots of Orton Gillingham based programs out there. They all exhibit similarities, but you have to find the one works best for students, is engaging, and one that seems to work the best for you.

      In addition to Wilson and Language!, there are the following: LiPs (Lindamood Bell), Slingerland, Barton Reading and Spelling Program, Discovery Intensive Phonics (Reading Horizons), and many more! The problem is that from an educational standpoint there is very little robust research for all these programs. From research done by the National Institute of Health (both a scientific and medical model), the research IS robust and shows that any OG program should be the front line treatment for dyslexia.

      The most important concept to keep is mind is that whatever program you use, it needs to be 1) explicit 2) systematic 3) transferable to the classroom 4) multisensory 5) easy to implement. I tend to like the new programs because they integrate more hands on activities and can be taught both 1:1 and 1:20 + Of course I prefer 1:1 because that’s where a student is taught at his or her own pace. Hope I helped!

      All the best … Ann

      Posted by Ann Gavazzi | February 13, 2013, 12:53 pm
      • I would add that it makes a BIG difference whether the intervention is 1:1 and is intensive enough (enough hours/week) for the child to show progress. You can use Orton-Gillingham, but if you are seeing 5 kids for 30 mins 3 times/week they are not going to show much progress.

        Posted by Dite Bray | May 3, 2013, 6:33 pm
      • Hi Dite,

        I totally agree with you! O/G programs were intended for 1:1 tutoring and NOT for small groups or entire classrooms. The interventions are intensive and require complete focus on the part of the teacher and student. I don’t recommend them for entire classrooms or small groups because it diminishes the integrity of the intervention. Once again, then, you are simply placing the dyslexic student in the same learning situation as before. They need a different approach to learning … one major component is the total focus of a competent instructor. I don’t think the a small group or classroom situation will do any harm, but as you said … the progress is going to be longer. I don’t advocate this kind of learning …

        Posted by Ann Gavazzi | May 5, 2013, 2:26 pm
      • Thank you for your article. I’m weary dealing with the schools my students attend. They are all on the Fountas Pinnell bandwagon. Another school that I recently worked for used guided reading for all their remediation. It’s not working. Lindamood-Bell LiPS is a great program, but it is not OG. I just attended their training last fall, and I use it with many of my students before starting them in Barton Reading & Spelling. Many cannot pass the Task C portion of the Barton Student Screening. Those students benefit from LiPS. Many students will need a program such as LiPS before they start any OG instruction. Thank you again for the article.

        Posted by Jennifer Hoffman | January 5, 2016, 2:50 pm
  6. Ann, I am preparing for an IEP meeting for my son with Dyslexia. He is currently only receiving inclusion services with no specific plan to help with his Dyslexia. I am fighting for him to receive more “pull-out” with an OG methodolgy approach. I met with the Reading Recovery teacher this morning that explained they they use Fountas and Pinnell and the Reading Record Sheet. She even told me the program is not specifically designed for students with Dyslexia but due to resources this was all they had to offer. A rep from our County is joining us at our IEP meeting and I’d like to present as much data as possible that they are wasting their time with Reading Recovery. Do you know f any other articles backing up the data in your article above? The F&P blogs skirt around the issue. Many thanks!

    Posted by Jennifer | April 2, 2013, 11:04 am
    • Hi Jennifer,

      My quick answer is that there is a lot of research in support of the effectiveness of Reading Recovery in preventing severe reading problems. I know you don’t want to hear that!!

      With that said, from my experience, I’ve never seen a student who came out of Reading Recovery “cured” of their reading woes. Unfortunately schools don’t see the value in OG programs from an educational standpoint. From 30 years of medical research, the NIH says OG should be the front line treatment for dyslexia.

      I’m extremely busy; if I weren’t I would find articles for you. But you can investigate what the National Institute of Health (NIH) has to say about treating dyslexia, this could possible give you some ammunition—possibly. Many schools even refuse to recognize dyslexia as a diagnosis. This is simply because they don’t have qualified individuals to assess or teach students with this disability.

      I suggest that you explain that your child needs the building blocks of reading–phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, and decoding instruction. RR is not really strong in these areas even though it claims it is … hmm

      Best of luck. I wish I had more information to give you…

      Ann Gavazzi, M.Ed.

      Posted by Ann Gavazzi | April 2, 2013, 1:37 pm
  7. I would like to know what happened with Jennifer’s son. It has been over a year now!

    Posted by Kim garr | December 8, 2014, 7:59 am
  8. Dear Ann, I have an 11 year old son. His school system does not believe in Dyslexia. I pulled him from school at the beginning of 2nd grade. He worked with an SLP for 3 1/2 years doing LMB, one hour a day, 4 days a week, 11 months of the year. He is reading at 37 words a minute. You will have to believe everyone is doing a great job, and are very qualified. But now, 3 1/2 years later, I feel he has gotten everything he can (possibly?) from LMB, should he be moved on to OG (which was suggested by testing). NO ONE TEACHES OG here in Northern California. What do you suggest I do? I don’t even know where to start if I was to begin this process myself. Help?

    Posted by Holly Stutsman Sichel | December 8, 2014, 9:50 am
    • Hi Holly,
      I am a reading specialist as well as a special education teacher and learning disabilities specialist in New Jersey. I am certified in both Wilson and LMB Lipps. I think at age 11 your son should be receiving OG instruction. Your school system may not “believe” in dyslexia but he has a right to a researched based intervention. I participated in a webinar hosted by The Dyslexia Training Institute about creating an appropriate IEP for your child. Check out their website . Also, Wright’s Law is a great resource on how to advocate for your child. Here is the section of the California Special Eduction code that relates to dyslexia
      SECTION 56333-56338
      Good luck!

      Posted by Stacy | December 8, 2014, 7:58 pm
      • Stacy,

        Thank you for sharing this valuable information. I was going to take those courses as well through the Dyslexia Training Institute, but I didn’t have time!

        Posted by Ann Gavazzi | December 12, 2014, 3:01 am
    • Hi Holly,

      I’m sorry to hear about the troubles your son is going through. I’m very surprised that there are no OG practitioners in Northern CA. Lindamood Bell has a different approach from OG and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Does your son have a correct diagnosis? Hopefully your son had a complete neuropsychological evaluation, which tests his cognitive, attention, and social skills. This may sound very basic and obvious, but in my years of working with dyslexic and struggling learners, having an evaluation like this is often a missing link to find out what other disorders may be involved that could be impeding his learning.

      I visited the International Dyslexia Association site for Northern California, and it listed a bunch of learning centers and tutors. I’m not sure how “north” you are, but use this link to see if you can find a practitioner.

      I also believe CA has laws for dyslexia written into their education plan. Perhaps I am mistaken .. I know the Pennsylvania has recently passed a bill to start a pilot program in a few school districts for those with dyslexia. I’m pretty sure that the teachers have to be trained to teach students with dyslexia–please tell us what your experience has been!

      Another way to go about it is to learn for yourself. The Barton Reading and Spelling Program is all about teaching parents and teachers how to teach an O/G based program. They provide DVDs with explicit videos for you to follow.

      In addition, Reading Horizons offers an at home program as well. You can use the computerized version or the paper-based system.

      I have used both of these programs with my students and have found them to be very good. From my own studies, though, I have found that using an OG system is much different from using canned curriculums.

      I wish you the best of luck and please keep us posted on your situation!

      Posted by Ann Gavazzi | December 12, 2014, 2:57 am
  9. I’m the elementary music teacher who has been pulled in to work with 5th graders reading on a first grade level. They are using Lexia, a computer game based remedial reading program. It seems to hit all the topics listed above. I bail kids out when they get stuck and most of what I see tells me of gaps between processing letter combinations and sounds. Maybe it is just because of my music background that I notice this. They don’t think to sound things out or glitch on hearing and remembering subtle sound differences, such as or, ur, ar, and Ir. I was highly suspicious of Lexia at first but now I am pretty impressed with it. It’s focus is on phonics and word decoding and is pretty thorough and logical. Anybody else have opinions?

    Posted by Barb Hanna | December 8, 2014, 2:49 pm
    • I do know Lexia was designed by a man for his dyslexic son. We use it our school and love it.

      Posted by Greta | December 11, 2014, 6:40 pm
    • Many of these programs are highly motivating because they are computer based and designed with a game-like quality. I love technology a lot and use it within my own practice, but there’s nothing like a qualified teacher sitting across from a student and providing direct human instruction.

      Thank you for sharing and maybe this can also help Holly!

      Posted by Ann Gavazzi | December 12, 2014, 3:00 am
  10. Hi Ann – What is your impression on the 2011 study Reading Progress for special education students using LLI?
    My daughter is diagnosed with reading and math disabilities and is in a special education classroom that uses a random assortment of teaching methodologies, but the core is LLI. I pushed for her to be pulled out and still receive AIS requiring a systematic phonics program and they opted for the JustWords Wilson program. The PROBLEM is that they only offered her 2 days out of a 4-day cycle so the 2 week (10 part lesson) unit takes her approximately 5 weeks to complete. It is March and they are only in unit 3 out of 14. I believe that I want to push and require that they give her 5 days for the rest of the year to accelerate her as she is still on LLI Level L books which is where she started the year. Her accuracy has improved, but not her comprehension much nor her fluency (a “1” in Sept and a “1” in March).
    I need all that ammunition I can. They are going to say that she is making some growth, but her words correct per minute fluency goal measured by AIMSweb on 3rd grade material shows her now falling short of the aggressive goal we set (125 words).
    I welcome your comments and feedback and thank you in advance!!

    Posted by Jennifer | March 5, 2015, 8:52 am
    • Thanks for responding to my post! First, the study you referred to is much different from the one I read previously, probably because they had more time to compile data. There are obvious flaws to this study. First were all students identified with a reading disability? They could have placed students with speech and language disabilities in the study and said oh wow look at what the kids did. ;-). Another aspect is that they did not do a full experimental random study. There was no objective assessment to score how the students performed–only Fountas and Pinnell’s self created assessment. Hmm. When I used the LLI program, I felt the books were good quality, but the format of the lessons were not rigorous enough. I added a lot to the program to make my kids build comprehension and fluency skills–much more than the program offers. In terms of teaching phonics skills (which is not included in the study), no mention is made of that in study. They didn’t look at the subparts of reading.

      Next … from what I know about Wilson, it is an intervention designed for 5 days a week; reducing it to 2 is a bummer and totally ruins the purpose of the program. One thing to consider is whether your daughter is a low or high L? –meaning did she just meet the cutoffs? It’s also quite possible she was never at an L to begin with and is still playing catch-up. Is her level INDEPENDENT or INSTRUCTIONAL? If an L is her independent level then she should be reading at an INSTRUCTIONAL M in order to move up and make progress. Check on that! 🙂 Wilson is not a strong program for comprehension. It’s designed primarily for phonics instruction, spelling and writing. An increase in her decoding ability should impact her comprehension down the road, but right now it seems she needs to build those fundamental skills first. Is it possible for them to offer something before or after school so that she can get more time in?

      When I see students stagnating like that with their comprehension and fluency, I recommend more reading out loud per night–20 minutes maximum to start and then raise that after a month and so on. Remember, when you are reading with her she should be reading a level above–instructional M–with support. She must read out loud while partner reading with you or another family member every single night. In addition, she needs to be asked simple comprehension questions so that she can practice finding answers in the passage and also just practice reading comprehension. I have an at home intervention that my parents use and it produces nice results. I’ll send it to you. I use Reading A-Z to get leveled books. It does require a membership, but there are many printable leveled books to read at home and you could gradually (without telling her directly or making a big deal out of it) raise her level as long as you provide support.

      Your daughter’s fluency goal is ridiculous considering that she is reading at the beginning of 2nd grade. In order to be at the 50th percentile (CWPM) she should be reading 89 correct words per minute. That’s average! The other goals are placing her in the 90th percentile which would mean she’s at the mastery level for beginning 2nd grade .. which isn’t happening arughgh. Crazy.

      I’ve been pretty busy and I’m sorry for the delay in my response. I hope that this problem gets resolved and contact me if you have any more questions.
      All the best–Ann Gavazzi

      hen I see students stagnating like that with their comprehension and fluency, I recommend more reading out loud per night–15 minutes maximum to start and then raise that after a month and so on. She must read out loud while partner reading with you or another family member every single night. In addition, she needs to be asked simple comprehension questions so that she can practice finding answers in the passage and also just practice reading comprehension. I have an at home intervention that my parents use and it produces nice results. I’ll send it to you.
      –All the Best, Ann Gavazzi

      hen I see students stagnating like that with their comprehension and fluency, I recommend more reading out loud per night–15 minutes maximum to start and then raise that after a month and so on. She must read out loud while partner reading with you or another family member every single night. In addition, she needs to be asked simple comprehension questions so that she can practice finding answers in the passage and also just practice reading comprehension. I have an at home intervention that my parents use and it produces nice results. I’ll send it to you.
      –All the Best, Ann. Follow this link below to download this at home reading structure.

      Posted by Ann Gavazzi | March 15, 2015, 9:21 pm
  11. Dear Ann,

    Can you direct me to the article where it stated that Reading Recovery does not work for dyslexia? I’m writing my thesis/project on resources for dyslexic students and I’m having difficulty if finding an article on how repeating reading recovery does not help for dyslexic students.


    Shawn Murphy

    Posted by Shawn Murphy | April 21, 2015, 9:19 pm
    • I Shawn … I’m sorry for getting back to you so late! I don’t recall saying that RR does not work, but I am saying that Guided Reading is not a suitable intervention for dyslexic students. RR is a good intervention, but not the BEST intervention for dyslexic students. I didn’t refer to an article for this, but referred to an article that showed the research done the LLI (Fountas and Pinnell) Guided Reading program for needy learners. Sorry I couldn’t help.

      Posted by Ann Gavazzi | May 14, 2015, 6:23 pm
    • If you want to get scientific, factual and proven methods remediation. Along with knowledge about the comorbid associations to dyslexia. DECODING DYSLEXIA” is in all 50 states and four provinces of Canada. We look to simplify the information that is being put out in public and raise awareness too many that insinuate some programs might help rather than going to the one that helps not only dyslexic kids, but he ELL along with children with math challenges known as dyscalculia. Orton Gillingham attacks all of those.

      Search for the one in your state and connect and someone will help you comma along with learning only the proven methods of remediation. We don’t go with maybes or potentially, we want will do. We need to have as many people aware of who we are to help our plight.

      Posted by decodingdyslexiari | June 23, 2016, 10:15 pm


  1. Pingback: Guided Reading Made Easy « green bean kindergarten - October 26, 2011

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