An Experimental Evaluation of Guided Reading and Explicit Interventions for Primary-Grade Students At-Risk for Reading Difficulties

Carolyn A. Denton, Jack M. Fletcher, W. Pat Taylor, Amy E. Barth, Sharon Vaughn J Res Educ Eff. 2014 July 3

Despite being widely implemented, Guided Reading, an approach to early reading instruction, lacks the literature and scientific studies that back up its perceived positive effects on reading skills. Guided Reading is built around four broad components: introducing the text, supporting effective reading, teaching processing strategies, and discussing and revisiting the text. In contrast, Explicit Intervention, a competing reading intervention approach, focuses more specifically on phonological instruction, phonemic decoding, and sequential instruction. A study published in the July 3, 2014 publication of J Res Educ Eff. reviewed these two reading intervention techniques when implemented alongside each other. The study’s authors, Carolyn A. Denton, Jack M. Fletcher, W. Pat Taylor, Amy E. Barth, Sharon Vaughn, conducted a study with at-risk students to see how the results of Guided Reading compares to Explicit Intervention and Typical Classroom reading instruction.

The study was comprised of about 150 students in the first and second grade from two school districts whose pre-study reading levels were deemed “at-risk.” These students were placed into three different supplementary reading tutoring groups--Explicit Intervention, Guided Reading, and Typical Classroom instruction--and their progress was monitored over the course of a 23-25 week intervention. The study was most interested in the students’ reading skills highlighted in both the Guided Reading and Explicit Intervention approaches: word identification and phonemic decoding, fluency, reading comprehension, and reading fluency.

The results of the study revealed that the gains of Guided Reading are, in almost all categories, not as positive as the gains of explicit intervention. In word reading and phonological decoding, participants in the Guided Reading and Explicit Intervention groups had slight positive effects, about a 30% improvement rate above the typical classroom instruction group at the end of the intervention. In word attack, a sub-measurement of word reading and phonological decoding, Guided Reading intervention had the same relative effects as typical classroom intervention, while using an explicit intervention approach saw over 50% growth in its participants. In general fluency, neither the Guided Reading nor Explicit Intervention groups saw a significant improvement over the course of the 25 weeks, each resulting in about a 20-30% improvement rate. Comprehension results revealed that participants in the Explicit Intervention group had positive score results nearly 4 times the gains of participants in the Guided Reading group.

Because there had been few previously-done studies that focus on the gains of Guided Reading compared to other intervention techniques, the results of this study suggest that the effects of Guided Reading are perhaps not as positive as is thought, and Denton et al. hope that this study will become one of many studies that continue to monitor the effectiveness of Guided Reading and other intervention approaches in elementary students. On the other hand, there have been multiple studies on Explicit Intervention, which Structured Literacy approaches incldue, that show significant gains in reading skills, which Denton et al. suggest should encourage educators and administrators to use Explicit Intervention in their classrooms over a Guided Reading approach.