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Florida Learning Disabilities Research Center


Computer-Assisted Instruction to Prevent Early Reading Difficulties in Students at Risk for Dyslexia: Outcomes from Two Instructional Approaches

Dyslexia is a reading disorder characterized by difficulties in word pronunciation and in relating the way a word sounds to how it is spelled. This disorder can occur even if the affected individual has no other cognitive deficits and in spite of supportive and enriching home environments. Research has shown that academic interventions are successful in identifying and correcting early signs of reading difficulty; however, a lack of funding and of properly trained staff members has made these interventions difficult to implement. One potential solution to these concerns would be to use computer programs as a means of enhancing traditional teaching styles; the Read Write and Type (RWT) and the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program for Reading, Spelling, and Speech (LIPS) programs are two such examples. A 2010 study conducted by Torgeson, Wagner, Rashotte, Herron, and Lindamood compared these two programs to each other and to a control group in order to test three research questions: Are there differences in the effectiveness of these programs, and do their effects on learning last? Did students who used these programs see more growth in reading skills than those who did not? What percentage of students in the study went on to later develop dyslexia or other reading disorders? 112 first graders who were at risk for reading disorders were randomly placed into either the control group, the RWT group, or the LIPS group (the number of students would drop to 108, as four participants ended up moving away). Students in the control group received instruction from their own teachers and from special-education staff members. Students in both of the experimental conditions were placed in groups of three and given four 50-minute sessions of instruction per week from October through May. Each session included roughly 25 minutes of teacher-based instruction and 25 minutes of computer-based application.

The results obtained were promising! There was no statistically significant difference between the LIPS and RWT groups’ data, thus both programs were effective in improving reading ability and in correcting difficulties. Additionally, both of the experimental groups showed more improvement than the control group; the gap between the scores had lessened somewhat in the year after instruction was completed, but the difference in results remained statistically significant. It is also worth mentioning that declines in performance are to be expected when a previously used intervention method is no longer available; thus more research is necessary with regards to how long an intervention program, such as the LIPS or RWT, should be presented so as to not cause decreases in gains once use of the program stops. Finally, it was found that a higher percentage of control group students remained at below-average reading levels, indicating the possibility that computer-based interventions are useful in reducing the number of first grade students who develop a reading disorder! It is important to bear in mind that, since the students in the experimental conditions received teacher instruction and computer application rather than just the latter, we cannot say that it was strictly access to the computer program that led to reading improvements. As a result, programs such as the LIPS and RWT remain useful as a supplement rather than a replacement for traditional quality education!

Torgesen JK, Wagner RK, Rashotte CA, Herron J, Lindamood P. Computer-assisted instruction to prevent early reading difficulties in students at risk for dyslexia: Outcomes from two instructional approaches. Ann Dyslexia. 2010 Jun;60(1):40-56. doi: 10.1007/s11881-009-0032-y. Epub 2010 Jan 6. PubMed PMID: 20052566; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2888606.