Florida State University Schools’ reading improvement sessions prove successful

Two years after implementing a reading improvement regimen at Florida State University Schools, educators are seeing extraordinary changes in students who once struggled.

New, compelling data show that of the 200 students who have received Reading Strength Training, 100 percent reported improved grades across content areas in the first week or two of sessions, which use a one-on-one approach.

“I firmly believe that utilizing a one-on-one intervention is the most powerful way to help these students succeed,” said Lynn Wicker, director of Florida State University Schools.

FSUS is the FSU College of Education’s developmental research school. The 1,600-student K-12 school is operated under a charter agreement by FSU and provides a venue for educational research, curriculum innovation, educator development and statewide reform efforts.

Wicker brought Reading Strength Training (RST) to FSUS in 2012 because of its proven record of success with struggling readers in grades 3-12.

The training routine was developed by FSUS reading specialist Kay Kincl over 20 years of working one-on-one with students. The private one-on-one sessions between student and teacher are a defining characteristic of RST.

“Research shows that one hour of one-on-one is better than six hours in the classroom,” Kincl said.

However, it’s not just the one-on-one that makes RST effective. The approach does not replicate other reading interventions commonly provided in small groups or intensive reading classes.

Students come to their RST sessions once a week for 30 to 45 minutes and work in a nonthreatening environment. There are no tests, grades, computer programs, assignments or audiences.

Kincl learned of the science behind the success of this approach when she read a 2008 Carnegie Mellon University brain imaging study that found that the brains of dyslexic students and other poor readers were permanently rewired to overcome reading deficits after hours of intensive remedial instruction.

Reading deficiencies are often the result of heredity, health and happenstance — life events including moving often, allergies, divorce or the death of a loved one, Kincl said.

“While we can do nothing to prevent reading deficiencies, we can change the reality for the thousands of struggling readers in our schools,” Kincl said. “We can end the daily deluge of Ds on their papers, stop the stress of tearful homework sessions, stomach pains and headaches, and crush the self-criticism.”

Typically, struggling readers spend hours each week on technology-based instruction and assessments that focus on reading comprehension, vocabulary and reading speed.

However, recent research funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Services shows that computer-assisted reading programs most commonly used in the past 30 years have minimal impacts on the attainment of struggling readers.

“Struggling readers are test-weary,” Kincl said. “Multiple times a day, they have to work on computer-based reading programs that test their comprehension of passages that are too difficult for them to read. When their reading scores do not improve, many stop trying and simply go through the motions, guessing, shutting down internally.”

With RST students experience early success that is highly motivational. The sessions have proven to be an awakening for older students, who gave up on academic success years ago and quit trying, she said.

Kincl’s hope is for schools and tutoring programs to adopt and benefit from RST. To learn more, visit http://www.readingstrengthtraining.com/.