I am a nerd, and I skim through a fair number of research papers, both to keep current for my professional role, and because I just like learning about literacy and language.
While I use Zotero to organize some of what I come across, I tend to read through papers on my phone on buses/trains to and from work, or to print out something to read later, so I am not systematic or well-organized about what I pick up from what I read, unfortunately. I do post quotes from articles as I read them on Twitter (or now, sometimes, on Mastodon), so I can search through my own past feed to find links to research I read. So while I might build my own schema about things as I read more and more stuff, I don’t retain the specific sources.
One of the things I have had in my head regarding literacy interventions is that multicomponent approaches in English tend to be more effective than single component approaches for students who are learning English at school (ELL), and for many other populations as well.
But is this right?
What is a Multicomponent Approach?
Before we go any further, let’s pause to define what we mean by a multicomponent approach.
Language and literacy are composed of many components, such as the following:
In a multicomponent approach to instruction, multiple components of literacy and language are tackled in tandem or in succession, as the case may be, such as in the following aspects:
Most typically, a multicomponent approach is in reference to a reading intervention, but I think there is saliency to core instruction as well. Many upper elementary and above teachers note that they serve students who need foundational and other skills, and they may not know what to do to meet their needs daily. A multicomponent approach may be a useful lens in such circumstances.
Are Multicomponent Approaches to Intervention More Effective?
So let’s return to where we started: is a multicomponent approach to literacy intervention more beneficial for ELLs, and potentially other students?
If you consider the Simple View of Reading (SVR), this makes logical sense, given that by definition an ELL is learning the English language, so even when an ELL requires more intensive phonemic awareness, decoding, or fluency supports in English, they simultaneously require explicit instruction with and opportunities to use morphology, syntax, and text-level comprehension and oral language in English. Furthermore, it makes sense even when considering the needs of students with dyslexic profiles, where phonemic awareness and decoding are specific targets for need, given that a significant number of children with dyslexia demonstrate comorbidity with speech or language comprehension difficulties.
However, as we explored in a paper by Keith Stanovich, building an understanding of reading with what might make sense (a coherence approach) can be misleading if it’s not firmly based on empirical evidence (a correspondence approach). So recently I set out to confirm or refute the following:
- Are multicomponent approaches to intervention more effective than single component interventions?
- Are multicomponent approaches more effective for students identified as ELLs who are at risk of future reading difficulty?
TL;DR From my amateur review of some of the extant research, the answer appears to be yes to be both questions.
A Review of the Research
I should note that some of the research I have listed below were indicated in the chapter on multicomponent interventions in the very useful book Structured Literacy Interventions: Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties, Grades K-6, edited by Louise Spear-Swerling.
In favor of multicomponent approaches are the following sources:
- Donegan, R. E., & Wanzek, J. (2021). Effects of reading interventions implemented for upper elementary struggling readers: A look at recent research. Reading and Writing, 34(8), 1943–1977. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-021-10123-y
- “For intervention area, only multicomponent interventions predicted significant effects for both comprehension and foundational outcomes“
- Al Otaiba, S., McMaster, K., Wanzek, J., & Zaru, M. W. (2022). What We Know and Need to Know about Literacy Interventions for Elementary Students with Reading Difficulties and Disabilities, including Dyslexia. Reading Research Quarterly, n/a(n/a). https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.458
- “Findings, at least in the upper elementary grades, indicate that some intervention features including standardized protocols, multiple components, and longer duration can yield stronger effects“
- Solari, E. J., Kehoe, K. F., Cho, E., Hall, C., Vargas, I., Dahl-Leonard, K., Richmond, C. L., Henry, A. R., Cook, L., Hayes, L., & Conner, C. (2022). Effectiveness of Interventions for English Learners with Word Reading Difficulties: A Research Synthesis. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 37(3), 158–174. https://doi.org/10.1111/ldrp.12286
- “Research suggests that interventions that emphasize both code- and meaning-related skills are more effective for improving reading comprehension outcomes than those that focus on one set of skills in isolation (e.g., Al Otaiba et al., 2022; Baker et al., 2012). Considered together with other systematic reviews (e.g., Gersten et al., 2020; Richards-Tutor et al., 2016), our findings corroborate evidence that this is true for interventions implemented with EL students with WLRD (Baker et al., 2012), who are simultaneously developing proficiency in both linguistic comprehension and code-focused skills.“
- Wanzek, J., Petscher, Y., Al Otaiba, S., & Donegan, R. E. (2019). Retention of Reading Intervention Effects From Fourth to Fifth Grade for Students With Reading Difficulties. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 35(3), 277–288. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573569.2018.1560379
- The relative effectiveness of two approaches to early literacy intervention in grades K-2. (2017). Regional Educational Laboratory Program (REL). Retrieved January 21, 2023, from https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/rel/Products/Publication/3831
- Extensive Reading Interventions in Grades K-3. (2007). Link via Reading Rockets. https://www.readingrockets.org/guides/extensive-reading-interventions-grades-k-3
- Pollard-Durodola, S. D., Mathes, P. G., Vaughn, S., Cardenas-Hagan, E., & Linan-Thompson, S. (2006). The Role of Oracy in Developing Comprehension in Spanish-Speaking English Language Learners: Topics in Language Disorders, 26(4), 365–384. https://doi.org/10.1097/00011363-200610000-00008
- “The most robust reading interventions are characterized by 30 min or more of instruction for several months (Mathes et al., 2005; NICHD, 2000), in which teachers provide explicit and systematic instruction in small groups across multiple critical components of reading including phonemic awareness, letter–sound knowledge, word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (Foorman & Torgesen 2001; NICHD, 2000; Rayner, Foorman, Perfetti, Pesetsky, & Seidenberg, 2001; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).”
There were a couple of meta-analyses that were directly contrary, however:
- Denton, C. A., Hall, C., Cho, E., Cannon, G., Scammacca, N., & Wanzek, J. (2022). A meta-analysis of the effects of foundational skills and multicomponent reading interventions on reading comprehension for primary-grade students. Learning and Individual Differences, 93, 102062. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2021.102062
- “Effects did not differ for interventions focused only on foundational reading skills and those that provided both foundational skills and comprehension instruction.“
- Hall, M. S., & Burns, M. K. (2018). Meta-analysis of targeted small-group reading interventions. Journal of School Psychology, 66, 54–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2017.11.002
- “Interventions were more effective if they were targeted to a specific skill (g=0.65), then as part of a comprehensive intervention program that addressed multiple skills“
This topic is a good example of how research is rarely easily interpreted — some of the same authors on one side are listed on the meta-analysis on the other side, for example! The question is rather where does the evidence converge across multiple studies?
In this case, the weight of the converging peer reviewed evidence appears (from my limited amateur review) to fall on the side of the benefits of a multicomponent approach to literacy intervention, both for struggling readers at large, and for ELLs in particular.
What Does a Multicomponent Approach Look Like?
Dr. Alfred Tatum, whose book Teaching Black Boys in the Elementary Grades I have written about before, provides concrete examples of what a multicomponent approach in core instruction could look like, based on what Dr. Tatum calls his “Multidimensional Reading Model” (MDRM). While his lessons are designed explicitly for Black boys, I think these approaches can be beneficial for many other children as well.
For interventions, there’s a few other solid resources, starting with the book I mentioned earlier, Structured Literacy Interventions: Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties, Grades K-6 edited by Louise Spear-Swerling, in Chapter 10: Multicomponent Structured Literacy Approaches for Mixed Reading Difficulties.
In that chapter, there’s also a nice lesson planning tool that lists each component and possible time suggestions.
Another great recent resource is the WWC Practice Guide: Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades 4–9. While it isn’t explicitly about a multicomponent approach, it provides very concrete and useful approaches to multisyllabic decoding, fluency, and comprehension. Associated resources to the WWC Practice Guide:
There are also specific intervention programs that demonstrate a multicomponent approach, such as RAVE-O (grades 2-4), Passport grades K-5), and Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention (STARI, grades 6-9). Please note that I am not endorsing these programs, rather noting that they demonstrate an approach to intervention that scales between multiple components of literacy.
What is your experience or thoughts about a multicomponent approach to instruction, whether in core instruction or in intervention?