2011. Vol.2, No.3, 173-180
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.23028
The Effects of Two Training Programs Regarding Reading
Development among Children with Reading Disabilities
Linda Fälth1,*, Idor Svensson1, Tomas Tjus2
1Department of Pedagogic, Psychology and Sports Management, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden;
2Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Received December 10th, 2010; revised February 9th, 2011; accepted April 1st, 2011.
Aim: The purpose of the study was to examine the effects of two different training programs regarding reading
skills in 14 reading disabled Swedish children in grade two. Method: The children’s results from two different
decoding measures plus identification by teachers as having reading difficulties were used to select the partici-
pants. Seven of the children used Omega-IS, which entails computerized top-down, orthographic training and no
additional homework, and seven children used non-computerized Reading Recovery inspired training with some
components of phonological training included plus 20 homework occasions. For both programs the training ses-
sions were conducted individually (one-to-one teaching) and lasted between 15 and 45 minutes. Results: Both
groups improved significantly in all tests assessing word and non-word decoding as a result of the intervention.
No significant differences were yielded between the intervention programs. Conclusion: The conclusion is that
one-to-one teaching has a positive impact regardless whether a top-down or a reading instructional strategy with
phonological components is implemented. Due to the result of the Omega-IS group it might also be possible to
reduce homework for reading disabled children if reading is well tutored in school.
Keywords: Children, Intervention, Reading and Writing Disabilities
Since there has been an increasing demand for literacy skills
in modern society, a failure in this domain can seriously affect
an individual’s possibility to be an active citizen in democratic
respects. Approximately 15 to 20 percent of school children in
Sweden have some kind of reading and writing disabilities
(Lundberg, 1985). Constant failure and the feeling of not being
able to read are devastating for the self-esteem and may in-
crease the risk of drop-outs in school, which in turn might en-
hance the risk of being marginalized in society (McNulty, 2003;
Svensson, 2010). The negative effects of reading and writing
disabilities and dyslexia involving low self-esteem seem to be
most profound during the first 6 years of schooling (Stanovich,
1986). Findings also indicate that the early identification of
literacy difficulties as well as the intervention process can even
prevent reading disabled children from developing negative
self-esteem (Humphrey, 2002; McNulty, 2003). It is therefore
important to not only early identify, but also to remediate the
children who are likely to encounter literacy difficulties in the
There is an abundance of research papers that have focused
on reading and writing disabilities, but less than 1% of these
studies have concerned intervening with dyslexia (Bakker,
2006). However, there are a number of studies attempting to
examine individual differences in response to specific interven-
tion, some of the methods used being computerized and some
not. For example, an intervention study which did not use
computerized programs was made by Torgesen et al. (2001) of
60 children between the ages of 8 and 10 with the focus on
reading and writing. Half of the children were randomly as-
signed to a training program called ADD (Auditory Discrimi-
nation in Depth), which focuses on children’s phonological
skills through auditory and articulatory exercises. The other
half used a program called EP (Embedded Phonic), which also
focuses on children’s phonological awareness, but through dif-
ferent types of texts, spelling exercises and strategies. All chil-
dren received a total of 67.5 hours of one-to-one teaching, each
divided into two 50-minute sessions per day for 8 weeks. Re-
sults showed that both groups made significant progress on
tests that measure reading ability, and the results proved to be
stable two years after the intervention. One year after the inter-
vention ended it was reported that 40% of the participants were
not in need of special education any longer. Another example is
a computerized longitudinal intervention study of reading dis-
abled children in grades 2-3, which showed that phonological
and orthographic word decoding skills need to be taken into
account when suggesting interventions (Gustafson, Ferreira &
Rönnberg, 2007). This study also demonstrated that children
with pronounced phonological word decoding problems
showed more progress in reading after phonological than after
orthographic training, while children with pronounced ortho-
graphic problems benefited more from orthographic than from
Longitudinal intervention studies in different countries have
demonstrated that phonological awareness training improves
phonological and reading skills in novice readers, at-risk and
reading disabled children (Alexander & Slinger-Constant, 2004;
Ball & Blachman, 1988; Elbro & Petersen, 2004; Lundberg,
Frost & Petersen, 1988; Poskiparta, Niemi & Vauras, 1999;
Schneider, Kuspert, Roth, Vise & Marx, 1997; Torgesen, Mor-
gan & Davis, 1992). The transfer effects from improved pho-
nological skills to improved reading skills seem to be enhanced
when the instruction provides explicit links between phonemes
L. FÄLTH ET AL.
and graphemes (Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Bus & van IJzen-
doorn, 1999; Ehri et al., 2001; Hatcher, Hulme & Ellis, 1994;
Torgesen et al., 2001; Wise, Ring & Olson, 1999). The focus of
the present study is on early intervention (grade 2) with differ-
ent kinds of reading and writing difficulties. However, just one
of the training programs in the study reported here explicitly
contains phonological awareness training, being inspired by
Reading Recovery (Clay, 1993) and not computerized. The
other, computerized, method, Omega-IS (Omega-Interactive
Sentences), is targeted at the word and sentence levels of writ-
ten language, i.e., top-down processing (Heimann, Lundälv,
Tjus & Nelson, 2004). The present study comparing a comput-
erized method without any homework with a non-computerized
method including homework where parents are requested to
help the child has child has as far as we know very few reports
The aim of this study is to examine the effects of two differ-
ent training programs on the reading skills of reading disabled
children. In addition to group comparisons, individual differ-
ences of the effects of the interventions will be reported.
Hypothesis. Omega-IS had not been used previously in the
clinical setting where the study was conducted, and on the basis
of the first author’s clinical experience of using Reading Re-
covery plus the additional homework training provided it was
hypothesized that Reading Recovery would outperform the
Omega-IS multimedia program in all three outcome measures.
For participation in the study two inclusion criteria were used:
(i) Results from two different measures, Fonolek [Phonoplay]
and Vad sa du fröken? [What did the teacher say?], made in
pre-school with children aged 6 were used in combination.
Fonolek (Olofsson & Hemmingsson, 1993) is a phonological
test, which includes sound synthesis, sound segmentation, and a
section in which the child is to identify the initial sound, with
18 as the maximum score. A score under 12 is considered to be
an indication of phonological problems. Vad sa du fröken?
(Alstam-Malcus, & Fritzell, 2006) is a screening material for
pre-school and first graders that map out the beginner’s lan-
guage and speech level. A speech pathologist ranks the speech
development at five levels from A to E, with levels from A to C
indicating speech problems. The children had to have both a
score below 12 on Fonolek and to be ranked from level A, B or
C on Vad sa du fröken? to fulfil the first criterion. Secondly,
when the children were in grades 1-4 (in Sweden children usu-
ally begin grade 1 at the age of seven) they had to be identified
by their teachers as having serious difficulty acquiring word-
level reading skills. Out of 93 children, 20 (21.5%) fulfilled the
inclusion criterion, and 14 children, all Swedish native speakers,
gained the consent of their parents to participate in the study
(see Table 1). All participants were assessed by Raven’s Col-
oured Progressive Matrices (Raven, Court & Raven, 1984), and
all scored above the 25th percentile, i.e. they were within the
normal range. They were matched in age, non-verbal cognitive
ability, measured by Raven’s Coloured Progressive Matrices
(Raven et al., 1984), and in decoding skills, assessed by the
Wordchains test (Jacobson, 1993); see Measures for a descrip-
The experimental groups were randomly assigned to using
either Omega-IS or Reading Recovery.
The design of the intervention comprised Pre-, Start, Post 1
and Post 2 tests with four weeks between Pre- and Start Tests,
six weeks between Start and Post 1 and four weeks between
Post 1 and Post 2 tests, creating a baseline, an intervention and
a follow-up period (Table 2). Two reading and one non-word
reading tests were carried out for all children at Pre, Start, Post
1 and Post 2.
During the baseline period all participants received special
tutoring twice a week in the Swedish language, with 3-4 par-
ticipants in each group. They had no access to any other special
tutoring during the time of the intervention study. The group of
children who used the Omega-IS multimedia program com-
pleted 20 training sessions in total. The sessions lasted from 15
minutes at the beginning to 40 minutes at the end of interven-
tion. No other special tutoring during the intervention was pro-
vided, and the children had no reading homework. In the Read-
ing Recovery (RR) group the children received 20 training
sessions of 30 - 40 minutes each. This group also had home-
work linked to the method on 20 different occasions. The
homework lasted for 10 - 20 minutes, always with a parent
present. All tutoring in the study, both with regard to Reading
Recovery and Omega-IS, was made on a one-to-one basis, and
the first author (L.F.) carried out all training sessions and as-
sessment in both training programs.
Three tests were used in order to measure the participants'
reading skills with regard to word decoding.
Word recognition. Word recognition was assessed by the
Wordchains test (Jacobson, 1993). The participant is asked to
silently read chains of words where the blank space between
Distribution of participants acc ording to grade and gen der.
First 4 -
Second 2 1
Third 2 1
Fourth 3 1
Design of the intervention showing test points and number of weeks for
baseline, training and follow-up periods.
4 weeksStart testIntervention
L. FÄLTH ET AL. 175
words has been removed. Each chain consists of three semanti-
cally unrelated words, and the child is instructed to mark each
word boundary with a pencil (Jacobson, 1993).
Sight word reading. This is an individual reading pace test
called H4 (Franzén, 1999). In one minute the child should read
as many words as possible from a list with commonly used
words. The length of the words constantly increases.
Non-word reading. The child has to read from a list as many
nonwords as possible in one minute. The words do not exist in
reality, but they can be pronounced. Reading nonwords is
thought to be done mainly via phonological processing. Since
the words are nonwords it can be assumed that the child has
never seen the words before; therefore, the orthographic direct
way cannot be used (Jacobson, Svensson & af Trampe, unpub-
Omega-IS is a multimedia program that uses a top-down
strategy, i.e. by clicking on buttons with words or phrases sen-
tences are constructed. Immediate feedback is obtained for both
words and sentences in the form of speech and animations pro-
viding corresponding one-to-one semantic comprehension, thus
inviting the child to explore written text. The lessons included
in the program went from two-(noun + verb) and three-word
sentences (noun + verb + noun) up to stories within which the
child could construct their own stories and choose different
actors and scenarios. This was done in order to increase the
children’s motivation to explore literacy. Positive results on
reading have been reported, for instance for children with au-
tism, cerebral palsy or developmental dyslexia (Tjus, 1998).
The language material of the program is meant to be explored
by the learner with help from and in interaction with a teacher
or parent. This and the appended animations not only offer
motivational literacy training but also give occasion for con-
versations where the learner can express his or her imagination
and thoughts. The goal is to achieve an errorless co-con- struc-
tion of meaning from text through multimedia and suppor- tive
An intervention inspired by Reading Recovery (RR) (Clay,
1993) was used in the study. RR was used in a research and
development study at Auckland University in the late 1970s
and the early 1980s. RR is an educational program that offers
early, intensive and individual reading education for children
that are slow reading starters. The purpose of the program is,
according to Clay (1993), to prevent early reading disabilities
from becoming permanent.
The individual educational program cons ists of the follow-
- Reading two or more well-known, easily read booklets or
- Reading the booklet or book from the previous day
- Working with words and loose letters
- Writing one or two sentences
- Dissembling the sentences, which includes working with
phonemes and word segments
- Reassembling the sentences to their original stage
- Introducing a new booklet or book
All the steps should be dealt with for about 30 - 40 minutes,
which makes the tempo pretty high. The teacher takes minutes,
a so-called “Running Record” when the child reads the book
from the previous day. Reading that book has been the home-
work together with reassembling the original sentences and
reading them out correctly to a parent. The homework takes
about 10 - 20 minutes a day. This method offers practice on
word and sentence levels but also focuses on phonological
awareness (Clay, 1993; Frost, 2002; Jörgensen, 2001).
The analysis focuses on changes over time in observed
means between baseline, intervention and follow-up. The
means for each period are calculated as change scores (mean at
the end of a period minus mean at the start of the period). Both
group comparisons (unpaired t-tests) and within-group com-
parisons (paired t-tests) are conducted. Even if a hypothesis was
stated, a two-tailed significant level (alpha 0.5) was used for
conservative reasons, due to the small sample observed. Since
non-parametric and parametric methods yielded the same re-
sults, only parametric methods are reported.
The descriptive results are shown both in tables (baseline,
intervention, and follow-up periods) and as graphs at Pre-test,
Start test, Post 1 and Post 2 tests.
When comparing the Omega-IS group and the RR group for
baseline, intervention and follow-up periods on change scores
no significant difference was observed for any of the outcome
measures (Tables 3 and 4).
Means and standard deviation of raw scores at observation points and change scores during baseline (BL), training (TR) and follow-up (FU) periods
for the Omega-IS group.
Post test 1
Raw score Post test 2
Change scor e
Change scor e FU
Change sc ore
Word recognit ion 15.0
Sight word reading 45.3
Non-word decoding 18.1
L. FÄLTH ET AL.
Means and standard deviation of raw scores at observation points and change scores during baseline (BL), training (TR) and follow-up (FU) periods
for the Reading Recovery gr ou p.
Post test 1
Post test 2
Change scor e
Change scor e FU
Change sc ore
Word recognit ion 14.1
(11.3) −0.6 (1.6) 5.6
Sight word reading 37.9
(22.6) −1.0 (3.0) 6.9
Non-word decoding 12.1
(5.4) −0.3 (0.9) 4.1
The groups were matched on the word recognition test and
the mean for the groups on the Pre 1 test was identical (M =
14.71 Wordchains) (see Figure 1). During the intervention
(from Start to Post 1) the results on word recognition increased
for the Omega-IS group, M = 6.0, SD = 11.8 and on average
5.6 wordchains, SD = 9.2 for the RR group. The test at Post 2
showed that both groups almost maintained their results, i.e.
that the Omega-IS group and the RR group decreased on aver-
age by 0.7 (SD = 11.3) and 0.14 (SD = 8.9), respectively.
The results for sight word reading show that the Omega-IS
group had a better starting point, which means that the children
in this group read on average almost 8 more words/minute in
comparison with the RR-group when taking the Start test. At
Post 1 the Omega-IS group had on average increased by 9.0
words/minute (SD = 31.2) and the increase for the RR-group
was 6.3 words/minute (SD = 23.1).
The development curves for nonword decoding showed that
the Omega-IS group had on average 5.28 more correctly read
nonwords at Start compared to the RR-group (Figure 2). The
intervention showed almost the same development in both
groups. The Omega-IS group showed an increase by 3.9 non-
words/minute and the RR-group by 4.0 nonwords/minute. At
Post 2 the results showed a decrease for the Omega-IS group by
Pre t est St ar t t est Post 2 Post 1
Development curves for wo rd recognition.
1.1 nonwords, and a decrease for the RR-group by 0.6 non-
In the comparison of the different periods, a significant in-
crease appeared when comparing change scores on baseline
with training for all outcome measures (Table 3): Word recog-
nition, t(6) = −3.5, p = 0.013; Sight word reading, t(6) = −5.3, p
= 0.002; Non-word decoding, t(6) = −4.2, p = 0.006. A signifi-
cant decrease on all measures was yielded when comparing
training with follow-up period: Word recognition, t(6) = 3.9, p
= 0.008; Sight word reading, t(6) = 5.1, p = 0.002; Non-word
decoding, t(6) = 4.7, p = 0.003. No significant differences on
any of the measures came out when comparing baseline and
A significant increase was observed when comparing change
scores on baseline with training for all outcome measures (Ta-
ble 4): Word recognition, t(6) = −2.9, p = 0.028; Sight word
reading, t(6) = −3.9, p = 0.008; Non-word decoding, t(6) = −3.7,
Pre t estStar t t estP ost 1 Po st 2
Development curves for Phonological decoding test.
L. FÄLTH ET AL. 177
p = 0.010. A significant decrease was yielded on all measures
when comparing training with follow-up periods: Word recog-
nition, t(6) = 3.2, p = 0.019; Sight word reading, t(6) = 3.9, p =
0.008; Non-word decoding, t(6) = 5.1, p = 0.002. When com-
paring baseline and follow-up periods no significant differences
were noted on any of the measures.
Figures 3 and 4 show individual curves for the word recogni-
tion test wordchains and the test that measures phonological
decoding, i.e. nonword decoding.
The individual curves follow almost the same pattern re-
gardless of the starting level at which the child started, i.e. there
is an obvious increase between Start test and Post test 1, except
for a couple of children where there is almost no development
The individual curves follow almost the same pattern for the
phonological decoding test as for the word recognition test.
Regardless of the level at which the child started, there is an
obvious increase between Post 1 and Post 2, except for a couple
of children where there is hardly any development at all.
Pre test St art testPost 2Post 1
Individual curves for word reco g n i t ion test.
Pre test St art testPost 2Post 1
Individual curves for Phonolo gical decoding.
L. FÄLTH ET AL.
The aim of the present study was to measure the effects of
two intervention programs with the purpose of improving read-
ing ability. The most striking finding from this study was the
size of the gains in reading achievement made by this sample of
disabled readers. At the group level both groups increase sig-
nificantly between the Start and Post 1 tests and then the result
curve flattens out between Post 1 and Post 2. As we expected,
when the intervention is completed, there is no development on
the varied skills tested, but the results remain even at the Post 2
There are several different instructional methods when it
comes to learning and improving reading ability, two of which
are used in this study. The results showed that both groups,
regardless of the method used, improved during the interven-
tion in all of the tests measuring word recognition and phono-
logical ability compared to baseline. However, there was no
significant difference between the groups, even though the
children in the Reading Recovery group had additional home-
work. It was hypothesized that Reading Recovery would out-
perform the Omega-IS multimedia program in all three out-
come measures. This was not evidenced; instead the results
indicate that a computer-based training program may be as
effective as a non-computerized program for practising reading.
Looking at the results at the individual level, we see that
some children have benefited greatly from the intervention,
while others have hardly made any progress in, for example,
their word decoding skills. One interpretation might be that
some children respond positively to the type of intervention
they received and that it was the right training for these par-
ticular individuals. Other children who did not respond posi-
tively to the intervention might have gained more if they had
been exposed to the other intervention program or to some
other type of intervention.
Even if this was not examined it can be speculated that those
children who showed progress also increased their motivation
for reading and enjoyed their training method. We have showed
(Tjus, Heimann & Nelson, 2001) that enjoyment increases in
children with learning disabilities as an effect of reading inter-
vention and an important domain of children’s self-concept is
reading and writing skills having an impact on their self-per-
ceived competence (Harter, 2006). Mc Nulty (2003) has shown
that early remediation is important for the academic self esteem.
However, the children showing no increase in reading gain may
in contrast become frustrated and tired of the training they re-
ceived. With the design used it was not possible to change
training method. The ideal would have been to use a cross-over
design letting the children use both methods but this was not
possible due to human resources.
The study shows that intense one-to-one teaching, regardless
of the method used, may increase children’s reading ability.
This could indicate that it is the teacher that matters providing
pedagogical and emotional support, that it is indeed the effect
of the teacher which makes a difference. However, in this study
the same teacher who worked with the children in the ordinary
special education taking place before the interventions also
performed all interventions with all children. Test results show
that there is no development between the Pre-test and the Start
test, and the fact that the intervention does have an effect seems
to indicate that it is the interventions that are crucial for the
results of the Post 2 tests. During the interventions only one-
to-one teaching was used, which was not the case during the
regular special education taking place before the interventions.
Children with this type of difficulty seem to take advantage of
one-to-one teaching and it might be that the interaction between
child and teacher increases exposure also to spoken language,
which is crucial for long-term language development (Hart &
Although the groups were initially matched on word recogni-
tion, they differ in particular at baseline in the test that meas-
ures non-word decoding, despite the fact that the two groups
increase equally on this test. The children in the Omega-IS
group generally reached the same results, even though they did
not have homework. This is an interesting result since home-
work is looked upon as tiring by both children and parents.
Many of the participants in this study say that they often feel
that their homework takes too much time and effort. The results
of this study actually show that with the right kind of training it
might be able to achieve the same results on reading skills
without a great deal of homework. A limitation of this study is
the small number of participants and that the children are
attending different grades. This makes it difficult to interpret
the results according to a specific age.
The experience of children working with the multi-media
program in this study is that both the technologies in them-
selves and the fact that the computer program gives continuous
feedback on children’s reading make a good incentive. A
multi-media program that is stimulating for the children can
give the same increase of reading ability and be a compliment
to the original reading education, as has been shown in previous
studies (Tjus 1998; Tjus, Heimann & Nelson, 2004).
The reading process is a very complex cognitive activity in-
volving many sub-processes and systems. It is therefore not
surprising that a group of reading disabled children tend to be
quite heterogeneous, exhibiting different types of reading prob-
lems and also different challenges for remediation. Therefore, it
is important that teachers have access to several different ap-
proaches and methods when remediating children with reading
and writing disabilities. The result from the current study indi-
cates that both of the intervention programs showed promising
results. However, the results should be interpreted with caution,
due to the small number of participants, and also taking into
consideration that there was no control group in this study. It is
hard to speculate about what the results would have been if
these children had been part of the regular teaching and not
been included in this study, which gives emphasis to the im-
portance of having a control group to compare the results with.
However, the design with a baseline the four-week gap in be-
tween the Pre-test and the Start test ensures the starting position,
and the fact that virtually no development takes place in these
weeks suggests that the effect was due to the intervene- tion.
The Post 2 test after 4 weeks also contributes to making the
results of the measurements intestable values. Furthermore,
average improvements in reading skill might hide substantial
individual differences in the effects of the intervention (Gus-
tafson, Samuelsson, & Rönnberg, 2000; Torgesen & Davis,
1996). Considering the few intervention studies related to read-
ing instruction, we think that educational interventions should
be regarded from a dynamic rather than a static perspective.
Recent studies in the fields of dynamic testing and assessment
and response to intervention demonstrate the need to think of
L. FÄLTH ET AL. 179
educational interventions as ongoing processes where assess-
ment can assist intervention and vice versa (see Grigorenko,
There is now strong evidence that the main manifestation of
developmental dyslexia is word decoding deficits and that these
shortcomings mainly stem from underlying phonological defi-
cits (Bruck, 1992; Lundberg, Olofsson & Wall, 1980; Rack,
Snowling & Olson, 1992; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994; Svensson
& Jacobson, 2006). There is also strong evidence of biological
(Galaburda et al., 1985; Morgan & Hynd, 1998) and genetic
(Galaburda et al., 2006; Grigorenko, Ngorosho, Jukes & Bundy,
2006) influences that contribute to phonological deficits and
poor word-decoding skills. The results of this study point to the
importance of individualizing both testing and intervention, and
the need for more systematic and scientific research on how to
best adapt interventions to the specific needs of individual chil-
dren. In a forthcoming investigation, with a sufficient number
of participants, we are going to make deeper analyses regarding
both orthographic and phonological aspects of different inter-
ventions and subgroups of reading disabilities.
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