How can teachers increase student reading success in early grades?

Page 2: High-Quality Instruction: Instructional Practices

relationship between these two features of high-quality instruction: research-validated instructional practices and core reading programsTeachers can increase students’ reading success in early grades by implementing high-quality instruction. High-quality instruction refers to the utilization of both research-validated instructional practices and core reading programs. Implementing high-quality instruction allows teachers to rule out inadequate instruction as a reason for poor reading performance.

Information about core reading programs can be found on the following page. The remainder of this page will discuss instructional practices.

Instructional Practices

Scientifically based instructional practices are those that instructors use to teach content and that have been demonstrated to be effective. Though there are many such practices, this Module will focus on two: differentiated instruction and grouping.

Differentiated Instruction

crafts deskworkDifferentiated instruction refers to the use of flexible teaching approaches in the classroom to accommodate the individual learning needs of all students. Rather than expect students to adjust to the curriculum, teachers should adjust the curriculum to fit the diverse learning needs of their students. By using students’ assessment data, teachers can alter instruction to maximize all students’ learning, including that of gifted and talented students. These data allow teachers to quickly recognize problematic areas and to adjust the instructional approach to resolve them. When using differentiated instruction, teachers also analyze errors, give corrective feedback, and select examples related to students’ backgrounds or experiences to illustrate concepts.

Ideally, teachers should practice differentiating instruction so they can automatically adjust instruction as needed, even on a minute-to-minute basis, and thereby maximize every student’s potential.

Click to hear Thea Woodruff talk about one way to use immediate corrective feedback with students (time: 1:05).  


Thea Woodruff, PhD
Director, Professional Development
and Technical Assistance Teams,
Vaughn Gross Center’s
Reading First Project
University of Texas, Austin

Keep in Mind

Differentiated instruction is most effective when used in combination with different types of grouping. For example, it is more difficult to provide ample practice opportunities and immediate corrective feedback for a class of 21 students than it is to do so for a small group of five.


deskwork with booksAlthough differentiated instruction can be implemented during whole-group instruction, it is more effective when teachers use flexible grouping practices. This helps engage students and facilitates the acquisition of literacy skills. In addition to whole-group instruction, teachers can use a combination of:

  • Small groups (both of same ability and of mixed ability)
  • Paired instruction
  • Independent work
  • One-on-one instruction (if needed and possible)

Although many teachers believe that whole-group lessons are the best way to deliver reading instruction, research indicates that flexible grouping improves learning.

Research Shows

  • Reading outcomes for students with disabilities improved when teachers used small-group instruction rather than whole-class instruction.
    (Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, Watson, & Moody, 1999)
  • Reading fluency and comprehension outcomes improved when teachers implemented paired instruction in the classroom, regardless of students’ disabilities or achievement levels.
    (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2005)

Flexible grouping, however, is more difficult to implement because of the many adaptations to instruction and materials that are often necessary. Here are some suggestions for grouping students.

Educational Needs
  • Group members should occasionally be rotated so that students are not relegated to one permanent group (e.g., Tad is always in the “low” group).
  • Groups can be formed both with students with mixed abilities and those with similar abilities.
  • In the case of paired instruction, struggling students should be paired with more capable readers, but differences in ability should not be too great.
  • Taking into account students’ interests when forming groups can increase motivation, which in turn improves academic performance.
  • As students’ needs and interests change, group membership should change accordingly.
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