Promising Results for Young Readers Found in Study on Short Burst Tutoring in Literacy

Recent research conducted by Stanford University reveals that small, regular interactions with a reading tutor have a significant impact on young students’ reading skills. In fact, just 5 to 7 minutes of tutoring can make a big difference. The study focused on first graders in Broward County schools in Florida who participated in a program called Chapter One. These students showed greater improvements in reading fluency compared to those who did not receive the support. Additionally, they were 9 percentage points less likely to be considered at risk on a district literacy test. The program combines one-on-one tutoring with computer-based activities and costs about $500 per student annually, making it more affordable than other programs that can cost up to six times as much. This affordability factor could ensure continued support for students even after federal relief funds expire.

The “short burst” model of Chapter One is designed to leverage effective reading strategies and cater to young children’s short attention spans. Students work with the same tutor throughout the school year, and this consistent relationship-building approach is believed to contribute to the program’s success. Susanna Loeb, the leader of the National Student Support Accelerator at Stanford University, praised the program for providing personalized and relationship-driven instruction. The curriculum materials of Chapter One are also based on solid reading research.

The findings of this research further support the integration of tutoring into the regular school day as a means to improve reading scores and mitigate pandemic-related learning losses. Even brief contact with a trained tutor who focuses on specific phonics skills can help struggling readers achieve grade-level goals. The study included data from over 800 students in 13 Broward schools, building upon promising results from the previous school year. The researchers will continue to monitor the progress of these students through third grade.

Chapter One first graders in Broward County were more likely to reach higher stages of the program than those who did not receive the tutoring. (National Student Support Accelerator, Stanford University)

The Chapter One program follows a “push-in” model, where tutors known as early literacy interventionists meet with students during the school day. The sessions typically take place at a table in the back of the classroom. Tutors use tablet computers to lead students through short, scripted lessons focused on areas where they need assistance, such as specific letter sounds, blends, or sight words. The number of correct words read per minute is calculated to track progress. Depending on their progress, students may have tutoring sessions a couple of times a week or daily sessions if they’re significantly behind. Additionally, students spend 15-20 minutes practicing with the Chapter One software later in the day. The program is designed to run smoothly without interfering with regular classroom instruction.

Convincing school districts

The success of Chapter One lies in its affordability and non-disruptive nature, according to founder Seth Weinberger. Tutors conduct sessions while teachers lead the whole class or students work in small groups, ensuring minimal disruptions to the school day. This sets Chapter One apart from other programs that can be harder to schedule due to longer session durations. Research has shown that after-school programs tend to have lower participation rates due to transportation issues and scheduling conflicts. By conducting tutoring sessions during the school day, Chapter One maintains consistency. Weinberger originally developed the program and software to provide students with practice on basic reading skills. However, the demand for tutoring increased during the pandemic, leading to changes in the program’s model and the involvement of former teachers as tutors.

Saga Education, another tutoring provider, also recognizes that expecting teachers to manage tutoring sessions along with their regular teaching responsibilities can be unrealistic. A.J. Gutierrez, the co-founder of Saga Education, emphasizes the need to relieve teachers of additional tutoring responsibilities. Saga Education trains tutors to work with middle and high school students in math, and their sessions are also offered during the school day. Studies have shown that these sessions improve students’ test scores, grades, and overall academic performance.

Chapter One students were more likely than those not receiving the tutoring to reach higher levels on a fluency test. (National Student Support Accelerator, Stanford University)

Initially, teachers in Broward County had reservations about having tutors in their classrooms. Tutors were not part of the school staff, and teachers were uncertain about how smoothly students would transition from group instruction to individual sessions. However, it took only a few weeks for students to adapt to the routine. After completing their sessions, students would tap the next student to let them know it was their turn. As they witnessed the positive impact on their students’ progress, teachers became more supportive of the tutoring program. The Chapter One program has proven particularly beneficial for students who were at risk for reading problems. It has also demonstrated that even just 5 minutes of daily tutoring can have a meaningful cumulative effect over time.

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