Direct Instruction: Reading

What are the DI Reading Programs?

There are three major DI reading programs. These include:

  • Reading Mastery
  • Horizons
  • Corrective Reading

Other DI reading programs include Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Journeys, and Funnix. Each of these programs is described.

Reading Mastery was originally called DISTAR (Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading). This program includes Levels I, II, and a Fast Cycle I/II program as well as Levels 3-6 (referred to as Reading Mastery Classic). This program teaches students "learning to read" (phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency) and "reading to learn" (vocabulary and comprehension) skills. Reading Mastery Plus provides a broader language-arts focus (with emphasis on reading, writing, spelling, and language) and includes seven levels (K-6). The K (kindergarten) feature is unique to the Reading Mastery Plus program. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is a modified version ofReading Mastery that can be purchased at most bookstores. It is designed for parents to teach their young children to read at approximately the 2.0 grade level.

Horizons was designed to address various criticisms of Reading Mastery-Horizons uses regular type as compared to altered orthography (print) as well as an earlier introduction of spelling and capital letters. It includes Levels A, B, Fast Track A-B, and Fast Track C-D. Horizons also teaches important "learning to read" and "reading to learn" skills. Journeys is comparable to the expanded Reading Mastery Plus program in that it is an integrated language arts program using Horizons as its base reading program as compared toReading Mastery in the Reading Mastery Plus program. Journeys includes Levels K-3. Funnix is a CD-ROM program that includes two levels ideal for beginning readers. Funnixwas adapted from the Horizons reading program.

If students struggle in "learning to read" or "reading to learn" skills, then Corrective Reading is recommended. Corrective Reading includes two strands-Decoding andComprehension-and four levels per strand (A, B1, B2, and C). The Reach System is an integrated, comprehensive language arts program that includes Corrective Reading as well as other DI programs including Spelling Through Morphographs and Reasoning and Writing.

For Whom are DI Reading Programs Appropriate?

Reading Mastery, Reading Mastery Plus, Horizons, and Journeys are typically seen in elementary school classrooms. These basal reading programs are ideal for use in schools that adopt research-validated core reading programs spanning the grades (allowing a seamless "pipeline" of instruction to occur from one grade to the next). However, more often than not, these programs have been dubbed "special education programs" and are seen in resource and self-contained room settings. These DI reading programs are appropriate for elementary-age children with and without disabilities who are above, at, or below grade level in their reading performance. Programs typically span one academic year.

Funnix and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons are often seen in home or tutorial situations. They are geared for parents to use with their young children in teaching them to read for the first time (as compared to reading remediation). However, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons has been used with struggling readers in tutorial situations.

Finally, when students in Grades 4-12 struggle with reading, Corrective Reading is the program of choice. If students experience difficulties in learning to read (word attack/decoding), they would most likely receive instruction in the Corrective Reading Decoding program; likewise, if students experience difficulties in reading to learn (comprehension), they would most likely receive instruction in the Corrective Reading Comprehension program. Levels of these programs typically span 1/2 of an academic year (with the exception of Level C that is done over one academic year). If deficits are seen "across the board" in language arts (reading, spelling, and writing), the Reach Systemwould be utilized; this system includes the integration of Corrective Reading, Reasoning and Writing, and Spelling Through Morphographs (note: the latter two programs are described under DI Writing and Spelling Programs). Thus, one typically sees Corrective Reading/Reach System in special education situations where intensive reading/language arts instruction is needed.

What are the Key Elements of Reading Instruction in DI Reading Programs?

(Note: Given their wide-spread use in general and special education classrooms, Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading will be highlighted.)

Reading is, without a doubt, the most important skill to learn in school. Reading opens the doors to so many options in our lives; without it, we are rendered almost powerless. The National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) noted five elements of effective reading instruction. These include phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency (referred to as "learning to read" skills) and vocabulary building and comprehension (referred to as "reading to learn" skills). DI reading programs include the key elements of reading instruction.

Phonemic awareness. DI reading programs involve phonemic awareness activities. Phonemic awareness is defined as the ability to identify and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words (remember, "if you can do it in the dark, its phonemic awareness"). This is not to be confused with phonics instruction that involves manipulating sounds in written words (thus, you cannot do phonics instruction "in the dark" because you have to see what is written). An example of phonemic awareness instruction in Reading Mastery Plus, Level K, Lesson 105 is shown.

Phonics instruction. DI reading programs include an emphasis on explicit and systematic phonics instruction. Explicit instruction means that clear information is provided for teachers to show students how to perform a task, to have students practice this task with feedback, and then to have students practice the task on their own over time. Systematic instruction means that clear sequencing is provided to ensure that students are successful. DI reading programs make use of synthetic phonics (teaching phonics explicitly in isolation and then practicing skills in connected text), blending (saying each sound without stopping between the sounds), and saying words the fast way. These elements are illustrated in the following examples taken from Reading Mastery Classic Level I, Lesson 34.

Download Key Element B

Fluency. DI reading programs include opportunities for oral reading with teacher feedback. Additionally, these programs involve timed oral reading fluency assessments (called Rate and Accuracy Checks in Reading Mastery and Reading Checkouts in Corrective Reading Decoding). Corrective Reading Decoding also includes opportunities for students to graph their performance for a visual representation of words read per minute and errors (see sample Corrective Reading lesson in the next section). Reading Mastery Plus includes a thermometer that students color in as they pass reading checkouts of increasingly more words. A thermometer taken from Reading Mastery Plus, Level 3 is shown.

Download Key Element C

Vocabulary. DI reading programs include direct teaching of vocabulary words. We often gain vocabulary knowledge from listening to others or reading on our own; however, sometimes students need explicit teaching of key vocabulary words in isolation that will appear in connected text to understand what they are going to read. Direct teaching of vocabulary is illustrated in the following examples from Reading Mastery Plus Level 6. Teachers provide direct instruction in Box B (Vocabulary Definitions); then students practice their skills in Box D (Vocabulary Review); finally, students use context clues to determine correct use of vocabulary words (Box B: Vocabulary found in student's workbook).

Download Key Element D

Comprehension. DI reading programs include comprehension activities. Students are asked literal and inferential questions (they are scripted in the teacher presentation books) at specified times in the connected text activities (see sample lessons in Reading Mastery Plus and Corrective Reading Decoding in the next section). Also, students learn key comprehension strategies to help them understand what they read. For example, students learn how to use reference books to gather information in Reading Mastery Plus, Level 6.

Download Key Element E


What Do Sample Lessons from DI Reading Programs Look Like?

A sample lesson from Reading Mastery Plus is provided; it is Lesson 54 from Reading Mastery Plus Level I. This lesson includes synthetic phonics instruction, word attack (decoding) activities (such as blending and saying words the fast way), reading connected decodable (words made up of sounds that have been previously taught) text, answering comprehension questions based on what is read, timed oral reading (fluency) assessments, and independent work (worksheet).

Download Sample Lesson A

A sample lesson from Corrective Reading Decoding is provided; it is Lesson 26 from Decoding B1. This lesson includes word attack exercises, story reading, comprehension activities, oral reading assessments, and independent work (workbook). Extension activities can also be done including homework, standardized test practice that aligns with the lesson, reading outside decodable text (novel studies), and mastery tests.

Download Sample Lesson B

What Format Features Make DI Reading Programs Unique and How Can We Use these Features Without having these Programs Available?

There are several format features that make DI reading programs unique. These include: (a) clear teacher scripts, (b) placement tests and within program assessments, (c) choral (unison) responding and signals, (d) individual turns, and (e) error correction and verification techniques. If teachers do not have access to DI reading programs, they can still use these format features to enhance other published programs or teacher-developed lessons in the classroom.

Clear teacher scripts. Clear teacher scripts specify what teachers say (typically noted in color) and do (noted in regular print) and what students say or do (noted in italics). An example script is shown from Lesson 9 of Reading Mastery Classic, Fast Cycle I/II.

Download Feature A

If teachers do not have access to DI reading programs, they may use scripts such as these to ensure consistency in the delivery of instruction in the classroom. Instructional assistants, parent volunteers, and tutors would benefit from having clearly defined instructions to provide to students. Substitute teachers would also benefit from clear scripts.

Placement tests and within program assessments. Placement tests and within program assessments allow teachers to place students in the right level and lesson of DI reading programs and to track their performance over time. Students can be skilled grouped based on their performance on the placement test. An example placement test from Reading Mastery Classic, Level I is shown.

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Within program assessments help determine the efficacy of instruction. Teachers may decide to repeat lessons to ensure firm responding (mastery) before moving on or accelerate students to higher lessons/levels based on their performance. These assessments occur every day or at specified intervals (mastery tests). They include interspersed comprehension questions, rate and accuracy checks (or reading checkouts), worksheets, and workbook activities. The sample lessons from Reading Mastery Plus and Corrective Reading Decoding provided above illustrate scripted questions and assessments (Rate and Accuracies in Reading Mastery and Reading Checkouts in Corrective Reading) to ensure firm student responding.

If teachers do not have access to DI reading programs, they can still incorporate aspects of assessment into their daily teaching. For example, they can survey what skills will be taught to students during the upcoming year and assess whether students have these skills or not on a teacher-developed pretest. Further, as teachers provide instruction in the classroom, they can assess key aspects of the lesson to determine if further instruction is needed or if they can proceed to the next lesson. Assessment informs instructional practice and should be used in some capacity. DI reading programs make it easy for teachers to assess students given that everything is in place-teachers do not have to develop anything. They just need to analyze performance and make data-based decisions.

Choral (unison) responding and signals. Choral or unison responding increases students' opportunities to respond and to receive teacher feedback. It is far better to have students respond in unison when they are first learning a skill than to call on students one at a time to respond. When choral responding is utilized, students should respond together (like one person said it), respond correctly, and "say it like they know it," responding on signal (described next).

Signals are used to prompt students to respond together. If we have students echo one another, they may or may not have acquired the desired skill (they may be simply listening to others). The key to signals is to remember the following:

  • If students' eyes are on the teacher, use a hand drop signal. For example, "Say the days of the week starting with Sunday." The teacher should have her hand up in the stop position when she is talking and drop her hand when she wants students to respond.
  • If students' eyes are on not on the teacher (they are looking at words in their textbooks, for example), the teacher should use an audible signal. Audible signals include finger snaps, taps with the pencil, or claps that are stated after the teacher provides the directive. For example, "Look at Column A. First word. What word?" (teacher snaps his fingers to evoke a unison response).
  • If students are looking at the board, the teacher should use a point-touch signal. For example, if the word jump is on the board, the teacher should point at the front of the word and say, "What word?" Following this, the teacher should tap the board, evoking a unison oral response from the students.
  • The sounding out/say it fast signal is used quite extensively in Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading. This signal is illustrated next.

Download Feature C

If DI reading programs are not available, teachers can still use choral responding in the classroom. Saying, "Everybody, sound this out. Get ready" can prompt all students to come in together. The teacher may also use various signals in the classroom to evoke student response such as the hand drop, point touch, and sound it out/say it fast signals.

Individual turns. Following choral (unison) responses, teachers should ask for individual turns. The rule of thumb in DI reading programs is 85% group responses followed by 15% individual responses. Before individual turns are provided, teachers should ensure that group responding is firm. That is, students should "say it like they know it." Once this is evident and group responses have been performed on a task, the teacher can announce, "time for turns." When time for turns is used, teachers should always use a student's name at the end of the directive. For example, "Read the next word, Jason" as compared to "Jason, read the next word" would be done. In this way, all students are attentive and ready to work! The following example from Lesson 47 of Reading Mastery Classic, Fast Cycle I/II shows Task 15: Individual Test to illustrate the use of individual turns.

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If DI reading programs are not available, individual turns can still be utilized in the classroom. Again, they should occur after choral responses are provided and when the group is firm (shows mastery).

Error correction and verification techniques. DI reading programs have specified error correction techniques. An example from Corrective Reading Decoding B1, Lesson 11 is provided.

Download Feature E

As can be seen, the error correction includes a teacher model, an opportunity for students to perform the task, and a review of the item (called a starting over).

If teachers do not have access to DI programs, the following error correction procedure can be used for most mistakes.

My turn.

(Show students how to do it).

Do it with me.

(Show students how to do it by doing it with students).


Your turn.

(Have students do it on their own).


(Do a starting over; start over at the beginning of the sentence, column, row, etc. to ensure that students can demonstrate the correct response).

For example, say a teacher wants students to read the word brother. The students make a mistake on saying the word. The error correction would look like the following (note that the "do it with me" step is optional):

    My turn. That word is brother. 
    Your turn. What word? 
    Starting over at the beginning of the column.

Say a third grader said escape for the word escapade while reading a passage. The teacher would complete the following error correction:

    My turn. That word is escapade.
    Your turn. What word?
    Start over at the beginning of the sentence.

The rule of thumb is to provide a model followed by student practice. A "starting over" should be incorporated as well to ensure that students "have it."

In addition to error corrections, teachers should also be liberal in their amount of praise or verification statements provided. A rule of thumb is to say, "yes" plus whatever the students said. Teachers can use this strategy with or without the use of DI reading programs. Much of the verification in DI reading programs is scripted for teachers. An example from Reading Mastery Plus, Level K, Lesson 123 is shown.

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