Although there is a variety of suggestions for instructional programs in order to increase fluency, I have seen few commercial programs. When I was asked to work with another teacher who was thinking of using Great Leaps, I knew I had to track down a copy to look at and see what the research said about the program. Polly G. Haselden and S. Elizabeth Webster created an experiment to examine Great Leaps (GL). In their article, The Effects of the Great Leaps Reading Program on Students with Severe Reading Disabilities as a Secondary Reading Intervention in an Impoverished Setting, published in August of 2011, they discuss their work.
The GL program includes three parts- phonics, phrases and passages. The phonics portion allows for instruction in decoding strategies. The phrases segment includes sight words and often confused words (ex. off and of). The passage section includes passages that are followed up with comprehension questions. Students read one page from each part for a total of one minutes each. Results are graphed. The program is designed to be supplemental to other interventions.
The authors used the GL program with three secondary (14 and 15 year olds) students with long histories of reading difficulties at a school in a high poverty area. They implemented the program over six weeks for what appears to be thirteen sessions. Each student improved in their reading rate. The authors do not comment on impact on reading comprehension.
One of the great criticisms of most commercial programs is that they focus on rate over accuracy and comprehension. While the GL program has a comprehension component, in this study, it appears that it was not utilized, utilized well, or had any impact. If one of the basic premises of fluency instruction is that when fluency improves, comprehension also improves, I am curious about results for these particular students.
It is good to know that at least some research is being done with this program at the secondary level, but I am left with more questions than answers as a result of reading it. What level program did the instruction use? How did it impact comprehension and reading level? Why did they select six weeks for an intervention period? Although the GL authors recommend at least three intervention periods per week, why did the study authors choose to do fewer? What other instructional interventions, if any, had been tried with these students and what ones were currently being utilized? With students experiencing significant reading struggles, many aspects of reading are often impaired- alphabetics, fluency, comprehension and language. Were there any impacts on language? Was phonemic awareness an issue? What about phonics?
Although the authors write a nice introduction to the study, describing the value of fluency instruction and reviewing the existing research on GL, the description of the research itself seems somewhat lacking. The conclusion, that it helped these three students seems justified. Acknowledging the limitations of case study research and the paucity of research at the secondary level, the authors caution that generalizations to other students is not prudent and that further research is required.