Research supports direct instruction in phonemic awareness as a critical component of an effective reading curriculum (Ehri, Nunes, Willows, et al., 2001; Lonigan et al., 2009; Melby-Lervåg et al., 2012). Wilson’s approach to phonemic awareness instruction is based on research validating best practices that maximize growth in phonemic awareness skills. Research has found that, “Instruction that taught phoneme manipulation with letters helped normal developing readers and at-risk readers acquire phonemic awareness better than phonemic awareness instruction without letters.” (National Reading Panel Report, NICHD, 2000, Chapter 2–28). Furthermore, Shaywitz found that, “While phonemic awareness refers to the sounds of spoken words, it often helps to use letters to emphasize the different sounds and to facilitate transferring this skill to reading” (2003, p 177–178). Aligned with these findings, Wilson’s programs teach letters with sounds to help students learn how to manipulate and segment sounds.
Phonemic awareness is taught using blending, segmentation, and manipulation of individual sounds, and is integrated into phonics and spelling instruction. Students use a finger tapping procedure to aid in segmenting and blending words. As students progress through the programs, instruction shifts from emphasizing phoneme segmentation to emphasizing syllable segmentation/division and applying that skill to the structure of the words being studied.
Phonics instruction in the Wilson programs is explicit and systematic. Students are directly taught the letter–sound correspondence in the written form of the English language. This aligns with recent research demonstrating that students in the primary grades make stronger gains when provided with direct phonics instruction as compared to incidental phonics instruction that is not clearly defined and explicitly taught (Stuebing et al., 2008). The same is also true of students with reading deficits (Mathes et al., 2005; Torgesen et al., 2001). Wilson also aligns with a synthesis of research studies demonstrating that interventions with the largest impact on students with reading disabilities or struggling readers were those that emphasized both phonics instruction and provided opportunities to apply phonics skills when reading connected text (Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007).
Research consistently demonstrates fluency to be a strong predictor of reading comprehension (Adams, 1990; Breznitz, 2006; Fuchs et al., 2001; Hudson et al., 2010; Kim et al., 2012; Kim et al., 2011), so Wilson’s programs have adopted fluency instruction strategies demonstrated by research to increase the text reading fluency of primary and secondary students (Chard et al., 2002; NICHD, 2000; Wexler et al., 2008). Poor readers may have difficulty marking phrase boundaries for meaning in silent reading, and therefore it may not be easy for them to determine prosody during silent reading to support comprehension of the passage (Kleiman, Winograd, & Humphrey, 1979). Also, many students lack syntactic awareness ability to phrase appropriately when reading (Benjamin & Schwanenflugel, 2010; Mokhtari & Thompson, 2006). Since prosody helps readers chunk text into syntactically appropriate units that assist them in constructing meaning (Schreiber, 1980, 1991; Schreiber & Reid, 1980), students have opportunities to work on this skill with a passage that is controlled to have words they should be able to decode. Students are directly taught a penciling technique to chunk text into meaningful phrases, and practice fluently reading connected texts with accuracy, automaticity, and prosody.
Because of the research demonstrating the difficulties struggling readers face in learning new vocabulary (Stanovich, 1986), Wilson’s programs incorporate many opportunities for students to build vocabulary and comprehension. Vocabulary is taught directly and with distributed practice. First, students are taught the meaning of select words. Selection of words is based on research on vocabulary instruction (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002). Next, students have distributed opportunities to practice reading and use vocabulary words across different contexts, which helps foster a deeper understanding of words’ meanings and students’ memory of them (Cepeda et al., 2006; Dempster, 1988).
The ultimate goal of reading is comprehension. Comprehension strategies are taught explicitly, which is particularly useful for those who struggle with comprehension (Gersten, Fuchs, Williams, & Baker, 2001). Instruction within Wilson’s programs is based on research that describes the behaviors of good and poor readers, what we know impacts one’s ability to comprehend, and research on strategies that support comprehension (Marzola, 2011). In doing so, they address both reading and listening comprehension instruction, and incorporate instruction in visualization strategies, guided close reading, and oral language instruction.
Wilson’s programs incorporate instruction in spelling skills due to research demonstrating a connection in the brain between reading and spelling activities, leading researchers to believe that spelling strongly reinforces reading (James & Engelhardt, 2012). This has led to the recommendation that as children learn to read words they also learn to spell them (Shaywitz, 2003; Carreker, 2011). For students with dyslexia, it is important that they “learn to spell words with sounds and patterns that have been previously introduced for reading and practiced” (Carreker, 2011, p.282). In each program, spelling is connected to phonics instruction and is taught through explicit instruction in spelling rules, proofreading strategies to support accurate spelling, and high-frequency sight words.
The ultimate goal of reading is comprehension. Research has found that the ability to decode words is a prerequisite for reading comprehension. Therefore, for students who need practice with decoding, whether ELL or not, targeted, systematic phonics instruction is essential (Torgesen et al., 2007). Furthermore, as with all students, ELL students need instruction in word learning, comprehension strategies, and academic language in order to comprehend text (Torgesen, et al., 2007). Research findings suggest that, as with native English speakers, the intervention approach for ELLs should match the learner’s area of difficulty. That is, the teacher should clearly understand a student’s area(s) of difficulty or weakness (Francis, et al., 2006). For ELL students who meet the criteria for placement in the Just Words or WRS program, the program content, design, and materials are developmentally appropriate for them.
Tier 3 students who require the Wilson Reading System® (WRS) benefit from a program designed specifically with the needs of diverse learners in mind. WRS aligns with guidelines from the International Dyslexia Association (2008), which recommends that students with dyslexia receive:
- explicit, direct, cumulative, intensive, and focused instruction on the structure of language;
- multisensory learning using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile pathways to enhance memory and learning of written language; and
- consistent links made between the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile pathways in learning to read and spell.