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Effective reading instruction for students with specific learning difficulties

Johny Daniel, Assistant Professor at University of Durham

When it comes to teaching reading to students with specific learning difficulties (SpLD), one size does not fit all. Students with SpLD face a unique set of challenges that can make learning to read a complex, multifaceted journey. From difficulties in decoding words to struggles with fluency and comprehension, their journey to literacy requires a road map that is both diverse and inclusive. The most current recommendation in the field (Vaughn et al., 2022) is to provide students with supplemental reading instruction that targets all areas of reading.

Recent government guidelines (DfE, 2023) on the teaching of reading to pupils who need additional support also aligns with these recent international recommendations. This demonstrates that education policy is evolving in step with research. But the critical question remains: Is current practice keeping pace with the latest research recommendations and policy advancements?

‘Is current practice keeping pace with the latest research recommendations and policy advancements?’

In this blog post, I highlight what we know about areas that students with SpLD struggle in, and introduce multicomponent reading interventions to support their reading growth.


The hurdles in the path to reading

Students with SpLD often struggle with several aspects of reading:

  • Decoding difficulty: They may struggle to break down words into their phonetic components, making it tough to read new or complex words.

  • Fluency challenges: Reading may not be smooth or automatic, often requiring extra effort and time, which can hinder their understanding of the text.

  • Vocabulary and comprehension obstacles: Understanding and retaining what they read can be a significant challenge, affecting their overall learning and academic performance.

Research (Daniel & Barth, 2023) shows that most students with SpLD face difficulties in all the above reading skills which warrants the implementation of reading lessons that target multiple reading skills.

Embracing diversity in reading: The power of multicomponent interventions

In the quest to support students with SpLD, embracing the complexity of their needs is crucial. This is why researchers recommend implementing multicomponent reading interventions. Unlike traditional methods that may focus on a single aspect of reading, such as phonics, these interventions take a holistic approach. They combine various elements – from phonics and vocabulary development to fluency and comprehension – tailoring instruction to address the multiple challenges students with SpLD face in each teaching session.

My recent article (Daniel et al., 2024) highlights how educators can adopt such an approach to teaching reading. It delves into how combining different instructional elements can significantly improve the reading skills of students with SpLD. By integrating various techniques, multicomponent interventions address the diverse aspects of reading, ensuring that each student’s unique needs are met.

For educators seeking practical resources to implement these strategies, the Reading Resource Centre offers valuable lesson plans and materials. Specifically designed for school children with SpLD, it offers structured, research- and theory-based lessons that align with current recommendations in the field. In addition to student copies, the materials provide explicit guidance for teachers on implementing the lessons, making it easier for educators to provide effective and engaging reading instruction.

Key considerations when implementing multicomponent lessons

  1. Reading assessment: Start with assessing students’ areas of reading needs to tailor instruction to target students’ specific reading difficulties.
  2. Start small: During catch-up instruction – that takes place outside timetabled lesson time – begin with a small group setting. This allows for more personalised instruction and attention to each student’s needs.
  3. Explicit instruction: Clearly explain and demonstrate each new skill. For instance, when teaching word meanings, explicitly show how prefixes and suffixes alter the meaning of root words.
  4. Progressive learning: Gradually increase the complexity of texts and tasks as students become more proficient. This ensures that they are continually challenged and engaged in their learning journey.
  5. Feedback and assessment: Regularly provide constructive feedback and assess progress. This can include monitoring word reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension through various assessments and activities.
  6. Encourage peer learning: Pair students for certain activities. This peer support can enhance learning and make the process more interactive and enjoyable.


By adopting a multicomponent reading intervention approach, educators can significantly enhance the reading skills of students with SpLD. This method recognises that each student is unique and may require different types of support to succeed. Through a combination of word reading, fluency practice, vocabulary instruction and comprehension strategies, coupled with ongoing assessment, teachers can make reading a more accessible and enjoyable experience for all students.


Daniel, J., & Barth, A. (2023). Exploring reading profiles of rural school students. Annals of Dyslexia, 73(2), 235–259.

Daniel, J., Barth, A., & Ankrum, E. (2024). Multicomponent reading intervention: A practitioner’s guide. The Reading Teacher, 77(4), 473–484.

Department for Education [DfE]. (2023). The reading framework: Teaching the foundations of literacy.

Vaughn, S., Gersten, R., Dimino, J., … & Jayanthi, M. (2022). Providing reading interventions for students in grades 4–9. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.

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