The University of Iowa

Research Brief: Meta-Analysis Shows Non-Repetitive Reading Fluency Interventions as Options for Teachers

Student reading to teacher

During non-repetitive reading fluency interventions, students read texts in ways other than repeatedly reading the same text. This is an alternative approach to practicing reading fluency.


Posted on: August 27, 2019

Editor’s Note: This blog post is the first in a new ongoing series entitled “Research Briefs.” In these posts, we will identify new research studies that are relevant to literacy instruction, summarize their findings, and explain important implications for practitioners.

Repeated Reading is one of the most commonly researched and implemented oral reading fluency interventions (O’Keeffe et al., 2012). In fact, when the Iowa Reading Research Center conducted the Effective Fluency Instruction for Fourth Graders study in 2018, 94% of participating Iowa teachers indicated that they were implementing Repeated Reading in their classrooms (Reed, Zimmermann, Reeger, Aloe, & Folsom, 2018). Repeated Reading has demonstrated positive effects on students’ fluency when reading practiced texts, or texts students have previously read (Kim, Bryant, Bryant, & Park, 2017; Stevens, Walker, & Vaughn, 2017). However, some researchers have concluded that Repeated Reading may not be effective at improving fluency when students are reading unpracticed texts (Lee & Yoon, 2017; Wexler, Vaughn, Edmonds, & Reutebuch, 2008). Thus, it is important to identify oral reading fluency instruction that helps students read new texts fluently. Several researchers (Therrien, 2004; Wexler et al., 2008) have recommended that research be conducted on non-repetitive approaches to oral reading fluency instruction (i.e., oral reading practice that does not involve multiple readings of the same text).

To fill this gap in the research on oral reading fluency approaches, we conducted a study titled “A Meta-Analysis of Non-Repetitive Reading Fluency Interventions for Students with Reading Difficulties” (Zimmermann, Reed, & Aloe, 2019). The primary purpose of the study was to determine the effects of non-repetitive reading fluency interventions on the oral reading fluency and reading comprehension skills of students with reading difficulties. We used a type of research methodology called meta-analysis to examine research that had been conducted on non-repetitive approaches to reading fluency instruction. In a meta-analysis, researchers systematically gather a group of similar studies and statistically synthesize their results (Borenstein, Hedges, & Higgns, 2009). Conducting a meta-analysis allowed us to determine the effects of non-repetitive reading interventions across multiple studies (Borenstein et al., 2009). In addition, because this was the first review of these types of non-repetitive reading fluency interventions, we also set out to identify their common components.


In order to select studies for the meta-analysis, we conducted an electronic search of academic databases, as well as a manual search of journals that often publish research on reading fluency interventions. We read the abstracts, or summaries, of the studies and identified those that met our criteria for inclusion in the meta-analysis.

Our Inclusion Criteria

  • Published between 1987 and 2017
  • Included participants ages 5 to 18 or enrolled in Grades K-12, the majority of whom had learning difficulties
  • Did not occur in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) settings (i.e., settings in which students were learning the English language in a country where English is not the dominant language)
  • Employed at least one non-repetitive reading intervention in which students were the readers.
  • Occurred during the regular school day
  • Had a comparison group that did not receive a non-repetitive reading intervention
  • Used an experimental (i.e., a study where participants are randomly assigned to different groups) or quasi-experimental (i.e., a study where participants are assigned to different groups but the assignment is not random) research design
  • Included sufficient data to calculate effect sizes
  • Included a fluency outcome of reading in English

We identified eight studies to include in the meta-analysis. Then, we recorded and organized important information from each study, including the participants, setting, research design, intervention procedures, and reading materials. We found that most of the research on non-repetitive reading interventions had been conducted with elementary school students, as illustrated in the table below.

Table 1. Number of Studies by Grade Level in the Meta-Analysis

Grade Level Number of Studies
2 4
3 1
4 5
5 2
6 1
9 1
10 2
11 1
12 1

In addition, we found the lengths of non-repetitive reading fluency interventions varied widely, from 6 to 20 weeks. The graph below displays the length of time students spent in the non-repetitive reading intervention in each study.

Figure 1. Length of Non-Repetitive Reading Fluency Interventions

Figure 1. Length of Non-Repetitive Reading Fluency Interventions

Next, we calculated effect sizes for the interventions examined in the eight studies. An effect size is a value that represents the relationship between two variables of interest in a study (Borenstein et al., 2009). In this meta-analysis, the effect size reflected the impact of the non-repetitive fluency intervention on fluency and comprehension outcomes.

Effects of Non-Repetitive Reading Interventions

After calculating individual effects of the outcomes in each study, we calculated a weighted mean (an average where some values contribute more than others) of all of the effects (Borenstein et al., 2009). The overall weighted mean difference was d = 0.176. This means that non-repetitive reading had an effect of less than 0.2 of a standard deviation (SD) of improvement from the mean. Importantly, all reading outcomes of the studies included in the meta-analysis measured students’ ability to read new, unpracticed passages.

We further explored the effects of non-repetitive reading fluency interventions by separating the effects on fluency outcomes and comprehension outcomes. Non-repetitive reading interventions had an overall effect on fluency outcomes of d = 0.105. This means that non-repetitive reading had an effect of about 0.1 SD of improvement from the mean. Individual studies demonstrated a wide range of effects on the oral reading fluency of students with reading difficulties. There were no statistically significant negative effects on oral reading fluency outcomes, and two of the eight studies resulted in statistically significant positive effects (Kuhn, 2005; O’Connor, Swanson, & Geraghty, 2010).

Similar to fluency, results indicated an overall positive effect on comprehension outcomes (d = 0.239), and there were no statistically significant negative effects. In addition, statistically significant positive effects on comprehension outcomes were found in three of the studies (Kuhn, 2005; O’Connor, White, & Swanson, 2007; O’Connor et al., 2010).

Although the purpose of this meta-analysis was not to compare Repeated Reading and non-repetitive approaches, six of the studies compared the effects of these two types of fluency instruction on reading outcomes. However, there were no statistically significant differences found in favor of either approach.

Common Components of Non-Repetitive Fluency Interventions

Intervention Type

There were two main types of non-repetitive reading fluency interventions: independent reading and wide reading. In the single study that investigated independent reading, students selected their own texts and read them silently (Coward, 2015). After reading, they filled out a reading log to reflect the title, genre, and content of the text they read. This type of intervention involved no other structures or support from the interventionist. Students in the independent reading intervention typically read for a longer amount of time (75 minutes) than students in all but two of the other studies (Mathes & Fuchs, 1993; Wexler, Vaughn, Roberts, & Denton, 2010). Yet, students in the independent reading intervention performed worse on a silent reading fluency measure than their peers who did not receive an intervention.

In wide reading interventions, students read multiple texts one time and received support from the interventionist (Schwanenflugel et al., 2009). Wide reading interventions fell into two categories. In the first, students completed a certain number of assigned texts during each intervention session. The second type of wide reading intervention involved students reading continuously for a certain amount of time. Most wide reading interventions had students read aloud by themselves, with no support during oral reading. However, in one study (Kuhn, 2005), students also read simultaneously with their peers and the interventionist (i.e., choral reading) or repeated the teacher’s chunked reading of the text (i.e., echo reading). In the majority of the wide reading interventions, students were provided error correction, in which a tutor told the reader how to correctly pronounce words that were read incorrectly (Kim et al., 2017). Importantly, unlike independent reading, wide reading interventions displayed no negative effects on reading comprehension and fluency outcomes and demonstrated some statistically significant positive effects on fluency (Kuhn, 2005; O’Connor et al., 2010) and reading comprehension outcomes (Kuhn 2005; O’Connor et al., 2007; O’Connor et al., 2010).

Student Groupings

Students were grouped in several different ways during oral reading fluency practice. The most common format was for one student to read aloud to an adult listener (O’Connor et al., 2007; O’Connor et al., 2010; Swanson & O’Connor, 2009; Therrien, Kirk, & Woods-Groves, 2012). In two of the studies, pairs of students took turns reading aloud to each other (i.e., peer-mediated reading; Mathes & Fuchs, 1993; Wexler et al., 2010). In one study, students read aloud in small groups (Kuhn, 2005), and the final study incorporated independent reading (Coward, 2015). Interestingly, the pattern of effect sizes did not indicate that one-to-one instruction was more effective than peer mediation, small-group instruction, or independent reading. 

Reading Materials

Across the eight studies, reading materials used in non-repetitive reading fluency interventions varied by text genre, length, and difficulty. Half of the studies that reported text genre used a combination of literary and informational text (O’Connor et al., 2009; Swanson & O’Connor, 2009), while the other studies either solely used informational (Wexler et al., 2010) or literary text (Therrien et al., 2012). Results did not support the notion that exposure to multiple text genres significantly improves fluency skills, as some researchers have previously suggested (Homan, Klesius, & Hite, 1993). Only three studies reported the length of the intervention texts (O’Connor et al., 2010; Therrien et al., 2012; Wexler et al., 2010) and indicated students read relatively short texts (range = 94-600 words). However, texts of this length may have failed to hook students in a way that fostered motivation and full engagement while reading (Yoon, 2002). Finally, results indicated that text difficulty, one of the most common forms of differentiating reading interventions, may have impacted students’ outcomes. Reading difficult text (80-90% word reading accuracy) resulted in statistically significant positive effects on reading fluency and comprehension skills, and there was no significant difference between students who read independent text (92-100% word reading accuracy) and those who read difficult text. For more detailed information on the reading materials used in the studies, please see the full article available from Sage Journals (subscription or institutional access required).


A meta-analysis depends on the studies available for analysis. As such, our study has several important limitations. First, we found only eight studies that investigated non-repetitive reading interventions for students with reading difficulties. Second, the studies we found contained relatively small numbers of participants. Finally, some of the studies did not clearly report important information about the interventions, such as the number of intervention sessions in which students participated. Therefore, we concluded that additional research needs to be conducted on non-repetitive fluency interventions for students with reading difficulties in order to better understand their effectiveness.

Implications: Reading Instruction Options Beyond Repeated Reading  

Our results suggest that solely providing students time to read independently is not an effective way to improve reading fluency. Unlike unstructured independent reading, non-repetitive reading fluency interventions involving some form of support and structure (e.g., grouping students for instruction, selecting texts, error correction) did not demonstrate any negative effects on fluency or comprehension outcomes. Moreover, there were no statistically significant differences in student outcomes when comparing repetitive and non-repetitive approaches to oral reading fluency instruction. Therefore, when designing reading instruction for students with reading difficulties, teachers need not think that Repeated Reading is the only available option. 

Article Summarized in This Post

Zimmermann, L. M., Reed, D. K., & Aloe, A. M. (2019). A meta-analysis of non-repetitive reading fluency interventions for students with or at-risk for reading difficulties. Remedial and Special Education. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0741932519855058


*References marked with an asterisk indicate articles included in the review.

Borenstein, M., Hedges, L., & Higgins, J. (2009). Introduction to meta-analysis. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

*Coward, S. (2015). High school readers: A study of Sustained Silent Reading and academic progress (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Capella University, Minneapolis, MN.

Homan, S. P., Klesius, J. P., & Hite, C. (1993). Effects of repeated readings and nonrepetitive strategies on students’ fluency and comprehension. Journal of Educational Research, 87, 94–99. doi:10.1080/00220671.1993.9941172

Kim, M. K., Bryant, D. P., Bryant, B. R., & Park, Y. (2017). A synthesis of interventions for improving oral reading fluency of elementary students with learning disabilities. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 61, 116–125. doi:10.1080/1045988X.2016.1212321

*Kuhn, M. R. (2005) A comparative study of small group fluency instruction. Reading Psychology26, 127-146. doi:10.1080/02702710590930492

Lee, J., & Yoon, S. Y. (2017). The effects of repeated reading on reading fluency for students with reading disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities50, 213-224. doi:10.1177/0022219415605194

*Mathes, P. G., & Fuchs, L. S. (1993). Peer-mediated reading instruction in special education resource rooms. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 8, 233-243.

*O’Connor, R. E., Swanson, H. L., & Geraghty, C. (2010). Improvement in reading rate under independent and difficult text levels: Influences on word and comprehension skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 1-19. doi:10.1037/a0017488

*O’Connor, R. E., White, A., & Swanson, H. L. (2007). Repeated reading versus continuous reading: Influences on reading fluency and comprehension. Exceptional Children, 74, 31–46. doi:10.1177/001440290707400102

O’Keeffe, B. V., Slocum, T. A., Burlingame, C., Snyder, K., & Bundock, K., (2012). Comparing results of systematic reviews: Parallel reviews of research on repeated reading. Education and Treatment of Children35, 333-366. doi:10.1353/etc.2012.0006

Reed, D. K., Zimmermann, L. M., Reeger, A., Aloe, A. M., & Folsom, J. (2018). An investigation of two approaches to fluency instruction in the general education classroom: Repeated Reading versus Varied Practice Reading. Iowa City, IA: Iowa Reading Research Center. Retrieved from

Schwanenflugel, P. J., Kuhn, M. R., Morris, R. D., Morrow, L. M., Meisinger, E. B., Woo, D. G., … Sevcik, R. (2009). Insights into fluency instruction: Short- and long-term effects of two reading programs. Literacy Research and Instruction, 48, 318–36. doi:10.1080/19388070802422415

Stevens, E. A., Walker, M. A., & Vaughn, S. (2017). The effects of reading fluency interventions on the reading fluency and reading comprehension performance of elementary students with learning disabilities: A synthesis of the research from 2001 to 2014. Journal of Learning Disabilities50, 576-590. doi:10.1177/0022219416638028

*Swanson, H. L., & O’Connor, R. (2009). The role of working memory and fluency practice on the reading comprehension of students who are dysfluent readers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 548–575. doi:10.1177/002221940933874

Therrien, W. J. (2004). Fluency and comprehension gains as a result of repeated reading: A meta-analysis. Remedial and Special Education, 25, 252–261. doi:10.1177/07419325040250040801

*Therrien, W. J., Kirk, J. F., & Woods-Groves, S. (2012). Comparison of a reading fluency intervention with and without passage repetition on reading achievement. Remedial and Special Education, 33, 309–319. doi:10.1177/0741932511410360

Wexler, J., Vaughn, S., Edmonds, M., & Reutebuch, C. K. (2008). A synthesis of fluency interventions for secondary struggling readers. Reading and Writing21, 317–347. doi:10.1007/s11145-007-9085-7

*Wexler, J., Vaughn, S., Roberts, G., & Denton, C. A. (2010). The efficacy of repeated reading and wide reading practice for high school students with severe reading disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 25, 2–10. doi:10.1111/j.15405826.2009.00296.x

Yoon, J.C. (2002). Three decades of sustained silent reading: A meta-analytic review of the effects of SSR on attitude toward reading. Reading Improvement, 39(4), 186–195.