The University of Iowa

Varied Practice Reading

Students read and write in class

Varied Practice Reading is an instructional method developed by the Iowa Reading Research Center for teaching reading skills. With VPR, students read sets of three different passages one time each. The passages contain approximately 85% of the same words, which is referred to as “word overlap.”

The similar words and the information they convey are read:

  • within varied sentence structures
  • in varied contexts
  • with varied storylines

Varied passages also are intended to keep students’ interest as they practice reading. They progress gradually from easier to more difficult text across the 30 passage sets developed by writers at the Iowa Reading Research Center.

The Iowa Reading Research Center has developed two versions of Varied Practice Reading: one to be used in elementary school classrooms, the other in middle school classrooms. The two versions concentrate on different skills and content, but they contain many similar features:

  • students work in pairs
  • students read sets of three passages
  • sets of passage contain word overlap

Varied Practice Reading for Elementary School

The elementary version of Varied Practice Reading focuses on reading fluency and vocabulary development.

Varied Practice Reading for Middle School

The middle school version of Varied Practice Reading helps students learn science and social studies content and vocabulary aligned to standards and curricula. The intervention does this by exposing students to important language and information in the sets of three passages. At the same time, the intervention is also intended to help build students’ reading fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing skills. After reading a passage, students answer multiple choice comprehension questions and a writing prompt.

Varied Practice Reading Instructional Method and Passage Sets Available for Teachers via eLearning

Teachers can learn how to implement this practice in their classrooms through our eLearning Varied Practice Reading module. Those who complete the module will receive access to digital versions of the passage sets, and print versions are also available at cost. Currently, there are 30 passage sets available for each of Grades 1 through 5. See our eLearning page for more information.


Ongoing Varied Practice Reading Study

Varied Practice Reading for Middle School Students With or At Risk for Reading Disabilities

Partner School Districts

Dubuque Community School District, Iowa City Community School District, Marshalltown Community School District, and Sioux City Community School District

Duration

2021–2025

Number of Students Participating

450

Grades Involved

Grade 6–Grade 8

 

The IRRC was awarded a $2 million grant from the Institute of Educational Sciences for this four-year study of the effectiveness of the Varied Practice Reading instructional method as an intervention for middle school students with or at-risk for reading disabilities

The study will use Varied Practice Reading to provide students with multiple exposures to important science and social studies language and information. Teachers will use students’ performance and their own observations to determine which fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing skills lessons to assign to students to complete independently each week.

Researchers have designed the intervention to be delivered in-person or in virtual learning environments to avoid loss of instructional time due to unforeseen circumstances. 

The first 3 years of the study will be spent developing one grade level of materials to be vetted by partners from the Grant Wood Area Education Agency. All materials for the intervention will be tested in the fourth year of the study and compared to the business-as-usual intervention for students with or at-risk for reading disabilities.


Completed Studies

Effective Literacy Intervention for Middle School Students

Partner School District

Ottumwa Community School District (Evans Middle School)

Duration

Fall 2020

Number of Students Involved

About 40

 

The Iowa Reading Research Center partnered with the Ottumwa Community School District to pilot the Varied Practice Reading instructional approach for middle school students.

Building on what was learned in the original Varied Practice Reading study (see below), IRRC researchers modified Varied Practice Reading for implementation in middle school (see Varied Practice Reading for Middle School section above). In three reading intervention classes, each with a different teacher, students read middle school passage sets with a partner and responded to associated comprehension questions and informational writing prompts on alternating days. They also completed individually assigned lessons on particular fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, or writing skills that the teacher determined each student needed to improve.

To maintain a safe social distance in the classroom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students used videoconferencing to read with a partner. This had the benefit of making the study adaptable for remote instruction.

The study results showed participating students significantly improved their science, vocabulary, and social studies performance on the commercial version of the Iowa Assessments.


Effective Fluency Instruction for Fourth Graders Study

Number of Partner School Districts

10

Duration

Spring 2018

Number of Schools Involved

21

Number of Students Involved

827

PDF iconRead the full “An Investigation of Two Approaches to Fluency Instruction in the General Education Classroom: Repeated Reading Versus Varied Practice Reading” 

 

During the Spring of 2018, students at 21 elementary schools across Iowa were randomly assigned to either Repeated Reading or Varied Practice Reading for the Iowa Reading Research Center’s Effective Fluency Instruction for Fourth Graders study. A total of 827 fourth-grade students practiced their assigned fluency approach 3 to 4 times per week for 20 minutes per session, for an average of 26 sessions. They read with a partner and helped each other review any missed words.

The study results showed the Varied Practice group statistically significantly outperformed the Repeated Reading group. In fact, Varied Practice achieved slightly more than an extra week’s worth of improvement in reading fluency over Repeated Reading. Students in both groups showed growth near the 90th percentile, which would be considered very ambitious growth.

These findings are encouraging, study authors say, and indicate that reading fluency practice through means other than Repeated Reading may be beneficial. However, more research over multiple studies would need to show improvement to establish an evidence base for Varied Practice.

Study Partners

The Iowa Reading Research Center thanks the following school districts that participated in the fourth-grade study: