The Missouri Reader Vol. 42, Issue 2 - Page 37


Differentiating Literacy Instruction with Reading Styles:

A Path to Success

Stephan E. Sargent, Melinda (Mindy) Smith, and Meagan Moreland

Sam Bommarito: Co-Editor of The Missouri Reader

all included in emotional stimuli. Sociological stimuli embody how the student works best – alone, in pairs, groups, and the like. Physical stimuli examine how students take in information (auditory, visual, etc…), when they work best during the day, movement during reading, and intake of food/drink while working. Finally, psychological stimuli includes how students learn best globally (big picture) or analytically (step-by-step). The Reading Styles Inventory used in this study combines results from the above stimuli and provides an informative one-page guide that suggests recommended reading methods, materials, strategies, and modifications for each student.

Over three decades of research concludes that when schools accommodate students’ learning/reading styles, students’ reading progress improves (Barber, Carbo, & Thomason, 1998, Dillon, 2005). Reading motivation, literacy achievement, and school attendance all increase, while discipline problems and retentions decrease significantly (Carbo, 2007). One study in Texas included twenty-two third-grade inclusion students. After implementing literacy instruction based in reading styles over the course of one year, the number of children who passed the reading objectives on the mandated state test rose from 41% to 86% (Carbo, 2007). Barber, Carbo, & Thomasson of Phi Delta Kappa conducted a larger study of 561 students in grades 1st-6th in six school districts. Their study compared achievement between schools that used reading styles to plan reading instruction and those that did not. Their study found significantly higher achievement in schools incorporating reading styles (1998). Phi Delta Kappa is well known in the United States for its involvement in educational practice, policy, research, and innovation.

While decades of research, as well as the anecdotal acumen of teachers, agree that use of reading styles in literacy instruction is beneficial, not all researchers agree. In a recent study, Rogowski, Calhoun, and Tallal (2015) found no relationship between students’ learning-style preference and their performance on reading comprehension tests. These researchers declared that teachers should stop trying to gear lessons toward a specific learning style. McReal (2013) declared that trying to match instruction to differences in student learning has a sentimental and intuitive appeal but is not supported by rigorous research. Diaz (2018) purports that learning styles do not matter. He contends that incorporating learning styles diverts time and resources, encourages a fixed mindset in students, and leads to a belief that some students are unable to learn because of how material is presented. With mixed evidence, renewed research is warranted to glean a better understanding of differentiation of literacy lessons using reading styles. While there are contending studies, the majority of studies over the decades support the use of reading/learning styles as a way to differentiate literacy instruction.

Methodology of the Study

This study was conducted in a university reading clinic where in-service teachers studying to be reading specialists (N=41) taught children ranging from the second through sixth grades. Over a year-long period, the teachers were enrolled in two clinical courses and learned to administer and interpret multiple assessments of literacy, including the Reading Styles Inventory (Carbo, 2007). Meeting weekly, the teacher instructed the same child with traditional literacy pedagogy, including reading of familiar text, reading of a new text, word study, writing, independent reading, and teacher read-alouds (Walker, 2011). Each teacher administered the Reading Styles Inventory (RSI) (available at: to the pupil at the onset of the semester. The RSI provides brief reports revealing the student's reading/learning style and shares recommended teaching strategies for the following areas of learning: visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, global, and analytic. For example, if a student makes a high score in visual learning, the RSI reveals that he/she will benefit from silent reading, learning words accompanied by pictures, sight words, and other such methods. After interpretation, the teacher incorporated the suggestions of the reading styles inventory into the clinical lessons. At the culmination of the school year, the teacher completed three open-ended queries developed by three professors of reading/literacy: