What We Know and Need to Know about Literacy Interventions for Elementary Students with Reading Difficulties and Disabilities, including Dyslexia

Stephanie Al Otaiba, Kristen McMaster, Jeanne Wanzek, Mai W. Zaru

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The purpose of this paper is to describe what we know and what we still need to learn about literacy intervention for children who experience significant difficulties learning to read. We reviewed 14 meta-analyses and systematic reviews of experimental and quasi-experimental studies published in the last decade that examined the effects of reading and writing interventions in the elementary grades, including research focused on students with reading difficulties and disabilities, including dyslexia. We attended to moderator analyses, when available, to further refine what we know and need to learn about interventions. Findings from these reviews indicate that explicit and systematic interventions focusing on the code and meaning dimensions of reading and writing, and delivered one-to-one or in small groups, are likely to improve foundational code-based reading skills, and to a lesser extent, meaning-based skills, across elementary grade levels. Findings, at least in the upper elementary grades, indicate that some intervention features including standardized protocols, multiple components, and longer duration can yield stronger effects. And, integrating reading and writing interventions shows promise. We still need to learn more about specific instructional routines and components that provide more robust effects on students’ ability to comprehend and individual differences in response to interventions. We discuss limitations of this review of reviews and suggest directions for future research to optimize implementation, particularly to understand for whom and under what conditions literacy interventions work best.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-332
Number of pages20
JournalReading Research Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, under Award Numbers R324A160132 and R324A170101, and by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01HD091232‐01A1. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Institute for Education Sciences or the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 International Literacy Association


  • dyslexia
  • literacy intervention
  • reading difficulty
  • reading disability
  • struggling readers


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