WWC review of this study

Teaching spelling to students with learning disabilities: A comparison of rule-based strategies versus traditional instruction.

Darch, C., Eaves, R. C., Crowe, D. A., Simmons, K., & Conniff, A. (2006). Journal of Direct Instruction, 6(1), 1-16. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ755191

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
    , grades
No statistically significant positive
Meets WWC standards without reservations

Reviewed: January 2014

Writing achievement outcomes—Substantively important positive effects found
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
Significant? Improvement

Maintenance test (author created)

Spelling Mastery vs. HBJ Spelling and Laidlaw Spelling


Grades 2-4;
42 students




More Outcomes

Generalization test (author created)

Spelling Mastery vs. HBJ Spelling and Laidlaw Spelling


Grades 2-4;
42 students





Transfer test (author created)

Spelling Mastery vs. HBJ Spelling and Laidlaw Spelling


Grades 2-4;
42 students





Test of Written Spelling (TWS)-3

Spelling Mastery vs. HBJ Spelling and Laidlaw Spelling


Grades 2-4;
42 students





Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

  • Female: 24%
    Male: 76%
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Participants were attending specialized programs for students with learning disabilities in special education classrooms in eastern Alabama.

Study sample

Forty-four students were randomly assigned, and the analysis sample for this study included 42 students with learning disabilities at three elementary schools. The students were classified as learning disabled by the school district’s special education review committee in accordance with state and federal guidelines, including a one standard deviation discrepancy between tested intelligence and achievement. Students were between 8 and 12 years of age and in grades 2 through 4. Thirty-two students were male and 10 were female. Full-scale IQs ranged from 80 to 116, with an average of 87. Within each school, the students were randomly assigned to instructional groups of three to six students each. Four of the eight groups included a total of 21 intervention students, and the other four groups included a total of 21 comparison students. The study does not specify the distribution of the eight intervention and comparison instructional groups across schools, and the authors did not respond to a request for this information. The analysis sample of 42 students excluded two students (one intervention student and one comparison student) who were randomly assigned but who were absent for much of the study period.

Intervention Group

Students in the intervention group received instruction from Level D of the Spelling Mastery program (students did not receive the entire Level D program). The teacher followed scripted lessons, and each week’s sessions focused on a different type of word (e.g., phonetically regular words, phonetically regular words with a prefix or suffix, irregular words). Lessons were organized around three instructional activities: (1) introduction of the spelling rule in whole group instruction time (5–7 minutes); (2) application of the spelling rule, also in wholegroup instruction (10–12 minutes); and (3) independent worksheet practice while the teacher circulated to assist as necessary (5–7 minutes). The intervention was implemented in sixteen 30-minute sessions over a 4-week period with each session focusing on six words. All words taught had a fourth-grade level of difficulty.

Comparison Group

The comparison group was taught the same words as the intervention group using traditional basal instruction (HBJ Spelling and Laidlaw Spelling). Lessons were organized around three instructional activities: (1) a pretest, self-corrected by students using whole-group instruction (5–7 minutes); (2) independent worksheet practice with the teacher circulating to assist as necessary (10–12 minutes); and (3) follow-up activities, including dictionary and handwriting skill training activities (5–7 minutes).

Outcome descriptions

Four tests were administered after the intervention was completed, all in the writing domain. The measures included the Test of Written Spelling (TWS) including Predictable Words and Unpredictable Words subtests, a Generalization test, a Transfer test, and a Maintenance test. Four unit tests were also administered but are not included in this report. For a more detailed description of these outcome measures, see Appendix B.

Support for implementation

Each of three teachers delivered spelling instruction to both the intervention and comparison groups. The teachers were graduate students enrolled in a masters program in learning disabilities from a mid-sized southeastern university. The study authors provided three 1-hour training sessions to each teacher. The first author supervised, critiqued, and evaluated the teachers as they role-played teaching the scripted lessons. Prior to implementation, teachers were required to demonstrate adequate performance during role-playing situations.


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