IDEA Detectives Individualized Intervention in Reading Comprehension and Word Reading based on Best Evidence from Cognitive Science

Posted on September 1, 2018 by childrenslearninginstitute

Timeline: 2015-2018

Principal Investigator:

Carolyn Denton, PhD, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)


Tricia Zucker, PhD., University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

Funding Agency:

Institute of Education Sciences

Description of Project:

The purpose of this research is to develop an intensive reading intervention (Idea Detectives) for students in grades 2-3 at risk for or identified as having serious reading difficulties or disabilities (students with RD). Within a Response-to-Intervention (RTI) or Multitier Systems of Support (MTSS) framework, this will be a Tier 3 intervention, intended for students who demonstrate inadequate response to previously-provided intervention. It will be designed to be implemented in small groups in daily 45-min lessons by a special educator or reading interventionist. The project also includes the development of an online library of video clips that can be viewed by teachers to help them understand how to implement the intervention.

Idea Detectives will differ from existing programs in that it will provide integrated intervention in word study and comprehension and will be based on best evidence from cognitive science regarding (a) the roles of inference-making, monitoring, and text structure knowledge in reading comprehension, (b) the relations among phonology, orthography, word meanings, and reading comprehension, (c) the development of automatic word recognition, and (d) cognitive characteristics of students with reading difficulties that are resistant to remediation.

The design of Idea Detectives will purposefully integrate specific supports for children with impaired phonemic awareness, oral language development, working memory, attentional control, and self-regulation. Idea Detectives will also be grounded in scientific evidence regarding effective instruction for students with RD. It will:

  • Provide explicit instruction in both word reading and reading comprehension, building sequentially from easier to more complex skills in increasingly complex text, with multiple opportunities for practice
  • Include daily guided application of comprehension and decoding skills/strategies in engaging connected text
  • Be designed to support active student involvement and motivation through collaborative grouping and incorporation of hands-on activities
  • Place heavy emphasis on teacher scaffolding and feedback
  • Support data-based individualization of instruction using end-of-unit mastery tests with decision guidelines for making curriculum adjustments
  • Incorporate characteristics and activities designed to support self-regulation and motivation
  • Incorporate evidence-based practices to support English learners


In Years 1 and 2, we will collaborate with four special education and reading intervention teachers to develop the intervention. Teachers will provide input and advice to the research team and will field test portions of the intervention as they are developed. The intervention will be revised based on teachers’ feedback, and the iterative process will continue with other portions of the program as it is developed.

In Year 3, we will conduct a pilot study of the entire intervention in order to examine its promise for impacting student outcomes and its feasibility for implementation in typical schools. We will randomly assign teachers with groups of their students to receive the Idea Detectives intervention or whatever approach the teachers typically use, and we will compare reading progress in the two groups. We will also administer assessments of oral language development, working memory, phonemic awareness, and attention to explore whether students with difficulties in these domains benefit from the intervention.


Participants are children in Grades 2-3 who are at-risk for or have been identified with serious reading difficulties or disabilities and attend participating schools. In Years 1 and 2, participants are four special education or reading intervention teachers and four students of each teacher. In Year 3, participants in the pilot study are 16 teachers and four students of each teacher.


The study is being conducted in schools in Houston-area schools.