Implementing Wilson Reading System®
Effectively implement this intensive, Structured Literacy (SL) program in both individual and small group settings.
Appropriate Student Population
The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) is widely used with elementary school students, adolescents, and adults who have not been successful learning how to read and write. Many students who benefit from WRS have deficiencies in phonological awareness and/or orthographic processing, which makes it challenging to learn to read and spell without an explicit, systematic, and multisensory approach. WRS specifically addresses the instructional needs of students in grades 2–12 and adults with a language-based learning disability, such as dyslexia, or who have word-level deficits and have not mastered the decoding and spelling process. Intensive intervention planning for specific students should include a comprehensive educational assessment.
WRS candidates share characteristics such as:
- Unable to decode accurately (in lowest 30th percentile)
- Exhibit slow, labored reading with lack of fluency
- May know many words by sight, but have difficulty reading unfamiliar words and pseudo words
- May often guess at words
- Have poor spelling skills (in lowest 30th percentile)
- Able to speak and understand English, but not read or write it (such as English learners)
- Have a language-based learning disability, such as dyslexia
- Are in grade 2 or higher
Students in grades 4-adult who have mild to moderate gaps in their decoding and spelling proficiency but do not have a significant language-learning disability may be appropriate for a Just Words® class.
To determine if WRS instruction is appropriate for a particular student, school professionals and parents should begin by evaluating a student’s foundational reading and spelling skills (word-level reading and spelling). Norm-referenced reading assessments that measure word identification, word attack, and spelling may be used for this purpose.
Students With Poor Word Reading and Spelling With or Without Comprehension Deficits
Low scores on tests that measure word identification, word attack, and spelling indicate that a student has not yet mastered foundational skills for reading and writing. While a student who is lacking these foundational skills may benefit from WRS instruction, a comprehensive educational evaluation is often needed (especially for students with dyslexia) to examine patterns of academic strengths and weaknesses, fully determine if WRS instruction is appropriate, and guide instructional pacing and progress.
Students who lack reading fluency skills may also score below expected levels on reading comprehension subtests. WRS includes extensive instruction of comprehension strategies using both narrative and informational text.
It’s also worth noting that some students demonstrate weak reading comprehension even if word-level skills are intact. This could be due to attentional problems and/or weaknesses in working memory, vocabulary, or oral language/listening comprehension abilities. Proper reading interventions should be explored to address these findings.
Students With Weak Rapid Naming/Processing Speed and/or Poor Orthographic Memory
Some students have adequate phonological awareness and alphabetic knowledge but weak rapid naming/processing speed and/or poor orthographic memory. As a result, they have difficulty with reading fluency and comprehension. Because WRS develops a student’s orthographic processing and automaticity of word reading while simultaneously working on fluency and comprehension, it is an appropriate intervention for these students as well.
Students With Significant Phonological Awareness, Working Memory, and Rapid Naming Difficulties
Students who have significant difficulties with phonological awareness, working memory, and rapid naming are often the most severely impaired in reading (Morris et al., 1998). These students are appropriate for a more intensive implementation of WRS, especially in the hands of a well-trained and experienced WRS instructor.
Wilson® Assessment of Decoding and Encoding (WADE)
After a student is identified for WRS instruction, the teacher should administer the WADE as a pretest prior to instruction to obtain a baseline and to determine a student’s placement and potential pacing through the initial WRS Steps. Alternative WADE forms are also provided to use as a posttest after an instructional period (e.g., school year) and for reporting on student learning outcomes in relation to progress through the WRS curriculum. For more information about the WADE, visit this page.
Note: Although we provide guidelines on student identification and placement in each Wilson program, the guidelines are not absolute and should be informed by the knowledge held by the Student Support/RtI team and/or IEP team as they make a recommendation for a particular student.
Implementation for Student Success
WRS may be implemented in both individual and small-group settings. The group size affects the recommended schedule of instruction. Depending upon student profiles and intensity (group size, lesson length, and frequency), it may take 2–3 years (or more) to complete all 12 Steps. WRS can follow students from grade to grade as needed. To optimize student learning and attainment of skills, review the following recommended setting and schedule guidelines.
The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) has been successfully implemented in a variety of intensive settings, including:
- Public/private/parochial schools
- Schools for students with learning disabilities/dyslexia
- Educational clinics
- Community colleges and college academic support settings
- Adult literacy/adult education/vocational programs
- Correctional facilities
Instruction may occur one-on-one or in small, homogeneous groups (ideally up to four students). A group size of up to six learners is appropriate in some settings (e.g., with a highly skilled WRS teacher).
The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) follows a ten-part lesson plan that moves at a quick pace but ensures constant interaction between teacher and student. The lesson plan is divided into three blocks. One full lesson consists of all three blocks of instruction. Approximately 30 minutes is dedicated to each block. A full lesson requires 90 minutes to complete. The blocks include:
- Block 1: Parts 1-5 emphasize word study/foundational reading skills
- Block 2: Parts 6-8 emphasize spelling/foundational writing skills
- Block 3: Parts 9-10 emphasize fluency and comprehension
To review the details of each Block/Part, click this link.
A minimum of two complete lessons should be taught per week by (or under the guidance of) a WRS certified instructor. WRS is best implemented one-on-one or in small homogeneous groups.
When working one-on-one, instruction should be scheduled for the following length and frequency:
- 45 minutes, 4–5 times per week
- 60 minutes, 3–5 times per week
- 75–90 minutes, 2–5 times per week
- Optimal intensity: 90 minutes/3 times a week or 75 minutes/ 4–5 times a week
A small group of up to four students is ideal. An experienced instructor may take on up to six students. Students should be pretested and grouped homogeneously based on similar word attack and spelling measures. When working with a small group, educators should reference the following scoring guidelines for initial grouping:
Initial Grouping for Word Attack and/or Spelling Percentile Ranges on Standardized Assessments
- Group 1: Between 0–15th percentile
- Group 2: Between 16th and 30th percentile*
*Students in the 16th to 30th percentile are usually candidates for Wilson Reading System® (WRS) but might be placed in Just Words® if there are no indications of a language-based learning disability/dyslexia. Students in the 31st to 50th percentile are likely to be Just Words students, but may be candidates for WRS if testing indicates dyslexia or other deficits requiring more intensive work with WRS.
Instructors should use the following schedule when implementing WRS with a small group:
- 45–60 minutes, 4–5 times per week; or
- 75–90 minutes, 2–5 times per week; or
- Optimal intensity: 90 minutes, 5 times per week
Wilson Language Training® (WLT) recommends that instruction occurs five days a week with a WRS certified instructor. If classes are scheduled for 45–60 minutes, two sessions will be required to complete a full three block lesson.
Monitoring Student Progress
Monitoring student progress supports personalized pacing through the program and ensures that students master the skills presented in each substep before moving on to learn new skills. This approach also allows teachers to diagnostically plan each lesson.
Formative assessment is built into the Wilson Reading System® (WRS) program with every single lesson, especially in Lesson Part 4 (Wordlist Charting) and Lesson Part 8 (Dictation – Written Word). During the lesson, a teacher assesses how their students respond to instruction; that is, how the students’ skills and understanding of concepts are progressing. The teacher tracks this by maintaining a progress chart for each student.
For all students, the errors identified during the Wordlist Charting help to pinpoint trouble spots and patterns. Lessons are written based entirely upon the student’s understanding of concepts and skills taught in the current lesson (e.g., Instant Word Recognition Parts 3 and 4). In a small group setting, a student will be charted at least once during each substep.
This progress monitoring allows teachers to diagnostically plan for the following lessons and to pace the group appropriately. The teacher progresses to the next substep when the majority of the students have achieved mastery. Additional practice is provided to students not reaching the benchmark.
To determine progression from one-step to the next, students take an End-of-Step Assessment that is both formative and summative. These End-of-Step Assessments determine a student’s mastery and understanding of the concepts taught in the specific Step. They also identify any specific areas that need further instruction.
Students are assessed in phonetic word reading accuracy and automaticity, marking current concepts, high frequency word reading, independent silent reading, passage oral reading fluency and comprehension, and spelling. Students must reach a specific mastery level. If they do not, additional instruction in challenging areas is necessary before proceeding to the next Step.
The Wilson® Assessment for Decoding and Encoding (WADE) is also administered as a posttest at the end of instruction or at the end of a school year to evaluate student mastery of the curriculum and student ability to independently apply decoding and encoding skills.
Professional Learning to Deepen Understanding & Student Success
Wilson Language Training® recommends professional learning and implementation guidance for educators implementing WRS. Professional learning opportunities may include:
- WRS Level I Certification Program
- WRS Advanced Coursework and Level II Certification Program
- District Sustainability Plan with WRS Trainer Development Program
To ensure WRS is delivered with fidelity, instructors should hold at least a WRS Level I Certification. The training involved in achieving this certification provides teachers with the knowledge and application skills they need to implement the program with fidelity to maximize student achievement.
Brush up on Wilson Reading System®— who it’s for, what it’s about, and how to implement it.
Familiarize yourself with the skills and concepts taught in Wilson Reading System®
Wilson Reading System® instructor and student materials make learning multisensory and explicit.
Learn About Professional Learning Opportunities
We provide educators with the training needed to enhance instruction and support implementation of our programs with fidelity to achieve student success. Whether you need individual teacher support or school and district implementation plans, WLT is here to help.