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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.

Student Profile

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.

Student Identification

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.   

WRS teacher watching 3 students silently read from their WRS Student Readers

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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

2 educators at a Wilson Workshop