What is RAN and What Do We Do With It?

I recently got the privilege of listening in on a Spell-Links webinar presented by Dr. Norton from the LEARN Lab at Northwestern about Rapid Automatic Naming. There was so much useful information, but I want to focus on breaking down what RAN (Rapid Automatic Naming) is and what we do with it when working with students who are struggling to learn how to read and write proficiently.

First, Dr. Norton started with the best predictors of later reading from kindergarten. They include phonological awareness, letter knowledge, rapid automatic naming, language ability, and family history of dyslexia.

We talk a lot about phonological awareness at Redwood since that is the bulk of what we address through the Wilson Reading System. When the 4th edition of this program is implemented with fidelity, students get solid intervention around phonological awareness, orthographic processing, and morphology understanding. Family history of dyslexia and language ability vary from family to family and are important pieces of data to collect when first getting to know a student.

But what about RAN? Rapid Automatic Naming is the ability to name letters, symbols, phonemes, words, word chunks, or objects in a quick and automatic manner. And when RAN is low in kindergarten, it’s one of the pieces of info that give us a good idea of what lies ahead for this learner if they aren’t given structured literacy intervention. 

If you have worked with individuals who have dyslexia or have a child who is dyslexic, it won’t come as a shock to you that many students with dyslexia have low RAN scores. Often times, the fluency is just not there. As a practitioner, it has often been a struggle to pinpoint exactly why the automaticity isn’t there and it’s hands-down one of the most common questions I get from parents. How can they help their child increase their fluency or automatic reading of words?

The simple answer is that there is no research-based way to improve RAN independently. When we find out students have low RAN, the best way to use that information is to view it as a predictor of what will most likely be tricky for them as learners: learning how to read and write proficiently. The action step that should be taken is to make sure they start receiving structured literacy intervention with fidelity. Once their phonological awareness, orthographic processing and morphology understanding start to improve, their RAN will most likely improve as well.

A quick note: There are many programs out there that are designed to specifically increase a student’s RAN that utilize the strategy of repeated reading. Repeated reading is the practice of reading the same text multiple times, to increase exposure to certain words and thus improve a child’s fluency.  However, there is very little evidence that attempting to remediate low RAN through repeated reading is successful. Repeated reading IS shown to potentially positively impact a student’s comprehension around a certain topic, which makes sense since they are reading it over and over. However, wide reading is also a strategy that improves comprehension around a topic. Wide reading, or continuous reading, is the practice of also increasing exposures of the same words to students, but instead of reading the same text over and over, they read connected texts that cover the same concepts and vocabulary. As you can probably guess, wide reading is often much more engaging to the reader and increases their background knowledge around topics. 

If you notice or receive test results that your student or child’s RAN is low, you should pay attention. It’s a great indicator of what your child might need! But bear in mind that structured literacy intervention is often the best strategy to address WHY their RAN score is low. Just targeting their fluency independent of phonological awareness, orthographic processing and morphology is most likely not the best use of your time, your resources, or your child’s time and energy.

Lastly, the BEST way to improve your child’s fluency in addition to plugging them in to the right structured literacy intervention is to help them put miles on the page. There is no shortcut for this! It simply takes a lot of time, high-frequency structured literacy intervention delivered by a specialist, and lots of effort from the student. Sometimes putting miles on the page may include repeated reading, especially in the beginning when controlled text is all the student can access successfully. Repeated reading for our kiddos who are just working with CVC words and a handful of high-frequency words can give them a taste of what real reading is like! It can boost their confidence and sometimes is a helpful tool to build motivation and investment around an intensive intervention program. But repeated reading cannot be viewed as an intervention---there is just not enough evidence to support it.

Here are two additional articles that talk about the lack of ample evidence to support repeated reading as a successful intervention in increasing a student’s RAN.

Evaluating the effects of repeated reading and continuous reading using a standardized dosage of words read

Repeated reading interventions for students with learning disabilities: status of the evidence