Completing the Puzzle of Assessment: Rapid Automatized Naming and Its Implications for Instruction
The completion of a puzzle can be so satisfying, although the journey to do so requires patience and perseverance. First, one might find all the pieces with a straight edge to frame the puzzle. To begin the more challenging process of filling in the rest of the puzzle, the remainder of the pieces must be sorted and analyzed. Then, that moment—yes! The puzzle pieces fit together faster than you can manipulate them, and the entire picture makes sense.
Assessment can sometimes feel like that pile of puzzle pieces—which ones fit together? Which ones should be used to form the basic outline? How do data fit together to create a comprehensive picture of a school, classroom, or individual student? Reliable, valid, and comprehensive screening assessments offer that “bird’s eye” view from above—your starting point—your “edge pieces,” if you will.
The purpose of screening assessments is to predict who is at risk for having difficulty learning to read. Much is now known regarding which skills are highly predictive of later reading outcomes, and several excellent tools are available for this purpose. In kindergarten and first grade, timed tasks including letter naming, basic phonemic awareness, and rapid automatized naming (RAN) provide insight into who is at risk and to a certain extent; why.
RAN may not be a traditional part of your school’s screening process. However, the information gained from this quick, efficient measure can provide unique insight into students’ instructional needs.
What is RAN, and how does this component affect reading development?
RAN is “the ability to name, as fast as possible, highly familiar stimuli such as digits, letters, colors, and objects” (Georgiou et al., 2016). Sometimes, RAN is referred to as a “microcosm of reading processes,” based on the similar methods required to access a visual symbol and rapidly connect it to its phonological representation (Norton & Wolf, 2012). In addition, Landerl et al. (2019) describe sequential naming as it “mimics the timely integration of visual and verbal skills required during efficient word recognition.”
Although the precise manner in which RAN contributes to the reading process is not fully understood, its predictive value cannot be denied. RAN contributes uniquely to a reader’s profile in addition to traditional measures commonly found in screeners, such as letter naming. In kindergarten and first grade, RAN is one of the strongest predictors of later reading ability, particularly in regard to reading fluency (Farrall, 2012).
How is the information in RAN unique to LNF? What additional information is it providing?
RAN contributes to an emergent reader’s profile differently than Letter Naming Fluency (LNF), although automaticity is a determining factor in both measures. A measure of RAN typically includes the timed naming of a small number of familiar items in random order, “teasing out” speed of retrieval. Letter Naming Fluency is a timed measure of letter identification of all 26 capital and lower-case letters; the recognition of 52 different characters rather than pure speed of naming very familiar items.
Remember, RAN mimics the processes of the later-developing reading circuit, which provides unique information about the automaticity in which a reader can access and connect visual and naming constructs. Cleary, the connection among RAN and later proficiency in reading for meaning is significant and worth consideration when determining the needs of the beginning reader.
The value of including RAN in screening process
Because of the unique information provided by RAN, many states now require this measure as part of the comprehensive process in the early identification of dyslexia (National Center on Improving Literacy). For students with reading difficulties not due to phonological processing, RAN may provide a key piece of the assessment puzzle, helping to counteract later difficulties with fluency for that student who might otherwise “fly under the radar.” For students who are just at or below benchmark, a measure of RAN could be a determining factor in making decisions about intervention placements.
Having the additional information about every student’s proficiency in RAN may help determine intervention groups and intensity of instruction therein. For example, for students who struggle with both phonological awareness and RAN, intervention may begin with more intensity and greater frequency than those with deficits in phonological awareness only.
Implications for instruction
At this point in our puzzle construction, it is important to note that there is no known way to directly improve rapid automatized naming (Kilpatrick, 2015). Speed drills with familiar objects or symbols are not recommended nor have been found to be an effective use of precious instruction time. However, overall fluency CAN be improved by utilizing a multicomponent emphasis of the structure of language (Norton & Wolf, 2012). Fluency and subsequent comprehension are dependent upon accuracy and automaticity in every component within the structure of language, including phonological awareness training. Direct, explicit teaching of foundational skills with many opportunities for practice, informed feedback, and verbal rehearsals are especially significant for students with low RAN.
Direct, explicit teaching of skills to automaticity at every domain of English language structures will help build pathways of the reading circuit, which in turn, may strengthen the visual-naming connections. Can RAN be trained directly? No. Can teachers target skill deficits and remediate those? Absolutely.
The administration of a comprehensive screener such as Acadience® RAN helps create the frame of the puzzle of assessment, leaving teachers to determine which students are at risk for reading difficulty. At this point, we can begin to sort and organize the remainder of assessment tools to complete the rest of the puzzle, stand back, and admire the results…confident in determining and placing students at risk for later reading difficulties. Voila!
Learn more about how using RAN and spelling assessments can help with differentiation in the authors' upcoming webinar, "Rounding Out Your Primary Assessment Plan: Using RAN and Spelling Assessments to Inform Instruction"
Farrall, M. (2012). Reading assessment: Linking language, literacy, and cognition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Georgiou, G. K., Parrila, R., & Papadopoulos, T. C. (2016). The anatomy of the RAN-reading relationship. Reading and Writing, 29(9), 1793-1815. doi: 10.1007/s11145-016-9653-9
Kilpatrick, D. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Landerl, K. (2019). Behavioral precursors of developmental dyslexia. In L. Verhoeven, C. Perfetti, & K. Pugh (Eds.), Developmental Dyslexia Across Languages and Writing Systems (pp. 229-252). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/9781108553377.011
Moats, L. (2020). Teaching reading is rocket science. American Federation of Teachers. https://www.aft.org/ae/summer2020/moats
National Center on Improving Literacy. (2020, July 6). State of Dyslexia. https://improvingliteracy.org/
Norton, Elizabeth S, and Maryanne Wolf. “Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN) and Reading Fluency: Implications for Understanding and Treatment of Reading Disabilities.” Annual review of psychology. 63.1 (2012): 427–452. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100431