From Iowa, Monroe took a position at the Institute for Juvenile Research, a residential facility for delinquent boys with mental retardation. At the Institute, Monroe developed a synthetic phonetic approach, which began with having the child identify initial consonants and then vowels for pictures mounted on cards. After success with this, the teacher introduced sound blending and had the child read stories. In addition, the teacher used tracing whenever it was deemed necessary.
In her book, Children Who Cannot Read (1932), Monroe reported on several “experiments” in which she tested out her methods. In the first study, she compared three groups: Group A (89 students) was referred to the clinic and received instruction under close supervision there or in their home school, Group B (50 students) received instruction in their home school from teachers who came regularly to the Institute for teaching suggestions, Group C (50 students) received ordinary instruction in their home school. The major differences between Groups A and B with respect to treatment was that the teachers for the latter group delivered instruction more sporadically (before or after school or during free periods) and under less supervision: “The remedial work done in Group B, therefore, was not so intensive as that of Group A, and was subjected to a greater variety of disrupting influences” (Monroe, 1932, p. 138). Group A’s mean IQ was 101, Group B’s was 89, and Group C’s was 92. Over the course of the year, Group A gained 1.39 years in reading achievement, Group B gained 0.79 years, and Group C only gained 0.14 years.
Monroe also reported on four field-based projects in cities near Chicago where she was invited to train teachers to work with students with reading disabilities. In the first two, teachers were trained to provide one-on-one instruction. In City A, 15 teachers worked with 15 children over 2 months, providing an average of 13.8 hours of one-on-one instruction. The group made an average gain of 0.67 years in reading achievement. In City B, after 5 weeks of instruction and an average of 10.1 hours of one-on-one instruction, 30 children averaged 0.81 years growth in reading achievement.
In the last two field-based projects, students were taught in small special classes, which met with a trained teacher two or three times a week for 30- to 40-minute periods. In the first one, 41 students from grades 2 through 8 in City B made an average gain of 0.7 years in 2 months. In the second one, 10 students from a special school for truant children met daily in two groups of five for 3 months, which resulted in an average gain of 1.0 year in reading achievement.
Monroe’s summary of the studies is prescient with respect to what many learning disabilities researchers today report, especially concerning the need for intensive instruction by well-trained teachers:
Two hundred and thirty-five children were given remedial training by one hundred and thirty-one teachers. Progress in reading was made in a large percentage of cases studied, not only when children were trained under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, but also under conditions possible in public schools. Progress in reading was made under individual instruction and also in small groups of children….
The remedial-reading methods were found to be direct and readily understood. Public school teachers learned to apply the methods in the course of conferences and demonstration lessons.
The rate of progress in reading under remedial instruction was found to be a function of the child’s intelligence, his age, the number of hours spent in training, the number of months during which treatment was continued, the severity of the disability, the personality and behavioral difficulties encountered in applying the remedial training, and the closeness of supervision of the remedial techniques. Children and teachers varied greatly with regard to these factors….
The children with whom the remedial work failed were those whose reading difficulties were complicated by behavior disorders which the teachers were unable to control, or those to whom the remedial work was given irregularly and without persistent, systematic, or sympathetic treatment. (Monroe, 1932, pp. 157–158)