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MindPlay Reading Foundational Research

Noah Sturdevant Published: August 18, 2023

“Our passion for teaching reading started over 40 years ago, and our determination to teach everyone to read remains strong. We believe reading is the key to unlocking student potential and life-long success.” – MindPlay

The journey to MindPlay Reading started back in 1981 when Judith Bliss founded Methods and Solutions, Inc. Being a dyslexic learner herself, Bliss wanted an effective reading system for students. In 1995, she met a Tucson-based reading specialist and speech pathologist, Jim Larrabee, and decided to create a software program modeled after Larrabee’s successful reading methods.

Ever since MindPlay has been focused on unlocking student success and radically improving the lives of all students (more about our timeline here). Throughout our history, we have expanded our approach to supporting learning across age groups (K-12 and adulthood), locations (classrooms, at home, prison learning facilities), and varying skill levels (on-level readers, struggling readers, and intervention-level support).

At MindPlay, we are focused on implementing research-based strategies into our instruction to ensure student learning and support skill mastery.



Explicit & Systematic Instruction

MindPlay Reading was designed to be a direct, structured literacy program in accordance with the science of reading. Systematic and explicit instruction provides clear and structured guidance to students, ensuring that they acquire foundational knowledge and skills in sequence (Mesmer & Griffith, 2011). This approach eliminates confusion and ambiguity, helps students develop automaticity and fluency, and enables students to build a solid foundation of understanding.

Accordingly, MindPlay Reading uses explicit and systematic instruction to present information to students. Skills build upon each other using a planned sequence of progressive skills. The program includes modeling, providing students with frequent opportunities, and providing both guided and independent practice. MindPlay Reading lessons cover comprehension, phonics, vocabulary and employ systematic and cumulative concepts to avoid knowledge gaps, prevent misconceptions, and promote learning (Bruce et al., 2009; Hunt et al., 2002; Castles et al., 2018; Rosenshine, 2009). Learners complete a variety of activities that engage multiple senses for learning letters & sounds, including multisensory phonics instruction that emphasizes the relationships between letters and sounds. What’s more, each lesson is delivered by videos of certified Speech Language Pathologists on screen.

Differentiated Instruction

The same instruction does not always work for every student. Differentiated instruction recognizes and values the diverse needs, abilities, and interests of students (Watts-Taffe et al., 2012; Dietrichson et al., 2021). Tuning in to learners’ preferences and skill levels allows for more equitable learning that supports and challenges each student at their individual level. Differentiated instruction also leads to more engagement and motivation by offering choice and flexibility in how students learn and demonstrate their understanding (Reis et al., 2011).

MindPlay at its core was designed to identify and target specific gaps of each individual learner. Students complete the Universal Screener to identify where students need more support, and then complete only the lessons that target specific skills each student needs. MindPlay incorporates guided practice that is individualized and adaptable, providing opportunities for error correction and reinforcement of learning (Rosenshine, 2012). The aim is to meet learners in their unique zone of proximal development, working through lessons that challenge them appropriately and providing the support they need to master each new skill (APA, 2015). Students complete lessons in phases to pace instruction which is designed to reduce frustration and focus on growth.

Not only that, but MindPlay has 14-21 instructional presentations for each lesson, which teach the same concept using different instructional presentations. We did this so that students who need help with specific skills do not have to repeat the same task over and over again, but receive a new instructional approach as needed.

Repeated, Individual Practice

Learners are encouraged to use the program regularly, engaging in daily review and repeated practice to develop mastery. This repetition of content helps learners deepen their knowledge and use their new skills more automatically (Fazio et al., 2019; Karpicke et al., 2016). Students only repeat lessons that they uniquely need in order to fill gaps. The MindPlay learning experience is individualized to meet the specific needs of each student, which means they complete lessons at a level and pace that suits them best (Connor et al., 2007; 2013). This personalized approach is designed to prevent students from falling behind or feeling frustrated.

MindPlay Reading takes a data-driven approach by using pre- and post-testing to assign an individualized learning path for students and allow for practice opportunities. Students receive instruction that meets their specific needs to close gaps in knowledge and allow students to build on their strengths.

Mastery-based Learning

Mastery-based learning approaches focus on helping students learn content deeply and not at a predetermined pace (Guskey, 2007). Students are allowed to progress at their own pace and fully understand each concept before moving on. When learners focus on mastering concepts, they gain lifelong learning skills. This fosters self-motivation, confidence, and engagement, and students feel a sense of ownership of their learning (Essa & Laster, 2017).

MindPlay believes mastery-based learning provides students with the foundational skills to grasp more complex concepts. MindPlay Reading incorporates pre- and post-testing for each concept to ensure students have mastered concepts before moving on to more complex concepts. Students have multiple opportunities to achieve mastery of a concept in MindPlay Reading. Not only that, but rather than completing the same activity over and over, students complete multiple different activities related to the same concept in order to ensure mastery.


Gamification/Engagement/Motivation (Themes, Avatar, Achievements)

Including game elements and mechanics into the learning process has the potential to motivate students. By making learning more enjoyable and interactive, gamification increases engagement and captures students’ attention (Ertan & Kocadere, 2022). Clear goals and progression provide students with a sense of accomplishment as they advance, while healthy competition and collaboration foster motivation and peer interaction. Immediate feedback and rewards acknowledge students’ achievements and allow them to track their progress (Gooch et al., 2016). The autonomy and opportunity for skill development within gamified environments enhance students’ intrinsic motivation and sense of competence.

MindPlay Reading provides an awards framework of achievements recognizing student success in the program. Those rewards unlock the ability to customize their learning experience through Avatars and Themes. The student themes and avatars are highly customizable and embedded thoughtfully throughout the program. Achievements provide an equitable competitive dimension through Leaderboards and level crests that allow students to compare their efforts to their peers. The students discover their individualized learning plan as they journey through a world map customized to their theme.

Minimal Instructional View

Nonessential graphics like images, animations, or decorations that do not directly contribute to the educational content or learning objectives can distract or confuse learners and take away from learning. It’s important to strike a balance between engaging visuals and avoiding hindrances to learning. Excessive nonessential graphics can increase cognitive load, especially for complex topics (Darejeh et al., 2022). Graphics should align with learning objectives to enhance clarity and comprehension (Ally, 2008). Considerations such as bandwidth and accessibility are important, as some learners may face difficulties with data requirements or visual impairments.

MindPlay Reading takes special care to keep gamified and visually intense animations and artwork separate from the instructional view. Animations and celebrations of progress occur interim to the content and always provide adequate time for the student to come back to attention before continuing with critical instruction. High contrasting colors, negative space, and adequately kerned and sized fonts, images, and interactives allow motor, visual, and attention-impaired students to focus, interact, and navigate the program without distraction. In addition, we make accommodations for severely impaired students by allowing teachers to turn off certain aspects of the program they find distracting for their students.

Growing Evidence that We Work

Not only is MindPlay Reading based on research, but we are also committed to testing our programs to ensure they support learners. Mindplay currently has 5 case studies, 1 RCT, and 1 quasi-experimental study. The two experimental studies looked at core instruction for grades 2 and 4. These studies showed a mean effect size of 0.42, suggesting strong levels of efficacy, with particularly notable benefits for reading fluency. We’ve conducted studies across the southwest and midwest US regions and have had a particular focus on ensuring our products work with students who meet Economic Disadvantage status. You can read more about these studies here. We look forward to continually evaluating and improving our products to best support learners.



American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK-12 teaching and learning.

Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the reading wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(1), 5-51.

Fazio, L. K., & Marsh, E. J. (2019). Retrieval-based learning in children. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28(2), 111-116.

Hunt, A., & Beglar, D. (2002). Current research and practice in teaching vocabulary. In J.C. Richards (Ed.), Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice (pp. 258-266). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Karpicke, J. D., Blunt, J. R., & Smith, M. A. (2016). Retrieval-based learning: Positive effects of retrieval practice in elementary school children. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 350.

Mesmer, H. A. E., & Griffith, P. L. (2005). Everybody’s selling it—But just what is explicit, systematic phonics instruction?. The Reading Teacher, 59(4), 366-376.

Rosenshine, B. (2009). The empirical support for direct instruction. In S. Tobias & T. M. Duffy (Eds.), Constructivist instruction: Success or failure? (pp. 201-220). Routledge.

Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. American Educator, 36(1), 12-19, 39.

Taylor, D. B., Mraz, M., Nichols, W. D., Rickelman, R. J., & Wood, K. D. (2009). Using explicit instruction to promote vocabulary learning for struggling readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 25(2-3), 205-220.

Watts‐Taffe, S., Laster, B. P., Broach, L., Marinak, B., McDonald Connor, C., & Walker‐Dalhouse, D. (2012). Differentiated instruction: Making informed teacher decisions. The Reading Teacher, 66(4), 303-314.


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