Success For All Foundation

Tutoring With the Lightning Squad

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Grade Levels Group Size Tutor Type Qualifying Studies Average Effect Size
K-34Teaching Asst.3+0.39
3-54Teaching Asst.2+0.69

Contact Info


Groups Studied
Asian American
English Learners
Free and Reduced Lunch

Communities Studied

Program Description

Tutoring with the Lightning Squad, or Lightning Squad for short, is a technology-assisted one-to-four tutoring approach for students in grades 1 to 5 reading at grade levels 1 to 3.  Lightning Squad helps struggling readers develop skills in phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary, using game-like activities. There is a strong focus on synthesizing sounds to decode text. The program uses teaching assistants as tutors. It was developed and is disseminated by the non-profit Success for All Foundation, in partnership with internationally renowned children’s media producers Sesame Workshop and Sirius Thinking.



Tutors in Lightning Squad are teaching assistants who should have a four-year college degree and successful experience working with children. Tutors are usually hired by school districts, or school districts may contract with AmeriCorps agencies, with Success for All Foundation, or with other organizations to hire and support the tutors. A full-time tutor should be able to provide 9 30-minute sessions daily (serving 36 children each day, and about 72 children per tutor per year). Tutors usually tutor in person, but may also work online when in-person tutoring is not possible.


Lightning Squad was designed for students in grades 1-5 who are reading below the fourth grade level, including students with IEPs or reading disabilities. Students work in groups of four, with two pairs each sharing a computer. The pairs should be at about the same reading level. Students receive 30 minutes a day of tutoring, usually for about a semester, depending on their rate of progress.


Lightning Squad provides tutors and students with extensive software, which uses graphic content from Sesame Workshop’s Electric Company, as well as other graphics made by former Sesame Workshop developers. The software can work on any modern computer, and all of it can be used remotely as well as in-person.


Lightning Squad curriculum materials, adapted from Success for All, can be accessed entirely on the computer. The curriculum emphasizes the five areas identified by the National Reading Panel as critical: Phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency.


A computer-aided assessment determines initial placement in the tutoring program.  Then students engage in story-related activities with a partner, taking turns as “reader” and “coach”.  A tutor supports small groups of students and assesses their progress.  The technology platform provides models of letter, word, and passage reading that allow partners to coach each other to improve. A tutor dashboard tracks the progress of every student.  Progress is measured over time against standard grade level competencies.  Each student’s individual progress is shared with the student’s classroom teacher and parents weekly so that learning can be reinforced and progress celebrated.  

Program Operation

In each tutoring session, students work in pairs, sharing a computer. One student in a pair is designated as “coach” and one as “reader,” with roles alternating in each activity. The “reader” reads the text, and answers questions from the computer. The “coach”, cued by the computer, indicates whether the answer is right or wrong, and may offer assistance. The tutor individually assesses each student at designated points in the activities and celebrates progress. If a student has problems, the tutor explains, gives additional examples, or otherwise helps the student get over a difficulty. When a pair completes a series of tasks, they can earn the right to watch a brief Electric Company or SFAF educational segment as recognition of progress.

Professional Development, Progress Monitoring, and Follow-up

Lightning Squad coaches provide tutors with two days of initial training, either in-person or online, provided by experienced Success for All coaches to all tutors and lead tutors. SFA coaches also provide ongoing coaching throughout the school year to observe, review student progress data, and provide feedback to strengthen implementation. Lead tutors in each district or region, usually hired by local districts, complete coaching visits to observe tutors in action. Data from all participating students are summarized electronically and shared with tutors, lead tutors, and SFA coaches. These data are used in regular coaching conversations or observation visits to help make sure that all students are on track to success.


Annual School Site Costs: Tutor is a school employee (usually has a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent but is not certified)

Professional development
-Introductory workshops
-Quarterly data reviews
-Progress monitoring discussions
Coaching for tutors and school liaison
Software license
Annual License Fee (Per School Site)
-$15,500 Year 1
-$10,100 per year, thereafter
-Covers any number of students and tutors using TwLS at an individual school site

Research on Program Outcomes

Three studies have evaluated the reading outcomes of Tutoring With the Lightning Squad (then called Tutoring with Alphie) in grades 1-3. Two of these (Madden & Slavin, 2017) took place in high poverty schools in Baltimore using the Success for All whole-school approach. About 80% of students were Black, and 20% Hispanic. One of the Baltimore studies had a mean effect size of +0.46, and one a mean of +0.40. The third study of Lightning Squad took place in Title I schools near Minneapolis and rural schools in Bedford County, VA. The two Minnesota schools averaged 49% free lunch, 14% Black, 31% Hispanic, and 37% White. The four Virginia schools averaged 35% free lunch, 85% White, 7% Black. This study has a mean effect size of +0.15. Averaging across the three studies, weighting by sample size, the mean effect size was +0.39.

Key Studies

  • Madden, N. A., & Slavin, R. E. (2017). Evaluations of technology-assisted small group tutoring for struggling readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 1-8.
  • Ross, S. N., Laurenzano, M., & Madden, N. A. (2017). An evaluation of the Lightning Squad computer-assisted small group tutoring program in the reading achievement of disadvantaged students in grades 1-3 (tech rep). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.
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