In the past, students with learning disabilities were often misunderstood, misdiagnosed and deemed incapable of achieving success in school. Little was known about dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and the many forms of autism. Few if any strategies had been developed to support students with these and other disabilities in the classroom. But as we learn more about the causes and manifestations of disabilities, we are able to better assist students in their academic paths, the first steppingstone being the ability to read.
Katherine Long of The Seattle Times, reports that “about 40% of Washington fourth graders are proficient at reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only slightly better than the national average of 35%. The numbers have hardly budged in almost 25 years.” Although extensive research has been done around the topic of teaching people how to read, “there is no common practice,” Long points out, and most educators in Washington state still use outdated techniques.
As of the fall of 2021, Washington will start screening students for reading disabilities and rethink how literacy is being taught. Citing a report by the National Reading Panel, The Seattle Times states that “reading is not a natural process, and that students needed more than just good books; they also needed to be taught the explicit relationship between sounds and letters — especially for those who struggle.” Structured literacy is on the rise as the most effective way to turn students into readers and has proven to be effective for students with disabilities.
Here are some reading instruction tips for teachers:
Make It Explicit
Teachers sometimes fail to thoroughly explain the expectations for each assignment and do not provide clear and concrete examples. “For example, a teacher who is explicitly teaching 1st grade students to sound out words demonstrates this process step by step, then provides opportunities for students to practice the skill with the teacher’s feedback and support. If the student is not successful, the teacher models again,” writes Carolyn A. Denton from RTI.
Use Phonemic Awareness Skills to Your Advantage
“Phonemic awareness” is the term given to describe the process of identifying each of the individual sounds that make up a word. Not all students who have difficulty learning to read have a disability. Sometimes, it is just a matter of brushing up on their phonemic awareness skills with exercises that identify and connect letters to their sounds. According to Peg Tyre from GreatSchools.org, “Scientists have shown again and again that the brain’s ability to trigger the symphony of sound from text is not dependent on IQ or parental income.”
Choose the Right Books
With a district-selected and often quite structured school curriculum, finding appropriate texts for your young readers may be difficult. Moreover, inspiring them to fall in love with reading may require a little bit of effort in the search to find the right material. So, whenever possible, look for books that will pique the interest of your students and challenge them to become more fluent readers.
Consider the Individual
When it comes to reading instruction and literature, it is crucial to evaluate each child for individual interest, ability and capacity to read. In public school systems, it may be difficult to work with students individually, but when you notice that specific children are falling behind their peers, take action. The key is to act as early as possible to avoid future roadblocks on the student’s path to academic success.