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Reading Research to Classroom Practice

There is clear and concise classroom research evidence that the vast majority of students with disabilities can learn to read on grade level IF appropriate, research validated instruction and learning techniques are effectively employed. Not surprisingly, research has demonstrated that with students with reading difficulties comprehension continues to be highly dependent on word recognition skills (Stanovich, 1991.  The amount of assistance readers receive from their ability to translate written words to phonological representations varies directly with the speed with which items to be remembered are encoded (Baddely, Thomson, & Buchanan; Case, Kurland, & Goldberg; Dempster; cited in Adams, 1990). Poor and young readers who are not yet facile at processing letters and sounding out words fail to recode words in meaningful groups and, therefore, are less likely to maintain the meaning of a clause or sentence in short-term memory (Adams, 1990). In effect, readers who are less able to generate high-quality phonological representations as a part of word recognition are at a disadvantage and at-risk for memory loss (Daneman, 1991). Thus, poor word recognition appears to limit (a) storage of and access to word meanings and (b) ability to access or remember sequences of words.  The activities that served as the basis of the reading interventions can be thought of as more systematic components of activities that teachers always have done with kindergartners.

In a review of research on teaching reading to diverse learners, Chard, Simmons, and Kameenui make the following summary statements. “Our review of the research literature suggested that learning to read words is anything but natural. On the contrary, learning to read words requires integration of numerous complex processes. Successful acquisition of these complex processes appears to be incidental for some children, but for others it must be systematically and planfully taught. (Chard, D.J., Simmons, D.C., & Kameenui, EJ., Word Recognition: (National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators, Curricular and Instructional Implications for Diverse Learners 

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has supported a systematic research program to conduct long-term, prospective, longitudinal, and multi-disciplinary work designed to better understand the causes of reading disabilities as well as effective treatments. To date, more than 100 researchers in fourteen research centers have been funded to study these issues. Because of more stringent scientific requirements, the studies have produced a growing body of similarly designed studies conducted by different researchers that consistently demonstrate the same findings.

For years educators have been puzzled by children with persistent reading problems, many of whom have average to above average intelligence and come to school with good oral language and rich experiences with books.   Many of these students have identified disabilities.  Since the early 1960's such students have been considered to have a specific learning disability and/or dyslexia and special educational services have been provided although little was understood about the nature of such disabilities and no consensus existed concerning philosophy of teaching reading or instructional methods. 

Research focusing on the causes of "unexpected" reading failure indicates that, for many individuals, their difficulties are related to inherited brain differences. Several NICHD studies have found that deficits in working with the sounds (phonemes) of language is related to atypical functioning in specific brain regions. The strongest finding to date is that phonological processing is the primary area in which children with reading difficulties differ from other children. NICHD studies indicate that about 40% of the general population of students have reading problems sufficient to hinder their enjoyment of reading, although for research purposes an arbitrary cutoff point of 20% has been utilized to designate children as reading disabled. For most of these students, however, the primary problem is poor phonological processing and the difference between a student with a learning disability in reading and other poor readers is one of degree (severity) and not a difference in the nature of the problem.

The extensive body of research on students with reading disabilities has uncovered two widely held beliefs among educators about children who are having serious and persistent reading problems.  First, an IQ-achievement discrepancy, such as used in most states in identifying students with specific learning disabilities, is not important in the determination of reading disabilities.  Second, there is very little relationship between learning to fluently decode and the child's measured intelligence level. 

Phonological processing includes three basic components which have been found to be important for success in reading:  (1) phonological awareness, (2) rapid naming, and (3) holding sounds in working memory.   Of these components, phonological awareness is the most prevalent area of deficit in disabled readers.

Phonemic awareness skills involve the ability to segment words into sounds and to manipulate the sounds of words in different ways. For example, to be a good reader a student must first be able to: recognize that two words have the same beginning, ending or middle sound; segment words into syllables and phonemes; blend syllables and sounds into words; and count, add, and delete sounds within words.  Students must also know that letters represent sounds and must be able to map speech onto print.  Students with weaknesses in phonological awareness will have difficulty developing these skills which will impact their ability to develop beginning reading skills. Such students do not understand the alphabetic principle of English and fail to develop adequate decoding (letter to sound) skills for reading or encoding (sound to letter) skills for spelling. They may be unable to produce good invented spellings because they do not have the requisite skills necessary to segment words into sounds and map those sounds onto the appropriate letters. Such students tend to rely on their knowledge of words memorized as "sight words' and attempt to read new words based on context or by guessing based on partial letter cues (such as the first and last letters of the word). They may not recognize the common spelling patterns in words so do not benefit from the regularities that exist in the English language. Deficits in decoding (and encoding) are the most critical factors in poor reading for the majority of students. Studies clearly indicate that a major portion of the difficulty students have in reading comprehension is related to inaccurate identification of the individual words encountered which is, in turn, strongly related to decoding skills.  It is, of course, possible to read words accurately and still have problems with comprehension and this is an area which is now being studied more carefully.

Students with difficulties in rapid naming are characterized by slow and difficult naming of items such as letters, numbers, and colors. Such students often have difficulty learning letter names/sounds in kindergarten and irregular, high frequency words in first grade; teachers and parents remark that these students seem to learn the information only to have forgotten it later. For such students, learning the names of items requires multiple repetitions over a long period of time and they may be slow to recall the names of the items even when they have been learned. Because they may not be able to accurately or quickly recall letter-sound associations, such children often make "reversal errors" such as hearing the sound of /b/ and writing the letter 'd'- such errors are not related to "seeing" the letter backwards. The result of naming problems is that learning to read is very difficult - decoding and encoding will be affected by the difficulty such students have learning letter-sound associations and memorization of sight words is equally difficult.  Even when such students learn to decode accurately, they often have to decode the same words over and over rather than recognizing those words quickly and automatically. Thus, reading is very slow and laborious and these students typically hate reading and avoid practicing.

NC SIP II has divided the necessary teacher training leading to the demonstration of appropriate reading instruction skills and knowledge into two phases:
Phase 1: Reading Instruction Foundation Training

The NC SIP II staff development resource program has adopted a staff development program entitled Reading Research to Classroom Practice. The content and media in this program have been developed by Rebecca Felton and David Lillie in partnership with the Guilford County School System in North Carolina. The staff development program has been designed to introduce teachers to the knowledge, skills and procedures needed to provide effective instruction for students with persistent reading difficulties. The teaching principles, techniques and strategies presented in the program are supported by an extensive body of instructional research involving students with reading difficulties.

The program is designed to provide teachers with a solid foundation of knowledge and skills needed to deliver effective instruction for students, who, after several years of instruction and learning experiences in reading, still have difficulties reading fluently and are significantly behind their age peers. The program consists of nine units and provides a solid foundation on which to build an effective reading instruction program.

The content and teaching techniques presented in the program are derived directly from the extensive research-based literature available on teaching students with severe reading difficulties. The program reflects the findings of two recent National reports addressing the instructional needs of students with reading problems: Teaching Children to Read, a report of the National Reading Panel, and Preventing Reading Problems of Young Children, a report sponsored by the National Reading Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

Phase 2: Training in the Use of a Sepcific Proven and Tested Teaching Procedure and Materials Model or Approach

The staff development program, Teaching Students with Persistent Reading Problems, is designed to be use as a self-directed learning program and a primary training resource in support of staff development programs for practicing teachers or as a supplemental program for pre-service teacher education courses. It provides a prerequisite solid foundation of knowledge and skills to begin using research-proven teaching strategies and to make long range decisions about the use of instructional procedures and materials. 

For additional information, please contact Anikko Gorham, Exceptional Children Director.

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