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Helping Teaching Teams Find Commonality

By Jeanne Smith
 | Nov 09, 2017

reading-disabilitiesWe find struggling readers everywhere. We see them in all class sizes, subjects, and grade levels. They work with classroom teachers, literacy coaches, and one-on-one interventionists. They attend colleges, trade schools, and adult education classes. Despite their different backgrounds, many struggling readers have the same identifiable skills deficits. Classroom teachers, special educators, and other interventionists may work with the same students, depending on the setting.

Struggling readers and writers will gain the most from their learning program if all literacy professionals on their team work together. Communication, reinforcement, and affirmation are important behaviors that can make small steps more meaningful to everyone invested in students’ success. What follows is a list of some important items to be aware of, regardless of where a student is placed in his or her educational setting.

Guidelines for effective interventions

  • Language is complex. Reading and spelling disorders can take a long time to overcome and must be addressed through strong teaching, practice, and reinforcement. It is most advantageous to teach decoding and encoding skills concurrently.
  • When different programs, books, or software are used in different settings by different teachers, with no connection made to each other’s instruction, students will have trouble processing the material.
  • Too much emphasis on sight reading, without practice in syllable types, blending sounds, and multisensory learning for multisyllabic words, may lead students to rely on memory rather than develop the skills needed to progress.
  • Memorizing spelling rather than learning to spell by sound and syllable type can also be counterproductive—students may commit too much to memory and be left without the foundational skills to advance. When introducing spelling rule exceptions, struggling readers need a slow, systematic introduction.

Reminders for teaching reading and decoding, spelling, and encoding

  • Letters have both names and sounds; during the early stages of literacy, students need a solid foundation on sounds.
  • If students have difficulty decoding or sounding out at the earliest level, they may need more practice in blending sounds or identifying syllable types.
  • If students have trouble sounding out words to spell, they may need more instruction in segmenting sounds and working with syllable types.

Considerations for comprehension

Strategies such as visualization and metacognitive awareness are very helpful and commonly used in classrooms. However, it is important that comprehension skills be taught not only through strengthening/accommodating students’ listening skills and having them demonstrate comprehension mastery through other modalities but also by incorporating comprehension skills, with decodable text based on their progression. Doing so will help get students with reading disabilities back on the page and build their relationship with print. 

jeanne smith headshot2Jeanne H. Smith is a literacy specialist at Community High School of Vermont and a correctional educator with St. Albans Probation and Parole.


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