Monday, June 2, 2014

Reading IS a life skill!

Today Southern Methodist University shared a study which focused on "low IQ" learners and reading.  The study found that verbal students with IQs between 40-80 increased reading skills, usually to a first grade level or higher, with persistent, intensive instruction.

This study should feel obvious - students with intellectual disabilities who receive about an hour a day of research based reading instruction make more reading progress than those who do not.  But it isn't obvious.  Most people, including special education professionals, assume these students will never learn to read.  In fact in 15 years of teaching special education I was never once given reading textbooks for my students.  I had an old copy of the "Edmark Reading Program" which teaches only sight words but I paid for the Simon Sounds it Out software and Reading A-Z out of my own pocket.

However, most of us in the field and most parents of children we teach, know that literacy is not a priority for our students.  Not only is it not a priority it often isn't anywhere on our curriculum.  Not anywhere.  No time of any day is spent teaching reading skills.  This is true most of the time, though there are exceptions.  Plus the more physically or multiply disabled the student is the less likely we are to teach reading.  We might do some work with environmental print or safety signs but chances are we do not spend any time on letters and letter sounds, decoding or reading comprehension.  Often times we hide behind our "life skills" curriculum goals.  We are working on activities of daily living (feeding, toileting, hygiene), community skills (traveling safely, shopping) and communication (or at least I really, really hope we are working on communication).

We still need to work on those skills but reading is just as much of a "life skill" as those other skills are.  If you can read at a first grade level you can decode signs, simple directions, easy recipes, store signs with hours, menus, marquee's and more. One time I had a phone call from a mom who joked that now that her son with Down Syndrome could read she couldn't skip over "wrestling" when they were looking at the TV listings and what was I thinking teaching him to read?

Often times I am asked, "How do I teach this student how to read?"  The student in question usually has cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Angleman Syndrome or another complex disability.  My answer is always the same.  We teach that child how to read the same way we teach any child how to read.  Meaning that we teacher letters and letter sounds.  We teach sight words (but not JUST sight words).  We teach blends and digraphs and prefixes and suffixes.  We teach skills for increased reading comprehension.  In short, we TEACH.  If the student can't speak or move we adapt our instruction instead of dropping it altogether.  We find a way.  We find a way because that is our job!



(please let me know if the pictures and sound disappear from the first 30 seconds of the video, it happens because Youtube removes the music)



9 comments:

  1. Fantastic post, Kate! It is one of the most powerful life skills anyone can learn. No matter how long it takes, it's worth it. Thanks for a great read.

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  2. Thank you. As the parent of a girl who has Rett syndrome, I only wish more people would listen to you, and think like you.

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  3. Thanks for the encouragement! I'm a recent convert to the school of Reading is a Life Skill, but I'm fully invested! We work with adults who have significant intellectual disabilities, and have been looking for a good reading program that is fairly inclusive. Do you have any recommendations? I perused ReadingA-Z.com, and liked the idea but didn't want to invest in something not quite as age appropriate as I'd like to see. Any suggestions are welcome!

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  4. The study used Early Interventions in Reading https://www.mheonline.com/program/view/4/1/2542/SRAEIRLV11/ but it is very babyish. You could check out Route 66 by Benetech it is for adolescents and adults with intellectual disabilities http://benetech.org/our-programs/literacy/route-66-literacy/ You can also adapt the free program at http://www.freereading.net/index.php?title=Main_Page

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  5. Thanks for your post. Our school district is using the Unique Learning System which does have a literacy component. We have a long way to do but we are on the right track. We need more people like you who can think outside the box.

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  6. I would highly recommend the book, Children with Disabilities, Reading and Writing the Four Blocks Way. Also check out Karen Erickson and the North Carolina Chapel Hill Literacy Center for some great ideas.

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  7. Once again, thank you, Kate! I'm working on due process with the no free and appropriate education angle. I'm thinking that the fact that my girl has NEVER been assigned a book--any book- in 14 years will probably make for a good talking point!

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  8. Such a nice post. thank you for sharing worth content to read.. keep sharing.. (Y)

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