Computer Assisted Instruction in Reading for Students with Learning Disabilities: A Research Synthesis

Article excerpt

Abstract

The essential skill of reading, including decoding and comprehension, has not been learned by all. The number of children identified with learning disabilities continues to increase in the United States. Of the identified children, the majority are identified in the area of reading. Educators continue to search for interventions to improve students' reading skills. One format that has provided promise for students with Learning Disabilities (LD) is computer assisted instruction (CAI). To evaluate the extent to which this promise has been realized, this literature review was conducted. A methodical search of the literature on CIA in reading interventions for students with learning disabilities yielded 17 studies. The studies were evaluated by type of computer instruction (drill and practice, strategy, and simulation) and type of reading intervention (prereading, word recognition, vocabulary/language, and comprehension/higher order thinking skills). Results indicate that most CAI programs in reading for this po pulation employ drill and practice procedures, followed by strategy instruction, then simulation. The area of reading intervention focus was evenly split between word recognition and reading comprehension, followed by language/vocabulary, then prereading skills instruction. In many studies CAI was found to be a medium in which children improved reading skills. Those studies demonstrating significant differences favoring a CAI reading intervention, employed effective teaching practices. Several characteristics of effective practices using CAI are highlighted here. Implications for future research employing CAI for students with disabilities in reading are presented.

In many respects, the outlook for children who experience learning difficulties in schools is bleak. The problem for schools and society is serious. About 23 million adults have basic skills at a fourth grade level or below, and are classified as functionally illiterate. An additional 35 million adults are semiliterate (skills below eighth grade ability). Illiterate and semiliterate adults account for 75% of the unemployed (Orton Dyslexia Society, 1986). Approximately one-fourth of the students currently enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12 will fail to complete high school (Cegelka, 1995), and many of these students are eligible for special education services. More than 5.1 million children with disabilities from (birth to 21) have been identified with a disability (Eighteenth Annual Report to Congress, 1996). This number represents 12% of the school population. Currently, 52% of children with disabilities have been identified as Learning Disabled (LD), a percentage of school children that has grown dra matically (from 23%) since child counts began in 1976-77 (Heward, 1996). Clearly, the essential skill of reading (decoding and comprehension) is not successfully taught or learned by all.

Concerns about literacy skills have become profound in America to the extent that our current political agenda now addresses reading education. President Clinton has established a goal for all school children to read by grade 3. To emphasize the importance of correcting and decreasing illiteracy rates, the White House is engaged with universities around the nation to institute tutoring programs to support school instruction and improve children's reading skills (The America Reads Challenge, 1997).

Intervention Efforts

Reading Instruction

Specialized efforts have been developed in an effort to remediate academic skills problems, including reading. Title 1 (formerly chapter 1) and Special Education are two prevalent service providers in public schools specifically designed to remediate and educate students with reading difficulties and disabilities. Seventy-five percent of students identified for Title 1 services, require assistance in reading (followed by math, and language). Reading is a significant problem for students with learning disabilities also. …