Preparing College Students with Moderate Learning Disabilities with the Tools for Higher Level Success

By Cowden, Peter A. | College Student Journal, June 2010 | Go to article overview
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Preparing College Students with Moderate Learning Disabilities with the Tools for Higher Level Success


Cowden, Peter A., College Student Journal


The ability to learn is an important life skill. It is a critical skill for participation in all aspects of life, including school, work, and the community. It is a major key to accessing knowledge, gaining independence, and exercising life choices. Many people believe that individuals with moderate disabilities cannot learn how to read. They think that reading is too complicated and requires high levels of language and cognitive ability that individuals with moderate disabilities do not possess. However, research about reading has begun to provide evidence that students with moderate disabilities can be taught reading skills. Five essential components of reading instruction for beginning readers are identified: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. All of these components are crucial for students to learn in the beginning reading stages, whether the student has a disability or not.

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law governing programs for students with disabilities, requires that all students have access to the general education curriculum. Reading is a primary component of the general education curriculum. As a result, instruction in reading must be considered for students with moderate disabilities. Five key factors of how teachers should provide effective reading skills to students with moderate disabilities are; make sure students with moderate disabilities have the opportunity to learn how to read, emphasize development of general language skills in the classroom and at home, especially at the pre-reading stage, provide specific training to build sensitivity to sounds and how to put sounds together to make words, use best knowledge and research to plan your instructional approach, and keep up-to-date on current research. Research and case studies (Kuder, 1990) have shown that students with moderate disabilities can learn to read, although more commonly at a lower rate or proficiency level compared to typically developing peers. There is evidence that some students with moderate disabilities use phonic skills to sound out words and they can comprehend stories about events or topics that are familiar to them. Some have learned how to read words in their environment that allow them to function more independently, while others have become proficient enough to be able to read simple books, magazines, and newspapers.

Students with moderate disabilities spent little time engaged in phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary instruction. It has been demonstrated that interventions that focused on these components are more effective than those that are not. In particular, evidence suggests that methods that directly teach phonemic awareness and phonics skills are especially effective for struggling readers (Swanson, 2008). The author discussed how inappropriate grouping structures were often used during reading instruction for students with moderate disabilities. It is very important to use small groups to provide high-quality reading instruction to struggling readers. For example, The National Reading Panel (2000) reported that phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when provided in a small-group setting. Likewise, teaching students with moderate disabilities in small groups of six or fewer students was one of three key instructional components reported to produce the strongest impact on reading outcomes. Another key component that was researched was students were engaged in very little comprehension instruction. Learning from text and understanding what is read are the purposes of reading instruction. Yet, these studies reported that comprehension instruction rarely occurred, and when it did, it included, for the most part, literal comprehension questions. Lastly, students with moderate disabilities spent little time engaged in the actual task of reading, when they are perhaps the population of students who require the greatest amount of practice reading texts.

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Preparing College Students with Moderate Learning Disabilities with the Tools for Higher Level Success
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