Individualized Research-Based Reading Instruction for Students with Intellectual Disabilities: Success Stories

By Allor, Jill H.; Mathes, Patricia G. et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2010 | Go to article overview

Individualized Research-Based Reading Instruction for Students with Intellectual Disabilities: Success Stories


Allor, Jill H., Mathes, Patricia G., Jones, Francesca G., Champlin, Tammi M., Cheatham, Jennifer P., Teaching Exceptional Children


Students like Jacob, Bart, and Carl represent a population of children with intellectual disabilities (ID; i.e., mental retardation) who experience significant difficulty in learning to read. In the past, most research about reading methods for students with ID focused on teaching students to memorize sight words, a method that is clearly effective (Browder, Wakeman, Spooner, Ahlgrim-Delzell, & Algozzine, 2006). Memorization of sight words is definitely useful and is an important part of reading; however, reading is more than memorizing sight words. Educators often assume that children with ID are not capable of learning to read beyond memorizing a limited corpus of sight words (Katims, 2000). The result is that educators often make little effort to teach students with ID to become fully literate, and only one in five children with mild or moderate ID achieves even minimal literacy skills (Katims, 2001). Three centers, recently funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, are conducting studies to explore methods for teaching students with ID to read. Jacob, Bart, and Carl have been participating in a study that seeks to determine whether methods that are effective with at-risk students with average IQs are also effective for students like Jacob, Bart, and Carl (see Altar, Mathes, Champlin, & Cheatham, 2009; AJJor, Mathes, Jones, & Roberts, hi press).

What Do We Know About Effective Reading Instruction for Students With ID?

Overview of Research

Research on comprehensive reading instruction for students with low IQs,.including those with ID (i.e., mental retardation), is promising. In the past few years, research has examined the effectiveness of comprehensive, phonics-based reading programs in teaching students with ID to fully process the print and meaning of connected text. Willi extensive practice and highquality individualized instruction, students with low IQs are making important progress in early reading development (Allor et al., in press; Browder, Ahlgrim-Delzell, Courtade, Gibbs, & Flowers, 2008; O'Connor, Bocian, Beebe-Frankenberger, & Linklater, in press). Although more research is needed, this line of research furnishes a strong rationale for teaching students with low IQs to read by using the same techniques that are effective with other struggling readers (see box, "Summary of Research on Teaching Students With Intellectual Disabilities to Read").

Key Curriculum Features

The intervention used to instruct Jacob, Bart, and Carl was a comprehensive research-based reading curriculum, Early Intervenäons in Reading, that has been effective with struggling readers without ID (Mathes et al., 2005; Mathes & Torgesen, 2005a, 2005b). We also expanded the curriculum, developing a more basic level, called the Foundation Level (Allor, Mathes, & Jones, 2009), to build the requisite skills for success in the existing level of the program. All the lessons employed the principles of direct instruction (Camine, Silben, Kame'enui, & Tarver, 2004; Kame'enui, Camine, Dixon, Simmons, & Coyne, 2002). Both levels of the intervention include multiple content strands (i.e., concepts of print, phonological and phonemic awareness, oral language, letter knowledge, word recognition, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension) woven together in a series of engaging, fast-paced activities. The \ design of the curriculum facilitates the integration of skills and strategies over time and results in a set of daily lesson plans with overlapping content strands and extensive cumulative review and application. We carefully analyzed instructional content and organized it into a systematic scope and sequence that targeted big ideas and allowed intensive practice and application of key strategies. For example, the curriculum introduces new letter sounds in isolation in a careful sequence and integrates them into other word-level activities, such as sounding out words and spelling words.

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