Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Effectiveness of Kindergarten Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for Students with Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Effectiveness of Kindergarten Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Proficient reading relates strongly to academic success throughout primary and secondary schooling (Snow, 2002; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). However, reading difficulties are among the most common challenges that school-aged children, particularly those at risk for or identified as having disabilities, confront. In fact, 80% of students with learning disabilities have a reading deficit (Lyon et al., 2001). The prognosis for struggling readers is poor unless effective reading intervention is in place early (Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz, & Fletcher, 1996; Juel, 1988). Although this population is in great need of effective literacy intervention, few researchers have examined the effectiveness of early literacy interventions specifically for students with disabilities (cf. Fuchs et al., 2002). Because reading problems tend to permeate all areas of learning and become increasingly difficult to remediate, early identification and intervention are essential to student success (Morocco, 2001; Torgesen, 1998).

Current educational policies and reforms are also calling for research to examine the effectiveness of classwide general education curricula that work for all students. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1990, 1997) mandates that the best placement for students with disabilities is the one that is the least restrictive, which for many students is the general education classroom. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2002) reinforce the belief that the general education classroom, curriculum, and accountability systems should be for all children, including those with disabilities.

Further, IDEA (2004) put into law the right of a school district to choose a response-to-intervention (RTI) model over the traditional discrepancy model to identify students with learning disabilities. RTI involves early identification of students at risk, progress monitoring, and increasingly intensive intervention for students who continue to struggle. The application of an RTI model requires that schools implement high-quality, evidence-based classroom instruction (Tier 1 instruction) that meets the needs of most students, including those with disabilities. One of the primary goals of RTI is to reduce the need for more intensive (and restrictive) intervention. Thus, robustly effective universal Tier 1 interventions are a central component of high-quality RTI implementation. In light of these reforms, researchers must test the effectiveness of Tier 1 general education instruction for all students. For young students at risk for severe reading difficulties, including those with disabilities, the following are two important questions:

* What types of instruction should they receive?

* Can the general education classroom provide this early reading instruction?

EFFECTIVE BEGINNING READING INSTRUCTION

Researchers who have identified early reading skills that predict later reading success agree that phonological awareness (PA) relates strongly to subsequent reading achievement (Adams, 1990; Juel, 1988; Snow et al., 1998). PA refers to awareness of the larger and smaller parts of spoken language (including syllables, rimes, and individual phonemes); and children can demonstrate PA by blending, segmenting, rhyming, and other types of sound manipulation (Adams, 1990). Decades of research indicate that kindergartners with strong PA skills read better than their peers with weak PA skills, even after taking into account other variables that affect reading skill--such as intelligence, social class, memory, and vocabulary (see Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998, for a review of PA research).

Although many children develop PA through common preschool activities (rhyming songs, stories and games, alliterative text, etc.), other children require more systematic instruction. Fortunately, researchers have demonstrated that educators can teach PA by using explicit instructional approaches. …

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