Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Exploring the Importance of Reading Programs for Kindergartners with Disabilities in Mainstream Classrooms

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Exploring the Importance of Reading Programs for Kindergartners with Disabilities in Mainstream Classrooms

Article excerpt

We begin with three closely related and widely accepted facts. First, reading is a foundational skill in all children's academic careers; whether they become strong or weak readers has considerable bearing on their success in school and beyond (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Second, reading readiness, once a heresy in the early childhood community, is now perceived by many as a vital part of a child's kindergarten experience (Snow et al.). Third, an indispensable ingredient in reading-readiness programs is phonological awareness (PA), or the capacity to blend, segment, rhyme, or in other ways manipulate the sounds of spoken words (e.g., Adams, 1990).

The high regard that academics, policymakers, educators, and parents have for PA (see Kantrowitz & Underwood, 1999) is based on more than 2 decades of correlational and experimental research. Correlational studies indicate that kindergartners with relatively strong PA read better in subsequent grades than classmates who show relatively weak PA in kindergarten (e.g., Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986), and that the strength of this connection endures after controlling for intelligence, vocabulary, letter knowledge, memory, and social class (e.g., Share, Jorm, MacLean, & Matthews, 1984).

More impressive is the experimental work. Typically referred to as the "training studies," this group of 60 or more investigations collectively has demonstrated that PA can be trained (e.g., Rosner, 1974); the training can produce a positive, albeit small, effect on reading development (e.g., Lundberg, Frost, & Petersen, 1988); and its influence on reading can be enhanced when integrated with letter-sound or beginning-reading instruction (e.g., Hatcher, Hulme, & Ellis, 1994).

Despite the importance of the training studies, they are limited in at least two notable respects. First, researchers--not teachers--have typically conducted the training with small groups of children outside of classrooms (cf. O'Connor, Notari-Syverson, & Vadasy, 1996; Troia, 1999). The related question is: Can teachers implement the training with their intact classes as effectively? Second, as with teachers, students with disabilities rarely have been included in the training studies (cf. O'Connor, 2000). They have been either overlooked because of researcher disinterest or deliberately excluded because of the researcher's desire for relatively homogeneous samples (e.g., Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987). This raises the question: Are treatments shown to be effective for children without disabilities also effective for children with special needs?

What makes these questions particularly important is IDEA '97, which, in the spirit of recent court cases (e.g., Oberti v. Board of Education of Clementon School District, 1993), clearly and emphatically puts forth the belief that the general classroom should be the presumptive placement for students with disabilities (cf. Huefner, 1994). Many expect IDEA '97 to increase the number of students with special needs participating in mainstream instruction, which, in turn, underscores the importance of validating educational programs, and perhaps especially early reading programs, that promote learning among students with and without disabilities and that are feasible for general educators to implement.

To assess these and other issues, we conducted a year-long, large-scale investigation of the effectiveness of two beginning-reading programs for a broad range of kindergartners. The first reading program provided PA training, and we refer to it hereafter as the "PA program." The second program combined PA with Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for Kindergartners (PALS; Fuchs et al., 2000), a beginning decoding program. The PA program is teacher-led; PALS is peer-mediated. In PA and PA + PALS conditions, teachers were responsible for training their students and supervising the treatments. …

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