Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Preventing School Failure: Students with Learning Disabilities Have Special Instructional Needs

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Preventing School Failure: Students with Learning Disabilities Have Special Instructional Needs

Article excerpt

In the last 20 years, our understanding of many specific learning disabilities has grown significantly. Among the various learning disabilities, disorders of language comprehension, language expression, reading and writing are the most common. Up to 80 percent of the children we categorize as having learning disabilities, in fact, have disorders of language. These language-based disorders include reading and writing disabilities.

Through research we know that listening, speaking, reading and writing are closely related language skills. For example, preschool children with disorders of oral language-meaning listening and speaking--usually develop difficulties learning to read and write. Conversely, most children who encounter reading failure demonstrate a basic deficit in speech perception and speech sound processing.

These children have trouble detecting the speech sounds in words and associating them with letter patterns. For example, younger children with reading disability usually can tell that spoken words like "moats" and "most" are different, but cannot identify which sounds are different or how many sounds there are in each word. They may also have difficulty with rhyming activities, word games (such as pig Latin) and activities requiring them to count or change the sounds in words. They may have unusual trouble learning the differences between words such as "goal" and gold." I knew one child who sat through an entire lesson on the Gold Rush and thought that the teacher was talking about "goals," like soccer goals.

Children with these language disabilities have difficulty discriminating between words such as "boost" and boast," or unanimous" and "anonymous." Such children have a weak sense of word structure which undermines their ability to learn the code of written English. As time goes on, this problem, in turn, undermines their vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling, written expression and their motivation for language-based learning. Obviously, they are at high risk for school failure.

Do we know how to teach these students? Yes; educational researchers have agreed on the essential components of effective teaching. Model schools and programs with low rates of failure do exist. Do we practice what we know? No; not on a nationwide scale that would make a difference. Clearly, several educational policies and practices must be altered to clear the way for better implementation of good teaching practices for students with learning disabilities.

Early intervention essential

First, reading failure can be prevented for all but a very small percentage of children. Intervention, however, must begin early in kindergarten and first grade. The longer intervention is delayed, the more likely it is that a child's failure will become entrenched. Programs which have been proved effective in reducing reading failure involve individual or very small group instruction by a well-trained teacher. Examples of such programs include Project Read Out of Minnesota, Success for All in Baltimore and Philadelphia, Reading Recovery in New Zealand and Ohio, the Winston/Salem Project in North Carolina, Benita Blachman's projects in New York City and Syracuse, and many others.

Effective prevention of reading failure includes reading and writing practice with a wide variety of worthwhile material. …

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