Boosting Reading Success

By Schirmer, Barbara R. | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 1997 | Go to article overview

Boosting Reading Success

Schirmer, Barbara R., Teaching Exceptional Children

Language, Literacy, and Content Area Instruction for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students-and Bilingual Students, and Students Learning English as a Second Language, and Everyone Else Who Needs a Little Help

Here is the story of Linda and Ben. Linda is a fourth-grade teacher, and Ben is one of 28 children in her class. Linda has taken advantage of abundant research on strategies for teaching reading comprehension; Ben, who is profoundly deaf, has particularly benefited-as have all the diverse learners in Linda's class.

The fact is that we know how to help children achieve success in reading. Research from the 1960s to the present has provided teacher-tested, proven strategies that can be tailored to any child, any class. The names of some of these strategies may sound daunting, such as Concept-Text-Application, Semantic Maps, and Directed Reading Thinking Activity. Many of them, such as K-W-L (What I Know, What I Want to Learn, and What I Learned) (Ogle, 1986) are a result of an explosion of reading research in the 1980s and are old friends to many teachers and students. (See Samuels & Farstrup, 1992; Schirmer, 1994; Zakaluk & Samuels, 1988 for other reading resources.)

No teaching strategy can enable children to understand all text material, regardless of the level of the material (see box, "Factors Contributing to Text Readability"); but teachers may use various strategies to provide children support in comprehending material that would appear to be considerably beyond their reading levels. These strategies can be used just as effectively by general education teachers with classrooms of diverse learners as by special education teachers with small, self-contained classrooms of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Teaching Strategies That Enhance Comprehension

For the purposes of discussion, let's consider two models of instructional strategies. Both models offer substantial support for reading content-area text material. One model requires that the teacher devote class time to reading the material, and the other model requires that the students read the material independently. Linda used both in her fourthgrade class.

In-Class Text Reading

Linda used a variety of strategies for inclass reading. She found that when she developed a theme, such as "govern- ment," many of the strategies made sense as she guided her students through the steps indicated here. As mentioned previously, Ben, a profoundly deaf child, was one of her students. Ben is also assisted throughout the day by a sign language interpreter and bimonthly by a consultant teacher of deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Some of the strategies Linda used were the Guided Reading Procedure, ConceptText-Application, K-W-L, Directed Reading Activity, and Directed Reading Thinking Activity. The latter two strategies are usually used with narrative text but have been found to work effectively with expository text (Alvermann & Swafford, 1989).

Step 1. Activating and Building Background Knowledge. Because Linda was theming her instruction, she did not have to incorporate extensive background-building activities-she was presenting and reinforcing a common set of concepts within each of the subject areas. The consultant teacher had explained to Linda that deaf children like Ben typically miss much incidental information and, therefore, often have fragments of knowledge about any given topic (see box, "Language Learning"). In building background knowledge, Linda tried to expand on the knowledge that Ben-and other children-already had and to draw the connections between bodies of knowledge.

When Linda began the 4-week theme on government, she engaged the children in a discussion about rules at school and at home and asked them to figure out the criteria of workable rules (e.g., clear, easy to understand, realistic, can be obeyed without breaking another rule, can be enforced). Knowing that deaf and hard-of-hearing children benefit from visual representation of concepts, Linda used this discussion and the subsequent presentation about laws to begin a semantic map representing important concepts that would be incorporated throughout the theme on government. …

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