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Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties and Disabilities: A Guide for Educators (2004, Ministry of Education)

On-Line Document

This document is on-line.

It is located at the following website. Click Learning Publications. Click Special Education and Intensive Support.


To assist educators in teaching students who are experiencing significant reading difficulties. To assist educators in teaching students who have a disability in reading and writing expression. To understand the framework for assessment and program planning. To gain a repertoire of strategies to help students develop reading skills.

Early Identification of Reading Ability is Critical

Focus on moving towards a PREVENTATIVE model of intervention rather than a REMEDIAL model of intervention. The ultimate goal of reading instruction is to help children acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to comprehend printed material at a level that is consistent with their general language comprehension skills.
Torgesen (2000)

If students are not competent readers, they are at risk for academic, behavioral, social, and emotional difficulties.
Some of these students may be identified as learning disabled.

Official National Definition of Learning Disability

At least average cognitive ability Impairments in:

Language processing Phonological processing Visual spatial processing Processing speed Memory and attention Executive function

Range in severity

Official National Definition of Learning Disability

Interferes with the acquisition Oral language Reading Written language Mathematics Organization skills Social skills Lifelong Genetic/Neurobiological


Official National Definition of Learning Disability


Unexpected academic underachievement or achievement which is maintained only by unusually high levels of effort and support.
Not due primarily to hearing and or vision problems, socioeconomic factors, cultural or linguistic differences, lack of motivation or ineffective teaching.

Learning Disabilities
Written Reading Disability Expression Disorder Handwriting Disability Math Disability Nonverbal Learning Disability

Reading Difficulties

Writing Difficulties

Spelling Difficulties

Motor Difficulties

Math Difficulties

VisualSpatial & Social Difficulties

Difficulties Associated with a Learning Disability

Social Skills Receptive and Expressive Language Auditory/ Phonological Processing

Study and Organizational Skills

Learning Disability

Visual Processing


VisualMotor Processing Memory Attention

Characteristics of Struggling Readers

Over reliance on guessing strategies May have low language skills Limited phonemic awareness Limited understanding of phonics Memory problems Read slowly and hesitantly, or not at all Limited understanding about the text they read Often become frustrated and avoid reading
Moats (1998)

What Makes a Reader Proficient?

Development of phonemic awareness Understanding of letter-sound correspondence Fluency based on automatic recognition of lettersound relationships Automatic recognition of sight words Rich vocabulary Because of a solid foundation in reading skills, proficient readers have more cognitive resources to focus on comprehension.
Moats (1998)


Framework for Assessment and Program Planning


Classroom based assessment will help to determine how teachers will teach students with reading difficulties or learning disabilities. Students with reading difficulties or learning disabilities require explicit and intensive instruction that is on-going, monitored, and evaluated.

Framework for Assessment and Program Planning

Step 1:

Classroom Assessment and Intervention Establishing the team and the Referral Process Formal Assessment Program Planning

Step 2:

Step 3:

Framework for Assessment and Program Planning

Step 1. Classroom Assessment and Intervention
The Classroom Teacher
in collaboration with parents/caregivers, resource teacher, administrator

Collect/Review Information. If insufficient information, move to Step 2. Develop Classroom Intervention Plan.

Student experiences success with Classroom Intervention Plan. Continue with interventions Monitor, Evaluate See Step 2

Student continues to experience difficulty.

Framework for Assessment and Program Planning

Step 2. Referral Process
Establish a Team Review information. If sufficient information, develop an Expanded Classroom Intervention Plan. If insufficient information, arrange for formal assessment.

Student experiences success with Expanded Intervention Plan. Continue with interventions Monitor, Evaluate

Student continues to experience difficulty.

See Step 3

Framework for Assessment and Program Planning

Step 3. Formal Assessment/Program Planning
The team Reviews assessment results and develops a Personal Program Plan (PPP). Implements, Evaluates, and Monitors.

Student experiences success with PPP. Continue with interventions (PPP). Monitor, Evaluate.

Student continues to experience difficulty. Team reviews and adjusts program.

Understanding Reading Instruction

Strategies to Use in the Classroom

What We Know About Reading Instruction

Systematic and explicit approaches to instruction are consistently more effective than approaches that depend on student discovery and inference. The need for explicit instruction extends beyond phonics. We need to teach fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies this way, too.

Critical Elements in Reading Instruction

Phonological Awareness

Oral Language

Vocabulary Development

These elements are taught through an integrated, balanced approach, and not in isolation.

Oral Language

Oral language is the foundation for reading and written language. The sounds of oral language are mapped onto letters, which are used to represent spoken words. Since the ultimate goal of reading is comprehension, students must understand the meaning of the words they are expected to read. Receptive language refers to the oral language that we hear and understand. Expressive language refers to the language that we use to express ourselves in words.

Oral Language: Intervention Strategies

Listening to a Paragraph, Dramatizing

Read a paragraph.

Tell students to listen carefully.

Have students act it out.

Oral Language: Intervention Strategies

Teach new vocabulary using a multisensory approach (graphic organizers, pictures, movies, demonstrations, modeling). Gradually increase multi-step directions. Involve students in simulations. Use role plays and drama.

Receptive Language Strategies

When providing information, use visuals such as pictures, charts, time lines, graphic organizers, webs, calendars, demonstrations, examples. Keep instructions concise & emphasize key information. Pre-teach new vocabulary. Link new content to prior knowledge.

Expressive Language Strategies

When child makes a grammatical error, restate information using correct structures.
Use higher order thinking questions (explain, describe, evaluate, compare). Engage in story telling. Make scrapbooks of events, favorite things, or collections (discuss with child).

Phonological Awareness

is a general understanding that spoken words are made up of sounds. is based on processing the sounds of spoken language.

How Phonological Awareness Relates to Reading

Children become aware that sentences are made up of words and words are made up of different parts.

Many children develop phonological and phonemic awareness through listening to stories, rhyming, and other word games.
Children struggling to learn how to read need direct, explicit instruction to develop phonological and phonemic awareness.

Examples of Phonological Awareness

This sentence has 5 words: The cat ran after me. These words rhyme: cat - bat. These words dont rhyme: ran - bed. This word has 2 syllables: af-ter. These words start with the same sound: me - milk.

Phonemic Awareness

The specific understanding that spoken words are made up of individual phonemes.

It is part of phonological awareness.

Phonemes are the individual sounds in spoken words. They are the smallest units of meaningful speech.

Examples of how Phonemic Awareness Relates to Reading

Blending phonemes into words. Segmenting words into phonemes. Deleting a phoneme from a word. Say sat without the /s/. Adding a phoneme to a word. Add /m/ to the beginning of at. Manipulating phonemes in words. Say bat. Now change the /b/ to /k/.

Phonemic awareness abilities in kindergarten (or in that age range) appear to be the best single predictor of successful reading acquisition.
(A Position Statement from the Board of Directors of the International Reading Association, 1998)

Phonemic Awareness Skills: Intervention Strategies

Make Riddles
Ask students riddles that require them to manipulate sounds in their heads: What rhymes with pig and starts with /d/? (dig) What rhymes with at and starts with /f/? (fat) What rhymes with dog and starts with /f/? (fog)


Phonics is a way of teaching reading that conveys an understanding that there are correspondences between phonemes (the sounds of spoken language) and graphemes (the letters and spellings that represent those sounds in written language).
Reithaug (2002)

The 26 letters of the English alphabet represent 44 phonemes.

How Phonics Relates to Reading

Phonics is the means to accurate and automatic decoding. It is an essential feature of an effective reading program. Phonics instruction needs to be linked to literature rather than as a stand-alone element of a reading program. Proficient readers read every word, see all of the letters, and process this information very quickly, based on their knowledge of phonics.
Reithaug, (2002)

Phonics: Instructional Strategies

Teach high frequency words these are words that are often confused.
e.g. were/where; was/saw; from/for.

Teach patterns using onsets and rimes, also known as word families.
e.g. -ack; -ice; -ock, etc.

Teach chunking longer words into more manageable chunks. Teach prefixes, suffixes, and root words. Keep instruction in context.
Beers (2003)

Vocabulary Development

Part of the semantic cueing system (word meaning). Cannot be taken for granted that students understand all the words they read. Oral vocabulary supports the understanding of reading vocabulary. Reading vocabulary involves more than understanding individual words. It also depends on the sentence a word is in (its spelling, content, and pragmatics).

How Vocabulary Development Relates to Reading

Once a student has decoded a written word, it is available to the student in speech form. If the word is in the students vocabulary, it will be understood. If not, the student will not understand the word even though the student can read (decode) it. The aim of reading is comprehension. A person must understand the vocabulary words he/she is reading in order to understand the text.

Vocabulary Development: Instructional Strategies

Read to students. Use material above students reading level. Elaborate on new vocabulary to create a deeper understanding of words. Create scenarios/simulations that allow students to practice using new vocabulary.

The goal of reading is to comprehend. Proficient readers: use a variety of strategies, use strategies before, during and after reading, use different strategies for different texts at different places along the reading development continuum, interact with the text in order to construct meaning.

How Comprehension Relates to Reading

Relate the content of the text to personal experience and activate prior knowledge:
predict, develop questions before & during reading, clarify, summarize, visualize, monitor understanding, connect ideas to construct meaning, inference.

An Example of a Reading Comprehension Strategy



the reading Read key paragraphs Express ideas in writing Prepare study cards
Hock, Deshler, & Schumaker (2000)

Reading Fluency

Reading fluency is the ability to read text quickly and accurately with appropriate expression. Fluent readers do not have to sound out each word. Automaticity allows readers to focus on comprehension. Proficient readers are fluent readers. (But fluent readers may not be proficient.)

Fluency: Instructional Strategies

Review high frequency words. Repeated Readings: - Have students reread passages that are at an independent reading level. - Reread passage until predetermined goal is achieved. - Record reading time and number of correct words.

For a complete list of references related to this presentation, please consult the following document. Saskatchewan Learning (2004). Teaching students with reading difficulties and disabilities: A guide for educators.