Meeting the Needs of Learners with Reading Disabilities Video

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  • 0:04 Reading Disabilities
  • 0:59 Phonemic Awareness
  • 1:55 Reaching Students
  • 2:35 Models
  • 3:39 Looping Process
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde
All students, including those diagnosed with reading disabilities, have unique needs. This lesson outlines methods teachers can use to meet the needs of learners with reading disabilities and shows how to use them in classroom instruction.

Reading Disabilities

When you think about reading, think about all the skills you use to read the words on this page. You start with word recognition, which includes your ability to use phonics, or sound/letter relationships. You may be reading words you know by sight and aren't decoding. You also need to comprehend what these words mean, relying on your vocabulary skills, background knowledge, and verbal reasoning. Finally, you need to read at a rate that allows you to make sense of what you read and not lose track of concepts as you go. There's quite a lot that goes into reading.

Many students struggle to learn all these complex skills. Reading difficulties are found at the word level, the language level, or sometimes both. Some students who struggle with learning to read receive a diagnosis of a reading disability and are eligible for services that provide extra help. These students have unique and specific needs that are necessary to help them develop as readers. Let's take a closer look.

Phonemic Awareness

Harley is a student diagnosed with a reading disability. Like most students, her struggles began in kindergarten. She found it difficult to understand the basics of phonics and couldn't remember letter/sound relationships. She also had a tough time recognizing aspects of phonemic awareness. This skill has three parts involving the sounds we hear in spoken words: hearing them, recognizing them, and working with them in different ways.

Because she had little exposure to books before school, Harley didn't have an understanding of how text worked. Her sight word vocabulary, or words she could identify without using phonics, was low and slow to develop. Finally, she was unable to use strategies that would help her identify unknown words or understand what she was reading. Harley was diagnosed with a specific type of reading disability called dyslexia, which is a challenge to understand letters and other written symbols by an individual with an average to above average intelligence.

Reaching Students

When designing reading instruction for students with reading disabilities, teachers should use evidence-based methods, or those that have been proven to work. Intervention strategies are based on each student's unique needs as determined by the screenings given and input from teachers and other professionals. Once a student's learning goals and objectives have been identified, teachers can zoom in on ways to help them make progress.

No matter what specific needs a student with a reading disability has, teachers can rely on several effective strategies to guide students in reading development, including gradual release, shaping, using a looping process, and creating meaning. How do these work? Let's take a peek.


One way teachers can help students with reading disabilities like Harley find success is to use a gradual release model. They begin by giving the student support and gradually letting go as the student gains independence. For example, Harley may need explicit instruction on recognizing sight words in print. As she practices and gains knowledge, her teacher will spend less and less time scaffolding her with this construct, eventually allowing her to read these words independently.

Shaping is an instructional method similar to the gradual release model because it supports students as they develop reading skills. Shaping, however, incorporates positive reinforcement to help students find confidence in themselves.

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