Promoting Emergent Literacy Skills in Students with Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Helping students with learning disabilities learn to read is such an important part of supporting their literacy development. This lesson discusses what you can do to promote emergent literacy skills in students with learning disabilities.

Understanding Learning Disabilities

As a second grade teacher, Melinda knows that helping students solidify their literacy skills is a key aspect of her job. This year, Melinda has two students with diagnosed learning disabilities in her class. Melinda understands that learning disabilities are struggles with assimilating new information in one or more specific areas, in spite of overall cognitive strength.

Melinda understands that no two children with learning disabilities are exactly alike. At the same time, she can see that many of these children have a difficult time learning to read and write.

To meet the needs of these students, Melinda realizes that she needs to understand emergent literacy in students with learning disabilities. Emergent literacy is the earliest stage of learning to read and write; during this phase, students are becoming alert to letter sounds, developing concepts of print, and learning more about how to make meaning from texts.

Developing Phonological Awareness

First, Melinda wants to understand what she can do to develop phonological awareness, or understanding of the relationships between sounds, letters and sounds, and the ways sounds work in print.

To help children with learning disabilities grow their phonological awareness, Melinda uses the following strategies:

  • She teaches letters and their corresponding sounds using images and icons that represent the sounds. Visual strategies like these are often very useful for children with learning disabilities.
  • She points out the sounds that children are working on as she reads the morning message, does read alouds, or sometimes even when working on other subject areas.
  • She uses multisensory techniques, or strategies that incorporate body movements and tactile experiences, to help students practice their letters and sounds. For instance, she might have students look at a word and trace the letters with their fingers in the sky while trying to read the sounds.
  • She learns about Orton Gillingham approaches to phonological awareness, which involves separating words into their component parts and helping students more explicitly understand how to blend and segment sounds.

Supporting Fluency

Melinda also knows that fluency, or learning to read with speed and expression, is an important part of emergent literacy. For her students with learning disabilities, Melinda knows that it is important to make fluency development meaningful and engaging.

She has these students dance while singing the words of a poem, participate in simple skits like reader's theater, and read chorally with typically developing readers as ways to work on their prosody. She also reminds her students to read like they speak, helping remove some of the anxiety that sometimes comes along with oral reading for struggling students.

Considering Sight Words

Melinda knows the importance of teaching sight words, or words that do not look the way they are spelled but appear frequently in print. Learning sight words can really help emergent readers engage more fluidly with simple texts. To teach students sight words, Melinda

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