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Reading Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Sharon Linde
We'll define the terms decoding, fluency, and comprehension. We'll also list common errors that students with reading disabilities make with these skills, and address direct instruction methods teachers can use to assist these students.

What Are Reading Strategies?

When students read, several things are going on at once. First, they use their knowledge of sound/symbol relationships in phonics to decode words they don't know. Think of a young student reading - they decode many or most words in text as they build their sight word vocabulary and begin to rely less and less on sounding words out. As their sight word vocabulary grows, they gain fluency, or the ability to read text in a steady pace with accurate tone.

Finally, students learn to understand what they read, or comprehend. There are many comprehension strategies, methods we use to remember and understand what we're reading. These strategies include things like making mental images, inferring, or connecting to the text.

Struggles for Students with Learning Disabilities

Students with special needs who have been formally diagnosed with a learning disability, or a difficulty understanding language, often struggle with the strategies used when reading. Let's start with the basics.

Decoding

Like we said above, emergent readers rely on their decoding skills to read text until they build a sight word vocabulary, or words they can remember without decoding. Decoding is reliant on several sub skills related to sound/symbol relationships embedded in phonics. Think about everything that goes into decoding a word, like 'cat.' First, you need to hear, understand, and be able to manipulate sounds, called phonemic awareness. Then you learn that letters represent sounds in speech, and remember what each letter/sound is. Finally, you call on these skills as you decode 'c,' 'a,' and 't,' blending the individual sounds into the word 'cat.'

Students with learning disabilities who struggle with decoding may have:

  • Low or no phonemic awareness skills
  • Lack understanding of letters and sounds
  • Issues with directional tracking, or moving from left to right
  • Inability to recognize the patterns found in print

Fluency

Students rely on being able to accurately decode and build their sight word vocabulary in order to become fluent readers. Emergent readers who are just beginning to learn and apply decoding skills will not be fluent; instead, fluency is built as they increase awareness of print and build confidence as readers.

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