Reading Comprehension and Learning Disabilities
Reading comprehension can also be summarized as the ability to understand the passage that is being read. Students with a learning disability have deficits within several academic areas, however reading comprehension seems to be the area in which creates the most trouble and frustration for a student. Students is a diagnosed learning disability struggle within the area of reading comprehension, however by pairing comprehension strategies with instructional material, teachers hold the opportunity to boost students’ reading skills and their ability recall the information in which they read (Poch, 2018, pg. 75). Within a K-12 environment several strategies and interventions can be used to address these areas of deficits and have proven data to show an increase in reading comprehension scores for students with a learning disability in grades K-12.
Keywords: reading comprehension, learning disabilities, K-12 school, strategies, intervention
Reading, a simplistic word however for some can create apprehension, fear and frustration. Students with a learning disability who display a history of reading difficulties in the early years of their life generally carry this difficulty into their post high school lives. Students with a history of reading difficulty can take a longer duration of time to answer questions along with a text in the realm of vocabulary as well as background knowledge questions (Hebery, Zhang, & Parrila, 2017, Pg. 15).
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Learning disabilities can have a background with an individual having difficulties in reading, writing and mathematics. The term learning disabilities is tied together as an unexpected difficulty with academic skills (Fletcher & Grigorenko, 2017, pg. 930). Student’s with a diagnosed learning disability are more prone to having difficulties in the realm of reading and reading comprehension. Reading comprehension, or an understanding of the text, can only begin if the student has an ability to read the text and grasp the phonological awareness of what they are reading. They must understand sentence structure, written language and purpose of spelling (Fletcher & Grigorenko, 2017, pg. 931). Once a child has these skills they can then connect those abilities to reading stories and begin to work towards reading comprehension and being able to discuss the text that they just read.
The purpose of this literature review is to examine the effects of students with a learning disability in a K-12 environment in regards to reading comprehension. This literature review will examine different strategies and interventions that are or have been used in an elementary school, middle school and high school environments and how those interventions have impacted the students used within the student.
What is the effectiveness of different reading interventions for students with a learning disability in a K-12 environment?
The understanding of text and being able to recall information, facts and/or ideas from a text is the general basis for reading comprehension (Leidig, Grünke, Urton, Knaak, & Hisgen, 2018, Pg. 232). As students get older reading text and recalling that information becomes more vital and is expected to be used in every subject to demonstrate proper understanding. There are two stages that a student learning when beginning to read text, the first one is learning to read, where the students begin to blend letters and sounds to form words. The second one is reading to learn, where now a student know how to decode to form words but now they are pulling information from text and determining the meaning behind phrases (Leidig, Grünke, Urton, Knaak, & Hisgen, 2018, Pg. 232).
A study completed using 22 teams of low-achieving students and high-achieving students was implemented for a four-week period using the RAP strategy in a fourth- grade classroom. The RAP strategy is broken down to three parts; Read the paragraph, Ask yourself about the main idea and Put the main idea into your own words (Leidig, Grünke, Urton, Knaak, & Hisgen, 2018, Pg. 234). The teams were made up with the higher achieving students being used a peer tutor and helping their friends who are stated as the lower achieving students. Half the teams in the study used peer-tutoring while the other half received regular classroom instruction, however it should be noted that each team received the same amount of motivation and support from the instructor.
The intervention was implemented with the teams meeting three times per week for 20-30 minutes outside of their regular classroom environment. Each team was supplied with stickers, a RAP poster and a notepad to use within their sessions. Feedback was given from the students at the end of the intervention phase to determine how the students felt about the intervention both positive and negative. When paired with visual supports, motivation and praise produced remarkable gains in reading comprehension for the low-achieving students with a diagnosed learning disability in the classroom (Leidig, Grünke, Urton, Knaak, & Hisgen, 2018, Pg. 245). The authors did state that the intervention must be paired with consistent praise and motivation from the teacher, however this can all be done in a cost-effective way as well as no additional teachers were needed for this intervention.
Another way to increase reading comprehension in students who have a diagnosed learning disability is one that is quite easy, cost-effective and can easily be overlooked, is to have a conversation with the students based on the reading material. This type of dialogue should be structured by using four strategies which include: questioning, summarizing, clarifying and predicting (Gomaa, 2015, pg. 40). In this particular study 66 students with whom have a learning disability with 33 participating in an experimental group and 33 in a control group.
The students within the study received 3 training sessions a week lasting between 40-45 minutes with the researcher presenting the set lesson. Students were then split into groups of four in which each person in each group was given a category (prediction, questioning, summarizing and clarification) and that student was required to answer the question based on that category given to them in correlation to the text.
It is unclear as to how long the study was completed, however the researchers discovered that by having a method in which groups of students were assigned a set category and then had a discussion with their peers as well as the instructor increased reading comprehension for those in the experimental group, as opposed to those in the control group who received their instructions the traditional way (Gomaa, 2015, pg. 43).
A study targeting reading comprehension and students with a learning disability designed an intervention that used informational text to increase reading comprehension abilities. Response to Intervention creates a way for students to work on reading fluency and decoding skills, however it doesn’t always simply address reading comprehension as much as it is truly needed. The researchers within this study used 46 fifth-grade students in an intervention from October to February. Seven small groups were comprised of 2-4 students who met 4 times a week for 30-minute sessions. Sessions were during school wide intervention times so no students would miss other instructional classroom time. Instruction included previewing texts, background knowledge, decoding strategies, main idea and summarizing (Ritchey, Palombo, Silverman, & Speece, 2017, pg. 73). The intervention used was titled PLUGIN and addressed a process to help students comprehend informational text where students were taught each area daily using peer tutors as well as instructor taught lessons.
The researchers of the study found that after the total of 20 hour of instruction that the students learned the targeted strategies. While in the short term these teaching and intervention strategies worked well, in the long term the researchers believed that the effects did not last. The researchers do suggest that further work is needed to assess more improvement strategies that may be able to generalize across different subject matter (Ritchey, Palombo, Silverman, & Speece, 2017, pg. 78).
When reading a text, a typically developing student and individual has the capabilities of creating a visual representation of what they are reading which can then help them to comprehend the material and discuss what they just read. However, the same may not hold true for individuals with a learning disability, even though this is a difficult talk, it is an incredibly vital one for students within a middle school setting. Reading comprehension is a component that is not only used in reading, but also in science and social studies and allows students to read, understand and discuss text with their peers as well as their teacher.
In the middle school setting there are two types of strategies that can be used when working on reading comprehension strategies self-questioning strategy and teaching self-questioning. In the self-questioning strategy teaches students to ask questions or develop questions before, during and after reading a text. This can typically be done when using narrative or expository text and can be used with individual, small-group or large-group reading lessons (Joseph & Ross, 2018, pg. 277). This strategy teaches a student determine what they know before reading a text, identify facts and sequence the text and summarize what they just read. This method of teaching reading comprehension can allow a student to generalize this skill across different subject matters as well as different environments considering that the cost to teach this skill is nothing.
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The second strategy involves the teaching self-questioning involves a scaffolding of seven steps, which include: defining the strategy and purpose, checking the student’s strategy and purpose, providing examples, modeling, guided practice and independent practice. Overall this is a guided practice with teacher assistance up until the last step in which the teacher allows the student to work independently with an application of help from time to time (Joseph & Ross, 2018, pg. 277). Overall, both of these are strategies that potentially can be used with middle school students to help aide with reading comprehension among multiple subject areas. These types of strategies may allow students to develop the necessary skills to learn, understand and discuss material that was just read. The authors do note to remember that teaching reading comprehension to students with a learning disability can vary across students and a teacher must remember that every student is different in the way that they learn and comprehend materials.
Repeated reading a practice in which a student reads a passage with a teacher aloud a few times in order to improve reading fluency, however this strategy can also be used to increasing reading comprehension in students who have a learning disability. Researchers looked to examine the effects of reading comprehension in middle school students using repeated reading. Thirty-two students were randomly selected within a 5th, 6th, or 7th grade classroom where they were asked to read a passage several times and answer questions based on the passage to examine how well, if at all, the student was able to comprehend the material that was read.
Three studies reported the results, however the type of passage and time allotment for the study completed was unknown. Two of the studies examined the results and determined that reading comprehension did not improve much, if any, through repeated reading, with one study determined that there was a significance in the realm of repeated reading and the student’s ability to comprehend the material that was read (Wexler, Roberts & Denton, 2010, pg. 5).
Student’s with a diagnosed learning disability typically exhibit inabilities in different academic areas, however the highest area of deficit is typically within the region of reading. As cited in Botsas, 2017, “reading comprehension problems include deficits in decoding, word recognition, and fluency that interfere with reading comprehension.” (Botsas, 2017, pg. 141). Two methods being investigated cognitive and metacognitive strategies to help increase reading comprehension. A total of 122 middle school students who have a diagnosed learning disability were used for this study in which students were either assigned to the SLD group (students with a learning disability) or the SWOLD (students without a learning disability). Think aloud procedures were used where students were asked to retell a story aloud, this will give the student the opportunity to discuss the main idea, sequence the events, as well as summarize what they just read. This method also allows the teacher the opportunity to hear the student’s interpretation of what was just read.
Students using more cognitive strategies were using techniques that involved rehearsal, making inferences and asking questions about the text. Meanwhile, students who implored metacognitive strategies used more planning, monitoring and regulating actions. These techniques and strategies were used during expository texts and involved think-aloud re-telling for the student to read a text and state information that came from the story. The author did note that think aloud are not the best option for students with a learning disability due to the fact that this method involved more expressive vocabulary that most students with a learning disability do not have (Botsas, 2017, pg. 144). The author believes that even though students use a mix of cognitive and metacognitive methods when reading a text and there valuable methods of instructional strategies that can be used, overall answering questions, summarizing and conversations can help to improve the overall abilities for a student to comprehend the material that they are reading.
By the time a student gets to high school, more than likely several methods of reading comprehension have been implored. However, as students advanced in their academics, it is obvious that subject matter does become harder we well as educational goals and expectations become larger. If a student can read the material, however cannot understand the material enough to provide information about what they read, it makes it difficult for them to fully comprehend the material.
In the high school level, there are seemingly four strategies that potentially could be used to increase reading comprehension amongst students who have a learning disability. Pre-reading predictions, in this strategy a student can give their predictions as well as display their current knowledge on the subject material. Post-reading allows a student to write the authors ideas, define the importance of the text and finally compare the two together. The third strategy is to describe the reading to someone else, in this case a more peer involved intervention where a student reads a text and describes that text to a peer in order to create a discussion about the material and share their summary. The final potential strategy is making a mind-map where the student uses a graphic organizer to place the main ideas of the story to use as a visual when recalling information that has been read (Lopez & Campoverde, 2018, pg. 108).
As students get older the ability to self-monitor their daily lives becomes more necessary this can also be true in regards to reading comprehension. A strategy that potentially could be used with high school students to increase their reading comprehension is to teach them to self-monitor as they are reading. This can be done by giving a student a passage to read with stopping points throughout the passage in order to answer questions based on what was just read (Alber-Morgan & Konrad, 2010, pg. 188).
Three high school seniors were used for this study to examine the effects of self-monitoring to improve reading comprehension scores. The students used all have a diagnosed learning disability and received intervention for one to three 50-minute periods per day. One-page stories were used with three stops within the story and questions involving information about the main characters, setting, main idea, beginning, middle and end information and any conflicts within the story. Participants were trained weekly on Friday’s during a 30-minute session and scores were then taken on Monday’s, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s. The baseline data from the intervention determined very low scores for the three students with a substantial increase in scores after the intervention was implemented (Alber-Morgan & Konrad, 2010, pg. 196). The participants within the study were given a questionnaire after the study was complete to assess their feelings on the intervention, all three students had very positive comments to give with a feeling and show of increased reading comprehension skills.
Recommendations for Practice
Summary of Major Findings
In referring back to the question of evaluating the effectiveness of different reading comprehension strategies, through research it has been discovered that there isn’t simply one method or strategy that is effective. Every student is different and may require a different intervention to be used compare to their same aged peer. Several interventions to address reading comprehension in students who have a learning disability include, but aren’t limited to, the RAP method, reading comprehension conversations, PLUGIN model, peer-initiated think-aloud, repeated reading, pre-reading, posting reading, description, graphic organizers and self-monitoring.
All of these strategies and interventions were mentioned throughout this literature review and the positive impact they have made on students within a K-12 learning environment. Reading comprehension is a method of learning how to decode, decipher and understand text in order to answer questions about material that was just read. Reading comprehension is a multifaceted way of understanding material however is not as simply as it sounds.
Implications for Special Educators
Working in an elementary school as a special education teacher, I often get approached by the other educators for ideas of things they could try with their students who seem to be having difficulty with different learning topics. We as educators have the opportunity to be a strong support system for our students and do whatever we can do possible to make sure we are providing the very best for our students.
Currently we use a system called schoology to share different worksheets, quizzes and materials that have been made and adjusted for each student. The different interventions and strategies that were researched throughout this paper can easily be made into a word document to define, explain and give examples of each strategy in order to be shared with all of the teachers and potentially be used within the classroom to best improve a student’s reading comprehension.
Implications for Personal Professional Practice
Throughout my research, there was a quote that strongly stuck out to me, “Children who do not adequately master the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” will clearly fall behind in every subject area during their secondary education.” (Leidig, Grünke, Urton, Knaak, & Hisgen, 2018, pg. 231). This quote stood out with me simply because it is the truth. We as educators get so caught up in teaching by the book, teaching by the standards and teaching by the benchmarks, that we easily overlook the fact of making sure we are helping every kid transition from learning to applying. It is an amazing feeling when a student begins to learn something right there in front of you, however the bigger goal should be helping them to take those skills and generalize them across different environments and different subject matter.
For my personally, the students that I work with do struggle within the realm on reading comprehension, however with this research that I was able to conduct within my paper I have the opportunity to take several of these methods and try them out. Currently I have four students who have a diagnosed learning disability, unfortunately their learning capabilities are not at their grade level, however with the researched interventions I may be able to narrow down a method that works for each one of them.
- Botsas, G. (2017). Differences in Strategy Use in the Reading Comprehension of Narrative and Science Texts among Students with and without Learning Disabilities. Learning Disabilities: A Contemporary Journal, 15(1), 139–162.
- Crabtree, T., Alber-Morgan, S. R., & Konrad, M. (2010). The Effects of Self-Monitoring of Story Elements on the Reading Comprehension of High School Seniors with Learning Disabilities. Education and Treatment of Children, 33(2), 187–203.
- Fletcher, J. M., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2017). Neuropsychology of Learning Disabilities: The Past and the Future. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 23(9-10), 930-940.
- Gomaa, O. M. K. (2015). The Effect of Reciprocal Teaching Intervention Strategy on Reading Comprehension Skills of 5th Grade Elementary School Students with Reading Disabilities. Online Submission, 4.
- Hebert, M., Zhang, X., & Parrila, R. (2017). Examining reading comprehension text and question answering time differences in university students with and without a history of reading difficulties. Annals of Dyslexia, 68(1), 15-24.
- Joseph, L. M., & Ross, K. M. (2018). Teaching Middle School Students with Learning Disabilities to Comprehend Text Using Self-Questioning. Intervention in School and Clinic, 53(5), 276–282.
- Leidig, T., Grünke, M., Urton, K., Knaak, T., & Hisgen, S. (2018). The Effects of the RAP Strategy Used in a Peer-Tutoring Setting to Foster Reading Comprehension in High-Risk Fourth Graders. Learning Disabilities: A Contemporary Journal, 16(2), 231–253
- Lopez, J., & Campoverde, J. (2018). Development of Reading Comprehension with Graphic Organizers for Students with Dyslexia. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 8(2), 105–114
- Ritchey, K. D., Palombo, K., Silverman, R. D., & Speece, D. L. (2017). Effects of an Informational Text Reading Comprehension Intervention for Fifth-Grade Students. Learning Disability Quarterly, 40(2), 68–80.
- Wexler, J., Vaughn, S., Roberts, G., & Denton, C. A. (2010). The efficacy of repeated reading and wide reading practice for high school students with severe reading disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practices, 25(1), 2–10.
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