Do you remember how you acquired your reading skills? The act of reading seemed so intuitive that people take for granted the complex processes involved. But for children with special needs, the complexity of these processes is painfully revealed.
The Reading Process
Reading involves several processes that occur almost simultaneously. Before any individual can enjoy the benefits of reading or acquire complex reading comprehension skills such as metacognition, the basic processes must be mastered first. Teaching reading means teaching these processes.
- Auditory perception, discrimination, and processing – These processes involve the recognition of letter sounds that are distinct from background noises, the distinction of one letter sound from another, and the association of sounds to letter symbols and previously learned meanings.
- Visual perception, discrimination, and processing – These processes involve the recognition of letter symbols that are separate from other shapes and symbols, the detection of similarities and differences of letter symbols (e.g. n is different from h), and the association of letter symbols and sounds to particular meanings and values.
- Decoding – A sense of direction, from left to right and from top to bottom, is just the first part of decoding. Afterwards, the child should be able to know the difference between upper case and lower case (P and p), the instances when certain letters are silent or not (k in knit and king), and the various combination of letters and sounds (peel, peal, pail, pale). Then it uses grammar in making sense of a series of words.
- Comprehension – This involves learning the attributes, significance, and meaning of words and phrases.
From these basic processes, a child can acquire more complex reading skills such as inferring, analyzing, and synthesizing.
Focusing on Goals
Teaching reading to a student with a learning disability involves the development of the above processes. Here are the small goals to focus and the reading tips that would be useful to the reading teacher.
- Auditory perception, discrimination, and processing –The goals are to recognize letter sounds and differentiate the sounds of letter symbols. Some helpful activities would be playing with rhymes, singing songs, and reading short poetry aloud.
- Visual perception, discrimination, and processing – The goals are to identify letter symbols and to distinguish letter symbols from each other. To achieve these, the teacher can initiate games with wooden or magnetic letters, guide the writing of names, draw letter symbols that students will imitate, and play body alphabet. The students can also list words that begin with certain letters.
- Decoding – The goal is to acquire fluency in using letters and words. Some helpful activities are counting syllables in words, re-reading stories, knowing new words everyday, and playing with rhyming words and homonyms. Playing with computer games such as hangman and scrabble may also help.
- Comprehension – The goal is to have the students understand the meaning of words and phrases. The teacher can achieve this goal by having the students act out TV characters, play roles, writing an end-of-the-day sentence, discussing the meaning of a short poem, and creating a story.
The above list of special education teaching tips is not exhaustive. These tips are geared only towards students with learning disabilities. Different approaches are needed for gifted and exceptional students. Fortunately, there are more teaching tips available, including those that involve teaching in an inclusional classroom. Teachers who are given the opportunity to teach special students may utilize general reading tips and adapt them to meet the unique needs of students. Some of the general reading tips are offered by Fry and Kress in “The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists" and by Regie Routman in “Reading Essentials: The Specifics You Need to Teach Reading Well."