The average student learns between 2000 and 4000 new words each year. That is approximately 40-50 new words each week! Students with learning disabilities will learn less each year than their peers due to the struggles they face in reading, writing and memory processing while learning. With these learning challenges in mind, teachers and parents will need to provide a range of experiences with new vocabulary so that students with learning disabilities can learn just as many new words as their peers in meaningful ways.
Learning a new word can actually create an interest and an excitement in many students. The focus should be on providing a meaningful explanation of the new word with multiple examples provided by the teacher and parent.
Although many strategies are effective for students with varying abilities, the following methods work best:
1. Present the word in the context of the story or text from which the word was selected.
2. Ask students to repeat and write the word.
3. Provide a “student-friendly” explanation of the word by using every day language that the student can understand and connect with.
4. Personalize the word to the student that includes references to “you,” “something,” and “someone” to help the student make a personal connection with their own lives.
5. Have students create their own examples of the word.
6. Students will need to say and read the word repetitively to establish a link to its phonological representation.
Really learning and comprehending a vocabulary word requires frequent and repetitive exposure by hearing others using it, seeing it in print, and saying it aloud in a sentence. Students with learning disabilities will require ongoing exposure and use of new words to assure that they understand and retain the meaning and use of the words. It takes 12 encounters with a word to learn it well enough to improve reading comprehension!
Using Mnemonics or Key Word Strategies are a key method of assisting students with learning disabilities in memorizing the definitions of new words. Students with learning disabilities benefit from connections created by linking a familiar key word or image with a novel word. For example with the word ROCOCO (asymmetric ornamentation in art) a mnemonic might be: “Rococo you arrange and decorate coconuts in a row.”
Students with learning disabilities should also listen to audio books regularly. Audio books will help expand the student’s listening vocabulary. Later, if the student runs into the same language in print, they will be better able to decipher the word and its meaning by having already had the exposure to it beforehand.
Although the amount of words that students need to learn may seem daunting, promoting student engagement with text is the most important way to increase vocabulary, and most importantly, leads to increased reading comprehension. Simply put, the amount that students read is related to the number of words they know and, in turn, allows them to read and understand increasingly complex text.
Learn more about the New PRIDE Reading Program
Karina Richland, M.A. is the Founder of PRIDE Learning Centers, located in Los Angeles and Orange County. Ms. Richland is a certified reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. Visit the PRIDE Learning Center website at: www.pridelearningcenter.com
Many students with Learning Disabilities process information differently. They may be unaware of simple reading comprehension strategies that strong readers use automatically, such as rereading passages they do not understand.
Students with learning disabilities typically recall less about stories they have read and cannot easily identify the important information in them. Here are a few reading comprehension strategies that can be used either at home or in the classroom to help students with learning disabilities comprehend and understand text.
Retelling is a frequently used process that involves asking students to recall and restate the events in a story after they have read it or heard it. Teachers or parents should first model the different parts of the story for the student. For example, starting a story by saying “once upon a time,” and then prompting the student to retell the story by asking:
- Who is the story about?
- Where does the story take place?
- What is the main character’s problem?
- How does the main character try to solve the problem?
- How does the story end?
The use of a theme scheme during explicit instruction in reading comprehension will help students transfer the strategies they learn to novel texts. The Theme Scheme includes the following steps:
- Introduction and pre-reading discussion: The teacher defines the concept of THEME and introduces the background of the specific story for that lesson.
- Reading the story: The teacher reads the story aloud, stopping to ask questions designed to encourage the student to process the theme.
- Discussion: The teacher and student discuss the following questions:
- Who is the main character?
- What is the main character’s problem?
- What did the main character do about the problem?
- What happened next?
- Was that good or bad?
- Why was it good or bad?
- The main character learner that her or she should _____________.
- Apply the theme to other story examples and to real life experiences: The teacher introduces another story that provides another instance of the same theme. The teacher and student discuss the example using the above 7 questions plus:
- When is it important to ________?
- In what situation is it easy/difficult to ________?
- Review: The teacher reviews the above questions and asks the student to think about other examples.
A follow up activity: The teacher leads a follow-up enrichment activity, such as writing, drawing, discussion, or role- playing.
In this activity, the teacher reads a story to the student or has them read the story aloud. The teacher stops the reader before getting to the story’s resolution. Then the teacher asks the student to predict what comes next in the unfinished story. Another option is that the teacher can provide a list of possible endings from which the student can choose.
The teacher removes a portion of text from the middle of a story and then has students fill in the missing information. To optimize the benefits of this approach, it is valuable to discuss the types of information that would be anticipated. For example, the teacher might remove the description of the problem faced by the characters in the story. The teacher then could show the student a story map and then ask the student what aspect of the map is not obvious in the story. The student can brainstorm possible problems that would make sense, given the other information presented in the story.
The above strategies are designed to enhance reading comprehension and have been used to teach students with learning disabilities, with promising results. Students struggling with reading comprehension can achieve gains, including the ability to transfer what they have learned to novel texts, when they are given highly structured and explicit instruction in reading comprehension.
Learn more about the New PRIDE Reading Program
Karina Richland, M.A. is the Founder of PRIDE Learning Centers, located in Los Angeles and Orange County. Ms. Richland is a certified reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can visit the PRIDE Learning Center website at: www.pridelearningcenter.com
Intervene early! Reading disabilities are considered to be the most common learning disability and are often not diagnosed or treated until it is too late for easy recovery. A child with a reading disability that is not identified until the third grade or later is already years behind his or her classmates. This is a gap that must be closed if the child is ever to catch up with his or her peers. The best intervention is in kindergarten or remediation beginning in the first grade.
Teach phonics. Through phonics, children learn to associate sounds and form connections to word recognition and decoding skills needed for reading. Research clearly proves that phoneme awareness performance is a major predictor of long- term reading and spelling success. In fact, according to the International Reading Association, phonemic awareness skills in kindergarten and first grade appear to be the most important predictor of successful reading acquisition.
Teach spelling. Spelling and reading rely on the same mental representations of a word. The correlation between spelling and reading comprehension is high because both depend on proficiency with language. The more profoundly and methodically a student knows a word, the more likely he or she is to recognize it, read it, spell it, write it, and use it appropriately in speech and writing.
Teach writing. Start teaching writing in preschool and kindergarten. Learning to write engages the brain in repetition and memory on how letters and sounds reflect meaning, addresses numerous reading and cognitive skills, and helps activate both reading and spelling areas of the brain.
Teach handwriting. Technology is a fun writing tool for kids but it doesn’t engage the early reading brain in the same helpful way as learning to move the pencil across the page to use letters as images of sound. Brain scan studies show that early lessons in letter formation help activate and coordinate reading connections in the brain.
Repetition, repetition, repetition. The brain of a child feeds on repetition to make doing things such as reading automatic and fluent. Use repetition in the early grades for reading aloud, for rhyming, for matching letters with sounds, for writing alphabet letters, for spelling, for sounding out words, for automatic reading of sight words, for making meaning in print. Children thrive on it. So make it fun!
Don’t ever give up on your child. Keep the expectations of your child and their reading future high. We owe it to our children to show our support, give them every resource possible to help them and give them the skills necessary for learning and communicating throughout their education and their lives.
Karina Richland, M.A. is the Founder and Director of PRIDE Learning Centers, located in Los Angeles and Orange County. Ms. Richland is a certified reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can visit the PRIDE Learning Center website at: www.pridelearningcenter.com