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Reading Instruction for Students with Disabilities

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  • Principles and Tips

  • Reading comprehension difficulties for students with disabilities can be understood through the Conceptual Framework for Reading Comprehension which summarizes that three components must be considered when understanding the interrelated nature of comprehension problems. These components include strategic processing (cognitive and metacognitive processes, relevant background knowledge, and student motivation.

  • The "Matthew Effect" principle is applied to students with disabilities because it refers to the widening gap that develops between effective and non-effective readers. Reading itself is what facilitates the general knowledge and skills that are needed for strong reading comprehension. When students don't read, they actually lose the abilities needed to become better readers. Additionally, for beginning readers, students who do not practice reading because it is too difficult, do not progress. Students who do practice reading actually improve the skills needed to be better readers. Thus, the gap between readers and non-readers widens as those who most need the skills lose the ability to gain them (the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer" concept).


  • The teaching required in both direct and strategy instruction relies on organized lessons, deliberate teacher oral presentation and feedback, and students' oral responses.

  • The foundation for strategy instruction for reading comprehension is to teach students how to think while they read, thus supporting more thoughtful and active reading.

  • Utilize one-to-one instruction coupled with a small interactive group to facilitate the greatest changes in student reading comprehension.

  • Allow or arrange for students to read texts more than once, as repeated readings can help with comprehension.

  • When teaching vocabulary to hearing-impaired students, use mental imagery and teach high image words first, increasing difficulty by gradually moving to less visually charged words.

  • Reduce the use of basal readers and increase language experience approaches.

  • Pair spoken and written stimuli when teaching vocabulary, sight words, or concepts.

  • Use scaffolding and other cognitive thinking techniques that encourage "elaborated dialogue" whenever possible.

  • Encourage students to think aloud.

  • Consider the role of other members of the classroom when providing instruction to students with disabilities in mainstream settings.

  • Peer tutors should be trained ahead of time to: (a) be familiar with the content of what they are going to teach; (b) be aware of procedures for managing the instructional situation, including the behavior of the tutee, and (c) use explicit procedures, provided by teachers, regarding giving positive feedback to the tutee.

  • When implementing peer tutoring, be cognizant of the ethical issues of establishing group relationships, and ask the question, "Will both the tutor and the tutee benefit?"

  • When possible, use older students with disabilities as tutors for lower-grade level students with disabilities to facilitate effective outcomes of the peer-mediated process.
  • Create opportunities for peer teaching and mediation when appropriate. This will help you better manage your classroom by providing you with more pairing possibilities. Further, this reciprocal tutoring role has benefits for students with and without disabilities. However, keep in mind that peer tutoring approaches are designed primarily for practice and not as a substitute for teacher-led instruction.

    Text Components
  • Use graphic organizers, such as concept maps, in lieu of or in addition to traditional study guides.

  • Create strong links between the format and content of the graphic organizer to the measure of learning.

  • Elaborate illustrations integrated into expository texts can be distracting, and may actually hinder reading comprehension. Remove illustrations or choose passages without them when giving students expository, or beginning and remedial texts.

  • When writing texts for students with disabilities, structure critical pieces of information within close proximity to each other.






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