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ANALYSIS OF READING COMPREHENSION FOR LEARNERS WITH SPECIFIC 1

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Analysis of Reading Comprehension Strategies for Learners with Specific Learning Disabilities

Alexis H. Thompson

University of Wisconsin- Madison


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Rationale

The purpose of this paper is to synthesize four research-based instructional strategies for

teaching elementary aged students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) to use their

metacognitive awareness, thus increasing reading comprehension. I analyze the effectiveness of

these four strategies based on age, school culture, and maintenance.

Background

According to the DSM V, a specific learning disability is a type of neurodevelopmental

disorder that impedes the ability to learn or use specific academic skills (reading, writing, or

arithmetic), which are the foundation of academic learning. The learning difficulties are

unexpected in that other aspects of development seem to be fine (Tannock, 2014). Because the

student most likely does not exhibit a physical or intellectual disability accompanying the

learning disability, often times learning disabilities may be difficult to diagnose. In order to

consider a student to have a learning disability in reading, it is important to make sure that the

learner is not identified to be struggling because of a number of exclusionary factors. A student

must not have a visual or hearing disorder, emotional disturbance, limited English proficiency,

brain injury, or brain dysfunction (Gallagher, 2015). For any student with a disability, two

questions must first be asked before evaluation: 1) Does the child exhibit an impairment? And 2)

is there a need for special education? (Gallagher, 2015) A student having difficulties with

reading and diagnosed with a specific learning disability would most likely receive services in:

basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, and reading comprehension.

According to Bursuck and Damer (2014) in the book Teaching reading to Students who

are at Risk or Have Disabilities, reading comprehension is the active process of obtaining

meaning from text (p. 273) impacted by the reader, text, activity, and context. Fully
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understanding text also requires active thinking skills by the reader (Dahl, 2016). Truly

comprehending a work cannot be judged based on simply a students ability to read a length of

text; rather, comprehension must be evaluated as also a combination of oral language and

background knowledge. Establishing skills in reading comprehension is crucial at the time

students begin to read to learn from textbooks and expository texts and glean information from

the complex vocabulary words.

Students with learning disabilities often have considerably more difficulty with

comprehending text. At least 80% of students diagnosed with a learning disability struggle in

reading measured by a discrepancy in performance at least one standard deviation away from the

norm (Gersten, 2009). Students with learning disabilities may exhibit one or more of the

following characteristics: poor memory, difficulty listening, letter reversal, short attention span,

difficulty following directions, and difficulty sequencing information (Gersten, 2009). These

components relate to a students metacognitive ability- or ability to monitor their thinking and

learning. A students strategic process and metacognition skills while reading are measured by

the readers ability to recognize when they have not understood something and reread that

portion of text (Gersten, 2009).

Analysis

This paper analyzes four extensively researched methods and intervention strategies

aimed to increase comprehension for students with learning disabilities. It is important to

distinguish that these interventions differ from the RTI tiered system of supports. Tier 1 supports

include the general education curriculum with explicit and systematic reading instruction. Tier 2

includes tier 1 plus additional small group tutoring. Students with learning disabilities that may

benefit from the following strategies would most likely be receiving Tier 3 support, or an
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intensive curriculum in addition to some appropriate parts of the general education curriculum

(Bursuck & Damer, 2007). The following four strategies are analyzed in the table below with an

accompanying comparison and analysis to follow.

Table 1:

An Analysis of Intervention Strategies

Method Effectiveness Transfer and Ease of Logistics (Age,


Maintenance classroom ability, etc.)
implementation
MULTIPASS Substantially Post test Three passes Requires concept
Strategy better on a 20 measures through each of print,
(Gersten, item test in maintained material with independent
2001) both over six direct reading,
instructional weeks in the instruction and paraphrasing, and
and grade classroom modeling. using textual
appropriate (Gersten, Students must clues as well as
material 2001) however achieve 100% some
(Gersten, 2001, the effects of the criterion metacognitive
305) were not mastered before awareness
transferable moving on (Gersten, 2001).
across (Gersten, 2001). Recommendation
locations or :
variations in >4th grade class
text type. or instructional
group.
Story Mapping Prior to Skills Requires Participants were
Strategy intervention, maintenance separate room 3rd-6th grade
(Bolineau, comprehension averaged about or isolated students with
2004) questions 70% across table; absence learning
answered students; of one student disabilities.
correctly however, the requires Instructional ages
ranged from range was repetition of should reflect
25%-35%. between 20% whole lesson; this (Bolineau,
During the and 100% teacher fluency 2004,).
intervention, based on each with overhead
correctly individual transparencies
answered (Bolineau, showing story-
questions 2004). mapping
ranged from strategy.
67% to 96% (Bolineau,
with a mean of 2004,).
84% (Bolineau
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et. al, 2004,
109).
Reciprocal Increase in While this Collins: With
Teaching readers ability intervention Requires four modifications,
(Bursuck, to retell the was done using stages reciprocal
2014) and story, primary age implemented in teaching can be
(Collins, 2008) (Meyers, students with 3-month used for students
and (Klinger, 2005), and learning projects, and beginning in
2013) increased disabilities teacher kindergarten for
metacognitive (Collins, generated a more specific
awareness of 2008), Bursuck rubrics in text instruction
students and Damer addition to (Collins, 2008).
regarding state that using explicit and Klinger
when they reciprocal consistent researched the
did/did not teaching is best instruction. impact of
understand used as a Klinger: reciprocal
something strategy in requires several teaching on
(Collins, 2008, addition to an phases and can students with LD
163). intervention to be lengthy, in 8th grade.
Klinger: solidify requires daily
students transfer and logs, teacher
showed maintenance. generated tests,
significant cooperative and
growth cross-age
ranging from tutoring groups,
8% to 32% professional
growth in the development to
tutoring group deliver
(Klinger, systematic
2013). instruction
(Klinger, 1996).
Scaffolded Compared to a Only 40% of Requires Research
Reading control group, students were teacher implemented for
Experience those using the on free or planning and 3rd through 6th
(SRE) scaffolded reduced lunch prior knowledge graders.
(Collins, 2008) reading (Collins, 2008, of students Requires
experience and 167) and needs to create independent
cognitive school an SRE pre- reading skills and
oriented population and reading activity. ability to
instruction intervention Requires careful independently
showed an group of LD planning and complete reading
increase in students were consistent comprehension
comprehension 95% white: teacher survey (unless
only slightly can this implementation dictation services
higher intervention be (Collins, 2008). otherwise
(Collins, 2008, successfully specified in the
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166) but implemented IEP) (Collins,
showed that across cultural 2008).
the students barriers?
were more
engaged in the
text.

While each of these research-based strategies have their own distinct merits, their

implementation will depend on the type of school environment. The MULTIPASS strategy is

based on repetition and review of content, as students must read the text three times over: the

first time as a pre-reading to survey the text to see text size, chapter length, illustrations etc.; the

second, to size up (Gertsen, 2001, p. 304) the text, students read all of the questions and skim

the text looking for answers checking off what they find; the third, students read the chapter in its

entirety and self-answering the comprehension questions they had skimmed previously. While

this assists students in learning how to look for answers, it requires focus, attention, and reading

independence; a combination of these skills may be difficult for a beginning reader with a

learning disability. While the students did make substantial progress in expository text, overall

the research did not indicate that success was maintained as students read variety of text types

(Gersten, 2001). For this reason, the MULTIPASS strategy would best be used in upper grade

levels where readers with learning disabilities have better self-regulation skills and students read

a majority of expository text to learn.

The story mapping strategy needs to be the most explicitly instructed intervention for

students with learning disabilities and requires additional resources such as an isolated room or

table, Smart board or transparencies, and strategic direct instruction. Passages selected were

chosen based on protagonist conflict and could be used as social modeling stories for earlier

grades (Bolineau, 2004). As the passages were being read a teacher used a story grammar map
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to visually organize textual information into seven categories: 1. Setting/time, 2. Characters, 3.

Problem 4. Solution, 5. Outcome, 6. Reaction, and 7. Theme (Bolineau, 2004, p. 108). While

this intervention method was used effectively with fictional text, skills maintenance can transfer

across readings. After 6-weeks time, it was reflected that it was also useful (with some

modification) across a variety of text types if the intervention was originally implemented

explicitly and consistently by an instructor (Bolineau, 2004). Although many students with

learning disabilities often have difficulties with maintenance of skills over time, the impact of

story mapping on the percentage of comprehension questions answered correctly appeared to

maintain once instruction was terminated (Bolineau, 2004). This intervention is recommended

most for small groups of students with learning disabilities who can participate with a special

educator or reading specialist at least four days a week in this activity; this would also be more

effective for younger grade students who read more narrative texts.

Reciprocal teaching is an instructional strategy that is highly beneficial in small groups of

learners with a specific learning disability as well as whole class instruction for grades K-12. As

the most widely applicable intervention, reciprocal teaching is a way for students to find their

voice in small groups and in the classroom in respectful ways as they retell the story, in their

own words. (Collins, 2008, p.164). Reciprocal teaching creates reflective and metacognitive

learners, two areas where students with learning disabilities struggle with when attempting to

comprehend text (Collins, 2008). In reciprocal teaching, which can also be used simultaneously

with other methods, teacher modeled thinking aloud strategies become the students as they

take turns becoming the teacher and leading their own small discussion groups about text

content (Klinger, 1996, p.276). While this intervention is highly successful across students, it
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requires student initiative as well as self-regulation skills that may need to be modeled in the

younger grades. Overall, Klinger and Vaughn (1996) found that the effectiveness of reciprocal

teaching on students with learning disabilities yielded a 23.75% improvement in percentage of

comprehension questions answered correctly.

While scaffold reading experiences are widely used, their effectiveness in this study calls

into question of whether or not it is the best used strategy. First, this study by Cooke (2002)

stated that although students were more engaged in the text, their reading comprehension scores

were only slightly higher than prior to the intervention. Why do many instructors use this

method? As an applicable strategy both in intervention groups and for students with disabilities,

SREs can be used in a variety of classroom types and across different age groups (as long as

readers were independently reading) and text types. However, in this study of the effectiveness

of SREs the school population was 95% white and primarily upper/middle class, which was

reflected in the group of learners with learning disabilities studied. It would be important to

consider the impact of culture on the effectiveness of this strategy.

Overall, the merits of each strategy clearly outweigh flaws if judgment is based on

whether or not learners increased their reading comprehensions skills and maintained that

progress. For a school or educator to choose a particular strategy, it will be important to consider

the age group of the students as well as the time and resources that each strategy takes to

implement in the classroom or intervention group.

.
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