Reading Comprehension Methodologies & Approaches for the Secondary Learning Disabled Student

Submitted May 20, 1980 in partial fulfillment of requirements for Masters of Science in Reading.

I. The Problem

A. Introduction

Before 1963 the term Learning Disabilities was unknown. Samuel Kirk coined the name at the 1963 Conference sponsored by the Fund for Perceptually Handicapped Children Incorporated. Even though children with difficulties defined by the Learning Disabilities label were recognized before 1963, the term served as a catalyst to the existing interest in the field. Much has been done since 1963 for the Learning Disabled (LD) child but mostly at the elementary Level. It was not until the mid seventies that Secondary (Sec) Learning Disabilities programs became evident and that research at this level began.

During the present decade LD high school (HS) students have finally been receiving their long overdue attention. School districts since 1970 have been mandated by the Courts to establish secondary Learning Disabilities programs, recognizing that Learning Disabilities is not something that disappears with age but is a life long disorder that matures (Sabatino 1976). The programs and service provided by each district differ along with their philosophies and remediation practices. A variety of services are usually available to the student with placement and the type of service provided determined by the needs of the individual whether they are physical, emotional or academic.

The majority of the Learning Disabilities programs established in the high schools are largely compensatory (Gillespie and Sitko 1975) providing part-time resource help for the student while he receives instruction in the mainstream for all subject areas. Basically the Journals reveal guidelines of do’s and don’ts and mainly list materials considered appropriate to this level. Test procedures for secondary students have also been lacking and in many cases inappropriate (Mann, Goodman and Wiederholt 1978). Remediation techniques used at the secondary level have also gone untested. Another problem is that teachers trained in Learning Disabilities have been mostly orientated to the elementary level and their training on the secondary level is usually inadequate (Sabatino 1976).

Most of the LD children are handicapped by difficulties connected with reading (Lerner 1976), and it is for this basic reason that the major emphasis for high school remediation for LD students has been in reading. Reading is considered to be the most important key element for academic success (Marsh, Gearheart and Gearheart 1976). In schools content area instruction comes largely from textbooks and a student who has difficulties reading will confront many obstacles. A student with Learning Disabilities might be provided with talking books and supplementary materials but the demands made on the student might be a bit over-whelming in a regular setting. A student that experiences difficulties in elementary grades will most likely continue having them in high school (Marsh, Gearheart and Gearheart 1978). A Learning Disabilities program, no matter how good it seems, will fail without the students’ cooperation if instruction is poorly constructed or implemented the results can be counterproductive (Marsh, Gearheart and Gearheart 1978).

In the high school the major emphasis in reading becomes comprehension (Miller 1973), in both secondary developmental and remedial reading programs. Since the demand in sec reading programs is to derive meaning and learning from the text, comprehension becomes most crucial to achievement.

Reading programs have been developed for LD students by Bannatyne, Fernald, Fitzgerald, Gillingham and Stillman, Hegge, Kirk and Kirk and others (Gillespie and Gitko 1975). The authors state that their programs are appropriate for secondary level students (Mann, Goodman and Wiederholt 1978). There is little evidence to support the preface that instruction for LD students should be different than for so-called ‘normal” children, (Mann, Goodman and Wiederholt 1978) and in fact there is no single method that has demonstrated superiority over and other (Mann, Goodman and Wiederholt 1978) Therefore many educators feel that LD programs at the sec level can be adapted for materials and methods created for regular sec students (Goodman and Mann 1976).

B. Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study was to explore the reading process in order to establish a philosophical basis for developing a reading comprehension program for LD HS students. A review of the literature was conducted to select those methods and reading techniques that might be adopted in a secondary Learning Disabilities program for improving reading comprehension. Current theories of reading were viewed in the hope of finding a theory that would be applicable to the mode of learning of LD HS Students.

The methods and practices recommended by authors and those actually being used were reviewed and selected on the basis that they were also appropriate to sec LD students. A good LD program will incorporate a wide variety of methodologies and practices since the teacher’s concern is with the individual. In order to meet the varied needs of one’s students, the teacher will need to employ different kinds of instructional materials and methods (March, Gerheart and Gearheart 1978).

Singling out one problem that LD students face in (HS), the passing of the state mandated Competency Test in Reading, a field study was conducted to develop and test a remedial program that will help students prepare for such an exam.

C. The Problem in Hypothesis Format

Since the research in the Sec LD area is scarce, the literature studied was mostly in areas other than Learning Disabilities. Futile attempts were made in finding LD HS programs, already established, described in the literature. Quite recently some books have been written in this area. After reviewing ERIC documents many LD programs have been established but incorporate commercially developed kits and use untested methods and practices. Instruction and methods for teaching reading skills were rarely mentioned in most of the written articles.

Sec reading, HS education, reading and compression in general were reviewed in hope of finding methods that could be adopted and incorporated in a Sec. LD Program. Since there has not been any findings to support the preface that sec LD students learn in ways completely different than students in regular programs, most of the methods viewed were those that had been used for the ‘normal’ child.

The results of such a study would probably reveal guidelines for formulating programs; and descriptions of different methods that can be adapted and incorporated into a total reading program.

A field study was then conducted to help students prepare for the New York State Competency Test (NYCT) after failing the preliminary exams. Students who fail the Competency Test (CT) are in need of reading remediation. The purpose of the authors field study was to develop a program that would help students to pass this exam. The Hypothesis of the study is that by preparing for the test, students will do better on the exam. Another purpose of the study was to test whether this training will actually improve reading comprehension. This author’s second preface is that it is doubtful that such a training program will improve reading skills and therefore when developing a LD program other methods should be used. A reading program that relies totally on training for a test instead of improving comprehension through other methods seems inadequate. The purpose of giving the test in the first place was to identify poor readers so a district could remediate, but not to pass a test. Another factor that needs examination is whether training for the Competency is necessary since the actual format of the test is foreign to most students.

D. Definition of Terms Used in This Study

Academic Skills- Skills involved in the fields of English, foreign language, history, math, science and other subject matter taught in schools.

Achievement– Academic attainment of knowledge developed in school subjects.

CloseA teaching and testing technique developed by Taylor in 1953 in which every 5th or 10th word is deleted. Responses are given for each deletion.

Cognitive Thinking– Those mental processes involved in perceiving, knowing and understanding.

Compensatory Instruction– Instructions that aids a student in coping with his academic school program. Students are given to organize a notebook. Supplementary materials and talking books are also used.

Concept- Thoughts, ideas and representations of the common elements of groups or classes that can be distinguished.

Construct Validity- Determining the degree to which certain factors or elements account for a person’s performance on a given test.

Content Instruction– School subject matter such as History, Math or Literature.

Curriculum-General overall plan of instruction and suggestive activities designed to achieve a particular objective.

Decoding– Translating printed words into spoken words.

Deep Structure– The determined and interpreted meaning of a given sentence.

Deletions-Words left out in a written passage.

Diagnosis- Determining the capabilities of a person by analyzing his performance against some set standard or given set of criteria.

Function Words– Words that do not describe a thing, quality or action but which are used to convey grammatical relationships (articles).

Grammar- Study of phonology, inflections, word classes, word functions, syntax, and relationships between the words found in the language.

Independent Reading– A personalized reading approach and classroom organization in which the students select books of their own choosing.

Language– A system of accepted and understood codes for conveying thoughts, ideas and feelings to one another.

Linguistics– The study of the nature and use of language.

Learning Disabilities- When there is a educationally significant discrepancy between a child’s apparent capacity for language behavior and his actual level of language functioning.

Listening– Practice of paying close attention to the conversation of people in order to obtain more selective use of verbal and non-verbal clues of language behaviors.

Methodologies– An established systematic order or approach for teaching specific skills or subject matter.

Models (of reading)- Theories designed to define or explain specific elements of the reading process.

Motivation– Physical, intellectual and psychological needs of an individual which cases him to act in certain ways.

Perception– Awareness of one’s surroundings, conditions and relationships as a result of sensory stimulation.

Philosophies– An integrated personal view that serves to guide a person’s thinking and behavior.

Phonology-Study of the sound patterns in language.

Preliminary Exams– State Exams in Reading and writing that resemble the State Competency Tests. The tests are given by each district to determine which students are in need of remediation.

Proposition– A Clause of unitary statement that is a basic unit of thought in comprehension.

Psycholinguistics– The study of the mental processes that underlie the acquisition and use of language.

Regressions- An error in reading in which the reader rereads a position of the reading he has just read in order to correct the error.

Remediation- Special instruction designed to help pupils overcome a deficiency that they have in a specific academic area.

Secondary Level– Grades 7-12

Semantics– Study of meanings and concepts and the relationship between them

Shaping- Operant conditioning in which reinforcement is reliant on the occurrence of the response,

Standardized Tests– Empirically developed tests designed to be administered and scored according to set directions. Validity, reliability and test norms are then derived.

Strategies– Techniques or methods that facilitate the acquisition, manipulation, integration, storage and retrieval of certain skills.

Supplementary Materials– Teaching material used in addition to the basic texts or materials offered by a given course.

Surface Structure– Sets of words grammatically combined similarly.

Syntax- Orderly arrangement of words in a sentence.

Talking Books– A phonograph or tape recording of readings from a book.

Taxonomy– A system of classification and the concepts underlying them.

Transformational Grammar- Study of language that has a heavy emphasis on syntax.

t-Statistic Test– Ratio of the difference between the mean scores to the standard error of difference of the scores. Through such a comparison the gain in scores demonstrates the effectiveness of the teaching method employed.

E. Significance of the Study

This study has immediate importance since the students involved must retake the Competence exam either this Spring or within the next two years. These students will be denied a diploma if they do not pass the exam. If the students do well on the exam after going through a series of practice lessons then it would seem that such a practice might help students (who fail the exam the first time) to pass the exam.

F. Organization of the Study

This paper is divided into five chapters. The first chapter gives an overview of the problem to be studied. The second chapter describes the actual literature reviewed that is relevant to the study that was conducted, testing one of the areas reviewed in the literature. The chapter includes a description of the studies setting, subjects, instruments and procedures used in the study. Chapter four describes the findings of the study. Chapter five includes a summary of the study, a statement of conclusions and implications made by the study and a statement of the future research needed.

II. Review of the Literature

A. Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this chapter is to review the current literature in the areas of Learning Disabilities, Secondary Education, Reading, Comprehension and other related areas in hope of establishing a philosophical basis that would be appropriate for a Learning Disability program that is created in high school. The literature will also be reviewed to seek out those methods and practices that are appropriate to LD students and those that might be adapted into a LD reading program for improving comprehension.

B. Organization of Chapter

The chapter will first explore the reading process in an attempt to define the reading process and comprehension. A review of various reading theories and reading models are then described. Psycholinguistic and linguistic theories are then examine more thoroughly. After exploring the theories, methods for teaching comprehension are described, selected for their adaptability to LD Programs.

C. Survey of Literature

Defining the Reading Process

In order for one to consider how to teach reading, the reading process itself should first be defined. It should be noted that even though people have been reading and teaching reading throughout time, the process of reading itself has yet to be defined, “with any degree of general consensus” (Wheat and Edmond 1975, p523). In 1917, Thorndike described reading in terms of a cognitive process:

…understanding a paragraph is like solving a problem in mathematics. It consists in selecting the right elements of the situation and putting them together in the right relations, and also with the right amount of weight or influence of the right mental set or purpose or demand. (Simons 1971, p304).

Many other educators in more modern times similarly define reading as “cognitive functioning” (Lerner 1976, p305), or as a “thinking process: ( Wanat 1977, p50). Some consider reading to consist of separate components, ‘decoding’ (word calling) and ‘comprehension’ while others argue that even though the process itself is influenced by various factors, by itself reading does not comprise separate elements. Reading according to some is a dual process in which the reader must not only interpret graphic symbols but must derive meaning from them (Ives 1964). Reading is not a passive activity but an active one in which the reader must involve himself in the reading and bring to it his thinking processes. The reader thinks about what he has read, raises questions and then speculates as to their answers (Wanat 1977).

Beaver, after completing studies on errors made by students reading, concluded that readers firstly decode the words as they are written and then recode the author’s ideas back into their own language before they derive meaning (Lerner 1976). Reading is a process that occurs as a person reads involving intuitive thinking (Pearson and Johnson 1978). A person reacts to what is he has read, “evaluating its truth, validity, significance or implications,” Gunderson 1970, p30) among other things. Again this process is dependent on the person’s own past experiences in life and his experience in reading (Gunderson 1970) As Moffet has postulated a failure to comprehend while reading is basically a failure in thinking (Stotsky 1975).

…to be continued…