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Literacy Strategies for Students with Disabilities 

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Dr. Hollis Scarborough (2001) compares skilled reading to the many strands of a rope. Each strand represents a separate skill that when combined with the others, creates a strong, proficient reader. When any one strand (skill) is not acquired with fluency, it weakens the strength of the rope. The rope model includes two major categories: language comprehension and word recognition.

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Effective instruction is based on scientifically-based research. An overview of the research for the components of Language Comprehension and Word Recognition are included in this section.
  • Learning to read can be one of the most challenging tasks a student engages in at school.  Reading and writing skills are not “hard wired” in the brain like spoken language (Shankweiler, D., and I. Y. Liberman, 1989).   We learn to speak by listening to and mimicking others.  Reading and writing skills must be explicitly taught.

    Learning to read is difficult.  The 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores indicate that 64% of fourth grade students are below or at basic level.  Adult literacy is also an indicator that learning to read is not an easy task.  Data from the National Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (2003), indicate that only 13% of adults are classified as proficient.  According to an article on www.readingrockets.org, most learning disabilities, as much as 80%, fall into the category of a reading disability.  If reading was easy to learn, these numbers would be much lower. 

    The process of gaining meaning from written text is very complex.  There are many places in this process in which a breakdown in understanding can occur.  Dr. Hollis Scarborough (2001) compares skilled reading to the many strands of a rope.  Each strand represents a separate skill that when combined with the others, creates a strong, proficient reader.  When any one strand (skill) is not acquired with fluency, it weakens the strength of the rope.  The rope model includes two major categories: language comprehension and word recognition.  Each category includes subcategories.  Language comprehension includes background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning and literacy knowledge.  The word recognition category includes phonological awareness, decoding and sight recognition. 

    Another model of reading is the Simple View of Reading (Gough and Tunmer, 1986).  This model demonstrates that reading comprehension is the product of language comprehension and decoding: 

    Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC).  This formula makes it clear that without efficient decoding and language comprehension skills a student will not understand what he reads.   In the Simple View formula, if decoding (or language comprehension) is a zero, then reading comprehension is also a zero.  When a number is multiplied by zero the product is zero.

    Dr. Scarborough’s reading rope model and the Simple View of Reading model send the same message.  Students must receive instruction in both decoding and language comprehension; one skill is not more important than the other. 

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Language comprehension is one of two components necessary for skilled reading. It consists of background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning and literacy knowledge.
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Word recognition is the other component necessary for skilled reading. Phonological awareness, decoding and sight recognition of words make up this component.
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  • Cara Wyly
    Project Manager, Progress in the General Curriculum Network
    (210) 370-5413

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