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Questions + Answers

Teaching & Instruction

Frequent questions

  • Question 1: How should I teach beginning reading to primary students with special needs?
  • Question 2: I have a student who has trouble blending phonemes. Any suggestions?
  • Question 3: Do you have suggestions for lesson plans to teach remedial reading?
  • Question 4: How can I help older students improve in reading comprehension?
  • Question 5: How do I set up a study group for LD students? Should regular ed students join?
  • Question 6: I am looking for written resources or computer programs to use in my classroom to help teach my students with math disabilities. Do you have any recommendations?
  • Question 7: I work with many adolescents who have poor reading abilities but I do not know much about teaching basic reading. How can I help them?
  • Question 8: I want to become a teacher. Are there any graduate schools offering programs in learning disabilities?
  • Question 9: I have a number of students with severe disabilities in my classroom that are performing at a level far below their classmates. Should they be in my class? How can I help them?

Expert answers

1) How should I teach beginning reading to primary students with special needs?

Reading Rockets has a wealth of sound information about teaching children to read. Here are some articles that provide basic knowledge on this topic:

Reading Rockets offers strategies, lessons, and activities designed to help young children learn to read. Its resources assist parents, teachers, and other educators in working with struggling readers who require additional help in reading and comprehension skills development. Our sister website, Colorín Colorado, although designed for Spanish-speaking parents and educators of English language learners, also has excellent information for anyone interested in early reading instruction.

2) I have a student who has trouble blending phonemes. Any suggestions?

Mastering phonemes is the gateway to reading. Though some children begin recognizing sound-symbol patterns just through exposure to books, many children need direct instruction in this area. Take a look at the Blending and Segmenting Games in our classroom strategy library. The following articles may also give you some good ideas for helping your student:

3) Do you have suggestions for lesson plans to teach remedial reading?

The following article describes the nine elements of effective reading instruction. You may find it useful to develop your lesson plans from these elements:

The majority of students who struggle with reading have difficulty with phonics and decoding, so you will want to be particularly mindful that your students are getting direct, explicit, and consistent instruction in this area. These articles provide suggestions for differentiating instruction to accommodate students who are struggling with reading:

The following articles suggest activities and teaching strategies:

You may also find it helpful to post your question to other teachers as well as reading specialists on the LD OnLine online forums.

4) How can I help older students improve in reading comprehension?

There are a number of approaches to helping students organize their thinking and get the most out of textbooks. Some of the strategies, such as the SQ4R process, are useful in upper elementary, middle, high school, and college levels.

You may find the following articles of interest:

Finally, the Learning Strategies Database at Muskingum College’s Center for Advancement of Learning (CAL) has an excellent website. It has an extremely comprehensive listing of reading comprehension strategies applicable to both secondary and postsecondary instruction. You can also find an excellent library of comprehension articles on our sister site, AdLit.org.

5) How do I set up a study group for LD students? Should regular ed students join?

Stereotyping and marginalization are big problems for students who have difficulty learning, even if they are average or above average intelligence as LD students are. My students are all integrated into regular classes, with one class a day with me for one semester only. It is not enough, hence the study group. If they come to the study group with a friend who is not part of the program, they are more than welcome, but I make sure the friend has work to do as well. It sends a clear message that the time is for school work, not socializing. I provide help for that student too, if they need it. Even if they don't need help, I ask to see their work so that everyone is being treated the same way. All students can use a pat on the back. Everyone has access to the computers. It then becomes a real study group rather than support for Special Education students.

We meet at least three times a week at lunch during the school year, but when we hit the crunch of deadlines, Special Education students are known to throw in the towel because it seems so overwhelming. That is when we meet everyday and do the Midnight Club. Sunday afternoons work well too. These are the times when their friends come. If they know support is available, their stress level goes down, and assignments get done. We have been known to have up to 10 students but that is almost unmanageable for one teacher. One night I brought my husband in to help! Usually there are 5-6 students which is ideal.

None of this would be possible without my principal who must be present whenever students are in the building. The teachers are also the key to success because they provide me with all the assignments in advance so I can break them down into doable components.

6) I am looking for written resources or computer programs to use in my classroom to help teach my students with math disabilities. Do you have any recommendations?

There are many technology tools to choose from today, and more are constantly being developed. We have provided a few suggestions below for websites that identify programs and help teachers obtain access to current information. Test out a variety of products to find a good match. Many companies offer free demos or 30-day-trials; if you ask, they can even cover shipping and handling costs. Take advantage of these options as much as possible and you'll have a better sense of what works for you and your students.

7) I work with many adolescents who have poor reading abilities but I do not know much about teaching basic reading. How can I help them?

There is increasing interest in the area of adolescent literacy, especially for students whose intellectual abilities are higher than their reading level.

The first step is to identify where these students are having difficulty: decoding words? fluency? background knowledge? You can use your own assessment tools or refer them to the school administration for testing. See our online store for assessment tools.

There are several reading programs that work well for adolescents, like Orton Gillingham Reading, Wilson Reading.

You can also check out the following resources for educators. You will find many teaching strategies to use with your struggling students.

8) I want to become a teacher. Are there any graduate schools offering programs in learning disabilities?

There are a few universities around the United States which offer graduate specializations in learning disabilities. Although there are not many which offer this as an option now, there likely will be in the future.

Each state has its own criteria for granting teaching credentials to those who wish to work with learning disabled students. The recent passage of the federal law known as "No Child Left Behind" has raised standards for teachers in all fields. Because of this, you should contact your state Department of Education and get a list of their requirements before you begin looking for an appropriate program.

Once you know what courses you must take in order to get the teaching license and endorsement you want, you can start looking for a college that meets your requirements.

The following sites may help you find the right school for your professional needs.

9) I have a number of students with severe disabilities in my classroom that are performing at a level far below their classmates. Should they be in my class? How can I help them?

Students with varying disabilities, representing a wide range of age levels, can be taught very successfully when grouped together, provided the teacher has significant training and assistance. This practice is called inclusion. Since each child's IEP governs his or her schooling, such students need individualized programs but can easily be grouped with others for many lessons. More and more, teachers are expected to meet each child's unique needs regardless of their educational "labels" of special, gifted or general.

Check to see what academic goals exist for each student. Some may need to be with non-handicapped students in order to develop social skills, with limited expectations for academic achievement. Meet with the special educators to determine how you can support these children. Usually, some degree of differentiated instruction (DI) is required.

LD OnLine has sections devoted to Inclusion and Differentiating Instruction. Reading Rockets also has information on Differentiated Instruction:

Also check the following sources:

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