Dr. Alexis Filippini contributed the following post. Alexis is assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at San Francisco State University.
Dyslexia, the most prevalent specific learning disability, is typically characterized by phonological processing deficits that contribute to difficulty decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling), and slow, inaccurate reading (Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003). In particular, matching printed letters to their sounds and vice-versa may be inconsistent, difficult, and frustrating – leaving rich, robust thoughts trapped on a page or stuck in a mind.
Typically, these difficulties are “unexpected” relative to other cognitive abilities (Lyon et al.). Many individuals with dyslexia also have strengths in listening comprehension and vocabulary knowledge, although these strengths may be underdeveloped due to limitations in reading and therefore limited exposure to reading age-appropriate material.
Most individuals with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, benefit from high-quality instruction in cognitive strategies, such as comprehension monitoring (e.g., Baker, Gersten, & Scanlon, 2002). For students with dyslexia in particular, high quality instruction focuses on remediating phonological awareness and print-speech mapping (e.g., Vadasay, Sanders, & Peyton, 2006). The focus on cognitive strategies is broadly applicable across the K-12 span and beyond as individuals move into the workplace and college. The systematic, explicit instruction on phonological awareness and cracking the speech-print code is highly effective at remediation for most children. For example, Torgeson’s 2000 review of early interventions reported that the incidence of reading failure was reduced from 18% to 1.4-5.4%. However, for students beyond the primary grades, instructional emphasis on skills that typically develop by eight years old can be tedious, inefficient, and perceived as “baby stuff.”
How do we provide explicit instruction to support phonological processing weaknesses for students who read well below grade level while also supporting them in age-appropriate content knowledge, described in an earlier post as essential to comprehension?
The kind of vocabulary instruction highlighted throughout Vocabulogic, I argue, provides an efficient solution to this challenge. Vocabulary instruction that targets development of word consciousness and generative word knowledge makes use of activities for a wide range of ages that support content-area knowledge (see David Pearson’s post). Simultaneously, we sneak in explicit instruction in word structure. How?
In general, many of the same instructional methods that have proven effective for “good” readers have also proven effective for “poor” readers (Blachowicz & Fisher, 2000). We know that effective vocabulary instruction provides multiple exposures to words in multiple contexts, with multiple opportunities to respond, applicable also to students learning English as a second language (e.g., Carlo, August, & Snow, 2005; McLaughlin et al., 2000). Interestingly, these three angles are effective for supporting learning in general for students with LD!
We also know that structural analysis that attends to morphemes is effective in learning new vocabulary, deciphering novel vocabulary, and in making connections among novel and exciting words (see Reed, 2008 for a review). Taking apart and examining “big” words, those fun multisyllabic science words, such as pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, is absolutely age-appropriate for adolescents, supports access to content area knowledge, and …. drum roll please … gives students opportunities to use phonological awareness and to practice decoding in an authentic, useful way. In fact, these kinds of metalinguistic skills are also great candidates for explicit strategy instruction.
For example, using morphological analysis plus context clues to make strategies for deciphering unknown word meanings transparent, or using semantic maps and semantic feature analysis to make relationships among words explicit have been very effective for learners with LD (see Bos & Anders, 1990; Carnine & Carnine, 2004; Lubliner & Smetana, 2005). See prior post describing morphemic analysis in context.
Plus, there are some bonuses to rich and robust vocabulary instruction. Depending on the nature of the disability and many contextual factors, these learners may arrive in your classroom with a vocabulary that far exceeds their reading and writing skills or one that is impoverished from years of limited access to sophisticated texts. The first case provides a strong foundation to build on, and the second presents a significant need that is often ignored in our enthusiasm for remediating decoding and fluency skills.
Finally, instructional research in the area of learning disabilities suggests some additional strategies that would enrich vocabulary learning for typical readers as well. Encouraging oral vocabulary and listening comprehension development through teacher read-alouds and books on tape, and providing more opportunities for bypassing encoding and decoding difficulties such as text-speech software and speech-text software can make vocabulary instruction and development even more robust. Look for future blog posts on these topics!
Baker, S., Gersten, R., & Scanlon, D. (2002). Procedural Facilitators and Cognitive Strategies: Tools for Unraveling the Mysteries of Comprehension and the Writing Process, and for Providing Meaningful Access to the General Curriculum. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 17(1), 65-77.
Blachowicz, C. L. Z., & Fisher, P. (2000). Vocabulary Instruction. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 3, pp. 503-524). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bos, C. S., & Anders, P. L. (1990). Effects of interactive vocabulary instruction on the vocabulary learning and reading comprehension of junior-high learning disabled students. Learning Disability Quarterly, 13, 31-42.
Carlo, M., August, D., & Snow, C. E. (2005). Sustained vocabulary-learning strategy instruction for English-language learners. In E. H. Hiebert & M. L. Kamil (Eds.), Teaching and Learning Vocabulary (pp. 115-136).
Carnine, L., & Carnine, D. (2004). The interaction of reading skills and science content knowledge when teaching struggling secondary students. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 20, 203-218.
Lubliner, S., & Smetana, L. (2005). The effects of comprehensive vocabulary instruction on Title I students' metacognitive word-learning skills and reading comprehension. Journal of Literacy Research, 37(2), 163-200.
Lyon, G. R., Shaywitz, S. E., & Shaywitz, B. A. (2003). Defining dyslexia, comorbidity, teachers' knowledge of language and reading: A definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 53.
McLaughlin, B., August, D., Snow, C., Carlo, M., Dressler, C., White, C., Lively, T. J., & Lippman, D. N. (2000). Vocabulary improvement and reading in English language learners: An intervention study. In A Research Symposium on High Standards in Reading for Students from Diverse Language Groups: Research, Practice, & Policy (pp. 129-143). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Reed, D. K. (2008). A synthesis of morphology interventions and effects on reading outcomes for students in grades K-12. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 23(1), 36-49.
Torgesen, J. K. (2000). Individual differences in response to early interventions in reading: The lingering problem of treatment resisters. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 15(1), 55-64.
Vadasay, P. F., Sanders, E. A., & Peyton, J. A. (2006). Code-oriented instruction for kindergarten students at risk for reading difficulties: A randomized field trial with paraeducator implementers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(3), 508-528.