Learning to Read

Reading to Learn

How can teachers improve reading needs among adolescents in special education?

In order to address students’ diverse needs, I believe that teachers need to employ assistive technology, differentiated instruction, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into the classroom curriculum. UDL is an innovative approach to education that examines teaching methods, school materials, representation, expression, engagement, and provides different alternatives to give students a voice about their education as a way to increase participation in all learning. Assistive technology is a main component of UDL that removes challenging obstacles and offers people with disabilities an opportunity to independently perform tasks. Research states that by connecting differentiated instruction with an emphasis on UDL and integrating assistive technology, the needs for student accommodations or adaptions will be minimal (Kraglund-Gauthier, Young, & Kell, 2014).

Video Tutorials

Making Sense of Universal Design for Learning
Response to Intervention and Differentiated Instruction Preview

Research Analysis

Improving adolescent reading skills in rural areas using evidence-based practices.

The National Reading Panel stated that the two key components of reading are reading comprehension and reading fluency. Students at the elementary level “learn to read”, but students at the middle school level experience a transition in instruction of being expected to “read to learn” (Shippen, Miller, Patterson, Houchins, & Darch, 2014). This expectation on middle grade learners creates reading barriers for those students with low level reading proficiency.

This study focuses on the reading needs in a rural middle school, grades 6-8, in the southeastern United States. A Direct Instruction (DI) model was used to incorporate two methods to address struggling adolescent readers. The methods in this program were called Corrective Reading Decoding (CRD) and Reading Excellence: Word Attack and Rate Development Strategies (REWARDS). The Wide Range Achievement Test-4 (WRAT-4) measured that the students who participated in the study were two grades behind in reading achievement. The purpose of this study using the DI approach was to examine the outcomes of the CRD and the REWARDS program and assess how they rate with regard to reading achievement for students with reading deficits (Shippen et al., 2014).


Forty-nine middle school students participated in this study and all of them were classified as struggling readers in their rural school district. The student participants were screened by the WRAT-4 scores which gauged that the struggling readers were approximately two years behind in their reading skills. Fifty-three percent of the student participants in this study received special education services.

The procedures for this study were based on program placement tests that determined what intervention was suitable for each participant. The tests indicated that 12 students would be placed in the CRD program which identified that all of the students participating in this intervention had disabilities. The REWARDS program had a total of 37 students and 14 of the participants in this intervention had disabilities. Student participants in both interventions were administered the WRAT-4 test one week before the interventions began and again two weeks after the interventions were completed.

The reading interventions took place in general and special educational settings that lasted 6 weeks. Students were assembled into small groups for 50 minutes.

  • REWARDS- is a 20 lesson DI curriculum that teaches a reading decoding strategy designed for students with reading difficulties including decoding skills and decoding multisyllabic words.
  • CRD- is a DI curriculum designed for struggling readers that focuses on word attack and phonics. This program utilizes a “spiraling curriculum approach” by providing repetition of subsequent skills and teaching new reading skills simultaneously (Shippen et al., 2014).


Data analysis was conducted by using a quasi-experimental design for the pre- and post- tests. A 2 (interventions) X 4 (standard scores) multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) indicated a significant difference between the REWARDS program and the CRD program. The students who participated in the REWARDS program improved their reading performance skills more than the students who participated in the CRD program. The researchers speculate that there are three reasons for the variance in the results. First, students in the REWARDS program had higher reading scores prior to the intervention. Second, the REWARDS program offered more opportunity for enrichment by providing students physical engagement to benefit their learning. This may have also decreased any triggers pertaining to attention deficit issues. Finally, the REWARDS program focused instruction on the structures of morphology, as opposed to the CRD, which focused instruction on the phonological structures. The scores on the dependent measures were more reactive in the REWARDS program because of the morphological aspect, which resulted in a higher mean score on spelling as opposed to the lower mean score in the CRD program (Shippen et al., 2014).

The overall results of this study indicate that both programs were successful in improving student reading abilities. The CRD had a positive impact on the learners’ reading fluency and word attack skills. Results indicated both DI programs should be implemented in order to complement one another and help improve reading in the areas of word reading proficiency, reading rate, reading accuracy, and reading fluency. Direct Instruction is recommended by the researchers in this study as the most effective way to help teach explicit pedagogy to struggling readers. The findings of this study support DI programs like CRD and REWARDS as beneficial methods to help improve reading skills among middle school students who are struggling in this area (Shippen et al., 2014).

The Teacher's Role

When a teacher provides a combination of both direct and differentiated instruction, students are more inclined to achieve academically. Direct instruction provides teachers with effective tools. Teachers who differentiate their instruction, in order to meet the needs of all students, help learning flourish. Effective teachers not only differentiate their instruction to support all diverse learners, but they also use a variety of modes to communicate their instruction by incorporating assistive technology and UDL into the curriculum. Delivering information with many modes of communication gives students different opportunities to build, understand, and make connections with what is being taught. Differentiation, assistive technology, and UDL is the process of making information accessible to all students. Teachers make it meaningful through direct instruction (Davison, 2015).

How do you teach?

Find out if your instruction is meeting student’s unique needs and discover ways to remove learning barriers in the curriculum by watching the video below.

UDL: Reducing Barriers

Technology Tools

Inspiring Middle School Literacy is a short educational film about students "reading to learn." Students learn literacy strategies in a computer lab that teaches a series of self-paced lessons. Below are articles that recommend AT devices, tools, and apps to help struggling readers progress and find a love of literacy.


Antonio, B. (2013). UDL: Reducing Barriers. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTShQyw3m80

Caruthers Collins, L., Minton, G., Roberson, S. (2015). Differentiated and Direct Instruction: Background and Implications. Retrieved from http://www.cera-web.org/wp-content/uploads/presentations/shyrea_roberson/Differentiated%20and%20Direct%20Instruction%20Presentation-%20L.%20Collins_G.%20Minton_S.%20Roberson.pdf

Davison, S. (2015). Differentiate Your Direct Instruction: Make Content Accessible to All Students. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2015/05/14/differentiate-your-direct-instruction/

InspiringEducation. (2015). Making Sense of Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOUdmzaZrc8

Kraglund-Gauthier, W., Young, D., & Kell, E. (2014). Teaching students with disabilities in post-secondary landscapes: navigating elements of inclusion, differentiation, universal design for learning, and technology. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, 7 (3), 1-8.

Mulholland, H. (2015). 8 Apps For Struggling Adolescent Readers. Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/uncategorized/8-apps-for-struggling-adolescent-readers/

National Professional Resources. (2011). Response to Intervention and Differentiated Instruction Preview. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWxsI2g5yp8

Stanberry, K. (2010). Assistive technology tools: Reading. Retrieved from http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/reading-tools/

Shippen, M., Miller, A., Patterson, D., Houchins, D. & Darch, C. (2014). Improving adolescent reading skills in rural areas using evidence-based practices. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 33 (2), 12-18.

WGBH. (2015). About Inspiring Middle School Literacy. Retrieved from http://net.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/midlit11.pd.ela.pdvideo/about-inspiring-middle-school-literacy/

by Joette Fuller