«DOCUMENT RESUME ED 363 732 CE 064 960 AUTHOR Fowler, Anne E.; Scarborough, Hollis S. TITLE Should Reading-Disabled Adults Be Distinguished from Other ...»
Beyond the novice level, there is some evidence that engaging in speeded word recognition tasks can lead to increased automaticity and improved comprehension. Also, instruction and practice in metacognitive organizational and study skills, such as selfmonitoring of comprehension, can improve the ability to extract meaning from text, which is the ultimate goal of skilled reading.
Well-controlled studies of treatment programs for adults are notably lacking. However, several investigators have applied to adult populations the principles that have proven most successful with young children first learning to read. In particular, consistent with the observed lack of phonological awareness among adult poor readers, they have included explicit instruction on the analytic structure of words, together with instruction in letter-sound correspondences. These investigators have written up descriptive accounts of their procedures and the underlying rationale and are uniformly enthusiastic regarding the success they have achieved using a language analysis approach (Lewkowicz, 1987; Liberman, Shankweiler, Blachman, Camp & Werfelman, 1980; Bell & Lindamood, 1992). Given the evidence of adult deficits in this area, the positive effects of phoneme awareness training in childhood, and the clinical reports regarding adult successes, it is recommended that phoneme awareness instruction be included as an important piece of training for any adult with diagnosed decoding problems.
It should be pointed out, however, that the possible limits, if any, are not known yet on the degree of improvement that can be achieved by applying to adults the variety of methods that have been successful with children. Most intervention programs with children have lasted only a few months, and, despite notable gains in skill, the experimental subjects have almost always remained behind their peers in reading abilities at the conclusion of training. Nevertheless, the work that has been conducted with children is quite promising in suggesting that skill-focused training can bring about improvements in skill. Given the similarity between low achieving adults and children with regard to the range TECHNICAL REPORT T193-7 and nature of their reading problems, there is reason to be optimistic that such interventions would be effective for adults who seek help in reading.
On the technical side, the use of computers as instructional aids shows great promise for adults as well as children. Computers equipped with voice synthesizers can supply immediate assistance with word recognition and may also be programmed to point out how letters and sounds within words can be broken up into component segments. Computers can also be programmed to measure and give feedback on the speed of processing; they are probably the best means of increasing automaticity. Those equipped with libraries of stored knowledge bases can provide, at the student's request, vocabulary information and even written and illustrated background information about topic domains that pertain to reading passages. Furthermore, this information can be tailored to the particular type of reading that the client encounters on the job; for instance, the word recognition stimuli and background facts that the student practices on can be customized for workers in a particular industry (e.g., banking, insurance, construction, etc.), as is now starting to be done in some adult literacy programs sponsored by private companies. Computerassisted training in reading can also be fun (when practice is incorporated into game formats), and a computer is infinitely patient and can give more immediate and consistent feedback than a typical human instructor. Finally, using computers to assist in skills training frees the human instructor to concentrate on the broader motivational, vocational, and personal goals of the client.
For all of these reasons, despite the initial expense of obtaining and programming computers, the gains of moving in this direction will potentially outweigh the costs.
The analysis on instruction ends with two points. First, research on the relative effectiveness of various approaches to treating adults' reading problems is sorely needed. At present, knowledge relies upon the understanding that has been gained about the nature of reading deficiencies in adults who seek help, about the similarities between reading difficulties of adults and children, and about the relatively few good investigations of treatment efficacy for children. Given that adults and children differ in other respects such as motivation and job-orientation, it is likely that the way skills are taught could be modified to capitalize on those strengths.
Second, the available research implies that the greatest emphasis in instruction will still have to be placed on identifying and improving the specific component skills that prevent these adults from being skilled readers. This is not only a function of the
NATIONAL CENTER ON ADULT LITERACY 75
We began this review by taking a fresh look at the traditional distinction between reading disabled and illiterate/low-literate adults. The argument has been made that while the distinction may still be valuable for theoretical purposes, it may not be as clear-cut or useful as it once was for most practical situations. The practical reality is that a large number of adults seeking literacy instruction today present limited reading skills concomitant with a more generalized learning problem and/or the motivational and educational disadvantages of a history of failure and a lower socioeconomic status. Within this group, it is nearly impossible to disentangle the multiple problems contributing to and stemming from the reading difficulty. At the same time, the research suggests that if a person remains a poor reader in adulthood (as a great many children with reading problems do), then it matters little whether the reading problem stemmed initially from a localized intrinsic limitation, from a general learning problem, or from inadequate educational opportunity. Instead, some highly advantaged individuals notwithstanding, most adult poor readers are likely to have a great deal in common with regard to their overall literacy levels, their profiles of component reading skills, their difficulties with phoneme awareness and other associated cognitive-linguistic weaknesses, their educational and vocational histories, their social-emotional difficulties, their expressed needs and, potentially, their responsiveness to literacy assistance/training in adulthood.
Moreover, it is striking that their reading abilities appear to be hindered by weaknesses in the same components of the reading process that have been shown to pose the greatest challenges to
children learningand especially failing to learnto read:
sufficient mastery of letter-sound regularities to accomplish efficient word recognition, an adequate understanding of spoken language and general knowledge to discover the meanings conveyed by connected text, once decoding has been achieved.
Consequently, it has been argued that to plan effective instructional programs for adults seeking literacy assistance, it is essential to use a sensitive diagnostic battery that will be informative about which aspects of the reading process are most problematic for an individual. This study has suggested that the most effective approach to adult reading instruction would be a skill-based one that is tailored to the client's current levels of skill in word recognition, decoding automaticity, reading
NATIONAL CENTER ON ADULT LITERACY 77comprehension, and listening comprehension. It has further been suggested that many adults with persisting deficits in decoding will also be aided by instruction in oral phonological analysis skills as well as in print-focused training.
Finally, although some, but not nearly all, pure cases of specific reading disability (or dyslexia) can probably be diagnosed using the procedures outlined, there are few compelling reasons for attempting to make such distinctions in practice. In other words, the severity and nature of an individual's reading problem should be the guiding factor in providing treatment, and the term disability should be applied only where some practical advantage is to be gained. just as it is unrealistic to pretend that the reading problems of all low-literate adults stem solely from low motivation and poor prior instriction, so, too, would it be a disservice to adults to assume that a failure to read is indicative of a constitutional and insurmountable deficit.
ENDNOTESAlthough learning disability and reading disability are often used interchangeably, in the present paper the focus is restricted to reading disability (or dyslexia), which makes up the largest proportion of learning disability diagnoses. Although much of the research to be discussed has focussed on reading disability in the absence of other learning problems, there are many reasons to be believe that the conclusions drawn apply to reading problems that are comorbid with these other conditions. What is not addressed in this paper are learning disabilities that do not specifically include a reading component, such as specific math disability or attention deficit disorders.
2 In a very small number of individuals, a problem called visual discomfort may lead to a similar pattern of performance. These adults may show marked improvement in reading comprehension when the reading material is rearranged (e.g., less compactly) on the printed page.
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