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«DOCUMENT RESUME ED 363 732 CE 064 960 AUTHOR Fowler, Anne E.; Scarborough, Hollis S. TITLE Should Reading-Disabled Adults Be Distinguished from Other ...»

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This is not to deny, of course, that children with specific reading disability do not differ in other respects from other children who have trouble learning to read. Instead, it might be said that while other poor readers tend to have a broader array of problems with respect to reading itself, their problems are not of a fundamentally different nature.

Because they meet strict criteria regarding discrepancies between achievement and aptitude, children with specific reading disability tend to have higher IQ scores and better achievement in other academic areas than do garden variety poor readers.

Consequently, even though the essential nature of the reading problems of all poor readers are apparently the same, it is possible that the same approach to treatment might not be most effective. One of the traditional assumptions about dyslexia is that special remedial instruction is needed for such children. This hypothesis has two bases. First, the causes of specific and nonspecific reading problems may be very different. In particular, the source of difficulty has been hypothesized to be intrinsic,


biological, and localized for true dyslexics but not for other poor readers. Even though all poor readers look similar with regard to their phonological and decoding problem:, it is nonetheless quite possible that these weaknesses could arise via different etiological paths in different individuals. Second, it has been presumed that a child with greater cognitive capacities, who has used those abilities to achieve at higher levels in mathematics or in areas other than reading, will respond differently to treatment than other children with the same degree of difficulty in reading. Next, a review is given of the research that has been conducted to determine what kinds of interventions are most effective in improving the skills of specific and nonspecific poor readers.

Although the need for specialized treatment of specific reading disability has long been advocated in the field, and although a wide variety of instructional methods have been suggested arid implemented during the past half century, surprisingly little research on treatment efficacy has been conducted. Chall (1987), for instance, noted that she "could find no studies specifically directed to finding optimal methods for dyslexic students" (p. 22).

Likewise, Gittelman and Feingold (1983) stated that their survey of the literature "failed to identify a single random assignment investigation of reading remediations versus control treatments in children with reading disorders" (p. 167). Only quite recently have any findings become available from better designed treatment evaluation studies using well-defined samples of poor readers.

The characteristic profile of the reading-disabled child indicates that the major obstacle to learning to read is decoding and that the missing ingredient for learning to decode is the ability to perceive and manipulate the phonemic segments of spoken language. From this it might be hypothesized that the most effective focus of remedial efforts, at least for children for whom decoding skills are very weak, would be on making explicit the structural components of spoken language and the links between phonemes and printed spellings. Indeed, there have been several tests of these ideas, and the results, for the most part, have been quite promising. In adthion, a few studies have pursued the idea that reading comprehension is hindered by the hypothesized bottleneck in processing that arises when decoding skills are insufficiently automatized or have examined the degree to which text comprehension can be improved by training older dyslexic children on organizational strategies. Because all of these studies are of particular relevance to the question of how best to help adults with reading problems, and because comparable studies are not available for adults, they will be reviewed in some detail.

TECHNICAL REPORT TR93-7 Gittelman and Feingold (1983) studied 10-year-olds whose initial reading scores were one to two years below grade level.

Although described as pure reading disordered, these subjects were generally of lower IQ and lower socioeconomic status than typical dyslexics in other samples, were not much better in math than reading achievement, and were also rather atypical in that they had all been referred to a psychiatric clinic for evaluation of behavioral problems. Nevertheless, it is instructive to examine the results for the two treatment groupsone trained in phonics (decoding) skills (n 30) and one in study skills (n - 26). Each subject received 54 individual instructional sessions over an 18week period. Larger gains were seen for the phonics-trained group on post-tests of decoding, oral reading, and reading comprehension; some differences between the two groups persisted for up to eight months after the end of training. This improvement could not be attributed to any generalized effect of participating in a special program with a sympathetic adult, because the group that received training in study skills was similarly given special treatment, and because the treatment effects were not seen for non-reading-related achievement in math, science, and social studies. As one might expect, although a few months of rather intensive instruction led to improvement, these children still remained far behind their classmates. Nevertheless, the results are very promising in suggesting that working directly on phonological decoding skills can bring about both short-term and long-term gains in reading ability.

Vellutino and Scanlon (1987) compared three kinds of training:

whole word and meaning-based word recognition, phonological decoding and segmentation, and a combination of the two approaches. The strongest post-test performance was seen following the combination training, which was effective in improving the skills of both good readers and underachievers, compared to untrained control groups. For the poor readers, improvement in word recognition skill also resulted from phonological training alone. These results thus appear to confirm and extend the findings of Gittelman and Feingold, and suggest that direct, intensive instruction on phonological analysis, decoding, and word-specific learning can be beneficial for children with specific reading disability. However, the training and testing in this experimental study involved pseudowords represented with non-English graphic symbols rather than letters, so it is not clear whether the methods and results are generalizable to the process of learning to recognize real English words.


Segmentation of words into component parts was also recently emphasized in an innovative, computer-controlled training program (Wise et al., 1989; Olson, Wise, Conners & Rack, 1990). In several studies, third to sixth graders with reading disabilities used a mouse to designate unfamiliar words they encountered while reading stories on the computer screen. The computer responded (via a speech synthesizer) by pronouncing the word (e.g., thinking), by pronouncing its syllables separately (tbink - ing), or by pronouncing subsyllabic units such as the onset and the remainder of a syllable (tb - ink - ing). On post-tests of speed and accuracy in reading words and pseudowords, trained groups generally performed better than untrained controls. Mixed results have been obtained to date, however, regarding the relative effectiveness of different segmentation conditions. By demonstrating that dyslexic children are helped not just by immediate feedback as to an unknown word's identity, but even more when the structure of such words is explicitly pointed out, these results are consistent with the two previously mentioned training studies and with the current view that difficulties with metalinguistic analysis are a basic obstacle to word recognition in disabled readers.

Giving children practice in making fine-grained discriminations between spoken words led to considerable improvement in metaphonological skill in a recent study by Hurford (1990).

Middle-class second and third graders with average IQs but low reading achievement were assigned to either an untrained control group or a group that was given several hours of practice (over three or four days) on making same/different judgments about stimulus pairs that differed by only one phoneme (e.g., /e/ vs. /ail, vs. Ili/, /di/ vs. /gi/. Both groups had similarly poor scores on a pre-test of phonological segmentation skill, compared to a control group of normal readers. When the same measure w as readministered after training, substantial gains were observed for the 16 underachievers who had been trained such that they now exceeded the 16 untrained controls; there was no longer any difference on the metaphonological measure between third grade children in the trained condition and normal reading controls.

Hurford speculated that in forcing children to notice phonemic differences between syllables, the training procedure helped them to realize what a phoneme is, which in turn allowed them to transfer this insight to a metaphonological task on which they had not been trained.

Lovett et al. (Lovett, 1991; Lovett, Warren-Chaplin, Ransby & Borden, 1990) conducted the most extensive program of research TECHNICAL REPORT TR93-7 on the effectiveness of various kinds of training programs for improving the reading and spelling skills of dyslexic children. The subjects in these well-designed studies, randomly assigned to treatment or control conditions, were middle-class schoolchildren with severe reading disabr -ies. The control groups, who received training in general acaden. strategies, were included to control for treatment time and ofessional attention. In addition to learning the material that was directly taught, transfer of training was also measured. Some interesting findings were consistent with other training studies already mentioned, while other results were less expected. First, compared to the controls, groups whose training focused directly on word recognition and spelling skills showed sizable gains on post-tests. Second, relatively weak transfer effects were obtained for reading, although spelling of words that were not used as stimuli during training was improved after training. Third, some groups were taught a whole word approach to word recognition and a letter-sequence reproduction approach to spelling, while other groups received training on letter-sound correspondences and the decoding of regular words (with wholeword and letter-sequence practice for irregular words).

Unexpectedly, few differences between these two approaches were obtained. Fourth, for no group was there any evidence that the children had extracted any information about letter-sound correspondences; instead, their gains were apparently achieved by acquiring specific lexical knowledge. Hence, the results are positive in demonstrating that the word recognition skills of dyslexic children can be greatly improved by providing plenty of practice with reading and spelling words but are discouraging because these improvements were not attributable to more generalized skill in using sound-letter correspondences to decode unfamiliar words. It is possible, as Lovett noted, that the 35 hours of instruction over a 7-week period provided to her subjects was insufficient to permit the induction of regularities in the relations between letter sequences and speech sounds. Even more likely, given what has been learned about prerequisites to successful reading acquisition from studies of kindergarten and first-grade children, is Lovett's suggestion that her dyslexic subjects may require additional specific training in phonological awareness and subsyllabic segmentation to precede or augment the letter-sound training program (Lovett, 1991, p. 301).

For disabled readers who have achieved some degree of mastery of decoding and word recognition skills, reading comprehension may continue to be impeded by the inefficiency of these processes. The effects of training that emphasize speeded word recognition have been investigated in a recent study of 35


middle to upper-middle class 13-year-old underachievers who were reading at the third- to sixth-grade level (Holt-Ochsner & Manis, 1992). The goal of training was to increase the speed with which the meanings of known words were accessed by having the children play a computerized game in which feedback was given for quickly matching words with their definitions. Different sets of I o w frequency words, which the children were likely to have in their speaking vocabularies, were used as stimuli during the four training sessions and in tests for transfer of training. As intended, performance on the training games became faster over time, indicating that the treatment did result in increased efficiency in accessing the meanings of the training stimuli. Moreover, these effects transferred to other post-test measures following training.

Subjects showed gains in the accuracy and speed with which they could read the training words aloud, understand written sentences containing those words, and match the words with synonyms in a divided attention task. Some smaller gains in speed were seen, furthermore, when stimulus words that had not been used in training were used as stimuli in the post-tests, indicating that the increases in automaticity could be applied more generally. This study provides encouraging evidence that training can be effective in improving the efficiency of word recognition by disabled readers, and can thereby indirectly promote better comprehension.

In a similar study, but with a sample of poor readers from disadvantaged backgrounds rather than children with specific reading disability, Roth and Beck (1987) used speeded computer games to improve the speed and accuracy of word recognition.

Following several months of training, greater efficiency in identifying printed words was obtained not only for training materials but also for untrained words, and concomitant improvements on standardized word reading tests and reading comprehension measures were seen.

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