The Need to Read: Special Needs Students Focus of Literacy Program

September 26, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 2 Comments

Posted by Andrew Brolsma

Over the past decade Special Education has started to blossom throughout the grade levels. One particular problem teachers are noticing is the lack of literate students. More and more students have an IEP, 504, or other related services to maximize their learning potential. These services allow the students to grow, mature, and learn. General Education and Special Education teachers need to collaborate to differentiate their instruction to fit the goals and needs of these students. One major concern that Iowa teachers have with Special Education is with the literacy program in their state.

In the state of Iowa there is a five-year initiative plan to revamp the literacy program for Elementary Special Education students. Chris Kliewer, one of the leaders in this new pilot program states “The goal of this plan is that every child be recognized as a literate individual who has the capacity to grow.” The students in these classrooms can not read, write, or speak in fluent sentences. These teachers feel that every student that walks into the classroom should have the essential tools to read and write once the students reach middle school. The teachers use word building, word walls, electronic devices, and other means to teach the students how to read and write. Jennifer Garrett made this comment about the new literacy program, “We wanted to have a chance to interact and spend time with the kids in the classroom, looking at their language and literacy needs and watching their growth over time.” This program will have positive effects in the long run for these students.

As a current Math and Special Education teacher I feel that students need to be literate when they enter middle and high school. In math class the battle students’ face are the words we use. Students need to be able to understand what they are reading in math class before they can even perform the task. Many students have problems with the reading content and vocabulary on the NYS Math Regents exams. In math it is half the battle understanding what you are doing. Once a student can decode a math problem it is very easy to solve it once they understand it. In my classroom I have a word wall and I preach to my students the importance of understanding what they are reading.

A few questions to think ponder on: Should all the states have a common literacy program? How does NYS measure up against other states pertaining to special education and literacy?

You can find a copy of this article at

The Need to Read: Special Needs Students Focus of Literacy Program



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  1. All good points, I also enjoyed the article. I took the liberty of digging up state-by-state literacy statistics, and surprisingly there is very limited information focusing on these broad comparisons. I found NOTHING focused strictly on student literacy, but there are at least 2 major studies commissioned by the US Government. The last major study for state-by-state literacy statistics was back in 2003, and the one before that was in 1992; both performed by the National Center for Educational Statistics. The link to both data sets is here . According to the most recent data, New York (22%) trails only California (23%) for the largest percentage of adults lacking “basic prose literacy skills”, which included individuals who scored very low on their standardized assessment, and those who could not be tested due to a language barrier (percent was calculated using population data from the most recent census at the time of the study). Minnesota, North Dakota, and New Hampshire are the leaders at 6%. The above studies, or lack thereof, highlight the fact that we simply do not have the information or the tools to implement rigid national literacy standards that all states in all locations must adhere to religiously. I believe that the US Government should create broad principles and goals that help to structure and focus literacy standards for states and local communities, but leave the details for implementing literacy policy to the local authorities.

  2. I think that all schools should have a literacy program. The real world is filled with text that we need to understand in order to succeed. There are so many strategies to help students learn that we need to build relationships with our students in order to determine which strategies fit best with them. Is it better to have a seperate literacy program, teachers that teach strategies for reading, or both, realistically? The school where I substitute teacher at, Norman Howard, has many teachers that teach reading to 3 or less students at a time. This is an actual whole period for students. I have noticed that teachers try to incorporate reading strategies in their content areas. In order to help student with literacy, I think it is very important to be supportive no matter how the student is doing.

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