Structured Literacy Programs: Teaching Principles

Last week, we talked about interventions that address phonological awareness and phonics needs. While these types of interventions are helpful to many students, the majority of students with a specific learning disability in basic reading and students with dyslexia need a very specific form of intervention to remediate deficits in the areas of word identification and decoding/encoding. This comes in the form of structured literacy. Although there are many structured literacy programs that research has proven to be effective, they all share the same teaching principles which are discussed below.

Systematic and Cumulative Direct Instruction

Structured literacy uses a systematic approach to explicitly teach students how to decode words using a specific scope of material that is covered in a specific sequence to ensure that concepts build on each other in a meaningful way. A systematic approach ensures that the concepts are taught following the logical order of language with the easiest and most basic concepts being taught first before progressing to more difficult concepts. Cumulative instruction means that each portion of the program reviews and builds on the concepts taught previously. With this type of intervention, a child practices a wide range of reading skills that build on each other over time, helping students read more effectively. This means that students work on skills like phonological awareness, sound to symbol association, syllables, and morphology. Each skill is broken down and each component is directly taught to the student with frequent repetition and opportunities to practice the skill to the point of mastery.

Diagnostic Teaching

Diagnostic teaching means that both the informal and formal data that is collected during instruction is utilized to drive subsequent lessons for the students. Both observation and more formalized assessment measures are used to determine which skills the student has mastered to the point of automaticity and which skills should be targeted for further instruction.

Immediate Feedback

Feedback is another important component of structured literacy programs. Because students are working individually with an instructor or in a small group, they are provided immediate feedback throughout the program. This allows the instructor to ensure that students are correctly applying skills and that errors are immediately corrected.

Multisensory Approach

Structured literacy programs use a multi-sensory approach to help students grasp reading skills. This means that the students use of all their senses (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile) to reinforce the systematic sequence of skills that they are learning. Some examples of this are writing letters or words in the air, in sand, or in shaving cream.

The teaching principles outlined above are key elements to what makes structured literacy effective. Next week, we will discuss the instructional elements that are integral to structured literacy programs.

Interventions for Basic Reading Skills

In our last post, we discussed the components of an evaluation to determine the presence of a reading disability. This week, we will cover how to match appropriate instructional strategies to the results of an evaluation.

The National Reading Panel determined that there are five main skill areas that are necessary for reading: Phonemic/Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. Interventions should be developed to align with these main areas and the strengths and weaknesses identified within a student’s evaluation. The most foundational skills should be remediated first or in conjunction with other skill areas because students need to form a strong foundation before we can expect them to complete more complex reading skills.

The five areas identified by the National Reading Panel fall within the different eligibility categories for specific learning disabilities on the Evaluation Team Report (ETR). The ETR indicates that a student with a reading disorder may fall within the following special education categories: Basic Reading Skills, Reading Fluency, and Reading Comprehension.

This week we will focus on instructional strategies that will address the Basic Reading Skills category.

Phonological Awareness Intervention

Phonological Awareness is the most foundational skill related to reading, but it often gets overlooked. It refers to an individual’s awareness of the sound structure of oral language. Depending on the individual’s age and needs, intervention might include rhyming, sound matching, sound blending, and sound segmenting activities.

Phonics Intervention

Phonics is the next skill related to basic reading. It refers to correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters. Phonics intervention might include teaching letter to sound correspondence, high frequency sight words, syllable patterns, etc.

There are several resources that provide fun, engaging research-based activities to address these areas. For example, the Florida Center for Reading Research provides free printable activities based on grade level. Additionally, the University of Oregon also provides information about underlying reading theory and instructional strategies. Understanding, Assessing, and Intervening on Reading Problems by Dr. Laurice Joseph also provides helpful information about strategies that educators can use to address basic reading needs.

Providing these types of intervention in a small-group within a classroom setting can help remediate basic reading skills deficits, especially for those students who may have a mild reading disorder or simply need to fill in some skill gaps. However, many students with more significant reading concerns need a more intensive intervention program.

Next week, we will discuss structured literacy programs, which take a multisensory approach to systematically teach reading skills that students. These types of intensive intervention programs often work well for students with dyslexia and other basic reading skills deficits.

Important Areas of Reading Instruction

In 2000, the National Reading Panel, consisting of members of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHC), published a major study, which indicated there are five main areas that should be focused on to teach children how to read efficiently: Phonemic/Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Text Comprehension.

Five Main Skills for Reading: Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension

Five Main Skills for Reading: Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension

Phonological Awareness

Phonemic/Phonological awareness refers to the capacity to identify and manipulate phonemes (the smallest unit of sound) in oral language.

Phonics

Phonics refers to correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters in an alphabetic writing system. This included recognizing letter-sound correspondences as well as common spelling patterns.

Reading Fluency

Fluency refers to the ability to read quickly and accurately with appropriate expression.

Reading Vocabulary

Reading vocabulary refers to understanding the meaning of read words.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension refers to deriving meaning from written text.

All of these skills build upon each other. For example, we need to have an understanding of the building blocks of oral language before we move on to learning phonics. If we can’t apply alphabetic principals automatically, we likely will not be able to read fluently. We need to be able to read words fluently to be able to identify them and understand the vocabulary. And if we don’t understand the words we read, it will be very difficult to derive meaning from a text. While these skills increase in complexity, students often work on various skills at the same time.

In our upcoming posts, we will explore how these five areas relate to reading disabilities, psychoeducational assessments, and instructional strategies that can help students who need additional support in reading.

IEP: Accommodations and Modifications

Since we have been talking about IEPs, in this blog we will be discussing an important component of IEPs: accommodations and modifications.  These are listed in Section 7 of your student’s IEP.  While specifically designed instruction includes the services that your student will receive to address their needs, accommodations and modifications refer to changes that can be made in the learning environment and assignments or assessments. 

Accommodations are changes in your student’s learning environment to provide them equal access to grade-level content.  Because everyone who has an IEP has such a unique profile, accommodations may vary widely, but every accommodation should be directly linked to the child’s needs.  For example, some may include additional time on assignments and tests, taking tests in a reduced distraction environment, audiobooks, frequent breaks, etc.  Similar to the specifically designed instruction portion of this IEP section, the team must list each specific accommodation, as well as the amount of time and frequency of the accommodations. 

Modifications refers to changes in the curriculum and assessments.  This means that while accommodations are generally meant to help students be able to access and achieve at grade-level standards, modifications reduce learning expectations.  Modifications tend to be reserved for a small portion of special education students with the greatest levels of need.

Accommodations and modifications are also addressed in Section 12 of the IEP which outlines information about statewide and district wide testing.  The team indicates whether the student will take assessments in each academic area (including reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and other) with accommodations or as a modified assessment.  If taken with accommodations, the team must list detail of accommodations.

Now that we have covered everything you need to know about the important components of an IEP, we will be shifting to what happens after K-12 to focus on adult learners in upcoming blog posts.  

IEP: Specifically Designed Instruction

In our last blog, we discussed the central component of an effective IEP: SMART goals. This week, we will discuss the complimentary portion of the IEP, which is Section 7. This section spells out the specially designed instruction, sometimes abbreviated SDI, that your child will receive to reach the objectives and goals that are described in Section 6. This section outlines what services the child will get, who is responsible for providing these services, the location of the services, and the amount of time that the child will receive these services.

We cannot express the importance of this section enough; this section explains what special education will look like for your child. Each area of specially designed instruction will be linked with the goal or goals that it is intended to address. The most important portion of the section is what specially designed services will be provided to your child. It is imperative that these supports are research-based interventions and services. However, it is not enough that they be research-based. The research must show that they improve the specific deficits that your child is identified as having. There must be a direct link between the need, the goal, and the service that is based on best practice and is supported by empirical literature.

Who is providing that service to your child is just as important. This is frequently driven by the location of services. If your child will receive their services using an inclusion model, typically these services will be the responsibility of the general education teacher and the intervention specialist. If your child is to receive their services in a resource room or self-contained classroom, these services are typically the sole responsibility of the intervention specialist. If your child qualifies for related services, then the provider may be a speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or specialized expert such as an orientation or mobility specialist.

Another extremely important factor is the amount of time that your child will be receiving these services. The amount of time your child receives specially designed instruction should be directly related to the intensity of need that the child has. The more intensive the need, the more direct special education services the child should receive. Additionally, the more goals a child has, the more special education services they should receive. After the team details the instructional, behavioral, and functional goals in section 7, the same process will be repeated for any related services that your child qualifies to receive.

Next week we will be discussing the second half of Section 7, which is accommodations and modifications.

How to Make Smart IEP Goals

The goal of an IEP is to explicitly lay out the services and supports that your child will receive in order to meet your child’s educational needs as outlined in the Evaluation Team Report (ETR). The ETR and IEP are inextricably linked due to the fact that only data-supported needs directly stated within your child’s ETR will be addressed as goals in your child’s IEP. That is why we cannot stress enough the importance of a quality evaluation which should lead to a high-quality IEP. It is essential that each need is addressed with a specific goal to improve the child’s skills in the areas of deficit.

As stated in our previous blog, there are many sections that comprise an IEP.

Depending on the nature of your child’s disability, specific sections may hold a higher level of importance than it would for another child or family. No matter what the child’s needs are the most important portion of the IEP is Section 6, which comprises the goals and objectives for the child’s educational, behavioral, and functional goals for that calendar year. These goals are the core of a child’s IEP, and the specially designed instructional services and supports that your child receives in special education are all designed around accomplishing those individualized goals. After ensuring that all each area of identified deficit is matched by a goal, the next step is to evaluate the effectiveness of each individual goal.

Each goal within a child’s IEP must meet the standard that is set out in the acronym SMART:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable/Attainable

  • Realistic and Relevant

  • Time-limited

The first portion of a SMART IEP goal is that the goal is specific. The requirement of specificity applies to the present levels of performance, the goals, and the objectives. The goal must be specific to your child and their needs as well as specific to the academic, behavioral or functional area that will be addressed. A specific IEP goal clearly describes the knowledge or skill that your child will learn and how the team will measure your child’s progress and mastery of that goal.

The second portion of a SMART IEP goal is that the goal is measurable. This applies to both the overarching goal and the underlying objectives required to meet the overall goal. The most important part of a goal being measurable is that you can count or observe the goal. That means that the goal is something that both parents and teachers are able to objectively measure whether or not the child is making progress toward that goal. Most academic goals are easily measurable; however, this is particularly important when assessing the quality of a social-emotional/behavioral or functional goals. The goal should also describe what data collection methods will be utilized to assess your child’s progress toward that goal and how frequently that progress will be reported to you.

The third part of ensuring that your child’s IEP contains SMART goals is that it must be achievable or attainable for your child. This portion of the goal directly relates to the present level of performance for your child. This can be done by comparing how they are currently achieving in that area and determine whether or not that specific goal is achievable for your child within one calendar year. The goal must maintain a balance between being not rigorous enough, too rigorous, and being achievable/attainable.

To ensure that your child’s IEP contains SMART goals, the goal must also be realistic and relevant. The IEP goals and objectives must be crafted to meet the unique needs that result from your child’s disability as identified in the child’s ETR. The means that the goals must be specifically designed to meet the needs that your child’s disability has demonstrated. It is essential that the goals are relevant to the precise needs that have been determined by the team.

The last portion of a SMART IEP goal is that the goal is time-limited. This means that the goal is designed to address what your child needs to learn or do in one year of special education services. A time-limited goal enables the child’s progress to be monitored at regular intervals. Typically, this is done through creating short-term objectives that the child will meet in order to obtain the overall goal.

The next blog installment will discuss the importance of the specially designed instruction section of an IEP.

Difference between an IEP and a Section 504 Plan

Although an Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and an Individual Educational Program (IEP) are required for a child to receive special education and related services, there is another type of plan that is available to support children with disabilities: A Section 504 Plan. This is an individualized plan that serves as a blueprint for specific accommodations and changes to the learning environment that a child requires in order to have access to the curriculum. Under Section 504, there is no list of approved disabling conditions; therefore, it covers a wide variety of disabling conditions. Instead, the law describes a person with a disability as someone who “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,” has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Frequently, children with diagnoses of attention disorders and medical conditions receive school supports through a Section 504 Plan. Major life activities can include: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, concentrating, and working. Common accommodations found on a 504 Plan include: frequent breaks, extended time, small group testing, and prompting/cueing. An evaluation is required to determine if the child meets these criteria and is eligible to receive accommodations through a 504 Plan. Typically, these plans are reviewed and updated on a yearly basis to ensure that they continue to meet the child’s needs.

There are two defining differences between a child who has a 504 Plan and a child who has an IEP: the laws that regulate these plans and the services outlined on the plan. The first major difference is the law under which they are housed. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) are federal laws that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and provide protection for those individuals. It is under these laws that individuals with disabilities are afforded Section 504 Plans. Individuals from birth to death are covered under these non-discrimination laws. Therefore, the accommodations that are necessary to level the playing field for the individual are provided in a variety of settings across the individual’s lifespan. The special education services outlined on an IEP are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is the federal law that ensures special education services are provided to children with disabilities. IDEA has more stringent eligibility criteria; a student must meet the definition of 1 of 13 disability categories and must require specially designed instruction in order to make educational progress. When a student meets eligibility criteria under IDEA, that is when a IEP is created. IDEA is a special education law specifically for school-aged students. Individuals are no longer protected under IDEA once they either graduate from high school or are 21 years of age. This means the protections of IDEA do not extend to college and adult life. Many times individuals who were provided services under an IEP K-12 education are transitioned to Section 504 Plans in college.

The second difference is the content of the plans. A Section 504 Plan is designed to provide equal access to individuals with disabilities and level the playing field with non-disabled people to mitigate discrimination. Therefore, Section 504 Plans are made up of specific accommodation supports for the child. It also specifies who is responsible to provide each support and the individuals who are responsible for ensuring that the plan is implemented. The purpose of an IEP is to design an individualized special education program with specific learning goals and objectives and describe the specially designed services that the child requires to meet those goals. An IEP also provides accommodations that would be incorporated into a 504 Plan, but it goes beyond accommodations with specialized educational services. The law specifies many more components that must be included in an IEP. The contents of an IEP were covered in our last blog. Essentially, a 504 Plan provides accommodations and supports in order to provide the individual access to the educational environment, while an IEP provides specific instructional supports in order to teach specific skills to meet measurable educational and functional goals.

Eligibility under either law requires that the school must provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for the student and provide additional legal protections based on the identification of child as having a disability. Due to the fact that Section 504’s has a broader definition of disability than IDEA’s definition, this means that many more children are provided protection under this law and are eligible for a plan under Section 504 than are eligible for an IEP. Therefore, many children who are not eligible for special education services or the team does not believe that specialized instruction is necessary are referred to determine their eligibility under Section 504. A Section 504 Plan can provide the appropriate level of support for a student who requires the support of accommodations in order to level the playing field to ensure that they have equal access to the curriculum.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Once your child qualifies for special education through the Evaluation Team Report (ETR), the team’s hard work isn’t over yet.  They still need to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child.  The IEP is a legal document that is the plan of how the team will address your child’s needs and help them make gains.  In Ohio, the IEP must be completed within 30 days of the ETR meeting date. 

At the IEP meeting, you and your child, if appropriate, will meet with your child’s IEP team, which includes a general education teacher, special education teacher, district representative, and any other appropriate related service provider (speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, etc.).

For most disability categories, the IEP is made up of 14 sections.  There is an additional section for children with visual impairments. 

Section 1: Future Planning
The first part of the IEP includes information about future planning.  This is where the parents’ input about what they hope to see in the future for their child is included.  It should also include information about the student’s interests and what they would like to be when they are adults.

Section 2: Special Instructional Factors
In the second part of the IEP, the team answers “yes” or “no” questions about the child regarding behavior, English proficiency, whether they have visual impairments, communication needs, requires assistive technology, or specially designed physical education. 

Section 3: Profile
The third section addresses your child’s profile.  This should include relevant assessment data, including data from the Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and other standardized and classroom assessments.

Section 4: Postsecondary Transition
The fourth section is only required for those who will be 14 years old during the length of the IEP, but may also be completed for younger students if appropriate.  It includes a statement about the transition services your child will need based on their course of study.  For those older than 16, data from transition assessments will also be included.

Section 5: Postsecondary Transition Services
For those students who are 15 or older, the fifth part of the IEP must be completed.  This included goals regarding postsecondary education and training, employment, and independent living.

Section 6: Measurable Annual Goals
The sixth section of the IEP is the goals that address your child’s needs.  It is important that these are directly linked with the information provided in the ETR so that the team is sure that they are specifically working on the student’s areas of difficulty.  Section 6 will provide information about the area of need, the present level of performance (based on assessment results), a measurable annual goal, and measurable objectives that will help your child reach that goal.  It will also include information about how your child’s performance on this goal will be measured, and how and when they will provide you information about your child’s progress.  Each area of need will have its own goals and objectives.

Section 7: Description(s) of Specially Designed Services
The seventh section of the IEP provides information about the types of services your child will receive, which goals those services are meant to address, who will provide those services, where the services will be provided, and the amount of time and how often they will be provided.  This section not only provides information about how your child’s needs will be addressed by teachers, but also includes information about related services, assistive technology, accommodations, modifications, and medical services your child may require, as well as support that the school personnel may need.

Section 8: Transportation as a Related Service
This part of the IEP determines if your child has any transportation needs do to their disability, and what types of accommodations or modifications may address those needs.

Section 9: Nonacademic and Extracurricular Activities
This section lists ways in which your child has the opportunity to participate in nonacademic and extracurricular activities with peers that do not qualify for special education.

Section 10: General Factors
The tenth section of the IEP ensures that the team has considered your child’s strengths, your concerns, results of evaluations, performance on state or district testing, your child’s needs, and whether your child needs extended school year (ESY) services.

Section 11: Least Restrictive Environment
This section addresses whether your child will attend the school they would be normally attended if they did not qualify for special education services, and whether your child will receive all special education services with nondisabled peers.  If not, the team must provide a justification about why the child needs to be provided services in a different setting. 

Section 12: Statewide and District Wide Testing
This part of the IEP addresses state- and district-wide testing that will take place during the length of the IEP.  It included what types of accommodations will be provided for each area of assessment and whether the student should take a modified assessment.  It also addresses whether your child will be excused form passing state assessments required for graduation.

Section 13: Meeting Participants
All team members who attend the IEP meeting should sign this section of the IEP to indicate their participation in the IEP process.

Section 14: Signatures
Parents will check specific boxes and sign to indicate what services listed in the IEP they consent to.  If your child is 17, you and your child will both sign to transfer safeguard rights to the student once they turn 18 years old.  The team will also indicate if they provided a copy of the Procedural Safeguards Notice and a copy of the IEP to you or when it was sent to you.

Section 15: Children with Visual Impairments
If your child has qualified for special education services due to a visual impairment, the IEP team must complete this section.  It addresses the reading and writing media in which reading and writing instruction will be provided to meet your child’s educational needs.

Welcome

Hello, and welcome to our new blog! 

We are Greer and Jen, Directors and School Psychologists at Achievement Advantage Assessment & Services. 

We are excited for the opportunity to bring an additional resource to parents, clients, and educators by providing blogs related to education and learning exceptionalities, including information about special education law, the evaluation process, instructional practices to best meet the needs of students with learning differences, and much more!

Additionally, we will be inviting guest bloggers who work in the education, mental health, and medical fields to share about their areas of expertise.

Our goal is to provide information that you will find beneficial.  Do you have a topic you would like to learn more about?  Please let us know by contacting us via email at achieve@achievement-advantage.org.  We welcome your input!