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.