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Dear Reading Specialist, May I Ask You a Few Questions?

Because the children I assess, often require supplementary reading instruction services, many parents frequently ask me how they can best determine if a reading specialist has the right experience to help their child learn how to read. So today’s blog post describes what type of knowledge reading specialists ought to possess and what type of questions parents (and other professionals) can ask them in order to determine their approaches to treating literacy-related difficulties of struggling learners.

The first question I ask the reading specialists doing the interviewing process is: “Can you please describe how language development influences literacy development?” I do so because language development occurs on the continuum. Hence, strong oral language abilities (e.g., solid vocabulary knowledge, good narrative abilities, etc.) are the building blocks for future reading comprehension success.

Image result for reading componentsNext, I ask them to list the components integral to reading success.  That is because in order for children to become successful readers they require instruction in the following aspects of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and semantic awareness, morphological awareness, orthographic knowledge, as well as reading fluency and reading comprehension (the effect of handwriting, spelling, and writing is also hugely important). I am quite happy though if phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency and reading comprehension, make the list.

Another question that I always make sure to ask is whether the reading specialist subscribes to a particular instructional approach to reading. Currently, all popular reading instructional practices (e.g., Wilson, Orton-Gillingham, Barton, Reading Recovery, etc.) no matter how evidence-based they are advertised/claimed to be, possess significant limitations if used exclusively and in isolation.  As such, it is very important for parents to understand that it is not the application of a particular approach, which will result in successfully teaching a child to read, but rather knowing how to integrate multiple instructional elements in order to create scientifically informed reading intervention sessions.

Given the proliferation of questionable programs that claim to improve children’s reading abilities, I always ensure to ask whether the reading specialist employees a particular computer program to teach reading. That is because some reading specialists utilize the Fast ForWord program. However, systematic reviews found no sign of a reliable effect of Fast ForWord® on reading. Similarly, the Read Naturally® software used by some reading specialists was found to have “mixed effects on reading fluency, and no discernible effects on alphabetics and comprehension for beginning readers.” That is why systematic and explicit direct instruction is still the most evidenced-based intervention approach for children with language and literacy needs.

To continue, I always ask the reading specialists about the role of morphology in reading intervention. I also ask them whether they utilize spelling interventions to improve the reading abilities of students with reading difficulties. Research indicates that beyond phonemic awareness and phonics, morphological awareness plays a very significant role in improving vocabulary knowledge, reading fluency, reading comprehension as well as spelling abilities of struggling learners (especially beyond 3rd grade).  Similarly, studies show that supplementing reading intervention with spelling instruction will improve and expedite reading gains.

Image result for tracking progressYet another important question pertains to the tracking the progress of struggling learners in order to objectively document intervention effectiveness. There is a variety of nonstandardized tools available on the market to track reading progress. Unfortunately, some of these tools such as the DRA’s are unreliable and too subjective. As such, I am very interested regarding how well versed are the reading specialists in the administration and interpretation of standardized phonological awareness, reading fluency, and reading comprehension measures such as the PAT-2, CTOPP-2, GORT-5, TORC-4, TOWRE-2, TOSCRF-2, TOSWRF-2, etc, for an objective tracking of student progress.

The above is just a very basic list of questions that I like to ask the reading specialists during the initial interview process. There are many more that I like to ask in my determination of their preparation for assessment and treatment of struggling learners, which are tailored to the particular program for which I work and as such are not relevant to this particular post.

When choosing a relevant professional for working with their child it is very important for parents to understand that rigid adherence to a particular instructional method is not necessarily a good thing. Rather, qualified and competent reading specialists may use a variety of approaches when teaching reading, spelling, and writing.  It is not a particular approach which matters per se, but rather the principles behind a particular approach NEED to be scientifically sound and supported by proven research practices.  Overreliance on a particular methodology at the exclusion of all others fails to produce well-rounded, competent, and erudite readers.

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2 thoughts on “Dear Reading Specialist, May I Ask You a Few Questions?

  1. […] fluency, etc.   Such information is hugely helpful in assisting the child to receive additional reading intervention services with a focus on improving the affected areas of […]

  2. […] is the problem though, unless objective measures are used to test their children’s phonemic awareness and phonics abilities, there is a very strong possibility that these issues will persist well into upper elementary […]

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