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Common Literacy Problems Experienced by Students Receiving Special Education


Literacy skills consist of the ability to think, listen, speak, and read and write effectively. Although many questions remain about the complex processes in the acquisition of language and literacy skills, few question that oral language, reading, and writing are parts of an integrated language system (Lerner, 1997). Due to the interrelationship of literacy skills, students who exhibit difficulties with one element of the language system often exhibit related problems in other areas of literacy.

A common characteristic of students with disabilities is language deficiency, which may present itself as problems with letters and sounds, limited vocabulary (both receptive and expressive), and numerous weaknesses in oral and written expression. Another difficulty area for students with disabilities are perceptual problemsrecognizing, discriminating, and interpreting visual and auditory stimuli (Salend, 2001)and problems with large- and small-motor tasks (Silvia, McGee, & Williams, 1985). Clearly these areas of difficulty can jeopardize effective reading and writing skills, which combine auditory, visual, motor, and conceptual processes. In addition, many students with IEPs have problems with attention, memory, and organization (Bay & Bryan, 1992), all of which affect both reading and writing.

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Reading is often considered the most complex element of literacy. It is problematic for 10 percent to 15 percent of the general K12 population (Harris & Sipay, 1990) and the majority of students with IEPs (Ysseldyke, Algozine, & Thurlow, 2000). Early literacy development includes several phases of learningemergent literacy, early literacy, and early fluency/fluency (Clay, 1991; Pinnell & Matlin, 1989)through which children progress in different ways and at different speeds toward the more complex skills needed for written composition and oral expression. As in most other areas of development, all children do not follow one clear, sequential path. Rather, individual children may take a variety of routes toward mastering reading and writing because literacy learning is circular or recursive. Learners may move forward in some areas and seem to step back in others as they consolidate their understanding. Thus, reading and writing may not develop evenly; a child may be fluent in one area and only emergent in another.

Emergent Literacy

During the emergent literacy stage, students must obtain an awareness of print, including both visual and auditory elements, as well as a basic understanding of the purpose and process of reading. Typically, learners at the emergent literacy stage can identify parts of a book (e.g., front, back, and page) and can distinguish between letters, words, and punctuation marks. They understand that words convey meaning and can pretend to read stories familiar to them (Clay, 1991; Mercer & Mercer, 1998; Pinnell & Matlin, 1989). Phonological awarenessthe recognition that words are made up of sound elements or phonemesalso develops within the emergent literacy stage. Students who lack phonological awareness may have difficulty naming rhyming words, counting sounds or syllables, or segmenting words into sounds. Lyon (1995) stated that the best predictor of reading ability for kindergarten and first-grade students is the phoneme segmentation skill, breaking words into separate sounds (e.g., cat becomes k-æ-t).

Learning Point Associates

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