Adapting Instructional Materials -- Providing Direct Assistance

Providing one-on-one assistance to a student is perhaps the most demanding adaptation that needs to be made in an inclusive classroom.
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What is the adaptation?

In recent years, a major concern of educators and policy makers has been early prevention of reading failure. Obviously, if systematic, intensive reading instruction is provided in the early years, the need for special education and other remedial services in subsequent years of schooling can be reduced. Unfortunately, many early intervention programs are cost-prohibitive in that they require one-to-one instruction, special curricular materials, and/or highly trained personnel.

In 1997, President Clinton launched the America Reads challenge. The charge was to engage volunteers and paid tutors in a sweeping initiative focused on early intervention to prevent reading failure, with the idea that all students in the United States would learn to read by third grade. Part of this initiative was to fund college workstudy students as paid tutors in schools and social service agencies. The challenge was how to recruit, train, monitor, and evaluate literally thousands of well-intentioned but largely inexperienced tutors.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools responded to this challenge with a collaborative effort between the school district and local institutions of higher education. School district personnel spent a summer adapting and then field-testing materials initially developed as part of the Book Buddies program implemented in Charlottesville, Virginia. Adaptations included developing procedures for tutoring students who are English-language learners, and refining recordkeeping procedures and assessment tools.

The target student audience was first-grade students. Instructional routines were developed to focus on rereading of familiar materials, sight words, phonological awareness and letter recognition, and reading-writing connections. The results were an instructional manual, instructional materials, and training procedures for tutors, classroom teachers, school reading specialists, and administrators. That same summer an advisory committee consisting of school district personnel, university personnel, and representatives from the community at large met to discuss logistical components of the program (e.g., recruiting and training tutors, monitoring tutors in the field, liability issues, parent communication, and program evaluation).

During the 1997-1998 school year, the program was started in 34 elementary schools and eight community service agencies in Miami-Dade County. Approximately 300 tutors worked with more than 1,500 elementary school students during one-on-one tutoring sessions. The Miami Reads Tutorial Project is exemplary not only in terms of demonstrating what a large, urban public school district can accomplish, but also in terms of developing procedures for individual classroom teachers to use to engage and empower other adults in providing direct assistance to students. Following are ten key components that contributed to the success of the program:

  • Clear, systematic instructional procedures.
  • Curricular content and literature that are consistent with regular classroom instruction.
  • Active learning that promotes student engagement.
  • Adequate training for tutors.
  • Adequate training for school-based personnel – both administrative and instructional.
  • Designation of a school-based leader who can handle interviewing, monitoring, scheduling, and evaluating tutors.
  • Assessment materials that clearly define a student's academic needs and can track student achievement over time.
  • A record-keeping system that is simple and direct, yet provides a log of each tutoring session and a student's accomplishments during the session.
  • Instructional materials that are inexpensive and readily available. 
  • A system for familiarizing and possibly involving parents with the program.

Because of the program's success, program planners have initiated efforts to expand it. Parents and school volunteers are being trained as tutors. Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) have been brought on to supervise tutors in the field, and a tutoring plan for intermediate readers is now being developed.

3. Direct Assistance from Peers (An Example: Repeated Readings)

When asked about reasonable adaptations teachers can make to support learning from instructional materials, professionals frequently cite adaptations involving peer support (e.g., cooperative learning groups, student pairing). Fortunately, students like working in small groups and in pairs and appreciate it when teachers provide structure in teaching students how to work together and learn from each other.

What is the adaptation?

Nonfluent readers typically read piece by piece and word by word and are slower and less accurate than fluent readers in decoding words and their meanings. With such inadequate reading patterns, nonfluent readers typically fall behind their peers and do not enjoy reading. Moreover, because their reading is laborious, their understanding of text is hampered.

The method of repeated reading was developed to help nonfluent readers improve fluency and, ultimately, reading comprehension. Initially, repeated reading for students with reading and learning disabilities was designed as a one-to-one clinical intervention. This is not always possible for teachers to schedule in the busy school day. How can teachers provide students with the direct assistance they need to read more fluently? Teachers can incorporate repeated reading in the weekly routine using one or more grouping patterns so that peers can provide each other with direct assistance and support.

How to Teach It

Start by working with students to develop a purpose for repeated reading. This can be done through a brainstorming session initiated with the question, “What are some things we learn that improve with practice?” Explain to your students that reading needs practice, too, and best of all, reading practice can be fun! Next, model repeated reading using the following procedure:

  • Select a book you will enjoy reading again and again to your students.
  • Read the story aloud as if you were a child reading it for the first time.
  • Include behaviors that might characterize a first reading, such as stopping to focus on difficult words.
  • After reading, talk about some parts that were difficult for you, and reread sentences to improve your reading.
  • Read the story a second time. During this reading, improve fluency, reduce the number of miscues, and add greater intonation and expressiveness.
  • With successive readings, become more expressive, fluid, and animated to achieve greater fluency and to promote greater comprehension and enjoyment.
Repeated Reading in Groups

Repeated reading can be incorporated in whole-class or small-group instructional routines. Big Books, posters, or overhead transparencies are ideal for repeated readings in groups. Pointers can be used to keep students on track.

Repeated Reading in Pairs

Students can be grouped in pairs to read to each other. This pairing can be either informal or formal and with same-age or cross-age peers. With informal pairing, each child selects a passage to read to a partner. The first reader reads the self-selected passage three times. After the second and third reading, the first reader tells the partner how his or her reading improved and notes this improvement in a reading log. The listener provides support with new words as needed. Then the students switch roles and repeat the process. The activity takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Classwide Peer Tutoring (CWPT) provides students with paired practice in a more formal and structured way. CWPT differs from the informal procedure just described in that teachers appoint pairs (usually one more proficient reader with one less proficient reader), select reading material (at the lower reader's independent level), and allow the readers to read the same material to each other. The more proficient reader goes first, reading aloud to the partner for 5 minutes. The less proficient reader reads next, reading the same passage as the first reader. During CWPT sessions, which last approximately 30 minutes, students complete the repeated reading routine and also engage in correction, summarization, and prediction exercises.

Students work with a carefully developed “script” that helps them follow the sequence of activities and provide feedback in sensitive and productive ways. As students work through the script they can earn points as a pair. Intensive instruction is necessary to prepare students, but once the procedures are understood, they become automatic.

Repeated Reading Individually

While direct assistance from peers is worthwhile and productive, it does have its limitations. Some students need more interactions with a trained professional to make progress in reading. There are several ways teachers can structure practice for students who need more intensive help in reading more fluently. One way is through the use of a tape recorder. The student can practice reading into a tape recorder. When he or she is finished practicing and self-monitoring using a tape recorder, then the student can read to the teacher.

Of course, individual practice with repeated readings can be facilitated by engaging the help of classroom volunteers and parents. Teachers can plan for regular monitoring of individual students' repeated readings by having “students of the day.” For example, the teacher might have three “Monday” children who read to him or her during a center time. Other children are assigned other days of the week. This rotation provides a systematic way to monitor student repeated readings.

More articles on Adapting Reading and Math Materials for the Inclusive Classroom.

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