I have recently run into a series of IEP teams that all seem to have been making the same claim that students with intellectual challenges can not learn to read beyond the most rudimentary level. When faced with lack of progress even on IEP goals, I am told that students "like that" just do not progress. It is enough to make my head explode when faced with the bias of low expectations. Schools feel that they have a literacy loophole that negates any need to show progress on a basic area of academic developement--literacy.
Pam Labellarte, an experienced special advocate and a parent of a child with Downs Syndrome who works for me, authored the following first person account of her struggle with school to recognize that her daughter can read if taught appropriately, and her wonderful success in recent years with the SLANT method. At the end of the first person account is her tutor's Masters thesis on her work with SLANT with students with Downs and her data. It is good stuff and should help in the future when faced with the same argument that students like that can not learn to read.
My daughter wasn’t even a year old when we noticed her love of books. She would sit patiently as we read to her or often sit on the sofa and page through whatever book was within reach. We did wonder what she found so interesting in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Little did we know that she sought the sensory input of the weight of the huge volume on her lap as well as the feel of the thin pages. Although we had two older children, we were new to the role to being the parents of a child with Down syndrome.
I decided early on that my daughter would be treated just like our other children. This meant, weekly trips to the library to check out books and listen to the Children’s Librarian reading and acting out stories, listening to audio books in the car and reading books with our family. I was determined that my daughter would not only learn to read, but experience the joy of books. When we told our oldest daughter, then 7, that her sister had Down syndrome and would have difficulty with learning to read, she had a simple solution. “Why don’t we start to teach her to read when she’s 3, then she will be ready to read just like the other kids when she starts kindergarten. Love that youthful optimism!
After a successful year of inclusion in a general ed Kindergarten class with an aide, we ran into a roadblock in first grade. The school team did not believe she could be successful in the general ed setting. The lack of services that they provided and their lack of implementation of her IEP made it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Since that time she has attended classes in a cross-categorical
CO-OP program. There have been good years, such as when she was introduced to the Edmark Reading program (which has a focus on sight words). To the shock of her first grade teacher she learned 40 words in 4 months. But, once she had reached the point where phonics were introduced the intensity of the reading instruction began to wane. I think the staff didn’t believe she could make any further progress. So she didn’t. Although we continued to read to her, her ability to read books that were on topics of interest was limited. I continued to seek other reading programs that would “tap into” her love of books and the reading skills I knew could be developed. I was tireless in my search for the right method to teach my daughter to read even though others did not believe it possible.
Finally, in March of 2008, during her freshman year of high school, my search came to an end. We discovered the SLANT Reading Program and Christine Eggie, a certified SLANT tutor who would go on to open doors to my daughter’s ability to read, and begin to build her self-confidence.
The SLANT System for Structured Language Training® (http://www.slantsystem.com/) is a research-based, multisensory, structured language training program combining professional development for teachers and systematic curriculum materials for students.
When Chris began working with my daughter, she identified a strong sight word vocabulary, but her phonological awareness was so weak that she decided to begin tutoring her at the primer level. By October, 2009 (just 18 months after she began tutoring with Chris, one hour each week, 12 months a year, my daughter’s phonetic skills had progressed from primer to mid-2nd grade level! We were ecstatic! Just in time for the Annual IEP meeting in November, where we could share this new data with the school team, develop reading goals and identify service minutes for reading intervention.
Here is where we met another roadblock. I met with resistance and heard statements, like: “We don’t have a multi-sensory reading program like SLANT or staff trained to teach your daughter to read.” “ Research shows that ‘children like your daughter’ don’t continue to make progress in reading at this age.” “We are more concerned about life skills for her success after high.” My retort, “Reading is a life skill.” “My daughter has shown she can make progress.” I left the meeting frustrated and angry, but determined not to be defeated. I followed up the meeting with emails about my frustration and the feeling that they had already given up on my daughter before she had even been given a chance.
This story does have a happy ending. In January of 2010 my daughter began receiving SLANT reading instruction 45 minutes/day at school, provided by a teacher who had received instruction in SLANT, under the careful guidance of her tutor Chris. In August of 2010 my daughter began receiving 90 minutes/day of SLANT reading instruction under the guidance of the new reading specialist that had been hired by the school district. In fact, other students in her class are also benefiting from the new reading program. Based on a recent assessment conducted in January 0f 2010, she is currently reading at beginning 3rd grade. She has come along way from “Research shows that ‘children like your daughter’ don’t continue to make progress in reading at this age.”
Recently I asked my daughter how she felt about reading with Chris, her tutor. Without hesitation she responded, “I don’t just read with Chris. I read in class at school, the newspaper ads when we make our shopping list, when I play games with you and when I play Scene It by myself on the TV.”
Then I asked her about watching the Cubs game on TV. She is a BIG fan! She smiled and said, “I can read the names of the players, especially D Lee. He’s my favorite.” It is clear that reading has opened up new possibilities for my daughter. It has given her the confidence to try new things and ask questions like, “Mom what does it mean to ‘laugh your head off’? Recently her dad asked her if she liked school. She responded with a big smile and an emphatic, “I love school!”
Again this summer she will be attending our high school district Extended School Year program in July. Her teacher confirmed that she will be working on her reading goals and receiving SLANT reading intervention for 45 minutes per day, 5 days a week for the entire 4 week ESY session.
And this is only the beginning! Our journey continues as we look toward her future, watching her develop into a young woman with a growing confidence and a life open to more possibilities and even greater independence, as she steadily improves her reading ability.
Christine Eggie just completed her Masters in Education thesis, “ Teaching Children with Down Syndrome to Read: A Phonics Based Approach to Literacy”, which focuses on the successful outcomes obtained utilizing the SLANT System. (see Download SLANT_Research_project for full text of thesis). You can reach Chris via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 262-203-2331.