Archive for the 'Literacy' Category

Are read alouds cheating?

Over on his Science and Education blog, Dan Willinghom, a friend of LD Blog, posted an intriguing examination of this question: “Is Listening to an audio book ‘Cheating?’” Consistent with Professor Willingham’s perspective, he takes a cognitive psychology look at this question. It’s worth reading.

He says he’s heard this question often, and I wonder whether there’s been a hint of objection to the idea of having students listen to audio books. Now maybe it is just about whether one is slighting her- or himself by listening to books on tape.

But, I wonder whether at least some of the objection to listening to audio books being a form of cheating reflects concern about children who receive special treatment in school testing situations. I can imagine a conversation in which a parent might say, “I heard that the Smith’s boy gets to have a teacher read the test to him. And it’s not just the story, but the teacher also reads the answers, too!”

Parents of students with disabilities will recognize this situation as a “read-aloud accommodation.” (People who conduct a lot of research on accommodations such as Rogers, Lazarus, and Thurlow, 2016, refer to read-alouds as “oral delivery,” by the way.) Whether they are called “read alouds” or “oral presentations,” these accommodations are pretty common. They were provided to approximately 33% of secondary students with disabilities who took standardized tests in the early 2000s, according to a report by the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004).

Does having someone read test content and items convey an unfair advantage? Ahh, herein lies a rub. Two meta-analyses (Buzick & Stone, 2014; Li, 2014) both reached similar conclusions. Studies that compared the effects of oral presentation for individuals with disabilities and those without disabilities found that “read alouds” helped the students with disabilities and those without disabilities, but they helped those with disabilities significantly more. The benefits were more substantial in reading or language arts areas than in arithmetic or mathematics areas.

So, is it cheating for those students who do not have fluent decoding skills? Apparently, it allows them to show what they know and can do when the handicap is removed.

For my money, the evidence is also a strong argument for doing a very good job of teaching decoding skills very well right from the beginning, thereby eliminating or reducing that handicap.


Buzick, H., & Stone, E. (2014). A meta‐analysis of research on the read aloud accommodation. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 17-30.

Li, H. (2014). The effects of read‐aloud accommodations for students with and without disabilities: A meta‐analysis. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 3-16.

National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004, April). Standardized testing among secondary school students with disabilities. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Rogers, C. M., Lazarus, S. S., & Thurlow, M. L. (2016). A summary of the research on the effects of test accommodations: 2013-2014 (NCEO Report 402). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Mistaking dyslexia

Daniel Britton’s Alphabet

In “Powerful images show what it’s like to read when you have dyslexia,” Ana Swanson reported about the typeface developed by Daniel Britton in 2013. As an individual with dyslexia, Mr. Britton, who works in graphic design, created a typeface that omits parts of capital letters, as illustrated here, putatively to simulate the experience of reading with dyslexia.

I am saddened by the possibility that people may get the mistaken impression that dyslexia is caused by misperception of the shapes or forms of letters. Fortunately, Ms. Swanson discounts this mistake at two points in her article. First, she notes that the font is not designed to mimic what a person with dyslexia sees when she or he reads, but to force skilled readers to lose fluency. Second, although I might quibble with the phrasing she uses, Ms. Swanson puts the focus in the right place when she reports
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Testing genetic causes of dyslexia

Although at least four genes have been identified as possible markers for dyslexia, scientists have encountered considerable difficulty in coming to consensus about identifying a culprit as a contributing cause for the perplexing reading disorder. As noted previously here on LD Blog, DCDC2 (1 November 2005) and DYX1C1 (1 August 2008; 19 November 2009), among others, have been cited as possible loci for disruptions. But problems emerge when seeking to connect studies that point toward these candidate genes and studies showing the individuals with the problems. The associations between genes and problems appear in some language populations, but perhaps not in others, making one wonder about the clarity of the relationships.

Seeking a means of examining the relationships at a more abstract level, a group of European researchers collected data from a sample of individuals with dyslexia that represented people from eight different countries (Austria, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Hungary, and the United Kingdom). Using this diverse language sample, they reasoned, would allow them to search the the connections between genes and dyslexia at a more abstract level than when testing with a sample of people speaking just one or two languages.
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Visual differences are a consequence, not a cause, of dyslexia

In an article to appear 10 July 2013 in Neuron, Olumide Olulade, Eileen Napoliello, and Guinevere Eden present a series of studies that greatly help educators, psychologists, neurologists, and others understand the relationship between visual deficits and dyslexia. Although most people interested in reading have understood that problems with phonological processes undergird dyslexia, personal accounts of those with dyslexia and some anomalous evidence about the visual cortex and the performance of individuals with dyslexia on certain visual tasks kept the possibility of a visual component open to debate. Professor Eden’s group devised studies and collected the data that shed light on these issues.

In a nutshell, in their first study, Eden’s team found the same results that others had found: When their participants with dyslexia were compared to similar aged children, they showed certain deficits in visual processing associated with a particular part of the brain shown by fMRI. However, when their participants were compared with younger children of like reading ability, there are no deficits in the visual performance; so, these children must not have had the visual problems all along. In their third study, the researchers provided even stronger evidence: The provided powerful remedial reading instruction to their participants and they observed not only improved reading outcomes, but they also found that the students had improved performance on the visual tasks as reflected in fMRI. (Click the accompanying image for a movie of Professors Eden and Olulade explaining the experiments.)

Here is the abstract:

Developmental dyslexia is a reading disorder, yet deficits also manifest in the magnocellular-domi- nated dorsal visual system. Uncertainty about whether visual deficits are causal or consequential to reading disability encumbers accurate identifica- tion and appropriate treatment of this common learning disability. Using fMRI, we demonstrate in typical readers a relationship between reading ability and activity in area V5/MT during visual motion pro- cessing and, as expected, also found lower V5/MT activity for dyslexic children compared to age- matched controls. However, when dyslexics were matched to younger controls on reading ability, no differences emerged, suggesting that weakness in V5/MT may not be causal to dyslexia. To further test for causality, dyslexics underwent a phonolog- ical-based reading intervention. Surprisingly, V5/MT activity increased along with intervention-driven reading gains, demonstrating that activity here is mobilized through reading. Our results provide strong evidence that visual magnocellular dysfunc- tion is not causal to dyslexia but may instead be consequential to impoverished reading.

Olulade, O. A., Napoliello, E. M., & Eden, G. F. (2013). Abnormal visual motion processing is not a cause of dyslexia. Neuron, 79, 1-11. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.05.002

Moats on CCSS and LD

In the spring of 2012, Louisa Moats published an article in New Times for DLD, the newsletter of the Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) of the Council for Exceptional Children, that presented concerns about the consequences of US states’ adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on the teaching and learning of students with Learning Disabilities. Moats, who is well-known for her work on early literacy and professional development, noted that the CCSS consists of goals that must be turned into curricula and lesson plans by others, and it is those instructional procedures that will be critical for students with or at risk of developing Learning Disabilities. Given how common students with Learning Disabilities, language problems, and other learning risks are, Moats said that instructional practices cannot leave mastery of fundamental skills up to incidental learning or embedded instruction.

With the recent promotion of the CCSS’ emphasis on informational text, complex text, reading aloud, and inquiry-based learning, the kind of instruction most necessary and beneficial for students with LD is getting very little emphasis in workshops, publications, and policy discussions. The teacher-directed, systematic, sequential, explicit approaches that work best for students with LD and learning challenges (Archer & Hughes, 2011) are receiving much less attention than they deserve, and the result will be lower student achievement, not higher.

Moats made additional points, including a strong appeal for advocating to prepare educators to teach literacy skills effectively. Interested readers can obtain a copy of the full copy of “Reconciling the CCSS with Realities of Learning Disabilities” from the DLD Web site,

[Disclosure: I’m associated with DLD as a member, a former officer, and its executive director.]

Ingvar Lundberg: 1934-2012

Ingvar Lundberg—an internationally renowned psychologist who studied the psychology and pedagogy of reading and writing, learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dyscalculia, and problems in language development—died 23 April 2012. He was 77 years old.

Born in Stockholm 30 September 1934, Professor Lundberg began his academic career after teaching elementary school in the 1950s. He completed undergraduate and graduate training in the 1960s at the University of Stockholm and then began his academic career in the department of psychology at Umeå University in 1967. In 1995, he moved to Göteborg University and held dual appointments at Åbo Akademi, Finland, and Bergen University, Norway, during his tenure there. At the time of his death, he was Professor Emeritus in Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Although Professor Lundberg’s research ranged across many areas of psychology, we remember him here especially for his work on learning disabilities. He was a long-time member of the International Academy of Research in Learning Disability and the Society for Scientific Studies in Reading. As a perusal of the accompanying selected list of publications will show, he contributed a lot to our understanding of reading processes and problems.

Jacobson, C., & Lundberg, I. (2000). Early prediction of individual growth in reading. Reading and Writing, 13, 273-296.

Lundberg, I. & Nilsson, L.G. (1986). What church examination records can tell us about the inheritance of reading disability. Annals of Dyslexia, 36, 217-236.

Lundberg, I. (1988). Preschool prevention of reading failures: Does training in phonological awareness work? In R. L. Masland & M. W. Masland (Eds.), Preschool prevention of reading failure (pp. 163-176). Parkton, MD: York Press.

Lundberg, I., & Höien, T. (1989). Phonemic deficits: A core symptom of developmental dyslexia? The Irish Journal of Psychology, 10, 579-592.

Lundberg, I., & Höien, T. (1990). Patterns of information processing skills and word recognition strategies in developmental dyslexia. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 34, 231-240.

Lundberg, I. (1994). Reading difficulties can be predicted and prevented: A Scandinavian perspective on phonological awareness and reading. In C. Hulme & M. Snowling (Eds.), Reading development and dyslexia (pp. 180-199). Philadelphia: Whurr.

Lundberg, I. (1998). Why is learning to read a hard task for some children? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 39, 155-157.

Lundberg, I. (2006). Working memory and reading disability. In L.-G. Nilsson & N. Ohta (Eds.), Memory and society: Psychological perspectives (pp. 198-214). New York: Psychology Press.

Olofsson, Å. & Lundberg, I. (1983). Can phonemic awareness skills be trained in kindergarten? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 24, 34-44.

Reading comprehension help for ADHD high schoolers

In “Improving the Reading Recall of High School Students With ADHD,” Joseph W. Johnson, Robert Reid, and Linda H. Mason report the results of an intensive study in which they examined the effects of teaching high-school students a comprehension strategy as a part of a self-regulated strategy development model. They found that systematically preparing the students to use what they dubbed the “Think Before Reading” (TWA) strategy helped the students with recall of passages’ main ideas and details connected to them.

Students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have difficulty with reading comprehension. This multiple baseline across participants design with multiple probes study examined the effectiveness of a multicomponent reading comprehension strategy (TWA: Think Before Reading, Think While Reading, Think After Reading) taught following the self-regulated strategy development model on social studies expository text recall of three high school students with ADHD. Results showed improvement in the number of main ideas and percentage of supporting details recalled. Gains were maintained and some improvement occurred at 2- and 4-week follow-ups. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.

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ADHD-RD connection confirmed and refined

Writing in Pediatrics, Professor Kouichi Yoshimasu and colleagues reported that the chances of children and youths having reading disabilities is significantly higher among those who have ADHD than it is among the general population of children and youths. Furthermore, although boys are significantly more likely than girls to manifest reading disabilities among the general population, among children and youths with ADHD the chances of reading disabilities are about equal. However, because girls are so much less likely to have reading problems than boys, girls’ risk is much higher in relation to their female peers’ risk.
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Word reading still predicts comprehension

Justin Wise and colleague examined the reading comprehension of students with differing problems in reading fluency. Some of the students only had difficulty with reading connected text fluently, but others had difficulty in reading connected text and individual words fluently. They found that for both groups the ability to read individual real words fluently was the strongest predictor of reading comprehension.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine whether different measures of oral reading fluency relate differentially to reading comprehension performance in two samples of second grade students: 1) students who evidenced difficulties with nonsense word oral reading fluency, real word oral reading fluency, and oral reading fluency of connected text (ORFD), and 2) students who only evidenced oral reading fluency of connected text difficulties (CTD).
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More on IQ and reading disabilities

Deficits in reading performance may differ in etiology depending on the IQ of the individuals who have the deficits. According to an article in Behavior Genetics, Professor Sally Wadsworth and colleagues confirmed previous research showing that there is a stronger genetic element in the reading deficits of children with higher IQs (mean = 108.97 ± 6.71) than those with lower IQ (mean = 82.85 ± 6.40). The heritability for the former group is 0.75 ± 0.12, but for the latter it is 0.50 ± 0.10.
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