Sunday, April 20, 2014

Teaching Students with Down Syndrome

Teaching Students with Down Syndrome to Read and Write

Exceptional and quality special education that includes life skills and personal care education will vastly improve the quality of life and success of children with Down syndrome. Students in the U.S, with Down Syndrome are often under educated in a typical public school environment without more specialized education that must be continued at home during with vast time practicing skills learned at school. 

How do you teach students with Down Syndrome to read and write?

Are children with Down Syndrome or severe learning disabilities really able to learn how to read?

The simple answer is yes, when the child, parents, and school all seek to make the goal of reading a priority. My personal teaching experience in a self contained cross category classes taught me all students can read. The reason my first principal hired me was in-part, my difficulties learning to read in the primary grades due to severe dyslexia and dysgraphia. My road to literacy was hideously tedious to say the least. Endless hours running single word flashcards through a tape recorder with no chance or choice of reading quality literature. When I did get a book in my hands it was a baby book with no real literary value.
     After fourteen years of teaching all kinds of learning abilities plus a Masters in Special Education, I am still learning from my students better ways to teach reading. The methods that I use are all placed in Reading Boot Camp (a literacy philosophy developed by a dyslexic teacher) they were developed to help the most sever learning disabled students learn to read. The method and philosophy is an all inclusive fun intervention that shows that most LD students can gain two years ability in reading in twenty days. Please read more about Reading Boot Camp,

My Story,
Written and spoken English (Morpheme-based grapheme to phoneme) was a bunch of cuneiform squiggles that swam around on the page. My disconnect was the morpheme grapheme to phoneme conversion. I was unable to make a bridge between the auditory and visual patters, rules of reading phonetically. Most of my teachers including special education teachers had no clue what I was experiencing. The schools solution for my dyslexia was modification, accommodation and very infective remediation, that left me illiterate and always two or three years behind my peers.

My special education teacher used a Bell and Howell tape machine that read flash cards to teach me how to sight read, most of my early memories are sitting with that infernal machine running cards through over and over. My grandmother bought me a record player with read along stories like Jungle Book and Journey to the Center of the Earth. This was superior to the flash cards. I would were-out needles and records listening so hard to make sense of the hieroglyphs on the page that I knew made up great stories.

At home I could read high adventure with the help of my record player, at school I was reading books that I believed and thought were for the stupid kids!

For parents and teachers of exceptional learners I would suggest a listening lab with books on tape also lots of music with lyrics in any form. Please stop buying into hyped programs and get help from a education professional not a salesman before you use or buy software programs. Most of the programs that I tried failed and many seem recycled ideas that are just a modern Bell and Howell tape machine devised to develop rote phonics learning.
     Students must learn and practice tracking text with their finger with all reading activities even if they cannot sight read or decode at the beginning! They need to read along out-loud as much as possible with a partner. The repetition of the songs and the books on tape will eventually make a bridge. And always the reading material has to be high interest. I was bored to death page flipping my easy read books and using my tape machine.


107 words make up over 50% of the words you read!
1000 words make up 75-80% of the words you read!
5,000 words make up 85-90% of the words you read!
Start by assessing reading levels!

Children that qualify for remedial reading programs have a 500-1000 or even a 2000 word deficit. Children need a crash coarse in phonics, sight word recognition, and fluency/automaticity all while developing strong vocabulary knowledge. Many programs will refocus on phonics and slowly move into sight words then finally reading comprehension. Reading Boot Camp is a crash coarse for struggling readers that hits all 5 domains of reading.

1. Vocabulary: The four types of vocabulary.
auditory, spoken, reading, writing

2. Phonemic Awareness: is a subset of phonological awareness in which listeners are able to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound that can differentiate meaning. Separating the spoken word "cat" into three distinct phonemes, /k/, /æ/, and /t/, requires phonemic awareness.

3. Phonics : refers to a method for teaching speakers of English to read and write that language. Phonics involves teaching how to connect the sounds of spoken English with letters or groups of letters (e.g., that the sound /k/ can be represented by c, k, ck, ch, or q spellings) and teaching them to blend the sounds of letters together to produce approximate pronunciations of unknown words.

4. Fluency: is the ability to read text accurately and quickly. Fluency bridges word decoding and comprehension. Comprehension is understanding what has been read. Fluency is a set of skills that allows readers to rapidly decode text while maintaining a high level of comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2001).

5. Reading Comprehension: is defined as the level of understanding of a writing

General Education Students can easily learn to read about 800-1000 words per year! Mentally retarded students can learn 300-500 per year.


Dolch Sight Words
Sight words are English words that cannot be sounded out using phonics.

PRESCHOOL: a, and, away, big, blue, can, come, down, find, for, funny, go, help, here, I, in, is, it, jump, little, look, make, me, my, not, one, play, red, run, said, see, the, three, to, two, up, we, where, yellow, you

KINDERGARTEN: all, am, are, at, ate, be, black, brown, but, came, did, do, eat, four, get, good, have, he, into, like, must, new, no, now, on, our, out, please, pretty, ran, ride, saw, say, she, so, soon, that, there, they, this, too, under, want, was, well, went, what, white, who, will, with, yes

1st Grade: after, again, an, any, as, ask, by, could, every, fly, from, give, giving, had, has, her, him, his, how, just, know, let, live, may, of, old, once, open, over, put, round, some, stop, take, thank, them, then, think, walk, were, when

2nd Grade: always, around, because, been, before, best, both, buy, call, cold, does, don't, fast, first, five, found, gave, goes, green, its, made, many, off, or, pull, read, right, sing, sit, sleep, tell, their, these, those, upon, us, use, very, wash, which, why, wish, work, would, write, your

3rd Grade: about, better, bring, carry, clean, cut, done, draw, drink, eight, fall, far, full, got, grow, hold, hot, hurt, if, keep, kind, laugh, light, long, much, myself, never, only, own, pick, seven, shall, show, six, small, start, ten, today, together, try, warm

Nouns: apple, baby, back, ball, bear, bed, bell, bird, birthday, boat, box, boy, bread, brother, cake, car, cat, chair, chicken, children, Christmas, coat, corn, cow, day, dog, doll, door, duck, egg, eye, farm, farmer, father, feet, fire, fish, floor, flower, game, garden, girl, good-bye, grass, ground, hand, head, hill, home, horse, house, kitty, leg, letter, man, men, milk, money, morning, mother, name, nest, night, paper, party, picture, pig, rabbit, rain, ring, robin, Santa Claus, school, seed, sheep, shoe, sister, snow, song, squirrel, stick, street, sun, table, thing, time, top, toy, tree, watch, water, way, wind, window, wood

Dr Suess taught countless generations to read using whimsical rhymes, fanciful tales, and kid friendly absurdity. With no more than 300 words we learned phonemic awareness, fluency, sight words and how to read and love books. Today we kill any desire to read and learn as we parse reading into so many boring bits.

Please share your stories or questions about teaching reading!

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