Study shows children with language or reading disabilities benefit from holistic reading approach
By Michelle Hall
When a child is learning to read and comes across a difficult word, parents and teachers alike encourage him or her to "sound it out." Although this "decoding" method has worked for generations of children, it may not be the best way to teach children with language or reading disabilities.
These are the results of a study by Linda Crowe, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at Kansas State University. Crowe compared the traditional decoding method of teaching to communicative reading strategies, which are more holistic and focus on the meaning of words. With this method, the decoding takes place in context.
For her study, Crowe split up 12 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders into three groups: those that received 12 special one-hour sessions of traditional reading instruction over six weeks; those that received 12 one-hour sessions of holistic reading instruction; and those that received no special instruction. The children all had been identified by their teachers as having language-learning disabilities. The sessions were held in addition to regular classroom instruction. Crowe tested the children on vocabulary and reading before and after the instructional sessions.
The results show that those in the holistic group made significant gains in reading comprehension, expressive vocabulary and overall reading. The traditional and the control groups performed similarly to one another, with marginal gains in comprehension.
"I was surprised they didn't make larger gains," Crowe said of the traditional group. "But most of the classroom instruction was the same as the specialized instruction, while the holistic group was getting something different."
Crowe said she is pleased with the results, but would like to repeat the study with a larger group of children.
"This shows the potential for children with reading challenges to make changes," she said.
Crowe has researched and worked with communicative reading strategies since learning of the method from developer Janet A. Norris, a professor at Louisiana State University, where Crowe completed her doctoral studies. There, Crowe supervised reading and writing intervention with groups of children exhibiting language-learning disabilities -- the reading intervention used communicative reading strategies. She also used the strategy for an after-school program while working as an instructor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Crowe said communicative reading strategies have not been embraced by much of the research community due to their holistic nature.
"Discrete skills, such as decoding or phonological awareness, are easier to teach in isolation," Crowe said. She said with discrete skill teaching, it's also easier to measure change in the skill that is taught. Holistic intervention, on the other hand, is more difficult and requires quick thinking and adjustments throughout a session.
"Because this procedure has received little recognition as a viable intervention, I wanted to complete an outcome-based study to support its use," Crowe said of her current research on communicative reading strategies.
An article on Crowe's study was published in the February issue of the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.