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Special Learners        < Previous        Next >



Curriculum Provides Hope

For Teens Who Read Like 8-Year-Olds


Q. I know quite a few families with children - usually sons - who just can't read very well. The parents and the teachers tried everything under the sun to help them, but as they entered high school, they just were not good enough readers to understand their textbooks. In a couple of cases, these boys dropped out of school and went straight to work, and you can tell their parents yearned for some answer that could have helped them make it in a community college or other post-secondary setting. These young men tend to feel really, really bad about themselves, too - and it's so frustrating, because these are smart young people! They just can't read. What can be done to help them?


First and foremost, the situations you describe would NOT be happening if all schools taught reading in the early grades, K-2, using phonics-ONLY reading curriculum and instructional methods. That is the surest way to prevent the severe reading disabilities you describe, which are on the increase as long as Whole Language and "balanced literacy" style reading instruction is in vogue instead of phonics-ONLY methods.


Secondly, though, there's an excellent curriculum which might be just right for a student such as you describe. It's called The Elements Curriculum, and it's specially designed for high school students who are reading at a second and third grade level.


The usual reasons students would need this special curriculum include ADHD or other learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, mental retardation, autism, asthma, allergies or diabetes. Many students who use this curriculum come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and unstable or chaotic family situations. Many had years of academic underachievement, struggle and failure on their records, and needed a stopgap intervention before they moved to the next logical response, which would have been to drop out of school.


It isn't "babyish" like picture books at that level - no "cutesy" illustrations, for example -- but neither is it "textbookish" with small type and big words that make it inaccessible to students with a bona fide reading disability.


These students may be English language learners, special education students, students in an alternative setting such as in a juvenile detention center or health-care setting, or homebound.


The idea is to create graduates, not dropouts - to keep struggling students engaged in school, able to learn high school level concepts in the only way they can, and meet state learning standards.


Educators say that the series makes the students feel success, their teachers feel success, and attendance and behavior both improved.


Many schools are using the Elements for "catch-up" or "credit recovery" programs. They are popular for summer school and for preparing to take the G.E.D. exam.


The Elements courses include basic English, algebra, geometry, integrated physics and chemistry, basic biology, government, economics, speech and communication, and Texas history.


The type is larger in the books and there is more white space, which makes it easier to read for learning-disabled readers, who often are confused and frustrated by the expensive, colorful graphics in many textbooks today. Though high-school level vocabulary is introduced, the words used to define the bigger vocabulary words are short and easy to read. There are graphics, illustrations and games to make the material engaging and fun.



Homework: For more information about the Elements series, call (800) 975-0054 or see


By Susan Darst Williams Special Learners 14 2008



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