student success

Three Ways to Foster a Love of Reading in Students With Disabilities

When it comes to literacy, how do we help our students with learning disabilities thrive?

The research is clear: When you allow students to choose high-interest reading material, they read more and experience greater comprehension as a result.

Vanessa Chratian, a special education reading teacher in Duluth, GA, successfully utilizes this strategy often, saying “I have been able to lure students into reading by exposing them to a high-interest story and reading it to the whole group. I have done this with the Bluford High series and have found that, depending on the child, it sparks an interest in reading that maybe didn’t exist before.” 

Creating a positive experience is the first step in fostering a love for reading, and the accessibility that e-books, audiobooks and graphic novels provide can make a tremendous difference—especially for students with learning disabilities.

E-Books Provide an Inclusive Gateway to Reading Enjoyment

Last year, I had a legally blind student who was unable to read the graphic novel “March” with the rest of her class because a large print physical copy wasn’t available. As a solution, I purchased several e-book copies so that she could easily enlarge the book’s pages on her computer. Another plus was that she wasn’t the only one reading online, so she didn’t feel ostracized, excluded or like the odd one out. The anonymity of the e-book allowed her to be just like any other student in the class. 

Furthermore, some e-book apps—such as Sora, the K-12 student reading app from OverDrive—allow students to transpose standard book typefaces into dyslexic font. Standard typefaces are often difficult to read for people with dyslexia because the letters are tough to differentiate and the words tend to jumble. Dyslexic fonts solve this problem by providing greater contrast between the letters, making them easier to read. Another advantage to e-books is that a teacher can easily project the novel and students can follow along while the book is read aloud. 

Audiobooks Aid Comprehension for Students with Disabilities

Audiobooks can help students with a variety of disabilities, including students with visual impairments and visual processing disorders. As an English teacher and school librarian, I have found that students with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are able to focus better if they simultaneously read and listen to a book. More of their senses are engaged, and the headphones provide a buffer from noisy distractions around them. 

I have also experienced firsthand how audiobooks can create a positive reading experience for dyslexic students. For one of my students, reading print was laborious, but audiobooks allowed her to enjoy the story. I will never forget her enormous grin when I got the audiobooks for her favorite series, Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Since then, I have lost count of how many times she has listened to them. 

Graphic Novels Spur a Sense of Accomplishment

Special education students can also benefit greatly from reading graphic novels. Scholastic, a top children’s book publisher, best describes the reason for this, stating, 

Children with autism can learn a lot about identifying emotions through the images in a graphic novel. Additionally, for children with dyslexia, while it might be very frustrating for them to finish a page of a traditional book, they often feel a sense of accomplishment when they complete a page in a comic book. Accomplishment is important. It's a huge self-esteem booster and leads to kids naturally wanting to read more.

Help Students Thrive With Reading

The key to fostering a love for reading is to create positive reading experiences. In the end, our students with learning disabilities need to do more than just survive, moving from one grade to the next. We want and need the literacy of all of our students to thrive!

Sarah Sansbury is a media and educational technology instructor at River Trail Middle School in Duluth, Georgia.

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