CA Dept. of Education


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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Archive 2002


Shari Gent, M.S.,
Educational Specialist

Shari Gent, M.S. is an education specialist with eighteen years of teaching experience. She has taught a diversity of students including those with learning handicaps, mental retardation, and autism spectrum disorders in both urban and rural environments. Her special interest is working with children with attention deficit disorder and associated mental health conditions. Shari has appeared on National Public Radio with leading experts in the field of attention deficit disorder. In addition to her professional work, she is a chapter coordinator for Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD) and parents a teenager with AD/HD.

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  • Help with a 9'th grader reading at a 1'st grade level.


I have a 9th grader with AD/HD who is reading at a 1st grade level but he seems to understand information at his grade level. I would like to know what your suggestions are. Do we teach functional words? Try and teach him to read through phonics? What type of Assistive Technology would be beneficial?

Thanks Kristin


When a child is self-motivated, the teacher cannot keep him from learning. Rouseau, 1762 

Dear Kristin, 

Your question reflects concerns in two areas: assistive technology and reading. Jill Rivers, Assistive Technology Specialist, Diagnostic Center, Northern California, will answer the question concerning assistive technology. I will address the reading and phonics questions. 

You and your 9th grader are fortunate in that he understands information at his grade level and that we all live in a multimedia world. Unlike generations before us, we are no longer restricted to print to access information. The main emphasis in your student's program should be to get the information in whatever way possible- or in education speak, learn to use "compensatory strategies." Jill River's suggestions for these will be valuable. 

From your description of the your student, I am assuming that he is of average intelligence. In any case, if you teach functional words such as "stop", "walk", etc. be certain to teach only those words he needs to know in order to function. Most average teens are able to find the appropriate restroom using social context and do not need to be drilled on the words " Men" and "Women" out of context. To do so would most likely humiliate and bore your student. If your student is so delayed as to need to identify these or similar words, be sure to teach them in the environmental setting in which they occur first. 

Motivation is the foundation for learning. Talk with your student and enlist his participation. Adolescents with reading disabilities are able to improve their reading through practice and by learning strategies. Research indicates that as adults, most will continue to encounter more challenges when reading than their peers. Research has also shown that the most effective reading instruction is phonemically based. Present your student with these research facts and guide him to make a decisions about the type of instruction he wants at this time. Remind him that he can continue to improve his reading throughout his life through literacy programs provided for adults at public libraries for adults. If your student is motivated enough to continue, a short daily period of phonetically based instruction could contribute to reading improvement. 

Remember that reading instruction for teens should not simply be a rehash of the phonics lessons provided for elementary school children. Materials need to use age appropriate vocabulary and content, be researched-based, and carefully sequenced. Since your student is at first grade reading level, the emphasis in his instruction should first be on word recognition and then on developing fluency. 

Most students have a recognition vocabulary containing several high-frequency three and four letter words that are phonetically regular (for example sun, set, cup). Consider teaching phonetic elements such as vowel sounds by helping your student to recognize that these are also syllables (e.g. sunset, cupcake). Then teach syllable-based strategies as a means for recognizing words. This strategy will more readily provide your student with access to age-appropriate, multi-syllabic words. Help your student to generalize his skills by reading high interest books. 

RESOURCES: Archer, Anita, Mary Gleason and Vicky Vachon, (2000) REWARDS: Reading Excellence, Word Attack, and Rate Development Strategies.Sopris West, Longmont, CO This commercial program is specifically designed to teach word recognition skills in the context of multi-syllabic words. Designed to be a short-term, intensive intervention, the program is ideal for providing teens who have experienced failure in reading with immediate success. 

Curtis, Mary E., and Ann Marie Longo. (1999) When Adolescents Can't Read: Methods and Materials that Work. [end italics]Brookline Books, Cambridge MA. This is a readable and practical book written by veteran teachers at Boystown, USA. Excellent word recognition and higher level reading strategies for teens skills are outlined. The book includes a list of high interest but reading accessible literature for struggling high school students.