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Supporting Students with Reading Barriers in the Classroom

Three Strategies for General Education Teachers to Make Their Classrooms More Inclusive to Students with Reading Barriers

by Mario Oliveros

Reading is everywhere. As educators, you know that reading is fundamental to every subject and aspect of school. From English and math to science and physical education, students encounter the written word.

In elementary school, many students will learn to read without a hitch. Others may need additional instruction, practice, and encouragement to become adept readers. For some students though, the idea of “reading everywhere” will be horrifying. No matter how much mainstream instruction and support we may give, some students will not be able to access the written word like their peers because of a disability.

A student with dyslexia may not be able to decode words or comprehend a sentence. A student with a visual impairment may not be able to see the words on a page or screen. A student with cerebral palsy may not be able to hold a book, turn its pages, and read independently.

Anxiety over reading also takes a social and emotional toll on students with reading barriers. For some, it can be outright traumatic and affect their overall educational experience and learning trajectory. Since reading is everywhere, the stakes are high.

Strategies to Remove Reading Barriers

Personalized learning is a popular topic in education and is particularly relevant for students with disabilities. By matching instruction and tools to suit individual learning styles, we can better support students who learn differently. Consider these three strategies.

1.) Let student read in ways that work for them

To address learning variability, let students read in ways that work for them. If seeing and hearing words read aloud helps a student with dyslexia to decode, get audio ebooks with specialized tracking features. If a low vision student needs books in enlarged font, find tools that magnify text by 100% or more. If a student with a physical disability cannot manage a print book, look for a switch or eye gaze control that can help them navigate books.

2.) Get free tools and resources

Specialized supports are great, but potentially costly. Thankfully, there are free and effective tools for students with reading barriers. Ereaders like Capti, Dolphin EasyReader, GoRead, Bookshare Web Reader, and even Apple Books (previously iBooks) allow you to customize student reading experiences for computers, Chromebooks, tablets, and smartphones. And for books in specialized formats, you can access nearly 700,000 textbooks, educational materials, children’s books, bestsellers, and more from the free Bookshare library (students must have a qualifying disability).

3.) Keep great books in their lives

Complement personalized instruction with great books. If we can find stories that tap into students’ interests, imagination, and creativity, we can slowly, but surely transform negative reading experiences into positive ones.

Whether you teach students with reading barriers on your own or work with special education teachers, we hope these strategies will help you support students with reading barriers in your classroom.

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