2000 Conference Proceedings

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The Accessible Reading Solution for Students with Disabilities

Jerry Stemach
Start to FInIsh
Kenwood, CA
Phone: 707-332-7323

Trisha Johnson
Don Johnston Incorporated
Volo, IL
Phone: 847-740-0749
FAX: 847-740-7326

The Circle of Literacy Learning represents the best strategies for improving literacy skills for students with disabilities; reading interventions are a critical component of literacy instruction. Come learn the reading strategies that will make your instruction more effective. And see how to use Start-to-Finish™ Books can springboard your students to reading success!

In this lab, we’ll give you hands-on experience with the Start-to-Finish combination of paperback book, computer CD-ROM and audiotape. You’ll see how these components work together to improve students’ fluency, literal comprehension and reading enjoyment. And you’ll learn how to use Start-to-Finish to track students’ progress and report their success.

This session will also focus on the exclusive "Written for Success" structure of the books that eliminates the language hurdles that students with disabilities have difficulty with.

The Reading Struggles Encountered by Students with Disabilities


Students who are significantly behind in reading may struggle with decoding stories written at even a second-grade level. Teachers who wish to provide instruction to these students struggle with finding texts written at this level that are engaging, age-appropriate, and consistent with a standard curriculum.
Students with emerging reading skills present a unique set of challenges. While they may have received traditional intervention strategies in an attempt to "catch them up" to grade expectancy, they continue to struggle with issues of attention, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. They are "turned off" to reading. They lack the knowledge of rules to break words down into manageable units. They block on "easy" grammatical words. They ignore punctuation. They are distractible. They read slowly, word by word. They misinterpret the meaning of the text. Since their own oral language skills for syntax and vocabulary are weak, they make poor guesses at unfamiliar words. Some older second-language speakers attempt to read grade-level texts in English before acquiring the grammar to do so.
These students require texts written in language that minimizes the linguistic "hurdles" impeding decoding, fluency, comprehension, and independent reading. Story content must be age-appropriate, extremely interesting, and tied to the demands of the curriculum. Both student and teacher must be confident that the student can read the story independently. The reading assignment must be short enough to provide the satisfaction of completion. Follow-up activities must be within the student's ability level and document progress toward a measurable goal.
To meet this need, Don Johnston Incorporated, in collaboration with special education teachers, university language and learning specialists, speech-language pathologists, and reading specialists, has developed Start-to-Finish™ Books.
Start-to-Finish Books help struggling readers have successful and satisfying experiences with reading. Here are some reasons why.

“Written for Success” Formula

All Start-to-Finish Books are created using the "Written for Success" formula. This is a set of 40 guidelines for writing easy-to-read text. Don Johnston Incorporated had a group of experts in the fields of reading, language, and learning disabilities create these guidelines.
The "Written for Success" formula by Don Johnston Incorporated is a set of over 40 guidelines for writing easy-to-read text. All Start-to-Finish Books follow these rules. Here are some examples of the rules.
Use the infinitive form of the verb instead of an object gerund.
Difficult: The dog started barking.
Better: The dog started to bark.
When using interdependent clauses, express the relationship between the two clauses clearly. When expressing causality (A does something because of B), list the clauses in logical or sequential order.
Difficult: Hannibal stopped for a rest. His men were tired.

Better: Hannibal stopped for a rest because his men were tired.

But not: Because his men were tired, Hannibal stopped for a rest.

Avoid separating the subject and the predicate in a sentence.
Difficult: John, hot and tired in the summer sun, could not lift the bucket of rocks.

Better: John felt so hot and tired in the sun that he could not lift the bucket of rocks.

Once Start-to-Finish manuscripts are written, they are subjected to the scrutiny of four editors, each with over 25 years of experience in the fields of reading, language, and learning disabilities. As they critique the stories, the editors do not assume that readers would have any sophistication with syntax, grammar, decoding, fluency, or comprehension; the editors revise the text to meet exacting standards of syntax and vocabulary. These standards represent research and best practices in the fields of linguistics, language acquisition, reading, and learning. In addition to editing the text to comply with the guidelines, the editors also draw upon their many years of working with dyslexic students and students with language disorders. Using this experience, the editors are able to predict what other language features would cause a reader to stumble or misunderstand; all stories are edited to anticipate and prevent as many of these errors as possible. Once manuscripts are edited, they are put into clinical trials to ensure that the books create a successful reading experience. Start-to-Finish Books can be read independently by students who are reading at the second- or third-grade level. The subject matter is appropriate for students from fourth grade through high school. The computer and audiocassette support that is part of this product allows students functioning below a second-grade reading level to read these books. Using the paperback book alone, students at second- or third-grade reading levels will need some support from their teachers, but much less support than needed for other published high-interest, low-vocabulary materials.

Many books designed for older struggling readers rely on readability formulas to determine the level of their materials. Because short sentences lead to lower readability levels, authors often try to express ideas as compactly as possible. By doing this they often eliminate the very words that could make the intended meaning most clear. For example, when presented with the sentence, "Harriet Tubman lived in a cabin with dirt floors," students repeatedly read this as "Harriet Tubman lived in a cabin with dirty floors" because they fail to recognize that "dirt floors" is really a shorter version of "floors that were made of dirt." Thus the shorter sentence becomes more difficult than the longer one. Similarly, the sentence "Jane stayed home because she was sick" might be broken up into "Jane stayed home. She was sick." However, the omission of the word "because" forces the student to infer the relationship between the two simple sentences.

In the Start-to-Finish series, sentence structure is generally limited to simple sentences of 12 words or less, and to complex sentences of 18 words or less. Complex sentences usually contain only two clauses and are used only when simple sentences cannot convey the intended meaning adequately. Start-to-Finish books use the shortest, simplest sentence structures that can express the author's meanings clearly.

In addition to sentence structure controls, the vocabulary of the Start-to-Finish series is selected on the basis of frequency of use, phonetic regularity, and instructional value. Unfamiliar vocabulary is carefully introduced to maximize success.

Thus, the extensive editing of the Start-to-Finish Books has removed many of the linguistic "hurdles" that impede fluency, comprehension, and independent reading.

Example of the “Written for Success” Formula

an original excerpt from Love of Life by Jack London:
He looked into every pool of water vainly, until, as the long twilight came on, he discovered a solitary fish, the size of a minnow, in such a pool. He plunged his arm in up to the shoulder, but it eluded him. He reached for it with both hands and stirred up the milky mud at the bottom. In his excitement he fell in, wetting himself to the waist. Then the water was too muddy to admit of his seeing the fish, and he was compelled to wait until the sediment had settled. The pursuit was renewed, till the water was again muddied. But he could not wait. He unstrapped the tin bucket and began to bale the pool. He baled wildly at first, splashing himself and flinging the water so short a distance that it ran back into the pool. He worked more carefully, striving to be cool, though his heart was pounding against his chest and his hands were trembling. At the end of half an hour the pool was nearly dry. Not a cupful of water remained. And there was no fish. He found a hidden crevice among the stones through which it had escaped to the adjoining and larger pool -- a pool which he could not empty in a night and a day. Had he known of the crevice, he could have closed it with a rock at the beginning and the fish

would have been his. Thus he thought, and crumpled up and sank down upon the wet earth. At first he cried softly to himself, then he cried loudly to the pitiless desolation that ringed him around; and for a long time after he was shaken by great dry sobs.

Text re-written using the "Written for Success" Formula by Don Johnston Incorporated:
In one pool of water the man did find a fish. It was a tiny fish, smaller than his little finger. He tried to catch the fish with his hands. He became so excited that he fell into the pool and stirred up the mud on the bottom. He waited for the pool to clear. Then he took his tin pot and began to empty the pool one pot full at a time. After an hour of work, there was no water left. But there was no fish either. The fish had escaped through a crack in a rock and was now swimming in a much larger pool. This pool was too big to empty with a tin pot. The man sat down and began to cry.

Links to the Curriculum


Many older students have gaps in their general knowledge because they have avoided reading or they read poorly. This makes it progressively more difficult for them to comprehend the material their peers are reading.

Start-to-Finish texts motivate the struggling reader with age-appropriate stories about historically significant heroes, fictional mysteries, and the retelling of classic adventures. Each Start-to-Finish book contains links to the curriculum. For example, Nick Ford Mysteries contain material related to history, geography, social studies, biography or science. And the Classic Adventures are books commonly used in middle- and high-school curriculum. Because they include these links to the curriculum, Start-to-Finish Books bring struggling students closer to sharing the knowledge of their peers.

Fluency and Comprehension Checks


Start-to-Finish Books average 5,000 words in length. Each book is divided into chapters that can be easily "read" in a single session. At the end of each chapter, the student may complete a 100-word Cloze paragraph containing 8 sentence completions. A hidden timer tracks how long the student takes to read and respond to the passage. After completing the Cloze paragraph, the student sees a bar graph of correct responses. The teacher may view a second graph that tracks fluency by calculating the student's rate of correct responding. A supplemental file containing five multiple-choice questions is available for each Start-to-Finish chapter.
The vocabulary used in the Cloze paragraph and multiple choice questions is restricted to the vocabulary introduced to that point in the story.

Data collection on fluency and comprehension link Start-to-Finish Books to IEP goals and objectives.


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Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.