Online Degrees Blog Science of Reading and special education

Science of Reading and special education

19 January

In the recent EdWeb presentation, “The Science of Teaching Reading: Explicit Instruction, Universal Design for Learning, and Technology/Digital Tools,” the University of Kansas’ special education faculty, Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock, Dr. James Basham, and Dr. Sean Smith, explored groundbreaking strategies at the intersection of the Science of Reading (SOR) and special education.

Their focus on pioneering approaches aims to enhance learning outcomes for individuals with high-incidence dis/abilities.

The presentation covered vital aspects of reading education, including Universal Design for Learning (UDL), explicit instruction, and advanced technology tools that are helping educators who are teaching reading with technology.

Drs. Irma Brasseur-Hock, James Basham, and Sean Smith shared insights on integrating UDL principles, implementing explicit instruction techniques, and leveraging technology for inclusive reading education. This holistic approach equips educators, caretakers, and prospective master's students to enhance reading outcomes for diverse learners.

Read on to learn more about their discussion on these innovative strategies for inclusive reading education that help empower diverse learners and the educators who teach them.

To view the video recording of their presentation, click here.

The visionary KU professors behind the presentation

Delivering the presentation were three distinguished professors from the University of Kansas, Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock, Dr. James Basham, and Dr. Sean Smith, who took the stage to share their expertise at the intersection of the Science of Reading, Universal Design for Learning, and Technology/Digital Tools.

Renowned for their groundbreaking contributions, these educators are at the forefront of reshaping special education and inclusive teaching methods.

Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock: A trailblazer in special education

As the program director for the University of Kansas Department of Special Education Online Programs and an assistant research professor at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock has left an indelible mark on the field. With a doctorate in special education from the University of Kansas, she co-developed the Fusion Reading curriculum, a groundbreaking program tailored for struggling adolescent readers.

Dr. Brasseur-Hock brings over 14 years of experience as a teaching professor, specializing in blended learning and adolescent literacy. Her commitment to enhancing the lives of students extends beyond academia, as evidenced by her innovative online asynchronous professional development model.

Dr. James Basham: Championing Universal Design for Learning reading

Dr. James D. Basham, a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas, stands as the founder of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation and Research Network. His extensive research portfolio, exceeding $27 million in funding, focuses on UDL, STEM education, and learner-centered design.

An advocate for innovation and technology in human learning, Dr. Basham's impact resonates through his prolific publications, numerous presentations, and leadership roles on various boards.

Dr. Sean Smith: Pioneering technology solutions for inclusive education

Dr. Sean J. Smith, a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas, has earned acclaim as the past president of the technology division of the Council for Exceptional Children. His research interests converge on technology solutions aligned with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, particularly in supporting struggling learners and those with dis/abilities.

As a principal investigator on federally funded projects, Dr. Smith explores the transformative impact of virtual reality on social-emotional development in struggling learners. With over $25 million in external research and development funds, Dr. Smith's dedication to enhancing the lives of individuals with dis/abilities extends into his roles as a parent and advocate.

Together, these visionary educators bring a wealth of experience, research, and passion to the intersection of explicit instruction, UDL, and technology in SOR.

Explicit Instruction in reading education

Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock took the stage, offering profound insights into the heart of Explicit Instruction, a foundational cornerstone embedded within the University of Kansas' master's programs. This systematic approach positions teacher behavior as a linchpin for driving student learning outcomes; creating a transformative educational experience.

“The teacher's behavior is frequently associated with student learning outcomes, and I provide for you a couple of different ways that people have articulated that. We have Anita Archer and Charly Cues, who've looked at it through the lens of a purposeful way of teaching students—where instruction is systematic, direct, engaging, and success-oriented and has shown to promote achievement for all students.”

Key components

Key components include:

  • Explicit modeling: The presentation underscored the significance of explicit modeling, where educators meticulously demonstrate concepts, strategies, and thought processes. This process serves as a scaffold, providing a clear framework for students to follow.
  • Engaging learning experiences: Dr. Brasseur-Hock emphasized the need for learning experiences that go beyond the academic realm. These experiences are purposefully designed to captivate students, making the educational journey not only informative but also engaging and relevant.
  • The "I Do It, We Do It, You Do It" paradigm: At the core of Explicit Instruction is the widely recognized paradigm of "I Do It, We Do It, You Do It." This progression from teacher-led instruction to collaborative practice and, finally, independent application ensures a gradual and comprehensive understanding.

“What we really wanna move towards is a model that many people are familiar with; which is the I Do It, We Do It, You Do It.,” Dr. Brasseur-Hock says.

A structured journey

Explicit Instruction unfolds through a meticulously structured journey that includes:

  • Pre-test assessments These assessments begin with identifying students' existing knowledge and understanding.
  • Meticulous modeling: The heart of the journey involves explicit modeling, where educators guide students through concepts with clarity and precision.
  • Post-test evaluations: The journey concludes by measuring the assimilation of knowledge and the effectiveness of instructional strategies.

Data-driven decisions

A cornerstone of this approach is the strategic use of data for:

  • Guiding cognitive loads: The data collected serves as a guide, facilitating the gradual progression of students from low to high cognitive loads.
  • Ensuring clarity: It ensures clear explanations, guided practices, and the maintenance of an engaging pace throughout the instructional process.

Feedback dynamics

Dr. Brasseur-Hock delved into the nuanced dynamics of feedback which can be used for:

  • Corrective feedback: By distinguishing between non-examples and positive examples of corrective feedback, educators are empowered to guide learners toward a deeper understanding of reading concepts.
  • Fostering growth: The spirit of warmth was evident as Dr. Brasseur-Hock encouraged educators to celebrate the journey of growth with their students, creating a positive and supportive learning environment.

Integration with IES practice guide

The enlightening journey concluded with a nod to the IES practice guide, "Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades Four Through Nine." This guide integrates SOR with the effective practices of Explicit Instruction, providing educators with a comprehensive compass to navigate the intricate landscape of teaching reading.

Unlocking potential with Universal Design for Learning

In the quest for effective reading instruction, Dr. James Basham seamlessly transitioned the spotlight to the inherent diversity of learners' brains and the transformative role played by UDL. As he explained, “No two brains are exactly alike. We all have vastly different brains. There's lots of complexity to these brains.”

Cognitive diversity

Embarking on an exploration of cognitive neuroscience, Dr. Basham illuminated the uniqueness encapsulated within each brain. This revelation challenged conventional perceptions of the "average learner," emphasizing that diversity is the norm rather than an exception.

Designing for all

The 80% rule emerged as a guiding principle, highlighting the critical impact of intentional planning.

“What we know is that design matters, and in fact, when we look at design studies... about 80% of the environmental impact of our product services and infrastructures are determined at the design stage,” Dr. Basham said.

Dr. Basham questioned the suitability of a one-size-fits-all education model, advocating for instructional design that caters to the rich tapestry of individual learning styles and preferences.

The UDL framework

Dr. Basham delved into the core principles of UDL—multiple means of engagement, representation, and action expression.

This framework became the bedrock for designing environments and experiences that accommodate the diverse needs of all learners.

“UDL is a design framework that's goal-driven and used for designing effective environments and experiences for all learners.”

The focus of his talk then shifted to UDL's three implementation levels:

  1. Providing access: Recognizing that learners cannot progress in the learning process without access, this level focuses on breaking down barriers and ensuring inclusivity from the start.
  2. Building understanding to achieve goals: Moving beyond access, this level aims to foster comprehension and empower learners to achieve their educational goals.
  3. Fostering internalization: The ultimate goal is to cultivate internalization, where learners not only access and understand but also internalize knowledge, making it a part of their cognitive repertoire.

Dr. Basham elaborated by saying, “UDL gets into supporting multiple means of engagement to support the effective network of the learning process or the why of learning, providing multiple means of representation to get into the recognition network of learning or the what of learning and providing multiple means of action and expression so that students can show what they know.”

Improving reading outcomes with technology and UDL

As the discussion shifted towards technology, Dr. Sean Smith entered the discourse, shedding light on the convergence of the UDL framework and technology.

“Oftentimes what we find out and we see for our struggling learners, those identified with learning dis/abilities, those with intellectual dis/abilities, et cetera... if they're not getting those core foundational components, and they're not growing along with their peers, there will be a level of flatline.”

Text-to-speech tools like ReadWrite and Snap and Read emerged as transformative players, dynamically altering the reading experience. “Snap and Read will read it out loud, but also Snap and Read will do dynamic leveling text.”

In reference to text-to-speech applications and their underutilization by today’s teachers, he added, “Although we're familiar with it, and although increasingly it's just simply an extension sitting on our Chrome browser or an app sitting on our iPad or in the Chromebook, oftentimes, I'm seeing we're not turning it on or we're not utilizing it with all the flexibility and functionality it has.”

When leveraged properly, these applications become instrumental in engaging learners, enhancing comprehension, and developing vocabulary, marking a pivotal moment where technology seamlessly integrates with instructional strategies to unlock the full potential of every learner.

“My text-to-speech application became a note-taking and also now a vocabulary component. So comprehension and vocabulary along with fluency in terms of the text-to-speech.”

Reshaping literacy: Teaching reading with technology

In the exploration of advanced strategies within the realm of reading education, Dr. Sean Smith unveiled a spectrum of technologies that are significantly reshaping the landscape.

Bookshare brilliance

A shining star in the digital resources galaxy, Bookshare took center stage as Dr. Smith highlighted its accessibility and cost-effectiveness.

Serving as a free repository housing over 1.2 million digital texts, Bookshare emerged as a cornerstone, offering educators and families a treasure trove of material. Its seamless integration with text-to-speech applications like ReadWrite further enhanced its appeal, providing a multifaceted solution for individuals grappling with reading challenges.

“Bookshare is free, free, free. If I have an individual with a reading challenge, I can fill out the paperwork right there online. And Bookshare allows me to then have access to 1.2 million plus digital texts that then I can immediately read out loud, text-to-speech.”

Newsela's adaptive approach

The spotlight then shifted to Newsela, a dynamic platform redefining traditional text delivery.

Dr. Smith showcased its adaptive approach, allowing real-time adjustments of reading levels and word counts.

In an era where personalized learning is gaining momentum, Newsela stands out as a beacon of adaptability, catering to students with varying proficiency levels and ensuring a tailored reading experience for each.

“Newsela offers so much,” he said.

Digital Books' versatility

According to Dr. Smith, digital books have emerged as versatile instruments in the educator's toolkit. Dr. Smith underscored their adaptability, emphasizing how they can be customized to individual reading levels.

The inclusion of multimedia elements further heightened their appeal, transforming the reading experience into an engaging journey. The ability to blend text and visual elements opens up new avenues for comprehension and retention, making digital books an invaluable resource.

Tar Heel Reader recognition

During the presentation, a nod of acknowledgment was directed towards Tar Heel Reader, a digital library playing a crucial role in supporting non-readers and struggling readers.

Featuring image-based books with simple text, Tar Heel Reader's strength lies in its combination of visual and text elements. The added functionality of text-to-speech makes it a valuable resource, spanning a broad spectrum of readers in elementary and middle school.

Immersive Reader: A technological pinnacle

The presentation reached its technological pinnacle with a spotlight on Immersive Reader, a free tool from Microsoft. Dr. Smith unveiled its array of features, including text-to-speech, customizable highlighting, and even a built-in reading coach.

He explained that Immersive Reader has emerged as a game-changer in progress monitoring, providing real-time data that empowers educators and parents to make informed decisions in supporting individual learners. In essence, it marks the zenith of technological innovation in reading education, underlining the transformative power of purposeful technology integration.

Navigating literacy education with inclusive strategies

In the presentation's closing Q&A, the discussion touched on ability grouping, highlighting the challenge of customizing literacy education for diverse student needs. The key, as stressed by the presenters, is to create flexible environments, whether through mixed groups or targeted interventions, ensuring success for each learner.

For prospective master's students, it emphasizes the need to stay informed and adaptable in the ever-changing field of literacy education. Advanced studies offer a chance to contribute and make a positive impact on students' lives.

Simply put, the future of literacy education looks promising, thanks to innovation, inclusivity, and a commitment to nurturing a love for reading in all students. Insights from Dr. Irma Brasseur-Hock, Dr. James Basham, and Dr. Sean Smith show a dedication to inclusivity and an understanding of each learner's unique needs.

Elevate your special education reading instruction skills

You can enhance reading instruction for diverse learners with KU's top-ranked online special education master's programs*, featuring experts like Drs. Irma Brasseur-Hock, James Basham, and Sean Smith.1

KU’s special education master’s programs cover key special education areas including autism spectrum disorder, leadership in special and inclusive education, high incidence dis/abilities, and secondary special education and transition.

Need more information to get started? KU's admissions outreach advisors can help. Contact an outreach admissions advisor today to begin advancing your special education instruction.

*The department offers an online Master of Science in Education degree in special education with three individual emphasis area options: autism spectrum disorder; high-incidence dis/abilities; or secondary special education and transition.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.