Fourth-Grade Students with Disabilities Improve Their Reading Skills

An Interview with Marie Hawkins, Fourth Grade Teacher Trinity Lutheran School, Kissimmee, Florida.

Three of my 17 fourth-grade students have received the McKay Scholarship which is offered to students with disabilities, such as, autism, ADHD, ADD, mental retardation, and other learning disabilities. The scholarship is funded by the Florida Department of Education. While these three students are not at the fourth-grade reading level yet, I have seen fantastic improvements as a result of working on MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach (MVRC).

Student One: She has a learning disability and is also ELL. She started the program at the first grade reading level and is currently at the second grade level after working on the program for 18 hours in six months. Her listening vocabulary is at the seventh-grade level. She has a hard time staying on task and following the class.

MVRC grabs her attention so that she can actually learn because she is not being distracted by the other students. She has the visual and auditory skills necessary to succeed. She would do better academically if she would turn in her work consistently. We are working on getting this corrected. Her grades improved from F to C as well as her confidence.

Student Two: He is on the Autism spectrum and has ADD. He initially tested at the first grade reading level on MVRC and is now testing at the second grade level with only 16 hours on the program in four months. His listening vocabulary is also seventh grade. He began Fluency training in third grade at the Kindergarten level, and to date has improved three grade levels.

He has difficulty paying attention in class but is able to go through lessons on the computer. While he does not start a conversation or speak much, his pronunciation when he reads out loud is amazing. Before MVRC, he would mumble the words; now he is saying them correctly and stopping when there is a period. He also has speech therapy, but the program has helped with the phonics lessons and fluency. He has achieved three grade levels in the MindPlay fluency program (FLRT). He is more confident and has a B in reading and an A in spelling (fourth grade content).

Student Three: He has learning disabilities and is ELL. He started at the first grade reading level and is now at the second grade level. I have seen progress with him in only six months and 20 hours on MVRC. He went up two grade levels on FLRT. His listening vocabulary went from third to sixth grade in six months. He is definitely more confident. When I met with him and his mom, he said: “Ask Mrs. Hawkins; I am smart. I wasn’t smart in the other school, but I am smart here.” I love to hear that kind of confidence. He has an A in spelling and an A in reading (fourth grade content).

These struggling readers love the medals, diamonds, puzzle pieces, and certificates and constantly turn around and say, Hawkins, look! They get really excited about the attention they receive from the program.

MindPlay Reading Challenge and Other Incentives
With the help of my principal, Mrs. Miles, and the computer lab coordinator, Ms. Byrd, I’ve recently been able to develop a rewards system to encourage program usage.

To motivate all of my students, I started the MindPlay Reading Challenge: Students must log into MVRC for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. I have a chart in the back of the room with all of their names and times. For every hour they complete, they get a different color filled in their square. Every Monday I check to see who logged in the most hours and pick the top five for that week. These five students get “tiger tickets”—a fake money incentive. They can go to the “tiger store” to buy things like toys or candy. Students feel rewarded when they see their name in the top five on the chart, see their color changing on the chart, and get “tiger tickets.” They also get recognition from their classmates:

Students also may log into the program over the weekend to get more hours with the hope of being part of the top five and getting those “tiger tickets.” They might be on MVRC for three or five hours in a week. The time they spend on the program means that they are getting lessons, reviewing skills, and learning new things.

I give my students a lot of verbal encouragement. I also show them the overall MVRC usage of the school and point out how they have the most gains in a week or year to date compared to other students. Being able to change the background on MVRC when they turn in their assignments is another great motivator. Creating incentives that appeal to each child is important. Some want to be one of the top five, others like the colors most, others want the tiger tickets, and some want the principal to know about their success. I try to find what motivates each student.

I see improvement in all students who use the program. I have noticed over the years that the program helps ELL students fill the vocabulary gap and provides the extra support they need to become fluent in English. They get to see and hear the words and hear how a sentence is supposed to sound from someone other than their teacher.

Although MVRC is instructional, it has a gaming component too—changing the background, the diamonds, and medals. I hear students comparing how many medals and diamonds they have. MVRC encourages a healthy competition in the students and brings the fun back into learning.

I encourage teachers to use MVRC. I believe they will see the benefits in their students’ reading and grammar, and their interest in learning will improve.