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The effects of the Directed Reading -Thinking Activity on reading comprehension skills of middle school students with autism

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A Dissertation
Presented to the Faculty of the
School of Human Service Professions
Widener University
In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Education
Irene Van Riper
Center for Education
UMI Number: 3414553
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UMI 3414553
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Title of Dissertation:
Irene Van Riper
Approved by:
Mary W. Strong, Ph.D.
Alida Anderson, Ph.D.
Ning Wang, Ph.D.'
Annemarie B. Jay, Ph.D.
Kathleen A. Bowes, Ed.t)
Date: March 22,2009
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of
Doctor of Education.
I dedicate this dissertation to my husband and companion, Joe Van Riper, who
took this journey with me every step of the way, and to my Great Aunt Kate, who called
me Redabuk so many years ago, and was my inspiration.
Copyright © 2010
Irene Van Riper
I would like to acknowledge the staff, students, and parents at Harris Road Middle
School who supported my research. Thank you.
I would like to acknowledge my son Bill and his family who consistently cheered
me on.
I want to thank my advisor Dr. Mary Strong for her support and undying patience.
She was my pillar of strength.
Last, but far from least, I want to thank my colleagues and friends who totally
understood when I had my meltdowns, and rallied around to keep me on track.
This study investigated the functional relationship between the Directed
Reading-Thinking Activity (DRTA) and the reading comprehension skills of students
with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in a single subject reversal design. Students
with ASD possess heterogeneous traits and learning styles. While each student with
ASD has unique instructional needs, all have primary deficits in language and social
skills. Some of these students decode with ease, and some read falteringly. Individuals
who are extremely fluent but do not understand what they have read may be exhibiting
hyperlexia. Most students with ASD are literal thinkers. In order to serve their needs,
reading strategies must address these issues. Visual prompts, structured, multi-sensory
instruction, and teacher modeling are beneficial techniques.
Participants were in a middle school multi-age resource setting. These students
with ASD were enrolled in a pre-vocational course of study. The DRTA intervention,
which occurred in a small group setting, included use of non-linguistic visual supports,
such as graphic organizers, pictures, and objects. The purpose of the study was to
demonstrate the efficacy of the DRTA on increased reading comprehension skills.
Specific skills assessed included making predictions and answering literal and
inferential 'wh" questions regarding the text, using graphic and non-linguistic aids.
A pre- and post-intervention survey given to each parent indicated the social
validity data of the study. This study also examined teachers' input on the reading
attitudes of the participants. A reading inventory and chapter comprehension checks
revealed that students with ASD made gains in reading comprehension with the use of
the DRTA.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
List of Appendices
List of Figures
Chapter 1
Chapter 2: A Review of the Literature
Characteristic Factors Related to ASD
Cognitive Theories
Cognitive Development and ASD
Language Processing
Information Processing
Joint Attention
Reading Models
Stage Model
Connectionist Model
Information-Processing Model
Comprehension-Based Model
Reading Comprehension Processes
Evidence Based Reading Strategies
Reading Interventions for Students with ASD
Chapter 3: Overview of Methodology
Data Collection
Data Analysis
Chapter 4: Results
Surveys from Parents of Students with ASD
Surveys from Teachers of Students with ASD
Chapter 5: Discussion
Classroom Practice Implication
Implications for Future Research
List of Appendices
Appendix A: Structure of DRTA Lesson
Appendix B: Comprehension Check Questions for Chapters 1-10
Appendix C: Prediction Strategy Checklist
Appendix D: Reading Interview For Parents
Appendix E: Parent Interview Consent Form
Appendix F: Student Study Parental Consent Form
Appendix G: Student Study Assent Form
Appendix H: Teacher Consent Form
Appendix I: Teacher Interview
Appendix J: Observation Coding Form, Page 1
Appendix J: (Continued) Observation Coding Form, Page 2
Appendix K: Principal Consent Form For Participation in Reading Research Study .... 128
Appendix L: IRB Letter of Acceptance
List of Figures
Figure 3.1: Demographic Profiles of Tested Students
Figure 3.2: Timeline for Study
Figure 3.2: Timeline for Study (continued)
Figure 3.2: Circle Map
Figure 33: The KWL (Know / Want to know / Learned) Chart
Figure 3.4: Questions About Text
Figure 3.5: "Wh" Question Stems
Figure 4.1: Prediction Strategy Checklist for Students with ASD
Figure 4.1: (continued)
Figure 4.1: (continued)
Figure 4.2: Tom's Comprehension Check Scores
Figure 4.3: Tom's Scores on the Reading Inventory Tests
Figure 4.4: Tom's Scores For Making Predictions
Figure 4.5: Dick's Comprehension Check Scores
Figure 4.6: Dick's Scores on the Reading Inventory Tests
Figure 4.7: Dick's Scores For Making Predictions
Figure 4.8: Harry's Comprehension Check Scores
Figure 4.9: Harry's Scores on the Reading Inventory Tests
Figure 4.10: Harry's Scores For Making Predictions
Chapter 1
Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have deficits in language,
social development, and cognition (Baron-Cohen, 2005). As the name indicates, this is
a spectrum disorder and individuals with this disorder present heterogeneous traits.
Kanner (1942), in his seminal report on ASD, described the disability in terms of a
"syndrome". He characterized these children as having a "disturbance of affective
content". Kanner (1942) could not explain the overall trait of "loneliness" that these
children displayed, but implied that these children shut out others. The cause of ASD is
still under speculation. According to Baron-Cohen, Leslie and Frith (1985),
individuals with ASD may exhibit a deficit in theory of mind. Theory of mind (BaronCohen et al.) refers to the social system of relating to another person. It is the ability to
interpret another's feelings and thoughts.
Frith (2003) indicated that ASD may be a weak central coherence problem.
Frith (2003) determined that individuals with ASD process information in a way that
interferes with global processing; they do not ascertain the main idea, but mainly focus
on details. This can be a problem when attempting to make meaning of text (Bartlett,
The Executive Dysfunction Theory, derived from Ozonoff, Pennington and
Rogers (1991) explained that ASD stems from a malfunction in the frontal lobe of the
brain. Executive function involves flexibility, planning, and self-monitoring. These
deficits affect cognitive development (Ozonoff, 1997). Whatever the genesis, students
with ASD are entitled to reading instruction that serves their learning needs.
The skills essential for effective reading comprehension parallel the very skills
that may be deficits of students with ASD. Rayner, Foorman, Perfetti, Pesetsky and
Seidenberg (2001) explained that the most important skills for reading are:
phonological awareness, grammar, word meaning, and pragmatics. Inherent in the
disorder are language processing disconnects, and social and cognitive deficits, thus
the process of making meaning from the text will be laborious. Engaging students with
ASD in evidence-based reading instruction, and addressing their specific needs, may
empower these students with the strategies they need to be successful readers.
This first chapter provides the purpose and need of the study, along with the
theoretical framework and the research questions. The chapter concludes with a
glossary of terminology.
Purpose of Study
The purpose of this study was to determine whether the Directed ReadingThinking Activity, or DRTA, (Stauffer, 1969) effectively increased the reading
comprehension skills of middle school students with low functioning ASD. In this
study, the term "low functioning" was operationalized to mean the IQ range of the
students, which was between 50 and 60. The low IQ scores of these students might not
be a deficit in cognition, but might be due to a deficit in the information processing
part of the brain that causes ASD (Anderson, 2008). If these students are cognitively
or intellectually disabled, it is still a brain dysfunction that is impairing and
constricting, and requires remediation or interventions for learning. This study
examined the functional relationship between reading comprehension instruction using
the DRTA and the reading comprehension skills of students with ASD. Using the
DRTA, the teacher modeled effective reading comprehension processes, which
included activating prior knowledge, making predictions, asking clarifying questions
and facilitating peer group discussions. The National Reading Panel's report by the
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, or NICHD, (2000)
suggested that the teaching of reading comprehension skills explicitly benefit reading
This study attempted to determine if using some of the strategies recommended
by the NICHD (2000) increased the reading comprehension skills of these lowfunctioning middle school students. The strategies focused on
Making predictions
Activating prior knowledge
Utilization of visual prompts
Organizing information with graphic organizers
Making connections with the text
Eliciting group discussion
The reading strategies presented to the students were used in conjunction with
an adapted book from the series "Bring the Classics to Life" (Edcon, 2008). The novel
was a high interest, low readability text with a grade reading level of 2.0 - 2.9. The
novel included a comprehension check created by the publisher. The researcher
adapted the comprehension check for a number of multiple-choice responses in
alignment with the standardized end of year assessment. A reading inventory was
utilized as pre- and post-tests.
Need for the Study
Students with developmental disabilities, such as ASD, have deficits in
language, retrieving prior knowledge, and cognition (Flores & Ganz, 2007). An
increase in the incidence of children with ASD (Fombonne, 2005) has created urgency
for educators to address the learning styles of students who are on the autism spectrum.
Instruction that addresses their reading deficits in a systematic, explicit program,
utilizing multi-sensory techniques (Pressley, 2000) must be provided for these
students. They need opportunities to learn strategies that target their unique difficulties
and facilitate their reading experiences. Prolonged exposure to appropriate print may
enhance the language processing and social communication skills of students with
ASD (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998).
Several research projects have been undertaken to examine various reading
strategies and their outcomes for students with ASD (Chiang & Lin, 2007). Of the
eleven studies Chiang and Lin (2007) reviewed, seven targeted sight word
comprehension. The remaining four concentrated on text comprehension. None of the
studies utilized the Directed Reading-Thinking Activity. Reading comprehension
lessons for students with ASD should parallel the needs specific to this disability:
Visual cues
Literal language usage
Multi-sensory instruction
Wahlberg and Magliano (2004) explained that successful reading
comprehension is important for daily living. Understanding what they read enabled
individuals with ASD to live more independently and become their own advocates
(Wahlberg & Magliano, 2004). Evidence-based reading instruction for students with
ASD has been "underemphasized", and research in this area has been sparse
(O'Connor & Klein, 2004). The NICHD (2000) reviewed research pertaining to
reading comprehension instruction in the classroom. They examined instruction in the
areas of vocabulary, text comprehension, and teacher preparation in reading
comprehension strategies. Comprehension, when defined as a student's understanding
aligned with the surface structure and the deep structure of the text (Kintsch, 1988),
implies that reading comprehension is a complex process that may be laborious for a
child with cognitive deficits, such as ASD. Although the NICHD (2000) suggested that
all students be taught reading comprehension skills according to the methods identified
in its report, there is little research on reading comprehension instruction for students
with ASD (Chiang & Lin, 2007).
The Directed Reading-Thinking Activity is a strategy that aligns with the
NICHD's (2000) suggested instruction. This study was undertaken to determine if the
strategies associated with the instructional format of the DRTA improved reading
comprehension in students with ASD in a middle school, pre-vocational resource
Theoretical Framework
The conceptual framework of this study was derived from the causative and
developmental theories gleaned from the research. Students with ASD need certain
types of reading strategies for reading comprehension instruction. The DRTA
incorporates many of the core strategies for addressing the deficits of students with
ASD. The DRTA is an instructional framework based on research (Stauffer, 1969;
Widomski, 1983; Richek, 1987; Maria, 1989; Tierney & Readance, 2005). It is
systematic and routinized; students know what to expect in each lesson. Routine and
structure are important for students with ASD (Flores & Ganz, 2007). The students
work cooperatively, discussing the material read. The NICHD (2000) determined that
small group discussions during reading produced gains in reading comprehension.
Predicting, an essential component in the DRTA, promotes making connections from
prior knowledge or evidential information from the text (Richek, 1987). Making
predictions is a strategy that, with prompts, helps students experience confidence and
success. Since abstract thinking is often a problem for students with ASD, visual
representations were needed to facilitate making predictions (Flores & Ganz, 2007).
Students with ASD have difficulty retrieving and using prior knowledge to
interpret text (O'Connor & Klein, 2004). These students do not utilize prior
knowledge while they are reading. To facilitate utilization of prior knowledge,
O'Connor and Klein (2004) asked questions before reading, to prime and activate longterm memory for prior knowledge. They found that priming with pre-reading
questions was beneficial only if the questions were literal and specific to the story. For
some students with ASD, the questions activated peripheral and irrelevant knowledge
that was perseverated on during the reading session. O'Connor and Klein (2004)
recommended that graphic organizers might be an alternate method of extracting prior
knowledge, and that questions for pre- and post-reading be modeled by the teacher.
The visuals of a thinking map and graphic organizer were used to help students
monitor their learning.
Visual cues can sustain reading comprehension for students with ASD (Quill,
1997; Hart & Whalon, 2008). Within the constructs of the DRTA, this study
incorporated visual prompts and cues accompanying the graphic organizers and charts.
The visual prompts (see Figures 3.2,3.3,3.4,3.5) held the attention of the students,
clarified language and probed for prior knowledge. The cues aided in making
predictions about the text. Non-linguistic representations facilitated the reading
comprehension of these students with language and information processing deficits
(Frith, 1989; Quill, 1997; Frith, 2003) by introducing abstract information with
concrete prompts. Reading interventions, such as the DRTA, that focus on the specific
needs of students with ASD, may have improved their reading comprehension skills,
moving them from visual learning to linguistic information processing.
Research Questions
Question 1: In what ways did the DRTA have a functional relationship with
the comprehension skills of three middle school students with ASD who were in a prevocational resource setting as measured by these instruments?
Pre- and post-reading inventory
Comprehension checks of 10 multiple choice questions administered
after each book chapter
Researcher anecdotal notes and reflections
Question 2: In what ways did the DRTA strategy have an effect on the reading
attitudes of the middle school students with ASD as perceived by their parents and
teachers measured by these instruments?
Parent pre- and post-intervention surveys
Teacher pre- and post-intervention surveys
Teacher observation coding forms
Glossary of Terminology
Aesthetic Stance - The view a reader takes in which attention is focused on the
ideas and feeling from the text (Rosenblatt, 2004).
Anaphoric Cueing - A cueing method of using a word, usually a pronoun, as a
substitute for a preceding word; a backward reference may be utilized. (Harris &
Hodges, 1995).
Bottom-up View of Reading - Reading that is driven by the text (Samuels,
Communicative Competence - The ability to use language in an appropriate
way in a social situation (Harris & Hodges, 1995).
Directed Reading-Thinking Activity - Framework for a reading lesson that
addresses strategies for reading comprehension (Tierney & Readance, 2005).
Efferent Stance - A view a reader takes after analyzing the text (Rosenblatt,
Episodic Memory - Memory that is personal and autobiographical (Harris &
Hodges, 1995).
Executive Dysfunction Theory - The theory that the dysfunction of the frontal
lobe of the brain that controls for planning, working memory, impulse control,
inhibition, mental flexibility, monitoring of actions is a causative factor of ASD
(Ozonoff, Pennington, & Rogers.1991).
Executive Function - Frontal lobe portion of the brain that accounts for
planning, impulse control, working memory, inhibition, mental flexibility, and
monitoring of actions (Ozonoff et al. 1991).
Explicit Instruction - Instructional strategy of teacher demonstrating and
modeling what students should do to learn (Pressley, 2000).
Hyperlexic - The spontaneous and precocious mastery of single word reading
(Quill, 1997).
Joint Attention - A pre-verbal communication like pointing to or requesting an
object, or showing and giving an object to others to communicate interest in the object
(Baron-Cohen, 1988).
Metacognition - A learner's ability to think about their own thinking (Pressley,
Metalinguistic Awareness - An awareness of the language user that language is
an object in itself (Harris & Hodges, 1995).
Mindblindness - The lack of a mentalistic framework to make sense of, or
predict, another's behavior (Baron-Cohen et al, 1985),
Non-linguistic Representation - A mode of learning that encompasses visual,
kinesthetic, and auditory learning styles (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001).
Phonological Memory - Memory of the sounds of words when learning to read
(Harris & Hodges, 1995).
Question Stems - The beginning of reading comprehension questions for class
discussion (Beck, McKeown, Sandora, & Kucan, 1996).
Scaffolding - An instructional strategy that supports the learner by limiting the
ambiguities and complexities of the content and gradually fading the support as the
learner becomes more adept at understanding the skill (Palincsar & Brown, 1984).
Theory of Mind - A basic metarepresentational capacity to understand
another's beliefs and to predict their behavior (Baron-Cohen et al, 1985).
Top-down Model of Reading - A model of reading that emphasizes what the
reader brings to the text (Rumelhart, 2004).
Transactional Theory - constructing meaning from reading as constructed by
an active exchange of ideas between the reader and the text (Harris & Hodges, 1995).
Underconnectivity - Refers to a possible cause of speech and language delay in
individuals with ASD due to impairment of the neural connections between two parts
of the brain (Kana, Keller, Cherkassy, Minshew, & Just, 2006; Mason, Williams,
Kana, Minshew, & Just, 2008).
Visual Memory - The retention or recall of things that have been seen (Harris &
Hodges, 1995).
Visuospatial - The visual perception of spatial relationships among objects
(Kana etal. 2006).
Weak Central Coherence Theory - Possible cause of information processing
deficit in individuals with ASD (Happe, 1994).
Working Memory - A memory system for the temporary storage of information
needed to carry out cognitive tasks (Hill & Frith, 2003).
Chapter 2: A Review of the Literature
This literature review provides an overview of the research that addresses the
reading disabilities of ASD in school age students. It is constructed in three main
sections: an historical account of ASD including characteristic factors related to
ASDand cognitive development; reading development theories, and evidence-based
reading comprehension strategies; and reading development and interventions for
autistic students. The review concludes with a rationale for utilizing the DRTA as the
showcased strategy.
This study was suggested by the previous research of Chiang and Lin (2007)
who examined several research projects related to reading comprehension strategies for
students with ASD. Based on the research of Chiang and Lin (2007) and their
examination of the NICHD (2000), there appeared to be a need for improvement of
instruction and implementation of reading strategies for practical application for
students with ASD. Of the eleven studies reviewed by Chiang and Lin (2007), four
studies examined text comprehension, defined as "understanding the text at the
sentence level and above" (O'Connor & Klein, 2004, p.117). Kamps, Locke,
Delquadri and Hall (1989) utilized peer tutoring in a single subject research design,
Kamps, Barbetta, Leonard and Delquadri (1994) instituted class wide peer tutoring in a
single subject design with reversal. Kamps, Leonard, Potucek and Garrison-Harrell
(1995) utilized two experimental cooperative groups, and O'Connor and Klein (2004)
employed anaphoric cueing, pre-reading questions, and cloze to facilitate reading
comprehension. The results of these studies indicated that the methods examined
improved the reading comprehension of students with ASD. For instance, of the three
strategies that O'Connor and Klein (2004) employed, cueing students to opt for a target
pronoun, was the most successful. The other three studies relating to text
comprehension reported that participants acquired the targeted skills (Chiang & Lin,
An Historical Outlook
Kanner (1942) characterized ASD as a disability markedly and uniquely
different from anything reported. Kanner (1942) explained that children with ASD
could not relate to themselves in any usual way. Children with ASD had a "loneliness"
that shut out other people. These children were more comfortable with pictures than
with people; their relationship with people was without emotion. These children
appeared "normal", yet they possessed no affect (Kanner, 1942).
According to Bishop (2008), in the 1960's, the genesis of ASD was viewed as
being environmental, not biological. Since there was no indication of neurological
damage, and children with ASD appeared normal in physical appearance (Bishop,
2008), the cause of ASD was not obvious, and resulted in the conclusion that these
children could not bond with their parents. Folstein and Rutter (1977) reported that
there was a similarity of autistic characteristics in relatives of children with ASD, thus
the disability had a genetic basis (Bishop, 2008). Frith began addressing this concept in
the 1960's and the 1970's (Bishop, 2008). Her first study proved that children with
ASD lacked the ability to generate ideas (Frith, 1972). Research on ASD proliferated
with Baron-Cohen et al. (1985) who explained the theory-of-mind framework, a term
referring to the "cognitive capacity to understand others' beliefs, desires, or intentions
that differ from one's own" (Bishop, 2008). Attwood, Frith, and Hermelin (1988)
explained that expressive gestures, as part of the theory-of-mind, were not visible in
autistic children. Shah and Frith (1993) introduced the belief that children with ASD
had weak central coherence. Frith (1989) deduced from her findings that ASD was,
indeed, a biological disorder.
Characteristic Factors Related to ASD
Children with ASD demonstrate deficits in social development, communication
and cognition. Language development is delayed and IQ may be a strong predictor
(Baron-Cohen, 2005). Three theories related to ASD were cited: Mindblindness, or
Theory-of-Mind, Executive Dysfunction Theory, and Weak Central Coherence Theory
(Hill & Frith, 2003; Baron-Cohen, 2005). Theory-of-mind refers to the appropriate
emotional reaction to another person (Baron-Cohen, 2005). According to BaronCohen and Swettenham (1997), theory-of-mind is associated with ASD as the lack of
ability to relate to other people's feelings and interpret their thoughts. Theory-of-mind
is a failure in the understanding of other minds (Hill & Frith, 2003). Executive
Dysfunction Theory (Ozonoff, Rogers, & Hendren, 2003) explained that attention and
behavioral idiosyncrasies of children with ASD were due to a frontal lobe difference in
their brains. This area of the brain is the processor of working memory, impulse
control and monitoring actions (Hill & Frith, 2003). Ozonoff (1997) theorized that
cognitive deficits in ASD were related to impairment in executive function. Weak
Central Coherence (Frith, 1989) was a third explanation for ASD. Frith (1989)
believed that ASD involved cognitive deficits and language impairments. In a later
study, Frith (2003) explained that children with ASD have a type of information
processing style that does not allow them to understand information globally, but
rather, perceive information on a piecemeal basis. Deriving meaning from text was
described (Bartlett, 1932) as recalling the main idea or gist. This is a skill difficult, at
best, for readers with ASD. ASD varies in terms of severity and characteristics such as
language and social deficits, mental retardation, and age of onset (Lord & McGee,
2001). According to Lord and Risi (2000), ASD is defined as "a triad of deficits" (p.
11) involving social reciprocity, communication and repetitive behaviors. These
deficits can vary in the degree and prevalence (Lord & Risi, 2000). The specific
disorders that are included as part of the spectrum, is debatable (Tidmark & Volkmar,
2003; Shattuck & Grosse, 2007). The DSM-IV TR Diagnostic Criteria for Pervasive
Developmental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) gives diagnostic
criteria for Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, ASD, Rett's
Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Asperger's syndrome as parts of
Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The diagnostic criteria for ASD from the DSMIV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) includes social interaction
impairment, delays in communication development, and repetitive and stereotypical
behaviors. The delay of social interaction, language competence, and/or symbolic play
exhibited before the age of three is the concluding criteria for ASD. ASD is one of the
pervasive developmental diseases that may affect children's development, language
and social interaction (Lord & Risi, 2000). Thus, it is problematic to rely on a single
theory for the characteristics associated with ASD.
Fombonne (2005) reviewed 37 surveys regarding the prevalence of ASD. The
results indicated that at least one child in 150 was diagnosed with ASD. More recent
published estimates indicate the prevalence of ASD to now be approximately 1 in 91
children ages 3 to 17 (Kogan et al, 2009). Changes in diagnostic techniques and
improved identification are causes for increases in diagnoses (Fombonne, 2005).
Assessments and screenings based on developmental social, cognitive, and language
skills result in guidelines for academic and social interventions for children diagnosed
with ASD (Lord & McGee, 2001). The core features of ASD are social interaction
abnormalities and deficits in both non-verbal and verbal communication, all
demonstrated in early childhood (Hill & Frith, 2003). ASD affects three times more
males than females. Typically, an IQ under 70 is associated with ASD. However, due
to the wide variance of intellectual abilities, there are people who are diagnosed as
being with ASD who have much higher IQs (Chakrabati & Fombonne, 2001; Hill &
Frith, 2003).
Cognitive Theories
ASD affects communication, and social understanding (Lord and McGee,
2001). Children on the spectrum present strength in tasks that demand rote memory
and discriminating concrete stimuli (Prior, 1979; Sigman, Dissanayake, Arbelle, &
Ruskin, 1997). Although children with ASD may develop substantial mechanical
language, they may demonstrate a deficit in language comprehension (Minshew,
Goldstein, & Siegel, 1995). Cognitive deficits may be a result of limited brain activity
(Kana, Keller, Cherkassy, Minshew, & Just, 2006; Mason, Williams, Kana, Minshew,
& Just, 2008). For instance, Kana et al. (2006) contended that language
comprehension of sentences and visual imagery were affected in brain activation in
ASD. When processing language and visual imagery, people with ASD utilized areas
of their brains differently than people without ASD, and performed better on
completion tasks involving pictures (Kana et al. 2006). Given tasks that required
integration of cognitive processing of visual-spatial and language processing systems,
people with ASD showed an underconnectivity between the two neural systems in the
brain (Kana et al. 2006; Mason et al. 2008).
Mason et al. (2008) reported that cortical activation in the frontal and parietal
areas of the brain and theory-of-mind are related to language deficits. Communication
and discourse involve neural coordination and communication integrating several areas
of the brain (Mason et al. 2008). Narrative or text comprehension might be impaired if
theory-of-mind is lacking. Comprehension involving interpretation of characters'
actions, feelings, and intentions may be a difficult task for readers with ASD. The
higher order task of making inferences may be affected, as well, due to the insufficient
processing ability for using context clues (Mason et al. 2008). According to
Twachtman-Cullen (2000), deficits in comprehension, "understanding and sense
making" (p.234) in children with ASD is due to expressive language problems and
literal interpretations. Abstract language, such as sarcasm, idioms, and metaphors all
require understanding of nonverbal communication (Twachtman-Cullen, 2000).
Although these children may have developed mechanical language, they demonstrate
deficits in interpretation of oral and written information. Theory-of-mind and oral
language comprehension deficits can affect making inferences and understanding
abstractions while processing information (Twachtman-Cullen, 2000).
Cognitive Development and ASD
The research of cognitive development of typically developing children is
centered on information processing, and concept and skill acquisition (Sigman et al.
1997; National Research Council, 2001; Tonn & Obrzut 2005). Due to the variance of
development and skill acquisition in ASD, the research has been complex and, at
times, perplexing. The cognitive deficits that are found in ASD are complicated by
low IQ, social, as well as language deficits, and theory-of-mind deficits.
Communication and language acquisition skills are mutually influenced by the
cognitive development of each student with ASD. Thus, the instructional interventions
established must be directly related to the factors relevant to each individual student
(National Research Council, 2001).
As noted, the research of cognitive development on ASD has been complicated.
Dawson (1996) reports that impairments in short term and working memory are
evident in ASD. Ozonoff and Strayer (2001) explained that working memory is a
component of executive function. This leads to questions in regard to the theory of
deficits in executive function. Executive function is an overlying term encompassing
working memory, planning, impulse control, monitoring activity, and perseveration
(Hill & Frith, 2003). Working memory is required for executive functioning in the
brain. According to results found by Dawson (1996) and Hill and Frith (2003),
working memory is impaired in ASD. However, Ozonoff and Strayer (2001)
concluded that, while spatial working memory on span tasks does not demonstrate
impairment in older and higher-functioning individuals with ASD, other executive
functions like flexibility, theory-of-mind, and planning, do display deficits in
individuals with ASD. It was also determined that working memory may be deficient
when requiring students to do working memory tasks (Ozonoff & Strayer, 2001). This
discrepancy in research underscores the unusual cognitive profile found in ASD.
Language Processing. Language processing in ASD is diminished due to weak
central coherence (Jarvinen-Pasley, Pasley, & Heaton, 2008). After examining the
linguistic and perceptual speech of children with ASD, Jarvinen-Pasley et al. (2008)
concluded that these children lacked the language and speech perception to understand
the emotional and linguistic importance of perceptual cues in speech and semantic
processing. Cues for social communication were deficient, and children with ASD
lacked the ability to process the inferential meanings of social and communication cues
(Frith & Happe, 1999; Frith, 2003; Jarvinen-Pasley et al. 2008).
Information Processing. Information processing in ASD is likely to be
impaired, in part, by a deficit in theory-of-mind. When metacognition is impaired, it is
difficult to know how other individuals think and feel (Frith & Happe, 1999; Frith,
2003). Top-down processing and bottom-up processing are the main components in
accessing prior knowledge and connecting it to existing knowledge (Frith, 2003). If
prior knowledge informs metacognition, what the learner knows and what the learner
needs to know, and there exists a deficit in that mechanism, the learner is
overwhelmed. The learner may not be able to reflect on experiences, and abnormal
responses to information processing would result (Frith & Happe, 1999; Frith, 2003).
An ineffective executive function may be a causative factor for impaired theory-ofmind (Frith, 1989).
Joint Attention. Joint attention, the ability to share focus on the same thing at
the same time, is a communication act that includes eye contact, gesturing, and sharing
(Wetherby & Prizant, 2000; Murray, et al. 2008). Children with ASD often have a
deficit in this area. The lack of joint attention may be a forewarning of delayed social
interaction and language development in ASD (Murray et al. 2008). There are
indications that information processing and verbal communication may provide a
foundation for joint attention to be established as the child with ASD matures
(Adamson & Bakeman, 1985; Schaffer, 1984; Murray et al. 2008).
Pragmatics. Communication deficits seem to be the overarching identifying
symptom characterizing ASD (Hale & Tager-Flusberg, 2003; 2005; Ruser, et al. 2007).
Communicative competence includes the ability to make gestures, infer, and request
(Carroll, 2004), and is a pragmatic language skill that involves knowing what others
are thinking and feeling. It involves the ability to utilize language in a variety of social
contexts (Hale & Tager-Flusberg, 2003; 2005). Communicative competence includes
fluency of speech and prosody. Non-verbal behaviors such as making eye contact and
appropriate facial expressions are difficult and sometimes non-existent for someone
with ASD (Ruser et al. 2007). Conversational discourse, maintaining a conversation,
is problematic for children with ASD. This may be explained, in part, by the theoryof-mind hypothesis that states that there is a lack of understanding another person's
perspective (Baron-Cohen, 1988; Frith, 1989; Happe, 1994; Hale & Tager-Flusberg,
2003; 2005). An intentional model of language acquisition (Bloom & Tinker, 2001;
Gerber, 2003) displays a concentric graph of the components of language engagement
and effort. The effort component represents the cognitive development and the way in
which that is integrated in language acquisition. Gerber (2003) reported that, in
concert with this model, language opportunities crafted specifically for children with
ASD are essential for their cognitive development. The process and patterns of
language acquisition are continuing to be investigated (Tager-Flusberg, 2004).
Reading Development and Theories
Most reading development models stress two main types of reading abilities:
oral language comprehension and word recognition. Both abilities consist of several
components. Oral language comprehension involves grammar and vocabulary, while
word recognition involves phonological awareness and decoding (Spear-Swerling,
2004). Given the cognitive skills and deficits of students with ASD, the mastery of
these reading abilities may prove to be difficult. If, indeed, there is a problem with
working memory, and phonemic awareness is lacking, comprehension will be limited
(Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Kibby, Marks, Morgan, & Long, 2004).
The process of reading is a complex one, thus there is a plethora of research on
reading development. Stage theories explain the reading process as it progresses
through developmental stages. Connectionist theories track the components of reading
and decipher how each component relates to another. Information processing models
discuss the sequential interaction of reading components. Comprehension based
models emphasize making meaning from text. These models explain schema theory,
prior knowledge, and non-linguistic representations for understanding. Deficits in
these areas may point to reasons for reading acquisition difficulties in students with
Reading Models
Stage Model. A model of reading is a theoretical framework that represents a
sequential account of steps in which a reader progresses as they gain mastery in the
reading process (Chall, 1983; Harris & Sipay, 1990; Kuhn & Stahl, 2003). Reading
models attempt to explain the cognitive and linguistic processes that are the core of
reading development (Ehri & McCormick, 1998).
Jeanne ChalPs (1983) stages of reading development focus on word recognition
and fluency. This six-stage model consists of first, an early reading stage in which the
reader is exposed to print, phoneme awareness, book handling and the concept of print
carrying a message. In the second stage, readers recognize sound-letter relationships.
The third stage emphasizes fluency. The fourth, fifth and sixth stages involve critical
thinking and analyzing the text. According to Chall (1983), when readers are
comfortable with print, the transfer from decoding to reading for meaning is smoother.
Automaticity is underscored by strong decoding mastery. In the final stage of Chall's
(1983) reading model, the reader should be able to relate personally to the text, a skill
that may be impaired with readers who do not possess a theory of mind (Baron-Cohen,
Ehri and McCormick (1998) suggested that a "connection-forming process" is
central to sight word automaticity. Ehri's (1994) five phases of reading development
incorporate an understanding of the alphabet ranging from a "pre-alphabetic phase" to
the "automatic-alphabetic phase". A reader progresses through these graduated stages
of reading until proficient at automatic word recognition and fluency.
Another model of reading development (Spear-Swerling, 2004) can be
conceptualized by six phases that are characterized by types of word recognition. For
instance, Spear-Swerling's (2004) first phase is the "Visual-Cue Word Phase" where
the reader utilizes visual cues in lieu of phonetic cues. The progression continues to
the final phase, "Proficient Reading" (Spear-Swerling, 2004), in which the reader can
apply critical thinking skills to fluent, automatic word recognition.
Connectionist Model. Adams (1990; 1994) explained that reading proficiency is
achieved not solely by word recognition, but by connecting words to the rest of the
reading process. The stages in which the reader progresses result in skillful reading,
however, it is the relationship between all the phases that results in a higher level of
interpretation than just "literal comprehension" (Adams, 1994). Adams presented four
reading processors: the orthographic processor, the phonological processor, the
meaning processor and the context processor. Language ability, as represented in all
four processors, is essential for establishing meaningful interpretations of the text.
Language ability may be deficient in all students with ASD. The construction of
inferences and framing correct perceptions may be impaired for readers with ASD.
Since the processors are interconnected, and involve the perceptual and inferential
cognitive thinking of the reader for true comprehension (Adams, 1994), the reader with
ASD may not be able to make the needed connections for proficient reflections.
Information-Processing Model. As readers move through text, they must
attend to what they are reading. According to Samuels (2004), attention consists of
"internal and external" behaviors. For information processing during reading, both
types of attention are needed for fluency and comprehension. Internal attention is
comprised of alertness, selectivity, and energy or effort, while external attention, used
simultaneously, refers to the active listening process of "orienting behavior" (Samuels,
2004). This model discussed the role of phonological, visual, and episodic memory in
the service of reading comprehension. Phonological, visual, and semantic based
representations must be accessible from the reader's memory system (Rumelhart,
2004). If a reader has a memory deficit, this may impair the process of reading in a
developmentally important step along the way. The Interactive Model of Rumelhart
(2004) is a top-down/bottom-up model that can be explained mathematically. This
model demonstrates the reading process with leveled knowledge sources that interact
simultaneously to achieve the ultimate goals of automaticity and comprehension.
Comprehension-Based Model. When sophisticated readers confront text,
according to Van den Broek, Young, Tzeng, and Linderholm, (2004) they activate
concepts conceived from the text. Readers create a "landscape" (Van den Broek et al.
2004) for understanding, focusing on comprehension techniques and mental
representations from working memory. These two processes interrelate and develop
together to support coherence of the text. Initially, while the text is being read,
propositions from the text activate schema and prior knowledge. The process of
comprehension begins. The next level of the process occurs when the reader must
connect ideas from one link to another. The information from the preceding text is
reactivated when the new reading cycle is being processed (Van den Broek et al.
Gernsbacher (1990) explained that, in attempting to unearth meaning of text,
there could be a "break" in the process. Readers would then construct a new path, or
landscape, to ensure that the new information fits with the previous information. When
the passage is read, the reader lays a foundation of understanding through the
construction of mental images. The mapping process (Gernsbacher, 1990) is a step in
reading comprehension that addresses making connections for continuity. The break in
the continuum may force the reader to "shift" the thought process. Aligning this
shifting mechanism with Van den Broek et al.'s (2004) landscape theory, the reader
must revisit what was previously read, activating prior knowledge from memory
(Gernsbacher, 1990).
Constructing meaning from text, according to Goldman and Rakestraw (2000),
is processing the meaning of words relying on text-driven and knowledge-driven
structures. Content and organization, the ordered sequence of the story structure of the
text, comprise the text-driven processing, while prior knowledge and mental
representations are the basis for knowledge-driven processing (Goldman & Rakestraw,
2000). Comprehension is attained if correspondence of the two processes work
together. Conceptually, the model resembles Gernsbacher's (1990) structure building
framework in which the reader must "shift" thinking for comprehensibility.
Schema theory (Anderson, 1984) is a comprehension model of the reading
process that relies on the reader's knowledge and is organized and stratified in the
memory for facilitating access. Schema allows the reader to bring forward past
constructs that relate to new information. Mental slots for retained information provide
a method for assimilating new information. Further, attending to important parts of
text, and interpreting informational gaps are functions of the schema process
(Anderson, 1984).
The "Simple View" model. Gough and Tunmer (1986) outlined the reading
process as having two equal and inter-connected parts that are dependent on each
other. The Decoding component refers to word recognition, the skill of automatically
retrieving the word through the lexicon (Gough & Tunmer, 1986). Language and
Reading Comprehension was defined as utilizing the lexical information and
interpreting the text, be it an oral or written narrative. The Simple View of Reading
(Gough & Tunmer, 1986) explained that these two components, decoding and
comprehension, must be matched in alphanumeric value. Skill in both of these
components is necessary for effective reading comprehension.
When there is evidence of problems in both areas, there exists a "mixed deficit"
and remedial interventions must be provided (Catts, Adlof, & Weismer, 2006). If a
disabled reader, who demonstrates a lack in comprehension, has solid word recognition
skills, or is even labeled as hyperlexic, it is predicted that the deficit lies in language
comprehension (Hoover & Gough, 1990; Craig & Telfer, 2005; Catts et al. 2006).
Readers who display superior decoding abilities, yet have problems with reading
comprehension, usually possess listening and language comprehension skills two years
below their chronological age levels (Healy, 1982; Hoover & Gough, 1990; Catts et al.
2006). If language and listening comprehension relates to a reading comprehension
deficit, it stands that readers with ASD who possess emerging language development
will have poor comprehension skills until remedial interventions take place (Hale &
Tager-Flusberg, 2003; 2005; Catts et al. 2006).
Reading Comprehension Processes
Reading comprehension processes are essential for understanding at the word
level, for interpretation and synthesis of text, and for further utilization of the attained
knowledge (Block & Pressley, 2007). As reviewed in the Simple View of reading
(Hoover & Gough, 1990), decoding and language comprehension are intertwined and
dependent on each other. In a study by Oakhill, Cain, and Bryant (2003), it was found
that memory and analysis of text are integrative components essential to the reading
comprehension process. Syntactic and grammatical knowledge, explained Oakhill et
al. (2003), plays a role in comprehension, as the reader must understand the words in
context, and at the sentence level.
Cognitive and linguistic skills, including word recognition and language ability,
predict reading comprehension, according to Cutting and Scarborough (2006). Neither
top-down, nor bottom-up deficits are solely responsible for poor comprehension
(Cutting & Scarborough, 2006). Memory capacity (Oakhill et al. 2003; Cutting &
Scarborough, 2006) is related to the retention of the needed information taken from the
text. Switching back and forth between processing and storage in working memory is
a task that requires attention and inferential capabilities (Oakhill et al. 2003; Cutting &
Scarborough, (2006). A deficit in memory could result in limitations of accessing prior
knowledge and inference making. As a result, these deficits might undermine
comprehension, exacerbating the frustrations of the poor reader.
The NICHD (2000) has cited Walter Kintsch's (1998) theory of comprehension
processing as an exemplary model. In Kintsch's (1998) Construction-Integration (CI)
theory of text, comprehension mental representations are characterized generally as
ways that the reader sees and reacts to the world after reading the text. Mental
representations allow for the reader to infer things in the real world that they have
taken from the text (Caccamise & Snyder, 2005). This script, or mental representation,
is the framework for the cognitive theory of reading comprehension. According to
Kintsch (1998), propositions are basic meaning units. These propositions might be at
the sentence level and/or at the text level. In order for readers to fully comprehend,
they must bring their prior knowledge and schema to the narrative. If the text is
problematic for the reader, Kintsch (1998) explains that readers must engage
inferential processes that bridge the gaps for ease of comprehension (Caccamise &
Snyder, 2005). The CI model of comprehension processing entails two phases: the
construction phase and the integration phase (Caccamise & Snyder, 2005). Readers
construct mental representations that link the text and prior knowledge to make
meaning. NICHD (2000) concluded that a good reader must demonstrate decoding
skills, language skills, and deep structural knowledge of the subject matter.
When readers transact, or make connections with the text, this reaction is a
result of a conceptual coupling of two dynamic entities (Rosenblatt, 2004). The reader
and text create a relationship akin to a transaction (Rosenblatt, 2004). Prior
knowledge, metalinguistic awareness, decoding, subject knowledge, and collaboration
with peers work in concert to extract the unique meaning that the reader gleans from
the text (Rosenblatt, 2004; Caccamise & Snyder, 2005). Rosenblatt (2004) explained
that the reader's stance is the attitude of the reader as they approach the text. The
efferent and the aesthetic stance intertwine in this reading comprehension process to
create meaning from analysis, sensations, and attention of the reader (Rosenblatt,
2004). This combination of the efferent and aesthetic stance to achieve comprehension
of the text is a result of transacting (Rosenblatt, 2004).
Learning to read involves a variety of competencies including vocabulary
usage, decoding, synthesis and transaction, and language and cognition. A child's
most crucial reading skill is language: phonology, grammar, word meaning, and
pragmatics (Rayner et al. 2001). Problems in text comprehension may evolve from
word recognition, language processes, and processing limitations (Rayner et al. 2001).
Skilled comprehension incorporates components such as: an understanding of story
structure, ability to make inferences, and self-monitoring (Perfetti, Landi, & Oakhill,
2005). Factors that predict for poor comprehenders and unskilled readers include
weaknesses in language and information processing, a lack of general knowledge, and
limitations in drawing inferences (Perfetti et al. 2005). Research has shown that, to
adequately get meaning from text, the comprehension process requires more than just
word level understanding; decoding, utilizing phonetic rules, and retelling are simply
not enough for effective reading (Block & Pressley, 2007).
Evidence Based Reading Strategies
Research based reading strategies are derived from studies that propose strong
evidence that a specific reading intervention has worked in the past (Shanahan, 2002).
Individuals with learning disabilities require reading remediation and targeted
interventions. They may be similar to techniques that have been studied and were
successful in experimental research designs (Shanahan, 2002). Research proven
designs are programs that have been successful and are implemented in exactly the
same conditions as the original design (Shanahan, 2002). Models of comprehension
strategies should not only instruct techniques, but should provide opportunities for
making connections and integrating diverse learning styles (Duke & Pearson, 2002).
One model of a research based remedial reading comprehension strategy is entitled
SAIL or Students Achieving Independent Learning (Pressley, 2000). This model
utilizes strategies such as predicting, visualizing, questioning, clarifying and making
connections between the reader and the text (Duke & Pearson, 2002). The instructor
begins the lesson with predictions, which are discussed as the text is read out loud.
The students are encouraged to interpret the text. The sequence of strategies is not
routinized; the instructor is free to determine which techniques to use at the appropriate
time (Duke & Pearson, 2002).
Engaging students with text is the emphasis of Questioning the Author (Beck,
McKeown, Sandora, & Kucan, 1996). In this model of reading comprehension
strategies, a set of questions is developed to guide the reader (Duke & Pearson, 2002).
Questions such as: "What is the author's message?" and, "How does what the author
says connect with what the author has already told us?" might begin the lesson (Duke
& Pearson, 2002). The questions would activate predicting for clarifying the text and
prior knowledge for transacting with the text (Rosenblatt, 2004). The familiar
sequence of questions engages thinking, and the students become comfortable with the
in-depth discussions that ensue (Beck et al. 1996; Duke & Pearson, 2002).
Comprehension strategies that are targeted in Reciprocal Teaching are:
predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing (Palincsar & Brown, 1984). This
evidence-based strategy provides the students with modeling and scaffolding by the
instructor. The goal is for the responsibility of the routine to be passed from the
teacher to the student (Duke & Pearson, 2002). The lesson is initiated with a review of
the previous lesson. Students then read silently, followed by a peer who asks questions
to summarize, clarify and make predictions. This is a strategy that can be implemented
in small groups and whole groups (Duke & Pearson, 2002). It is a strategy that
assumes competence in language and the ability to express ideas. Whalon (2004)
designed a study based on this technique for students with ASD. The findings of the
functional relationship between the reciprocal questioning and comprehension skills of
students with ASD were positive, and improvement in discussion and questions
generation was observed with the students with ASD and the typically developing
peers. The strategies were adapted for elementary students with ASD who engaged in
reciprocal questioning in cooperative pairs.
The Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (Stauffer, 1969; Tierney & Readance,
2005) was developed to assist students in reflecting on and analyzing the text. The focus
is for readers to establish a purpose for reading, to interact with the information, make
connections, and to make informed decisions based on the new information (Tierney &
Readance, 2005). This strategy, along with the others reviewed, can be adapted for
struggling readers. The two parts of the DRTA consist of a process cycle and a product
(Tierney & Readance, 2005). In the process cycle, the reader sets a purpose, reads to
validate the purpose, assesses comprehension, and continues to read, either amending or
sustaining the original purpose. In the second part, the instruction is extended and ideas
are refined (Tierney & Readance, 2005).
There exist many evidence-based research strategies in the service of reading
comprehension. In her landmark study, Durkin (1977) observed instructors who were
attempting to teach reading comprehension. These teachers "mentioned" concepts
related to comprehension and asked only factual questions to test students'
understanding of text (Ruddell, 2004). Actual, explicit comprehension instruction was
taking up only two percent of class time (Durkin, 1977). Evidence supports that explicit
direction of comprehension reading strategies can produce successful promotion of
comprehension (Snow, 2002).
Reading Development in Students with ASD
The comprehension of written language can be compared to the comprehension
of oral language (Perfetti et al. 2005). Limitations to understanding may be
symptomatic of linguistic deficits, lack of relevant knowledge, and low intelligence
(Perfetti et al.). Students with ASD have deficits in interpersonal communication and
language processing (Wahlberg & Magliano, 2004). Some children with ASD have
severely delayed language development, while other individuals have language delays
and progress more slowly on a normal developmental continuum (Wahlberg &
Magliano. 2004). Maintaining conversations, reading, and reading comprehension are
problematic for these children.
Cognitive demands are numerous in order for the reader to glean meaning from
text. The reader must recognize symbols as letters, access words from memory, and be
able to retrieve meanings of words (Perfetti et al. 2005; Nation & Norbury, 2005). If
cognitive development is impaired in children with ASD, language, speech, and
information processing will also be impaired (Steele, Tager-Flusberg & Joseph, 2003;
Frith, 2003; Nation & Norbury, 2005). If working memory is not intact, the storage of
information and the ability to process that information will be impaired (Ozonoff &
Strayer, 2001). Since storage, retrieval and assimilation of information are imperative
for reading (Rayner et al. 2001), it will be expected that children with ASD will have
reading deficits.
Due to the diversity in the diagnosis of ASD, research findings demonstrate a
variety of reading skills in children with ASD (Nation, Clarke, Wright, & Williams,
2006). Word recognition and language processing are essential for reading
comprehension (Perfetti et al. 2005). However, fluid and automatic word recognition
does not predict that the reader with ASD will understand the text. Since this is the
case, word recognition and language processing must be considered separately (Nation
et al. 2006). Frith and Snowling (1983) reported that readers with ASD may not
phonetically decode, but may identify words using shape or pattern recognition. This
may, in part, be due to the speech disabilities found in children with ASD, especially
students who require adaptive devices to aid in speaking (Mirenda, 2003). In normal
reading development, the student initially learns to decode using phonetic rules and
strategies (Chall, 1983; Ehri & McCormick, 1998; Spear-Swerling, 2004; Adams,
Kanner (1942) observed children with ASD reading in a monotone voice and
adhering to parts of the text instead of the whole text. This preoccupation with parts of
text may be related to the weak central coherence found in ASD (Frith, 1989; 2003).
Individuals with weak central coherence establish more local understanding of text,
instead of a global meaning, hindering successful comprehension of the text (Wahlberg
& Magliano, 2004). Minshew et al. (1995) reported that when two groups of students
were matched in IQ, the children with ASD had deficits in reading comprehension.
The pattern of reading development for children with ASD suggests that children with
ASD concentrate on details of the text and do not look at the global coherence (Nation
et al. 2006). Children with ASD are more prone to be hyperlexic and have a
preoccupation with word recognition (Grigorenko, Klin Pauls, Senft, Hooper, &
Volkmar, 2003; Nation et al. 2006). Hyperlexic reading skills develop without
instruction, in many cases spontaneously (Mirenda, 2003). According to Mirenda
(2003), the genesis of reading comprehension in children with hyperlexia is related to
the lack of receptive language. These children may not only lack the prior knowledge
needed for successful comprehension, but they require the language processing skills,
as well (Mirenda, 2003). Despite the accurate word recognition in some children with
ASD, reading comprehension is still a deficit (Nation et al. 2006).
Theory-of-mind is related to reading comprehension in students with ASD
(Wahlberg & Magliano, 2004). Since theory-of-mind is defined as the ability to
understand thoughts and ideas of others and an understanding of others' perspectives is
essential in making inferences and connecting to the text, the implication is that readers
with ASD would have difficulties and may even misinterpret the text (Baron-Cohen,
2005; Happe, 1994; Frith & Happe, 1999; Wahlberg & Magliano, 2004). Theory-ofmind plays a role in event schemas, as well (Loth, Gomez, & Happe, 2008). Event
schemas refer to the script of social understanding as in cultural knowledge. It is the
assumed behavior and social interaction in what occurs at a social event (Loth et al.
2008). In real-life social situations, joint attention and social skills are expected (Loth
et al. 2008). Theory-of-mind deficits impair this social interaction, impacting also the
discourse and comprehension of the language of others (Loth et al. 2008). Students
with ASD, who function poorly in social situations, will not be able to relate these
schema events to their reading. Retelling of the event or the narrative will be
problematic for these students, as well (Loth et al. 2008). Acquisition of generalized
knowledge of the event schema is diminished, thus an understanding of events and
how they progress will be a detriment to successful comprehension (Loth et al. 2008).
Language is instrumental in the development of theory of mind in ASD and in normal
development. If language is impaired, theory of mind is negatively impacted (Steele et
al. 2003). However, this same study (Steele et al. 2003) has predicted that theory of
mind can develop and make gains as the child develops.
Reading Interventions for Students with ASD
Language and social processing are essential to reading comprehension (Steele
et al. 2003; Tager-Flusberg, 2004). Instructional strategies that are multi-sensory,
systematic, and match the development of the students are meaningful to the student
with ASD (Mirenda, 2003). The DRTA would aid students with ASD giving them
structure and routine embedded in the reading lesson. This type of instruction would
engage the students with ASD utilizing visual aids, picture prompts, and a small group
setting, all strategies necessary for their success. An environment rich in literacy and
print, and that offers opportunities for students to experience social interactions, would
be beneficial to reading proficiency (Mirenda, 2003).
Activation of background knowledge and prior experiences develops mental
representations for readers with ASD (Gately, 2008). Visual prompts, picture walks
and graphic organizers help students with ASD understand the narrative with concrete
instructional aids (Gately, 2008). Graphic organizers, such as visual or thinking maps
give the reader with ASD an anchor for sequencing events and ideas (Keene &
Zimmerman, 1997; Tierney & Readance, 2005; McGregor, 2007; Gately, 2008).
Graphic organizers are tools that might portray a sequence of events, the effects of
characters in character analysis, or might compare and contrast actions (McGregor,
2007; Gately, 2008). In brain studies examined by Kana et al. (2006), evidence of
visual thinking when reading sentences was prominent in ASD. Sentence
comprehension was reliant on activation of the visuospatial processing area of the
brain rather than the linguistic area for processing (Kana et al. 2006). It was concluded
that readers who were diagnosed with ASD think in pictures when reading (Kana et
al.). Access to visual cues addresses the learning styles of children with ASD and may
improve attention to the text, which in turn would facilitate language processing (Quill,
1997). Graphic organizers, utilizing visual cues for reading narratives, give structure,
and concrete pictures support readers with ASD for organizing ideas and clarity (Hart
& Whalon, 2008). Graphic symbols such as labels, pictures, thought bubbles, and
sentence strips can be used with emerging readers to provide prompts for successful
reading comprehension (Quill, 1997; Wellman, Baron-Cohen, 2000,2001; Gately,
Interventions such as introducing adapted books, asking higher order, critical
thinking questions, and building prior knowledge have potential benefit for readers
with ASD (Wahlberg & Magliano, 2004; Lanter & Watson, 2008). Small reading
groups of peers that meet for socialization and discussion during reading not only
facilitates practicing discourse, but this strategy improves comprehension (Palincsar &
Brown, 1984; Vaughn, 2000; Whalon, 2004).
According to the guidelines of the report from the NICHD (2000), reading
comprehension should embody intentional instruction that includes readers'
interchange with the text to construct meaning. Some instructional models
recommended to be most promising from the NICHD (2000) report involve:
Comprehension monitoring as the reader becomes metacognitive of the text
Cooperative learning which indicates that readers are working collaboratively
Use of graphic organizers for nonlinguistic representations
Defining story structure
Questioning and clarifying
Predicting and summarizing
Multiple strategy use to reach the needs of all readers
The NICHD (2000) concluded that the use of these strategies as guidelines for
comprehension instruction would generate gains in reading comprehension. These
strategies modified and amended for learners with special needs, such as ASD, should
parallel that growth.
When the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, 2002) was signed into
law, in January 2002, the United States Congress wanted to ensure that all children,
regardless of disability, would have the opportunity to "obtain a high-quality
education" (NCLB, 2002; Simpson, 2005). The implementation of evidence-based
interventions for children with ASD is a valid solution for the instruction of reading
comprehension skills (Simpson, 2005). An instructional program that is derived from
scientifically based research is one that has been proven, by reliable evidence, to work
for reading instruction (NCLB, 2002). DRTA (Stauffer, 1969) has been proven to help
students with reading comprehension, and it involves many of the instructional models
that the NICHD (2000) has recommended.
The DRTA was developed by Russell Stauffer (1969) as a model to guide
students to read critically and to reflect on their reading (Tierney & Readance, 2005).
Stauffer believed that reading was a process in which the reader used their prior
knowledge to connect to the text and understand the author's purpose (Tierney &
Readance, 2005). The teacher directs the process and models the instruction in this
two-cycle training. As a pre-reading activity, the teacher brainstorms with the students
for building prior knowledge (Maria, 1989; Tierney & Readance, 2005). This explicit
instruction helps to activate schema and focus attention to the subject. In the first cycle
of the DRTA, the students state the purpose of reading, then read, predict, evaluate,
revise predictions, and discuss the information (Tierney & Readance, 2005). The next
cycle is initiated after the selection has been read, and involves re-examining the story
for reflection and clarification (Stauffer, 1969; Tierney & Readance, 2005). The
DRTA encourages reading, thinking, and the metacognition of the student (Widomski,
1983). The DRTA is a method of mapping concepts in a structured and organized
fashion (Draheim, 1983).
The research supporting the value of the DRTA underscores the rationale for
using it as a viable reading intervention for emergent readers with ASD. Palmen,
Didden, and Arts (2008) conducted a study of nine adolescents with ASD. Participants
were given a series of questions in a small group setting. Questioning, visual cues and
graphic organizers were used to encourage discourse and comprehension. The results
proved that asking questions in discourse was a successful intervention for
The DRTA was found to be effective in promoting reading comprehension
skills and the students in need of reading remediation were able to retell more of the
story elements after DRTA instruction (Stahl, 2008). According to this report, when
the DRTA was implemented, these students made high scores in standardized testing
as compared to the control group (Stahl, 2008). Purposeful predicting, reader
motivation, and activation of schema are strategies that, when practiced, are tools that
aid in the construction of meaning (Stahl, 2008).
Making predictions is an instrumental part of the DRTA. Proficient readers
who predict what might happen in the text have a goal and purpose for reading. This
type of engagement in the text should help all readers to stay involved in the text
(Brown, 2008). The researcher of this study anticipated that implementing systematic
instruction that includes making predictions would enhance the reading comprehension
ability of students with ASD. Predictions can help readers make connections and
attend to the text, promoting reflection and discussion (Brown, 2008). The technique
of prediction may restrict the interpretations made during reading (Smith, 1985).
Making predictions can direct the purpose of reading in a structured systematic way,
and can limit the alternatives and help to clarify for ambiguity (Smith, 1985).
Predicting, according to Smith (1985) is the art of asking questions, and
comprehension is successful if those questions are answered. Thinking involves
making predictions, and logically using the cues found in the text to make those
predictions (Duffy, 2003; Athans & Devine, 2008). Making predictions helps the
reader understand what is happening in the text (Duffy, 2003; Athans & Devine, 2008).
Since reading is an active process, like thinking, it must be taught actively with
instruction aligned with the cognitive development of the reader (Stauffer, 1969).
The review of the literature demonstrated that explicit and structured reading
strategies that focus on the strengths and abilities of students with ASD can promote
reading comprehension. The DRTA embodies many of the techniques that are
beneficial for students with ASD. Especially helpful strategies include:
Making predictions
Making connections between the text and themselves
Small group setting
Visual and graphic aids
Picture prompts
Teacher modeling
The heterogeneity of the skills of students with ASD requires reading strategies
that are implemented with caution and patience. The instructor must be the change
agent, blazing the path for these students so that they may be successful and motivated
Chapter 3: Overview of Methodology
The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of DRTA (Stauffer,
1969) on the text comprehension skills of middle school students who were identified
as having ASD. This study was motivated by the previous research of Chiang and Lin
(2007) who examined several other research projects related to reading comprehension
strategies for students with ASD. Based on the research of Chiang and Lin (2007) and
their examination of the report of the NICHD (2000), there is a need for improvement
of instruction and implementation of reading strategies for students with ASD.
This study extended previous research done by Flores and Ganz (2007) who
utilized Direct Instruction as an intervention for students with ASD. In that study,
Flores and Ganz (2007) employed a single subject multiple probe design to examine
the functional relationship between the Direct Instruction reading strategy and reading
comprehension for students with developmental disabilities between the ages of 10 and
14 years. All of the participants performed below average in reading comprehension
(Flores & Ganz, 2007). The Direct Instruction strategy is a scripted reading
comprehension program intended for students with developmental disabilities,
including students with ASD (Flores & Ganz, 2007). The procedures of the Flores and
Ganz study included following the scripted program, choral student responses, and
providing modeling skills to guide students in particular skill sets. The strategies of
making predictions and connections with the text were not targeted skills indicating the
need for extended study with these strategies.
Design of Study
This study examined if making predictions, monitoring and revising
predictions, and making new predictions while reading, refine and deepen
comprehension skills. This investigation utilized a single subject ABAB reversal
design (Tawney, & Gast, 1984). The ABAB reversal design incorporated two baseline
phases (A) and two intervention phases (B), which alternated over time. The design
explains that the independent variable, the intervention, had experimental control over
the dependent variable, comprehension skills (Kennedy, 2005). This single subject
reversal design compared the continuous measures within the pre-baseline, baseline
and intervention phases. The ABAB design was employed with a group of three
students with ASD at their regular reading time during the day for 60 minutes, for four
days a week. Reading comprehension skills were examined during the baseline phases
and the functional relationship between the DRTA and comprehension during the
intervention phases. Reading comprehension, for this study, was defined as the ability
to respond correctly to "wh" questions orally and as found in the comprehension
checks, and in the reading inventory (See Appendix B).
The reversal design utilized in another study (Sharp & Skinner, 2004)
examined reading comprehension in a regular education classroom. The authors
explained that the paired reading during the intervention phase indicated improved
targeted behaviors (Sharp & Skinner, 2004). In a study that examined repeated
storybook reading as an intervention for children with ASD (Bellon, Ogletree & Harn,
2000), the single subject reversal design was employed. The intervention of adult
scaffolding resulted in effective change in verbal behavior (Bellon, et al, 2000). In the
ABAB reversal designs, the recorded repeated measures of the targeted behavior
improved the validity of the study (Zhan & Ottenbacher, 2001).
Research Questions
Question 1: In what ways did the DRTA have a functional relationship with
the comprehension skills of three middle school students with ASD who were in a prevocational resource setting as measured by these instruments?
Pre- and post-reading inventory
Comprehension checks of 10 multiple choice questions to be
administered after each book chapter
Researcher anecdotal notes and reflections
Question 2: In what ways did the DRTA strategy have a functional relationship
on the reading attitudes of the middle school students with ASD as perceived by their
parents and teachers, measured by parent and teacher interviews?
Parent pre and post intervention interviews
Teacher pre- and post-intervention interviews
Teacher observation coding forms
The participants for this investigation were from a class of three middle school
students with ASD from a large (1400 students) middle school located in a suburban
area near Charlotte, North Carolina. The participants were considered to be in sixth,
seventh, or eighth grade, depending on their ages; they were considered "low
functioning" based on the following criteria:
Eligibility for special education services with the primary diagnosis of
ASD as identified by a licensed psychologist as defined by the DSMIV-TR classification system.
Full Scale IQ score taken from the psychological evaluation completed
by a licensed psychologist (see Figure 3.1)
A reading score of a second grade level, 2.0 - 2.9, on the Woodcock
Johnson III Tests of Achievement Skills Cluster (Woodcock, McGrew
& Mather, 2001).
Data Regarding Student Participants with ASD
The data in Figure 3.1, found in the Individual Education Plan folders of these
students, include their Full Scale IQ scores, derived from evaluation administered by
the school's psychologist within the last 3 years. The reading levels are scores of
reading comprehension testing from the Woodcock Johnson III (Woodcock et al.
2001) given in 2009. The reading goals are taken from their annual IEPs.
Reacting Level
IEP Reacting Goals
Strategies for making
predictions while reading and
making connections while
reading to monitor and clarify
for comprehension.
Strategies for making
predictions while reading and
making connections with self
and the world for increased
reading comprehension.
S trategie s for fluency, re -telling
stories, making predictions and
making connections between
te xt and self for incre ased
reading comprehension.
Figure 3.1: Demographic Profiles of Tested Students
As seen in Figure 3.1, Tom's Full Scale IQ score, taken from his Individual
Education Plan (IEP) folder, was 62. Tom was 12 years old and considered to be in 7th
grade. His reading grade level was at second grade, six months, from his 2009 score on
the Woodcock Johnson III (Woodcock et al. 2001). The reading goals from his IEP
suggested that he utilize strategies for comprehension such as making predictions, and
making connections from text to self and text to the world.
Dick's Full Scale IQ, taken from his IEP folder, was 58. Dick was 12 years old
and in 6th grade. His reading level was second grade, six months. The reading goals
from Dick's annual IEP specified that Dick should use strategies such as making
predictions as he reads, making connections from the text to himself, and making
connections from the text to the world.
Harry's Full Scale IQ was 55. He was 14 years old and in 8th grade. Harry's
reading level was second grade, five months. His annual IEP reading goals identified
strategies such as re-telling stories, making predictions while reading for clarification
of the story, and making connections to self and to the world. Harry also had goals for
The participants were the three middle school students with ASD who were
enrolled in the pre-vocational course of study. Once possible students were identified,
the researcher contacted the parents. Prior to contacting parents, the researcher
obtained the middle school principal's consent (Appendix K) and made an application
to Widener University's Institutional Review Board. After approval by the IRB
(Appendix L), parent consent forms (Appendices E and F), teacher consent forms
(Appendix H), and student assent forms (Appendix G) were signed before the onset of
the research.
The sample of teachers consisted of three special education teachers and one
teacher assistant. All of the teachers had at least five years experience teaching
students with ASD. The three special education teachers were certified and licensed
special education teachers in the state of North Carolina. The teacher assistant had a
two-year college degree and had been working with middle school students with ASD
for five years.
The setting for this study was a middle school near Charlotte, North Carolina.
The population of the middle school was approximately 1400 students ranging in
grades six through eight. There were two self-contained classes in the school, one for
non-verbal students with ASD and one for students with severe developmental
disabilities without ASD. The pre-vocational class was a multi-age resource setting.
Students were eligible for this track of instruction determined by IQ score, between 50
and 60. These students changed classes, independently. This study took place in a
familiar classroom, designated for the pre-vocational participants. Instruction took
place in a small group setting during their regular reading class.
The three participants in this study were given comprehension assessments
from Qualitative Reading Inventory-4 (Leslie & Caldwell, 2006). These assessments
were administered pre-baseline, after the first baseline, after the subsequent
intervention and baseline phases and post intervention. According to Leslie and
Caldwell (2006), the QRI-4 is an informal assessment instrument that evaluates a
student's abilities and produces measurements for consistency or reliability using interscorer reliability, internal consistency reliability, and alternate-form reliability. When
the QRI-4 was developed reliability estimates, taken from Cronbach's alpha, indicated
a "high degree of consistency between scorers" (Leslie & Caldwell, 2006). Positive
and significant findings for test re-test reliability and internal reliability were also
found. The inherent purpose of testing the abilities of students guides the author and
user of any assessment. Evidence of validity should be analyzed examining the
relationship between the content of the assessment and the ideas or theories one is
attempting to assess (Leslie & Caldwell, 2006). The section of the assessment for
making predictions was "Prediction Tasks" (pp.59-63). This determined a
performance score for the skill of making predictions. First, the examiner chose a
reading selection. After the examiner read the title aloud, she asked the predicting
questions from the manual. The examiner asked, "Given that the title of the selection
, and it includes the ideas
, and
(naming all the concepts within
the subject of the selection), what do you think the passage will be about? I want you
to take a guess or make a prediction about what you think the selection will be about"
(Leslie & Caldwell, 2006). The scores were determined by counting the number of
idea statements the student predicted that were contained in the selection either
explicitly or implicitly (Leslie & Caldwell, 2006).
To measure comprehension, or the ability to answer inferential and literal "wh"
questions, the examiner asked the Level Two comprehension questions in the manual
after reading each selection. There were eight questions for each selection and
responses were scored with a one or a zero. According to Leslie and Caldwell (2006),
there is significant evidence that the QRI-4 measures the constructs of the test.
"Bring the Classics to Life" (Edcon Publishing, 2008) was the text for the
instruction. The reading level for the story was measured by the Fry Readability
Formula (Edcon Publishing, 2008), and was written using the McGraw-Hill's Core
Vocabulary for the reading level. The "Comprehension Check" (Appendix B), a 10
question multiple-choice quiz, was composed of "wh" literal and inferential questions
taken directly from the chapter. Multiple-choice questions encompassed two main
components: comprehension of the text and selecting the correct answer (Rupp, Fern &
Choi, 2006). The selection process incorporated the logic of eliminating the incorrect
answers. According to Rupp et al. (2006), the key to good comprehension is the ability
to glean the information from the text and integrate it with prior knowledge to create
mental representations of the text. It is with these mental representations that students
respond to multiple-choice questions. The multiple-choice questions from the
"Comprehension Check" after each chapter asked the student to determine the main
idea of the chapter, make inferences about the chapter, recall details, establish
sequencing, and develop another title for the chapter. These ten questions tested for
ability level in these comprehension skills.
The study consisted of the following phases:
Collection of descriptive information
DRTA intervention
DRTA intervention
Post-test administration.
The following timeline provides components of each phase:
Collection of student, parent
and teacher information.
Administration of reading
inventory for predicting and
answering " w h " questions.
Introduce story
Read story and answer
qviestions from multiple
choice comprehension check
Collect continuous base line
Administration of reading
inventory for predicting and
answering questions
Te ache r direc ted lesson
utilizing the DRTA Lesson
(Appendix A)
Reading inventory
Collect continuous data
Figure 3.2: Timeline for Study
S tudents Asse nt
Parent consent
Te ache r consent
Parent interviews
\Sfeodc ock Johnson
III scores
Administration of
first selection
Evaluations for Full
Scale IQ scores
S toiy from Edc oil's
'Bring the Classics
to Life Series"
10 question
multiple choice
comprehension quiz
Teacher's' coding
forms (Appendix J)
QRI4 - Level 2.
second selection
S toiy from Edc on's
'Bring the Classics
to Life"
Visual and graphic
organizers (Figxues
3.2. 3.3. 3.4-, 3.5)
10 question
multiple choice
comprehension quiz
Te ache r coding
third selection
* Read story and answer
questions without teacher
modeling DRTA
* Collect continuous data
* Reading inventory
Te ache r directedlesson
utilizing the DRTA Lesson
(Appendix A)
* Collect continuous data
• Reading inventory
* Post teacher and parent
'Bring Hie Classics
to Life"
• Teacher coding
• QRI4-Level 2.
fourth selection
* S&SJ& "Bring the
Classics to Life"
* Visual and graphic
organizers (Figures
3.2. 3.3. 3.4. 35)
* Teacher coding
10 question
multiple choice
comprehension quiz
* QUI4 LevelC. fifth
* Post parent and
teacher interview
Figure 3.2: Timeline for Study (continued)
Before instruction student assent, teacher and parent consent forms, and teacher
and parent interviews were secured. The parent interviews were conducted by phone.
Parent reflections added to the descriptive information relating to the student's reading
attitudes and interests (Appendix D). The teacher's interview (Appendix I) was done in
person with the participating teachers. The researcher asked the teachers to fill out the
interview form and return the form to the researcher within a two-day period. This
teacher reflection was a component of the descriptive information about the
participants and was utilized to investigate teachers' attitudes and reflections about the
participants. Student cumulative information such as Full Scale IQ and Woodcock
Johnson scores for reading level were collected. The teacher assistant, the other special
education teachers, and the researcher discussed and practiced using the coding form
(Appendix J). The researcher explained the coding procedures for participant
comprehension behaviors. Participants were given the first reading inventory test as a
pre-test. The examiner read aloud the first selection in the reading inventory and asked
the question about making predictions. Participants answered the "wh" questions
provided by the reading inventory manual for that selection.
Teacher read aloud the appropriate chapters of the book and the students
answered the comprehension questions. At no time did the teacher provide any
prompts. Teacher and participants identified and discussed unfamiliar vocabulary.
Participants completed the comprehension check at the end of said chapter without
prompting from the teacher. At the end of the first baseline, the examiner gave the
corresponding selection of the reading inventory. Each baseline continued for eight
sessions. The teacher assistant and another special education teacher coded for
participant comprehension behaviors during each session.
The teacher instructed the participants using the structure of the DRTA lesson
(Appendix A). Each intervention continued for 12 sessions. During this phase, the
teacher assistant and special education teacher continued to code for participant
comprehension behavior. After each intervention phase, the examiner gave the
appropriate selections of the reading inventory.
Data Collection
Parent interviews were completed by phone conference with the researcher
recording their answers. Teacher interviews completed by teachers were returned to
the researcher. Daily notes from coding sheets were completed by two observers, the
special education teacher and the teacher assistant. The coding sheets were collected
daily. The data from the standardized and formal tests: the reading inventory, reading
comprehension scores from the Woodcock Johnson III Test of Achievement Skills
Cluster (Woodcock, McGrew & Mather, 2001), and the full scale IQ scores were
triangulated with other data to develop a conceptual framework of patterns of growth
or decline in achievement.
Data Analysis
To investigate the effects of the intervention on individual achievement, the
data from the reading inventory and comprehension checks collected during the
baseline and intervention phases were presented as a line graph, showing the amount of
growth or decline in reading comprehension achievement (Figures 4.1,4.2,4.3,4.4,
4.5,4.6,4.7,4.8,4.9,4.10). The researcher examined the length, level stability, the
slope, and analysis of changes in the data (Tawney & Gast, 1984). Social validity data
gleaned from the interviews from parents and teachers was triangulated with the other
data (Zhan & Ottenbacher, 2001).
Chapter 4: Results
The purpose of this study was to investigate the utilization of the DRTA for
students with ASD. Described in this chapter are the results of the data analysis of the
quantitative and qualitative data. Three middle school students with ASD, enrolled in
a pre-occupational course of study, learned reading comprehension techniques
following the structure of the DRTA. For purposes of this study, they are code-named
Tom, Dick, and Harry. This intervention employed strategies of explicit teaching for
predicting and reading comprehension. These low functioning students with ASD had
IQ scores more than 2.5 standard deviations below average (Beirne-Smith, Patton, &
Kim, 2006). These students scored between 50 and 60, operationalizing the term of a
low functioning student with ASD.
This design allowed for experimental control because it involved the repeated
procedure of intervention and withdrawal of the intervention (Tawney & Gast, 1984).
Quantitative data, presented graphically and analyzed visually, determined the levels
and trends of changes related to the utilization of the DRTA. Specifically, analysis of
the degree and variability of change in prediction skill, reading comprehension from
standardized test scores, and comprehension check scores, indicated causative changes
related to the DRTA.
Social validity data, obtained from the participants during their reading sessions
as well as from the parents and the teachers who participated in the study, indicated the
attitudes of students, parents and teachers. Anecdotal notes from the discussions in the
reading sessions offered an additional source of data. Pre- and post-parent and
participating teacher surveys augmented the research. Analysis of the data examined
the following research questions:
Question 1: In what ways did the DRTA have an effect on the comprehension
skills of three middle school students with ASD, who were in a pre-vocational resource
setting, as measured by these instruments?
Pre- and post-reading survey
Comprehension checks of 10 multiple choice questions to be
administered after each chapter of the book
Researcher anecdotal records and reflections
Question 2: In what ways did the DRTA have an effect on the reading attitudes
of middle school students with ASD as perceived by their parents and teachers
measured by parent and teacher interviews?
Parent pre- and post-intervention interviews
Teacher pre- and post-intervention interviews
Teacher observation coding forms
Results from Student Assessments
Question 1 investigated the possible change in comprehension skills of three
middle school students with ASD after utilizing the intervention of the DRTA four
times a week, for an hour each session. This small group class took place in a quiet
room designated specifically for the reading class. There were no lapses in students'
attendance classes due to sickness or school closings. Question 2 asked in what ways
the DRTA strategy had an effect on the reading attitudes of middle school students
with ASD as perceived by their parents and teachers measured by parent and teacher
interviews. Parents and teachers completed pre- and post-interviews for each student.
A visual inspection of the graphs (Figures 4.2,,4.5,4.6,4.7,4.8,4.9,
and 4.10) revealed an effect of the DRTA on the comprehension and prediction skills
of the students with ASD. At baseline, the students' scores peaked; after the baseline,
the scores decreased. The change in scores became most evident with the introduction
of the intervention. Level and trend examined for each student with ASD defined the
changes found.
The class and teacher did the first comprehension check together. All chapter
comprehension checks, as shown in Appendix B, consisted of 10 multiple-choice
questions. The teacher modeled strategies for completing a multiple-choice test. The
teacher read the questions aloud, then read the story and told the students when a
passage in the text correlated to a question in the comprehension check. After this
initial modeling, the students answered the questions on their own.
An integral component of the DRTA is utilization of the reading strategy of
making predictions. The tests of predicting from the reading inventory were
administered pre-baseline #1, pre-intervention #1, pre-baseline #2, pre-intervention #2,
and post-intervention. The students and teacher read the title to a story from the
reading inventory, with a picture accompaniment to the title. The teacher asked the
same question individually to all three students with ASD: "Given the title of the story
and the picture, what do you think the story will be about? What do you think might
happen in the story?" The structure of the reading inventory assumed a maximum
score of two predictions per student. All of the students with ASD in this study made
more than two predictions at the post-intervention phase.
A chart (Appendix C), constructed for coding the frequency of the students'
uses of prediction strategies, revealed the usage of these strategies before, during and
after reading in all four phases of the study. The observers utilized a separate sheet for
each student and determined if the students demonstrated a working knowledge of the
strategies for prediction. Figure 4.1 is this data aggregated in one form.
I om )ick Harry
Uses title and cover as support,
Uses knowledge of how stories work,
Uses own experiences.
2 0 (Z Can select text that supports predictions.
7i m r Can differentiate between predictions hased on text
and predictions based on personal experience.
Understands that predictions can be off target at this point.
[71 [/j
Uses the story to support, predictions,
bu Predicts more logically as more of the story is told.
/ Uses predictions to continue to create a need to
read on and find out.
hu I I | / J Rereads to adjust predictions.
Uses story to support adjustments.
71 [7
Confirms those predictions that were on target.
Figure 4.1: Prediction Strategy Checklist for Students with ASD
Tom Dick Harry
Uses title and cover as support.
Uses knowledge of how stones work.
ZIEIIZ Uses own experiences.
/IIZII/ Can select text that supports predictions.
71 [71 [7Can differentiate between predictions based on text
and predictions based on personal experience.
/ J [ / ] [/J [iscs the story to support predictions.
Understands that predictions can be off target at this point
zJ blJ L^J Predicts more logical!) as more of the story is told.
L^J bLJ VLJ Uses predictions to continue to create a need to
read on and find out.
I—] r—|
L_J L J Rereads to adjust predictions.
|_/j | I L_J Uses story to support adjustments.
Confirms those predictions that were on target.
Tom Dick Harry
/J l£J [£
Tim \7
Uses title and cover as support.
Uses knowledge of how stories work.
Uses own experiences.
Can select text that supports predictions.
Can differentiate between predictions based on text
and predictions based on persona! experience.
JLJ OLJ L J Understands that predictions can be off target at this point.
13 j
32 i
Uses the story to support predictions.
Predicts more logically as more of the story is told.
Uses predictions to continue to create a need to
read on and find out.
Rereads to adjust predictions.
/ Uses story to support adjustments.
Confirms those predictions thai were on target.
Figure 4.1: (continued)
Tom Dick Harry
JLJ b u I I Uses title and cover as support.
Jul ULJ I I Uses knowledge of how stories work.
LsLJ ULJ b u Uses own experiences.
Can select text thai supports predictions.
Jul bul I I Can differentiate between predictions based on text
and predictions based on personal experience.
Jul ULJ I I Understands that predictions can be off target at this point
2 ; During
J u bul I I Uses the story to support predictions,
Predicts more logical!v as more of the story is told,
I I Uses predictions to continue to create a need to
read on arid find out.
"71 m r~n
JLJ buJ L I Rereads to adjust predictions.
Jul b u U Uses story to support adjustments,
I [Confirms those predictions that were on target.
Figure 4.1: (continued)
Visual analysis consists of examining patterns in the data, and the frequency of
responses (Kennedy, 2005). The data from the first comprehension check in baseline
revealed that all students scored approximately the same. Tom's scores, graphed in
Figure 4.2 were not consistent during the first baseline phase. Perhaps he had fewer
answers correct on the second test because the teacher did not model any strategies for
that comprehension check.
y >•
Figure 4.2: Tom's Comprehension Check Scores.
At the onset of the intervention, all scores increased. Tom's scores continued
to increase for the comprehension checks after the introduction of the intervention. At
the first baseline, Tom scored 90 percent, nine correct for Chapter 1. He scored 60
percent or six correct on the Chapter 2 comprehension check. Tom did not score well
on the inferential type questions. For instance, question 1 in the Chapter 2
comprehension check asked how Buck, the dog, felt about another dog named Spitz.
Tom answered that Spitz was not a friendly dog, however the correct answer was that
Spitz could not be trusted. This type of question might have been a problem for Tom
since the feeling of trustworthiness is abstract, and students with ASD think more
Tom's graph for the first intervention revealed scores increased by one correct
answer each time for the next consecutive three weeks. The first week of the
intervention, Tom scored seven correct, the second week of intervention, he scored
eight correct and the third week of the first intervention, Tom scored nine correct. The
incorrect answer on the third week of intervention related to what happened after the
"last mail trip"; Tom's choice was "the dogs were too tired to pull sleds and had to be
sold". The correct choice was "the dogs rested and began a new trip". The text
explained that the dogs were tired and needed to rest, but not sold. Perhaps Tom did
not read the entire answer, but he was certain that the dogs were tired.
The graphs for the second baseline session demonstrated that all students'
scores descended after the first intervention, yet increased with the second
comprehension check. The level of the patterns, calculated as the mean number for
Tom in this data, is 7.4 correct answers. Since the last data points before a phase
change are the most essential (Kennedy, C.H., 2005), the data points at the end of the
interventions and the baselines must be examined regarding the level of the change in
behavior. In Tom's case, the data points were all ascending at the end of each phase,
except for the first baseline. For the first comprehension check in the second baseline,
Tom scored six correct answers, a clear decrease from the last comprehension check in
the first intervention phase. One of the incorrect answers was the tenth question,
which was an inferential question. The question referred to the general theme of the
story. Tom answered that the theme was "how pretty Mercedes is". The correct
choice was "how uncaring people can be". Again, this was an abstract concept for a
student who was a literal thinker. At the bottom of the last page of the comprehension
check for Chapter 6, Tom wrote "No Buck!" and circled it. When asked why he wrote
this, he replied that he did not want Buck to die, an indication of Tom's engagement
with the story.
Examination of the graph for the second intervention phase revealed that Tom's
scores increased. He scored eight correct answers for Chapters 8 and 9, and nine
correct answers for Chapter 10. One question in the Chapter 10 comprehension check
asked what had happened to Buck. The correct answer, an abstract concept, Buck
"was made stronger by all that had happened to him". Tom's choice was that Buck
"was sure he would die in the wild". The concept of being stronger internally because
of all that had happened was an abstract concept for a literal thinker.
The trend of the graphs measure slope and magnitude. The slope of Tom's data
was generally positive. Visual inspection of the data revealed that the magnitude of the
slope was relatively low for Tom. All data points were higher during the intervention
phases. All students had overlapping scores.
Tom's scores remained flat at baseline and ascended from a score of six correct
responses at baseline to seven, eight and nine correct responses out of ten at the end of
the first intervention. His scores descended at the second baseline to a score of six
correct responses and seven correct responses. At the second intervention phase, Tom
scored eight correct responses for weeks 8 and 9, and scored nine correct responses for
week 10.
As illustrated in Figure 4.3, the pattern of Tom's scores from the reading
inventory administered at the pre-baseline phase, prior to the first intervention, prior to
the second baseline, prior to the second intervention, and post-intervention revealed a
gradual ascent with a post-intervention descent.
P reBaseline
intervention ' Baseline [ Intervention [intervention
i _^-*^—_
! ^-^
E f:
Figure 43: Tom's Scores on the Reading Inventory Tests
A visual inspection of the trend and level of the data illustrated Tom's data
increased during the second intervention and descended slightly at the postintervention phase. The level and mean number in Tom's data set for the
comprehension questions from the reading inventory was 78 % correct responses. The
slope was generally positive, and the magnitude of the trend was gradual and low. Of
note is that the pre-baseline #1 and the pre-intervention #1 scores were flat with the
intervention absent at that phase. The gradual increase of his score between the preintervention #1 and the pre-baseline #2, as well as the pre-intervention #2, indicated
the retention of the intervention strategies.
The graph indicated that Tom's score ascended for the pre-intervention #2
reading inventory. The story was about the friendship of a bear and a rabbit. Of the
six questions, five were explicit and one was implicit. Tom answered four of the
explicit questions and the implicit question correctly. The question he missed asked
why the bear's father thought that he could find a friend "just by being himself. Tom
repeated the words: "just by being himself. He never mentioned that the bear was nice
and being nice makes a good friend, which was the correct answer. Tom's answer
indicated that he did not think the answer through. Equating being nice to being a
good friend may be too abstract a concept for a student with a deficit in social skills.
The other stories in the reading inventory required similar answers. The first
pre-intervention story was entitled "A Mouse in a House". Of the six questions, three
were explicit, and three were implicit. The author never told exactly how many floors
were in the house, but implied that it was a two-story house: "they walked up the old
stairs. When they got to the top, the mouse ran down the wall". Tom answered that
there were 15 floors in the house. The number of floors in the house had to be
inferred, a difficult task for a low functioning student with ASD.
Figure 4.4 examined Tom's scores for making predictions, according to the
reading inventory.
4 >,
3 -
1 D -•)
Figure 4.4: Tom's Scores For Making Predictions.
Tom made no predictions at the pre-baseline #1 phase. The teacher asked the
question: "Given the title of the story, what do you think may have happened in the
story?" Tom did not give a prediction to the first task; he made two predictions for
each task after that, pre-intervention #1, pre-baseline #2, and pre-intervention #2. His
data set for these three scores is flat. Tom made four predictions post-intervention.
The prediction task was for the story "The Trip to the Zoo". When asked what may
have happened in this story, Tom replied that the story might be about "a field trip with
parents or teachers, to see the zoo animals, to feed the zoo animals", and to "pay
attention to the person who works at the zoo". The mean number for this data set was
2. The slope was positive, although flat in the center, and the magnitude of the trend
was medium due to the flat data.
Figure 4.1 revealed a composite of the frequency of prediction strategies that
each student generated. Tom utilized 11 strategies after the first week in baseline #1.
One observer noted that Tom used his background knowledge and the book's
illustrations to form his predictions. At the end of the first intervention phase, Tom
used 10 prediction strategies. He applied his life experiences and other stories to
compare the current story. Tom was observed making connections between the text,
himself, and the world. While discussing the snow that was prevalent in the story,
Tom thought that it would be hard to walk in the deep snow and compared it to
walking in "bubble gum".
At the end of the second baseline, Tom utilized 12 prediction strategies. The
observer indicated that he had good recall of the story and used the text to support his
predictions. During the last week of the intervention, Tom used all 12 strategies. He
predicted that if people shook hands in the story, they would be friends. He made a
connection from his own experience and formed an inferential statement. Tom also
predicted that the last chapter would take place at night because there was no sun in the
illustration and there were no children playing outside. When asked why the dog in the
story might not use a flashlight, Tom responded that dogs do not have hands to hold
flashlights. The question asked for an inferential response such as that dogs could see
in the dark. This linguistics of the question was a reminder to the teacher of the
literalness of these students with ASD. A better question linguistically might substitute
the word "need" for the word "use".
A visual analysis of Tom's use of prediction strategies in the last week of
baseline #1 demonstrated that Tom 83% of the strategies pre-reading, and 100% of the
strategies during and after reading. At intervention #1, Tom used 100% of the
strategies before and during reading. He used 33% of the strategies after reading. At
baseline #2, Tom utilized 100% of the strategies for prediction before, during and after
reading. Post-intervention data for Tom remained consistent with his use of all of the
strategies before, during, and after reading.
Dick's data set as illustrated by Figure 4.5 showed that, although his score for
the first comprehension check was 80 percent; eight correct, his score for the second
comprehension check was thirty percent, three correct answers. The teacher modeled
the first comprehension check; Dick completed the second comprehension check on his
ID -.
9 •
8 •
6 •
5 4
- 1
Figure 4.5: Dick's Comprehension Check Scores.
He answered the question asking for another title for the story correctly, and
the two questions about the sled dogs. The inferential questions regarding the theme of
the story and the question about "how to make it in a cold land", he answered
incorrectly. Dick is a low functioning student with ASD and inherent in his disability
is a deficit in critical thinking. Dick's scores increased, but remained flat in during the
first intervention. A visual inspection of Dick's data set for the comprehension checks
illustrated that at baseline #2, Dick's first score decreased and his second score
increased. At the last intervention phase, Dick scored eight correct responses, seven
and eight, respectively. By the end of the last intervention, Dick's scores were
relatively consistent. He answered most of the inferential questions correctly, however
he answered the question about another title for the story incorrectly in every
comprehension check, except the second one. Thinking of a new title for a story, a
skill of higher thinking, was a difficult task for Dick.
The mean number for Dick's comprehension check was 6.5. The last data
points of each phase examined indicated that Dick's data points descended at the end
of the first baseline, remained the same at the end of the first intervention, ascended in
the second baseline phase and the second intervention phase. The slope of this data set
was variable, but generally positive. Visual inspection revealed that the magnitude of
the slope was relatively low.
Figure 4.6 revealed that Dick scored 50 percent on the first reading inventory
test for comprehension.
PreB aseline
P reintervention
P reBaseline
P reIntervention
2 eoi-i on
t$ °°
Figure 4.6: Dick's Scores on the Reading Inventory Tests
He answered three questions correctly out of six questions on the pre-baseline
#1 test. His scores increased 30 % in pre-intervention #1 and pre-baseline #2. The
data for Dick's scores indicated that there was a gradual ascent and an effect of the
intervention on the comprehension scores form the reading inventory. The level of the
data was 82%. Visual inspection of this data revealed a positive slope that ended flat at
pre-intervention #2 and post-intervention phases. These last two scores were perfect
scores and yielded 100% correct responses. The slope in this graph was positive and
gradual from the pre-intervention #1 phase to the post-intervention phase. The trend in
this data set was stable.
Dick answered the question about the amount of stories or floors in the house in
the pre-intervention story titled "Mouse in the House" incorrectly. He thought that
there were four floors in the house. He did not infer that there were only two stories
when he read: "They walked up the old stairs. When they got to the top, the mouse ran
down the wall". In the story tested at pre-baseline #2, a little girl named Marva found
a cat that belonged to someone else. The little girl was upset because she wanted to
keep it. Dick answered one of the questions incorrectly; the question that asked for an
implicit response. Instead of answering that Marva's mother called the number in the
newspaper that advertised a lost cat, Dick responded that Marva cried. Although
Dick's response may have been an extension of the answer, Dick did not answer the
question directly. However, it did indicate an engagement with the story.
A visual inspection of Figure 4.7 revealed that Dick made two predictions at
pre-baseline #land one prediction at pre-intervention #1.
Figure 4.7: Dick's Scores For Making Predictions.
From that point on, Dick's scores increased from two predictions at prebaseline #2 and at pre-intervention #2 to four predictions on the post-intervention
prediction task. Dick predicted that the story entitled "The Trip to the Zoo" would be
about "seeing the lions, seeing the monkeys, seeing the elephants and seeing the
giraffes". The scores before the second baseline and the second intervention were flat.
The level mean number for Dick was 2.2. The slope of this data set was generally
positive and gradual. The magnitude of the trend was medium.
An examination of Figure 4.1 indicated that Dick used eight prediction
strategies after the first week in baseline #1. The observer noted that Dick made
predictions from prior knowledge and made a connection between the illustration and
the weather. Dick used imagery to make a prediction. He said that he knew how one
of the characters felt because he had once felt the same way. He was referring to the
dog Buck feeling sad. At the end of the first intervention phase, Dick utilized nine
prediction strategies, and at the end of baseline #2, he used all of the strategies. Dick
agreed that the snow would make walking difficult and thought it might be "sticky".
He visualized what it might look like in the snow, and closed his eyes as he told the
students how he felt in the cold snow. He was making a connection with the text and
using imagery to clarify his prediction.
At the end of the second baseline, Dick used the all of the predictions. The
observer noted that he was "willing to go back and re-read the story to support his
predictions". Dick used all twelve strategies during the last week of the intervention.
He referred to his own experiences to make predictions. He looked at the illustration
of the dog in the story and added, "The dog was tired". He also predicted that the
elevator in the story was broken because the author described it as "in pieces". This
prediction led Dick to infer that some harm came to the characters in the story.
As seen is Figure 4.1, Dick used 83% of the strategies before reading and 66%
of the strategies during and after reading at baseline #1. Dick utilized 100% of the
strategies for making predictions before and during reading the last week of the first
intervention, but did not use any strategies for the after reading portion of the text. At
the last week of baseline #2, Dick utilized 100% of all prediction strategies before,
during and after reading. Dick's use of the strategies at the post-intervention phase
was the same as the previous phase, an indication that Dick was consistent in his usage
of the strategies, and that he retained and used this set of strategies, successfully.
Figure 4.8 revealed Harry's data set for the comprehension checks.
B as e tin e
Figure 4.8: Harry's Comprehension Check Scores.
Harry's score for the first comprehension check was 100%, all correct. For the
second comprehension check, he answered only three questions correctly. He
completed the first comprehension check after the teacher modeled strategies for taking
the test, but did the second comprehension check independently. This discrepancy
suggested that Harry benefited from the modeling only immediately after it occurred.
As with other low functioning students with ASD, retention can be a deficit. His score
increased after the first baseline, and decreased at the second baseline. Harry scored
lower, in general, than his classmates on the comprehension check component.
Harry's scores were more variable and the mean number for his data set was 4.9.
Harry's data descended at the end of the first baseline and the end of the first
intervention, but ascended at the end of the second baseline and the second
intervention. The end-point of the second intervention data set, examined to determine
the level of change of behavior, revealed that Harry's comprehension improved as far
as questions answered correctly. During the first intervention, Harry answered five
correct, eight correct, six correct. He consistently found difficulty with the question
that asked for the theme of the story. The three students with ASD in this study had
difficulty with that question. Abstract and inferential thinking was a deficit for Harry
and for his classmates. Often, Harry chose all three choices to that question, indicating
that he was not sure about the answer.
As demonstrated in Figure 4.9, Harry's scores from the reading inventory
revealed high variability.
P reBase line
P reintervention
Figure 4.9: Harry's Scores on the Reading Inventory Tests
His score of 50% correct responses at pre-baseline phase #1 descended to 0% in
the pre-intervention #1 phase. His scores ascended to 80% and remained flat in the
pre-baseline #2 and the pre-intervention #2 phase. His score descended in the postintervention phase, revealing a negative slope. The mean number for Harry's data set
was 50%, lower than the mean numbers for the other two participants. A visual
inspection of Harry's data set revealed a 100% overlap in the percentage of correct
responses, although during the pre-baseline #2 phase and the pre-intervention #2 phase,
the data was flat and indicated the highest scores for Harry.
Specifically, in the story for pre-intervention #1, "Mouse in a House", Harry
echoed the questions asked. When asked, "What did the mouse do?" Harry replied,
"Mouse do". When asked, 'Why did the family buy the house?" Harry replied, "Buy
the house". Echolalia, or repeating what was said can be a characteristic of individuals
with ASD when they do not know what to say semantically (Prizant, Wetherby, &
Rydell, 2007). The question regarding how many stories were in the house generated
an answer of "five" floors in the house, indicating that inferential questions posed a
problem for Harry. Harry answered the questions for the stories in pre-baseline #2 and
pre- intervention #2 generally correctly. He responded incorrectly to a question about
what Marva wanted to do with the cat in the story "Marva Finds a Friend". His
response was that she wanted to "get cat food". The correct response was to keep the
cat. Harry extended his thinking beyond just keeping the cat, to how one took care of a
cat. This was an indication that he made a connection with the story, as Harry was a
cat owner himself. In the story for the pre-intervention #2, "The Bear and the Rabbit",
Harry answered a question that asked for an implied response incorrectly. He did not
make an inference about why the bear and the rabbit became friends because the story
did not explicitly reference this question. In the post-intervention story from the
reading inventory, Harry answered two questions correctly. He needed teacher
prompting for one of those questions. Harry responded incorrectly to three implicit
and to three explicit questions.
Figure 4.10 revealed that Harry made no predictions at the pre-baseline phase
in the tests of prediction from the reading inventory.
•l •
a2a*2 •
Figure 4.10: Harry's Scores For Making Predictions
At the first pre-intervention phase, Harry made one prediction. Harry gave two
predictions before the second baseline, and one prediction before the second
intervention phase. Harry generated five predictions at the post-intervention phase.
The level mean number for this data set was 1.8. The slope was generally positive and
the magnitude of the trend was high due to the increase at the post-intervention phase.
Figure 4.10 indicated that Harry used seven strategies after the first week in
baseline #1. He used approximately 50% of the strategies during the before reading
phase, 100% during, and 33% after reading. The observer noted that Harry needed
coaxing and prompting by the teacher to utilize these prediction strategies. When
Harry did make predictions, they did not connect well to the story. Harry echoed the
teacher much of the time. At the end of the first intervention phase, Harry used nine
strategies, and at the end of baseline #2, he used eight strategies. Harry referred to the
text to make a prediction, at this point. At the end of the second baseline phase, Harry
used eight prediction strategies; one observer noted that he "referred back to the story
to make further predictions". At this point, he used 83% of the strategies before
reading, 66% during reading, and 33% after reading.
During the last week of the intervention, Harry used only one strategy. He
referred to his own experience to make a prediction with much prompting from the
teacher. Post-intervention, Harry demonstrated use of 17% of the prediction strategies
before reading, and no strategies during and after reading. This data paralleled Harry's
comprehension scores from the last reading inventory test, although when compared to
his scores from the reading inventory for making predictions, the data was highly
Social Validity
Question 2 asks in what ways did the DRTA strategy have an effect on the
reading attitudes of middle school students with ASD, as perceived by their parents
and teachers and measured by parent and teacher interviews? Data from parents and
teachers examined multiple perspectives in relation to social validity. Teachers'
surveys, parents' surveys and anecdotal notes provided a subjective evaluation of the
effect of the DRTA strategy on the reading attitudes of the three middle school
students with ASD. This data gleaned from the social contexts of the students, at
school and at home, evaluated the perceived effectiveness of the intervention.
Surveys from Parents of Students with ASD
Appendix D, the parent survey, collected pre-intervention and postintervention, asked the parents to respond to questions regarding the reading attitudes
of the students. The parents could choose to check boxes Yes, No, Maybe, or Don't
Know (which was symbolized as a question mark). The first question, "Does your
child like to read? How do you know?" was an open-ended question for parents to
share their perceptions.
Tom. Pre-intervention, Tom's parents answered that Tom liked to read, but
were unsure if Tom read every night. According to Tom's parents, he liked to read for
pleasure and he read chapter books, but not newspapers. Tom's parents thought that
Tom believed he was a good reader and asked for help when he could not read a word.
Tom's parents reported that they discussed stories he had read. Post-intervention,
Tom's parents reported that he did read every night. The most notable difference from
the pre-intervention to the post-intervention survey was the answer to the question
"Could your child describe to you what they have read?" Pre-intervention, Tom's
parents checked the "Maybe" box. Post-intervention, they checked the "Yes" box.
Dick. Dick's parents reported that Dick liked to read pre-intervention and postintervention. On the post-intervention survey, Dick's parents noted that Dick told
them that he enjoys reading. The most notable change was the response to the question
"Does your child make predictions when they read?" Dick's parents answered
"Maybe", pre-intervention, and "Yes", post-intervention. The other responses
remained the same.
Harry. Harry's parents reported, pre-intervention, that Harry did not read for
pleasure. At post-intervention, they responded that he did read for pleasure. Another
notable answer was to the question "Does your child like to read?" Pre-intervention,
Harry's parents responded "Maybe" to that question. Post-intervention, they answered,
"Yes" to that question and added that he "treasures" his books. Overall, the parents'
surveys indicated that the students were either staying at the same level of their
attitudes about reading, or that they were reading more frequently.
Surveys from Teachers of Students with ASD
Teacher "A" was one of the observing teaching assistants at every session. Preintervention, she reported that the students with ASD had strengths of demonstrating
comprehension in discussions, but that they were lacking in language skills that the
typically developing middle school age student had acquired. She reported that the
strategies utilized, such as: graphic organizers, charts, teacher modeling, explicit
instruction and use of imagery were appropriate techniques for these students with
The teacher indicated that, pre-intervention, the students asked questions to
help them understand the text. In her post-intervention survey, she added that the
students made connections between the text and themselves, in addition to asking
questions. She noted that the teacher gave the students prior knowledge so they could
richly relate to the story.
Teacher "B" was the other observer. Her responses were comparable to
Teacher "A". She reported that students with ASD had strengths of memorization
when they were interested in a subject. They needed using visual cues and finding
topics that were of interest. She added that the use of literal language was a helpful
strategy, but too much talking could over stimulate the student with ASD. She agreed
that using imagery was helpful to the student's reading comprehension, both pre- and
post-intervention. Pre-intervention, she thought that students with ASD "sometimes"
make predictions, and post-intervention, they learned to make predictions through
teacher modeling. She saw more frequency of making predictions post-intervention.
Responses pre- and post-intervention agreed that the strategy of visualizing and
modeling emotion were beneficial for students with ASD.
Teacher "C", one of the special education teachers responded that the strength
of some students with ASD was hyperlexia, or the ability to decode without full
comprehension. In her response about the deficits of these students with ASD, in both
her pre- and post-intervention survey, she agreed that these students with ASD needed
explicit comprehension strategies. This teacher observed, in her response to a question
about the types of reading strategies she had utilized, that these students were unique
and heterogeneous, and needed a variety of strategies depending on the student's
learning style and cognitive ability. She agreed, in both surveys, that visualization was
a strong reading strategy for these students. Pre-intervention, this teacher responded
that these students with ASD did not make predictions as they read. In her postintervention survey, she responded that they did make predictions due to the modeling
of making predictions during the interventions.
Teacher "D", another special education teacher, responded that the students
with ASD demonstrated strengths of retention of material and making connections with
the text. In her post-inventory survey, she added that the strengths included working in
a small group cooperatively and using imagery to clarify the meaning of the text. She
felt that the areas of need for these students were deeper comprehension and fluency.
Pre-intervention, this teacher responded that some beneficial strategies for these
students might include using imagery. Post-intervention she responded that these
students were more successful making meaning of the text when using imagery was
present. She also replied that these students needed a structured learning environment.
Pre-intervention, Teacher "D" was not sure if these students would participate in
discussions about the story and if that strategy would be helpful in illuminating the
meaning of the text. Post-intervention, that teacher replied positively to that question,
adding that discussion was extremely helpful in clarifying the text.
Interobserver agreement data was collected on 40% of baseline and
intervention observations with the focus on prediction reading. The method used to
calculate interobserver agreement resulted in 94 %, where the smaller number (of
agreements) was divided by the larger number (of agreements), and multiplied by
100% (Kennedy, 2005). The observers agreed 94% of the time in their observations of
predictions used as a reading strategy according to the Prediction Strategy Checklist
(Robb, 2001).
The results of the data analysis though visual inspection showed some positive
change in reading comprehension utilizing the intervention of the strategies in the
DRTA with students with ASD. Two of the three students appeared to have increased
their reading comprehension skills and frequency of the prediction making strategies.
All three students suggested more predictions, as reported by the data from the final
prediction assessment of the reading inventory.
Surveys from parents and teachers indicated that the intervention benefited the
students. Teachers reported that the strategies introduced to the students increased
comprehension. Generally, parents believed that their students had improved their
comprehension strategies, and that reading had become more enjoyable for their
Chapter 5: Discussion
This study focused on determining the effect of the Directed Reading-Thinking
Activity on comprehension skills and attitudes of three middle school students with
ASD. These low functioning students were in a pre-vocational course of study.
Individuals with ASD often have deficits in social and language skills. Characteristics of
ASD include a penchant for concrete thinking and usage of literal language. During the
DRTA intervention, the teacher modeled reading strategies helpful to the students,
including making predictions, making connections from self to the text, visualizing,
using graphic organizers, and use of discussion. A single subject reversal design was
utilized over a ten-week period.
ASD is a developmental disability that primarily affects social skills, and
receptive and expressive language (Twachtman-Cullen, 2007). These deficits in low
functioning students with ASD impede reading comprehension. This study utilized
reading strategies inherent in the DRTA to deem if structured and explicit instruction
improved reading comprehension for these students. The NICHD (2000) recommended
use of explicit and structured instruction for reading comprehension. As in the case of
this study of the students with ASD, these strategies, in concert with the DRTA, resulted
in generally positive changes. There is a paucity of research in practical applications for
students with ASD. Results from this study suggest that explicit and structured reading
instruction for these students utilizing unique and adapted materials improved the
reading comprehension skills of students with ASD.
Research Questions Guiding the Study
Question 1; In what ways did the DRTA have an effect on the comprehension
skills of three middle school students with ASD, who were in a pre-vocational resource
setting, as measured by these instruments?
Pre- and post-reading survey
Comprehension checks of 10 multiple choice questions to be
administered after each chapter of the book
Researcher anecdotal records and reflections
Question 2: In what ways did the DRTA have an effect on the reading attitudes
of middle school students with ASD as perceived by their parents and teachers
measured by parent and teacher interviews?
Parent pre- and post-intervention interviews
Teacher pre- and post-intervention interviews
Teacher observation coding forms
The first research question investigated the effect of the DRTA on students
with ASD. Quantitative analysis of the chapter comprehension checks indicated
growth in
comprehension for Tom and Dick. Harry's scores were variable, but
overall, positive. Harry demonstrated more outward characteristics of ASD. He
perseverated on a subject and needed redirection to stay on task. He echoed teachers'
questions and responses, instead of answering questions appropriately. Harry also had
more outward hand and foot movements than the other two students. Harry's disability
may be more severe, thus impeding his learning in all educational domains. Students
with ASD are heterogeneous in the severity of their development and disabilities
(Wetherby, Prizant, & Schuler, 2007).
The reading inventory tests for comprehension resulted in increased correct
responses from Tom and Dick. The variability of Harry's scores may have been due to
his disability, his inattention on that particular day, or his lack of understanding.
However, for two of the students, the intervention influenced their comprehension.
Making predictions before, during and after reading was an essential
component in the DRTA. The prediction assessment of the reading inventory
demonstrated that all three students increased their ability to make predictions to
support reading comprehension. Brown (2008) implemented systematic instruction
that included the strategy of predicting to engage readers with the text. Making
predictions enhanced reading comprehension (Brown, 2008). Looking at the checklist
of utilizing strategies for making predictions, Tom and Dick both increased their usage
of prediction strategies, which coincided with their increased comprehension scores.
Harry used the strategies mainly before reading, and generally at the intervention #1
and baseline #2 phase. Harry's quantitative scores did not parallel the frequency of
prediction strategies he used, which is evidence of the heterogeneity of students with
The second question investigated the social validity of the intervention. Results
from parent surveys indicated that the students read more and used their strategies for
monitoring and clarification. When readers engage with the text, they create a
relationship with the text (Rosenblatt, 2004). A reader's stance, according to
Rosenblatt (2004), is the attitude of the reader. The stance combined with the
connections the reader makes, molds the attention of the reader to the text. Tom retold
the story to his parents and made connections from the text to self and to the world.
Tom often cited movies and cartoon characters he knew while making connections.
Dick's parents reported that Dick told them that he liked to read more and that he made
predictions as he read. Harry's parents indicated that, after the intervention, he liked to
read and that his books were important to him. Teachers' surveys also reported that
the strategies the students learned made a positive impact on the three students with
Overall, Tom demonstrated improved comprehensive expressive language. He
was extremely verbal and seemed to be the most comfortable with communicating his
thoughts and ideas. Dick performed well on the reading inventory comprehension
questions. He also made connections between himself and the text, and himself and
the world. Communicative competence was not as evident with Dick, as it was with
Tom, however Tom and Dick often forged a discussion of the text spontaneously and
therefore, not teacher-directed. Harry did not participate in these discussions. This
may have been due to his lack of language or social skills. Harry's lack of
participation in discussion may have impacted his scores.
Palincsar and Brown (1984) explained that the evidence-based strategy of
Reciprocal Teaching, including predicting, questioning, clarifying and summarizing,
provided readers with improved skills for comprehension. A significant component in
this model was scaffolding for competence in language and discussion.
Theoretical Implications
Theories relating to ASD are varied. Theory-of-Mind (Baron-Cohen et al.
1985), Executive Dysfunction (Ozonoff, Rogers, & Hendren, 2003), and Weak Central
Coherence (Frith, 1989) are theories that help to explain the deficits of language
development, social communication, and cognition in students with ASD. Students
with ASD often demonstrate disabilities in the educational setting, especially in those
subjects with abstract information, such as math and reading. Research-based
strategies need to be adapted for this population, to serve their needs for concrete
thinking and literal language (Minshew, Goldstein, & Siegel, 1995; Flores & Ganz,
The recommendations of the NICHD (2000) cited Kintsch's (1998) theory of
comprehension using the Construction-Integration model. When mental
representations are used in reading instruction, readers are able to see and react to the
text and reading comprehension ensues. One of the components of the DRTA
involved the use of imagery and visualization. This intervention strategy helped
students with ASD to create a concrete picture of the text, and helped them to relate to
the story by designing a picture of their own creation.
The research suggested that providing opportunities for students with ASD
such as setting a purpose for reading, making predictions to clarify, visualizing and
making connections, improved reading comprehension (Flores & Ganz, 2007; NICHD,
2000; Pressley, 2000; Whalon, 2004). In light of this study's findings, these
opportunities were helpful to low-functioning students with ASD, although perhaps not
with the same degree as with typically developing students the same age. The DRTA
provided scaffolding and modeling of these strategies for the students with ASD. It is
possible with the repetition of the structure of the intervention the students became
more comfortable with the routine. Perhaps the repetition helped to facilitate the use of
the strategies.
Classroom Practice Implication
The use of the DRTA for low-functioning students with ASD integrated making
predictions for clarification, making connections, setting a purpose for reading, and
visualizing the story. All of these instructional techniques were essential for classroom
best practices (Pressley, 2000). Adaptation of the visual techniques, (graphic organizers
and visualizations), were utilized to bridge the abstract with the concrete. This was the
piece that made the DRTA successful for the students with ASD.
As Durkin (1977) implied, the use of explicit instruction in reading
comprehension can produce improved reading skills. Explicit instruction for students
with ASD included the use of graphic organizers and modeling by the teacher. The
implementation of the gradual release of learning, by providing modeling and affording
the students freedom to express their predictions, supported the instruction. Students
enjoyed offering their opinions and ideas.
The students with ASD in this study had the opportunity to make predictions
freely. The teacher explained that predictions were not wrong, or right. When students
made predictions, the teacher helped them to clarify their predictions by engaging in a
conversation about the connection of the prediction and the text. All students felt
comfortable expressing their understanding of the text. An environment that encourages
use of the strategies that students learned is a setting where students can practice these
The ABAB design allowed the researcher to compare two conditions, baseline
and intervention. More repeats may have been necessary, such as ABABAB to glean
greater comparative results.
The strategies learned in the intervention may not have been reversible in the
baseline phase. Attitude of the participants, rather than skill acquisition, may have
been a component of the data (Tawney & Gast, 1984). A multiple baseline design
would have controlled for the irreversible behavior (reading comprehension strategies)
during the second baseline.
The duration of this study was limited to 10 weeks. A study with longer
intervention periods might have produced more data points that could have been
collected to provide information about the nature of the change and effect of the
Implications for Future Research
This study found that the low-functioning students with ASD improved in
reading comprehension with explicit instruction. The DRTA was one vehicle for
improving reading comprehension. However, there are many reading strategies that
may warrant further investigation of improving reading comprehension for these
students. During this study, the underlying obstacle was the literalness of the
language. To overcome this, the assessments and the text were all adapted using literal
language. There is a need for the wider implementation of adaptations for these
students with ASD so that the assessment is of their cognition, not language deficits.
There is a great need for adaptations of reading inventories and other educational
standardized assessments for students who are literal and concrete thinkers to ensure
valid assessment of these students.
Since language and social processing are essential to reading comprehension
(Steele, et al, 2003, Tager-Flusberg, 2004), instructional strategies chunked and
divided into smaller structured components should be investigated. Use of new
technology, such as the "Smart Board", is a component of the multi-sensory piece
needed for these students.
Combining low-functioning students with ASD and typically developing peers
in a reading class that is structured may improve reading comprehension skills for all
students involved. Students with ASD would receive modeling from their peers; and
the typically developing peers would benefit from conversational exchange with the
lower functioning students since cooperative learning improves reading comprehension
A longitudinal study might answer some of the unknowns found in this study.
A longer study might be important for working with students with other types of ASD
characteristics, as well. The data, collected over time, may tease out the reasons for
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Appendix A
Structure of DRTA Lesson
1. Teacher introduced the story by activating prior knowledge using a circle
thinking map (Figure 3.2). The subject of the story was written in the center
circle, and the student's brainstorming ideas were added in the outer circle. The
students discussed what they knew about the subject of the story and the teacher
explained that what they knew would be entered in the KWL chart (Figure 3.3).
The teacher asked the students what they thought would go into the chart as the
reading progressesed. The teacher passed out the story, read the title, and asked
the questions on Figure 3.4.
2. The illustration and caption for the chapter were read and discussed. The
students agreed on a purpose for reading from the information they read. The
teacher directed the students to scan for unfamiliar words, and circle these words.
The words were read correctly and the meanings explained. The first few
sentences of the story were read aloud. The teacher asked the students to make
predictions about the story. The teacher modeled making a prediction, the first
few times. Then, each student made a prediction. The teacher explained that
predictions were neither right or wrong, but an educated guess from the clues in
the story.
3. Students and teacher read more of the story with the teacher stopping at various
points to inquire about predictions. The teacher guided the reading by describing
imagery and summarizing what had been read to clarify the reading. The teacher
referred to Figure 3.4 while discussing the story.
4. The cycle of predicting, reading, and discussing continued until the chapter was
completed. A discussion was accompanied by another set of "wh" questions on
a chart for visual prompting (Figure 3.5). The teacher and students discussed the
validity of their predictions.
5. The students were given an informal "Comprehension Check". They were
instructed to read the questions, re-read the story and go back and answer the
questions. They were instructed to highlight the evidence from the text where
they found the answer, and put the number of the question next to the highlighted
sentence. The comprehension check was discussed.
6. The next segment of the lesson concentrated on reviewing the skills utilized. The
teacher and students re-examined the story, re-examined the unfamiliar words,
the captions and illustrations. The teacher and students reflected on the chapter
making connections, comparing and contrasting, and summarizing. The
culminating activity was an art activity, either a collage, drawing, or a creation
that referred to the story or a character in the story.
Appendix B
Comprehension Check Questions for Chapters 1-10
Chapter 1
1. Buck is: a) the gardener's helper, b) a big strong dog, c) a fast race horse.
2. Buck: a) ran away from home, b) wanted to live and work in the cold land, c)
was very happy with his life at the Miller's.
3. The dog went along with the gardener's helper because: a) he believed that all
men were good, b) he wanted to play a game, c) he liked going to the train
4. The gardener's helper: a) loved Buck, b) sold Buck, c) took Buck back home.
5. After the angry man took Buck, he: a) threw Buck into a train car, b) put Buck
in a cage with other dogs, c) fed Buck lots of meat.
6. Buck's trip lasted: a) a few hours, b) many days, c) less than a day.
7. The man with the red sweater: a) was the typed of person Buck knew well, b)
seemed to be sorry for what he did to Buck, c) hurt Buck, but could not break his
8. Perrault wanted Buck: a) to help him pull his sled, b) to play with his children,
c) to be a watchdog.
9. Another title for this story could be: a) "The Gardener and His Helper", b) "A
Change for Buck", c) "The Miller's Place".
10. This story is mainly about: a) life in a cold, faraway place, b) getting used to
riding on trains, c) a dog who is taken from his home.
Chapter 2
1. Buck found out that Spitz: a) was a friendly dog, b) could not be trusted, c) was
the oldest dog on the team.
2. The boat was on its way to: a) a cold place where men had found gold, b) a
warm place where the grass was green, c) a land Buck knew well from long ago.
3. Buck: a) would not eat because he was homesick, b) did not believe in Francois
or Perrault, c) liked Perrault and Francois.
4. The sled dogs: a) were mean to Buck, b) helped Buck learn to pull the sled, c)
found pulling the sled difficult.
5. After Perrault and Francois sent Buck out of the tent he: a) fell through a hole in
the snow, b) went to sleep near the fire, c) took a piece of bacon.
6. Billee and the other sled dogs: a) slept in Francois' tent, b) slept in holes in the
snow, c) slept next to the fire.
7. By the end of this story, Buck: a) no longer believes in Francois, b) has become
mean and selfish, c) begins to change his old ways.
8. In order to make it in the cold land: a) one had to be older, b) one had to be
strong, c) one had to use others.
9. Another title for this story could be: a) "A New Life for Buck", b) "The Boat
Ride", c) "Learning to Pull A Sled".
10. This story is mainly about: a) how men live in tents with dogs, b) seeing snow
for the first time, c) changing one's old ways and learning new ways.
Chapter 3
1. Buck found his new life: a) easy, b) difficult, c) fun.
2. Spitz took Buck's sleeping place because: a) he wanted to make Buck angry
enough to fight, b) Buck had left his supper there, c) he liked Buck and wanted to
share his space.
3. At first Buck tried not to fight with Spitz because: a) he was afraid of Spitz, b)
he thought Spitz would sin, c) he did not see any reason for it.
4. Buck and Spitz stopped fighting when: a) Dave fell into the river, b) wild dogs
came into the camp, c) Perrault came between them.
5. Francois showed how much he cared for Buck: a) by making shoes for Buck's
feet, b) by letting him fight with Spitz, c) when he kept the wild dogs away.
6. The first dog was a) Dave, b) Buck, c) Spitz.
7. The first dog was the one who: a) was the oldest and the meanest, b) had the
most experience pulling a sled, c) knew all the roads of the land.
8. In order to get even with Spitz, Buck: a) played tricks on him, b) took his
sleeping place, c) let Billee hurt Spitz.
9. Another title for this story might be: a) "Buck Fights Back", b) "A Hard Life",
c) "Spitz Turns Away".
10. This story is mainly about: a) how all the dogs work together, b) how Buck
makes friends with Spitz, c) how Buck stands up to Spitz.
Chapter 4
1. The dogs stayed in town for: a) seven days, b) many months, c) one night.
2. When the dogs went out to sing at the moon: a) the men were angry, b) Buck did
not understand, c) Buck joined them.
3. Buck started making more trouble for Spitz: a) while they were in town, b) right
after they left town, c) as soon as they made camp.
4. Buck was sure he would catch the rabbit because: a) he was the first dog to see it,
b) the other dogs were eating supper: c) he ran faster than the others and was out
in front.
5. Buck: a) used a plan to win the fight, b) was just as good a fighter as Spitz, c) let
Spitz win the fight.
6. Spitz could no longer pull the sled because: a) Buck chased him out of the camp,
b) Buck broke his legs in the fight, c) he was sold to the other men.
7. Perrault and Francois did not think Buck could be the first dog because: a) they
knew the other dogs would not follow him, b) they felt that he was not strong
enough, c) they did not think that Buck had enough experience.
8. By the end of the story: a) Buck had taken his place in the new land, b) Buck
had given in to Spitz, c) Spitz showed he was smarter than Buck.
9. Another title for this story could be: a) "Buck Takes His Place", b) "The Rabbit
Chase", c) "Delivering Mail".
10. This story is mainly about: a) fighting with wild dogs, b) how Buck takes a
stand, c) how Buck learns to cry like a wolf.
Chapter 5
1. When Buck became the first dog, there was no more trouble because: a) the
other dogs thought well of him, b) the other dogs were afraid of him, c) he would
hurt any dog that would not help him.
2. Francois and Perrault sold the dogs because: a) they wanted younger, stronger
dogs, b) the people they worked for told them to, c) the dogs were getting too
3. The dogs were sold to a man who was: a) unhappy in the cold land, b) mean and
angry, c) kind and hardworking.
4. When Buck lay by the fire: a) the other dogs became angry, b) he thought of the
wild world of his ancestors, c) the man would feed him.
5. When it began to snow, Buck found that: a) he had to use tricks to make the
other dogs keep going, b) he had to slow down to let the others catch up, c) he
could not keep up with the other dogs.
6. After the last mail trip, a) the dogs rested and began a new trip: b) the dogs were
too tired to pull sleds and had to be sold, c) many of the dogs died or got very
7. Hal's camp: a) was always kept in the best order, b) told the story of a bad
storm, c) told a lot about the people who stayed there.
8. Buck thought that Hal and his family were: a) strong and hard working, b) not
suited for this land, c) going to be good to work for.
9. Another title for this story could be: a) "The Last Mail Trip", b) "Saturday
Town, c) "Buck Changes Owners".
10. This story is mainly about: a) what happens when dogs are sold, b)
Charles, Hal, and Mercedes, c) how things changed when Buck took over.
Chapter 6
1. The dogs could not pull the sled well because: a) they were not tied correctly, b)
they were tired and hungry, c) Hal didn't buy enough dogs.
2. Buck: a) did not believe in Hal and his family, b) thought the new dogs were a
big help, c) did not help the other dogs.
3. Buying more dogs: a) was the right thing to do, b) was a silly thing to do, c) was
Mercedes' idea.
4. Hal and his family: a) did not know the right thing to do, but wouldn't listen to
anyone, b) found a bigger sled with more dogs, c) bought a new first dog to
replace Buck.
5. Buck: a) didn't care for the other dogs, b) like Hal and Mercedes, c) would miss
Billee very much.
6. Mercedes: a) cared only about herself, b) liked the North country, c) cared a lot
about the dogs.
7. Which of the following happenings was not a sign of spring in the North? a) the
air was warmer, b) the days were getting longer. C) Mercedes' hair got more
8. By the end of this story: a) Buck was looking forward to spring, b) Buck
believed he was going to die, c) Hal was feeling very sick.
9. Another title for this story could be: a) "A Long Road Ahead", b) "Meeting New
Friends", c) "Better Days Ahead".
10. This story is mainly about: a) the coming of spring, b) how pretty Mercedes is,
c) how uncaring people can be.
Chapter 7
1. John Thornton told Hal not to go on to the river because: a) it was getting very
dark, b) the ice on the river was melting, c) the dogs were too tired.
2. John: a) was angry at Hal, b) did not care what Hal did, c) took Hal's dog away.
3. Hal stopped hitting Buck: a) when Charles told him to stop, b) because he knew
it was not right, c) because John made sure he did.
4. John Thornton was: a) strong and good hearted, b) tall and selfish, c) mean and
5. When the sled fell through the ice on the river: a) the dogs swam to safety, b)
the dogs and the people were lost, c) the people called John for help.
6. Buck was full of wonder at: a) John's soft way, b) Hal's size, c) Mercedes'
7. When the angry man hit John Thornton: a) Buck ran and hid, b) John's friends
helped, c) Buck jumped at the man.
8. The kind of love Buck and John Thornton shared: a) was something Buck had
never known before, b) was the same feeling Buck had for the Millers, c) was
not the best thing for John Thornton.
9. Another title for this story could be: a) "Crossing the River", b) "Buck's Special
Friend", c) "A Change in Hal".
10. This story is mainly about: a) Hal's fear of the wild, b) how John Thornton hurt
himself, c) how Buck and John became good friends.
Chapter 8
1. The men were at the river: a) to meet some friends, b) because they were
looking for gold, c) to see if the fishing was good.
2. Buck jumped in the river after John because: a) he loved John and wanted to
save him, b) he thought John was playing a game, c) he was helping John look
for gold.
3. Hans and Pete put a rope on Buck: a) so he could pull the sled, b) to take him for
a walk in the woods, c) so they could pull him out of the water.
4. When John and Buck got out of the water: a) John went hunting, b) Buck was
hurt, c) John kept looking for gold.
5. John and his friends went to town in the winter: a) to enter a big sled race, b)
because Buck needed a doctor, c) because they needed more money.
6. The man with the sled: a) did not think Buck would be able to move the sled, b)
wanted to sell his dog to John, c) tricked John into selling Buck.
7. Buck was able to pull the sled because: a) John was pushing it from behind, b)
his love for John made him even stronger, c) there were ten other dogs helping
8. After Buck crossed the line with the sled: a) John offered to sell him, b) he ran
away from John, c) John gave him a big hug.
9. Another title for this story could be: a) "A Man and His Dog", b) "Looking for
Gold", c) "Sad Times at the River".
10. This story is mainly about: a) how John Thornton wins a bet, b) swimming in
the river in the winter, c) how money can take the place of feelings.
Chapter 9
1. John and his friends went back to the wild: a) to look for gold, b) because they
thought Buck should be with his own kind, c) to build a house.
2. When Buck was in the wild: a) he lost John Thornton, b) he felt at home, c) he
was afraid.
3. Buck saw the wolf for the first time: a) in the camp, b) at the river, c) in an open
place in the woods.
4. Buck: a) knew he must answer the call, b) was afraid of the wolf in the wild, c)
was the only one who didn't hear the call.
5. Buck and the wolf: a) were lost for many days, b) had many of the same
feelings, c) were afraid of each other.
6. Buck returned to camp because: a) he knew John would be angry with him, b)
he felt afraid in the wild, c) he missed John Thornton.
7. After two days and nights at the camp: a) John took Buck into the woods, b)
Buck grew tired of the safe camp, c) John's friends went looking for gold.
8. The one thing that kept Buck from staying in the wild forever was: a) his fear of
the dark, b) his feelings for John Thornton, c) the wolf and his friends.
9. Another title for this story could be: a) "Buck in the Wild", b) "A Brave Wolf,
c) "Growing Apart".
10. This story is mainly about: a) living with a group of wild animals, b) Buck
hunting in the woods, c) Buck being torn between the call and his love for John.
Chapter 10
1. Buck had been away from the camp for: a) one day, b) many days, c) one
2. The first thing Buck saw as he came near the camp was: a) Pete's elevator in
pieces on the ground, b) a glove in the grass near the river, c) John Thornton and
Pete filling bags with gold.
3. When Buck saw Pete lying on the grass, he: a) tried to get him to stand up, b)
felt afraid for his friend John, c) thought Pete was playing a game.
4. Buck knew that the Indians: a) had done something that was not good, b) wanted
to say hello to John, c) were there to trade for food.
5. After the Indians ran away: a) Buck went down to the pond and saved John's
life, b) Buck followed his nose and found John dead in the pond, c) Buck
searched the camp for John.
6. Buck stayed by the pond for a long time because he: a) felt closer to John that
way, b) did not know where to go, c) was tired and needed a rest.
7. The new kind of wolf the Indians talked about was: a) Buck's wild brother,
b) really Buck, c) Buck's son.
8. Buck was: a) made stronger by all that had happened to him, b) not a very smart
dog, c) sure he would die in the wild.
9. Another title for this story could be: a) "Buck Learns the Call", b) "Finding
Gold", c) "Into the Wild".
10. This story is mainly about how: a) Buck loses John and has to face the
wild alone, b) Buck leaves the cold land and never goes back, c) John's
friends live through the fighting.
Appendix C
Prediction Strategy Checklist
Key: R=Rarely; S=Sometimes; tfcUsually; NO=Not Observed
Uses title and cover as support
Uses knowledge of how stories work.
Uses own experiences.
Can select text that supports predictions.
Can differentiate between predictions based on text and predictions based on personal experiences.
Understands that predictions can be off target at this point
Uses the story to support predictions.
Predicts more logically as more of the story is read.
Uses predictions to continue to create a need to read on and find out
Rereads to adjust predictions.
Uses story to support adjustments.
Confirms those predictions that were on target
Student's Comments:
Negotiated Goai(s):
Appendix D
Reading Interview For Parents
Please check the appropriate answer for each question:
Always Sometimes Never
12 Does your child make connections with movies or
other stories when he/she reads?
13 Does your child ask for help when they cannot
read a word?
14 Does your child make predictions when they read?
1 Does your child like to read?
2 Does your child read every night?
3 Does your child read for pleasure
Does your child explain what he/she reads to you?
5 Does your child like to read magazines?
6 Does your child like to read non-fiction?
7 Does your child like to read fiction?
8 Does your child read chapter books?
9 Does your child read newspapers?
10 Does your child skip over words he/she does not know?
11 Does your child think he/she is a good reader?
15 Does your child see pictures in their minds or visualize
when they read?
Appendix E
Parent Interview Consent Form
Study: The Effects of the Directed Reading-Thinking Activity on Reading
Comprehension Skills of Students with Autism
Dear Parent or Guardian,
My name is Irene Van Riper. As a doctoral student at Widener University, I am
conducting a research study on how to improve reading skills for students with autism.
As part of this study, I would like you to complete a survey about your child's reading
before and after the study. This survey will be a page of questions with a scale form
"Always", "Sometimes", "Never". I will ask you questions about how your child reads.
Your child's participation will involve reading instruction in the regular PACE
classroom for an hour a day, four days a week, for eight weeks.
Your participation, as well as your child's is voluntary. If you choose to not be in this
study, or take the survey, you may withdraw at any time with no penalty to you or your
child. Information from this study will remain confidential, to the extent allowed by
law. The results of the study may be published, but no names will be used.
Although there maybe no direct benefit to your child, the possible benefit may be better
reading skills. If you have questions concerning this study, please call me at 704-7822002 or email at irene.van riper@cabarrus. There are no foreseeable risks to
you or your child. Neither you nor your child will be compensated in any way, except
for a pizza or ice cream party at the end of the eight weeks for the students.
Irene Van Riper
I consent to complete a reading survey about my student.
Parent Signature
If you have any questions about your and your child's rights in this research, please
contact the chairperson of Widener University's Institutional Review Board at 610-4994110.
Widener University IRB Protocol Number
Widener University's IRB has approved the request of participants for the study until
8/14/2010 .
Appendix F
Student Study Parental Consent Form
Study: The Effects of the Directed Reading-Thinking Activity on Reading
Comprehension Skills of Students with Autism
Dear Parent/Guardian,
My name is Irene Van Riper and I am a special education teacher at Harris Road Middle
School. As a doctoral student at Widener University, I am studying how teachers can
improve the reading skills of students with autism. I would like your child to participate.
The students will have reading instruction four times a week, an hour for each lesson.
The study will last for eight weeks. There is no cost to be in this study. There is no risk
or discomfort in being in this study. No names will be used in the research. Participation
is voluntary and there is no payment for being in this study. If the student chooses to
drop out of the study, there will be no penalty. Please contact me and the records will be
Although there may be no direct benefit to your child, the possible benefit will be
reading strategies to help with their reading.
All information in this study will be kept confidential to the extent allowed by law. In
signing this you understand that the information found in this study may be reviewed by
Widener University's Institutional Review Board, which is the committee responsible
for ensuring the students' rights and welfare. All records will be destroyed
If you have any questions about this study, please contact me at my school number, 704782-2002 or, or the Chairperson of the Widener
University's Institutional Review Board at 610-499-4110.
Irene Van Riper
I give consent for my child
to participate in the above
Parent signature
Widener University IRB Protocol Number 02-10
Widener University's IRB has approved the request of participants for the study until
Appendix G
Student Study Assent Form
Study: The Effects of the Directed Reading-Thinking Activity on Reading
Comprehension Skills of Students with Autism
My name is Mrs. Van Riper and I am a teacher at Harris Road Middle School. I
am conducting a study of student's reading strategies to see what works best. If you
would like to help me with my research, you can join my special reading class. We will
meet four times a week for eight weeks. Each lesson will take one hour, and will take
place during the regular school day. You may find some new ways to make reading
easier for you.
You are not required to be in this study. Participation is voluntary. If you decide
to take part in this study, you may change your mind at any time.
The information from this study will be confidential. That means, when I tell
other people about my research, I will not use your name. Nobody will know about
whom I am talking.
If you have any questions, or if you change your mind about being part of this
research, you may reach me at school by calling 704-782-2002.
Thank you,
Mrs. Irene Van Riper
I agree to take part in the reading study even though I know that I don't have to do it.
Mrs. Van Riper has answered all my questions.
Student Name
Student Signature
Widener University IRB Protocol Number
Widener University's IRB has approved the request of participants for the study until
Appendix H
Teacher Consent Form
Study: The Effects of the Directed Reading-Thinking Activity on Reading
Comprehension Skills of Students with Autism
Dear Teacher,
As a doctoral student at Widener University, I am conducting a study to examine the use
and value of explicit instruction on reading comprehension for students with Autism
Spectrum Disorder. I would like you to participate in this study.
The reading instruction will be one hour, four times a week for eight weeks. We will
meet in the PACE classroom. There will be no foreseeable risks for any participants.
No one will be compensated for participating in this study. Neither the students nor the
teachers are required to participate in this study; it is completely voluntary. If you agree
to participate now, you may change your mind at any time.
No participants will be identified by name and all answers of the survey will be kept
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at 704-782-2002 or If you have any questions about your rights
regarding this study, you may contact the chairperson of Widener University's
Institutional Review Board at 610-499-4110.
Thank you,
Irene Van Riper
I have read and understand this consent form. I will participate in the research study.
Signature of Teacher
Widener University IRB Protocol Number
Widener University's IRB has approved the request of participants for the study until
8/14/2010 .
Appendix I
Teacher Interview
1. What is
's strength in reading?
2. What is
's area of need in reading?
3. What is the
's interest in reading? What does the student like to read?
4. What strategies do you use that are helpful to this autistic student?
5. What strategies that have you tried have not been successful with this autistic
6. What type of books have you used as reading instruction for this autistic student?
7. What does the student do when he/she does not understand what they read?
8. What does the student do when he/she finds a word that is hard to decode or
9. Does the student use imagery when they read? How do you know that?
10. Does the student make predictions as they read? How do you know that?
11. What books does this student enjoy reading?
12. Does the student make connections when they read? Have they shared those
with you?
13. Does the student have better reading comprehension with visual cues when
reading in class?
14. When in a class situation, does the student participate in discussion about the
15. Do you think it is beneficial to the autistic student for the teacher to model
strategies when reading? Why?
Adapted from Keene and Zimmermann (1997)
Appendix J
Observation Coding Form, Page 1
Incorrect / C o n n e c t i o n s
Off Subject To The Text
Appendix J - (Continued)
Observation Coding Form, Page 2
Incorrect or
Off Subject
To The T e x t
Appendix K
Principal Consent Form For Participation in Reading Research Study
Dear Dr. Williams.
As a doctoral student at Vv'idener I University. I would like to conduct a study at 1 hirris
Road VI id die School to examine the effects of explicit reading intervention on the reading
comprehension of middle school students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. A s pari of
this study. I would like to survey the students and "cacheis in that classroom. I will also
ask the parents of those students to answer some ques'ions about their children's reading
strategies. ! would like to implement a research-based reading program for eighi weeks,
an hour a day. four days a week. I plan on co-facilitating this instruction with another
special education teacher who has agreed to help with this study.
There will be no cost to any participants in this study and no compensation will be given.
except, perhaps at the end ol the eight weeks, a pizza or ice cream party. There will be no
risks or discomforts to any participant. The benefits to the students will be a greater
understanding of rending comprehension and learning strategics to help them to better
understand what they read.
All documents and information pertaining to this study will be kept confidential. No
names will be used on the surveys or in the research to maintain anonymity. Participation
is purely voluntary and the parents and students may change their minds at any time to
withdraw Irom the research. These students will go back into a regular reading class.
T h e data generated by the study may he reviewed by Widener University's Institutional
Review Board, the committee responsible for ensuring the welfare and rights of the
research participant. Participant confidentiality will be maintained. The answers front the
survey given by the students and parents will be combined with data a s group scores.
There will be no way to identify any student or parent individual responses in the research
reports- The data will be kept for a year after the siudy.
Kverv parent will receive a study and survey consent form to be signed. I-! very student
will receive a study and survey assent form to be signed. Every teacher will receive a
study consent form to be signed.
if vou have any questions or concerns about this study please contact mc at 704-782-2002
or iv anripcVccabarriis.kl T n c . u s . You may contact my advisor. Dr. Mary Strong at
lYiYvstrong'oiw or 61 0-499-4629. if you wish to contact the chairperson of
Widener University's Institutional Review Board, that number is 610-499-41 10. I will
provide you wish the 1RB Piotocol Number as soon as 1 receive it.
Thank you for your consideration,
b e n e Van Riper
1 have read and understand this form concerning the research study and surveys. 1 give
my permissionJor^this study to sake place for eight weeks in the year 2009-20 10 in the
PACT- c l a ^ r o o r t t ' a r N a r r i s Road Middle School.
' _
Signature o^Trinciffal of Harris Road Middle School
Appendix L
IRB Letter of Acceptance
Irene Van Riper
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Figure 3.2: Circle Map
What 1 KNOW Already
What 1 WANT to Know
Figure 3.4: Questions About Text
do you see
on the cover?
What do you
might be happening?
What is the
Have you ever
done that?
What does that make
you think of from your
own experience?
Figure 3.5: "Wh" Question Stems
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