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No matter the classroom size, grade level or neighborhood, students in the same classroom will be reading at all different levels. They will also learn best in different environments and using different learning styles. It is up to teachers to not only identify but also adjust teaching styles, methods, materials and time to accommodate all learners.

What Is Prescriptive Reading?

Experienced reading teachers have always known what steps to take in a traditional basal-based reading program. Lessons are taught in a whole group setting, where students of all ability levels are exposed to the same text and comprehension expectations. In addition, teachers form three or four small reading groups of readers with similar ability and work in those groups on specific skills and strategies for which most of the students need additional attention and support.

Prescriptive reading teachers introduce and strengthen their students’ abilities in the same knowledge and skills as the basal-based approach to reading. A prescriptive reading teacher, however, determines how each student learns, what skills they’ve already mastered and what skills require additional development. In this teaching model, each student’s needs are met by formulating a “prescription” or plan of learning.

What Does Prescriptive Reading Look Like?

In a prescriptive reading classroom, students may use materials like trade books, videos, audio tapes or manipulatives, depending on the particular reading skill they are building. And, despite the individualized nature of the model, students in the prescriptive reading model do not always work in isolation. Although the overall plan for each student identifies strengths and weaknesses, teachers frequently work with groups of students on a single skill for which they all need support. If an individual student does need additional help in a particular skill, the teacher creates time for individual support.

Using this approach may appear to be overwhelming, considering the number of students assigned to each teacher. However, the skills and strategies students must learn in order to be proficient readers are the same, no matter what the teaching model. The prescriptive reading model frees a teacher to use whatever materials necessary, create and adjust student groups, and take whatever time is necessary to achieve each student’s goals.

What Is Different About This Teaching Model?

In the prescriptive reading model, students are not required to practice or endlessly review skills they have already mastered. Because planning and instruction are designed to meet students — including those who excel — where they are, students who are working faster than the mandated curriculum standards are challenged using more advanced concepts and skills.

In addition, students who clearly are not ready for advancement are not asked or expected to know or understand a more complex skill. Although they may be introduced to skills above their ability level, they do not work without support on concepts they are not ready for.

Prescriptive Reading and Special Education

Experienced teachers are aware of each student’s progress, challenges and strengths. And, at times, they recognize patterns in progress or specific learning needs that cannot be adequately addressed in the general education setting.

When a child is falling too far behind and requires the attention of a special education teacher, prescriptive reading is not abandoned. It is enhanced and made even more individualized. Teachers who meet with students in smaller groups (or one-on-one with those who need the most intensive accommodations and support) use the prescriptive reading model for writing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and planning for instruction.

Prescriptive Reading and the IEP

Sometimes referred to as the “test-teach-test-reteach” model, prescriptive reading creates a plan for students that first identifies the issues of concern by assessing before teaching. Because prescriptive reading is designed to concentrate on skills not yet mastered, it is critical to assess each student’s ability and knowledge levels prior to creating a teaching plan and prior to moving on to another skill or concept.

After identifying a student’s needs, the teacher creates the IEP, including specific, measurable and attainable goals. Although grade-level standards are considered, strong IEP goals identify critical areas of need, starting where students are functioning, no matter the grade level. Goals are designed to help students reach the next skill or concept on the learning continuum.

The philosophy of the prescriptive reading model is that learning to read is a complex process. The milestones to fluency cannot be overlooked or rushed, and each student progresses at a different rate. Pairing this philosophy with an effective IEP ensures that students functioning below grade level are not frustrated by unrealistic expectations. When general education and special education teachers plan according to a carefully prepared IEP, working together to meet students at their level of need, students will build the necessary foundational skills required to read and comprehend literature and informational texts.

Expertise in Prescriptive Reading

According to author and educator Sue A. Deffenbaugh, “In order for a teacher to be competent in the diagnostic-prescriptive teacher approach, he/she must be 1) knowledgeable about the scope and sequence of reading skills, 2) skillful in classroom diagnosis and in interpretation of diagnostic data, 3) skillful in establishing behavioral objective based on diagnostic information, 4) competent in selecting and designing classroom instructional strategies built upon behavioral objectives and children’s learning modalities, and 5) knowledgeable about classroom management systems.”

Experienced educators interested in enhancing these skills may want to consider a Master of Education in Special Education as a next step. At Mississippi College, this degree is “designed for educators with a passion for helping students with exceptional needs.”

One of the required program courses is Diagnostic/Prescriptive Reading, specifically designed to prepare M.Ed. candidates to use a prescriptive reading plan for students with IEPs. Using the case study approach, this course covers the following:

  • Understanding the symptoms and causes of reading disabilities.
  • Analyzing assessment results.
  • Communicating results and instructional plans to families.

Students’ ability to read at grade level and to comprehend text in the content areas requires teachers to be vigilant about reading instruction. Students at every ability level need instruction that will not only help them succeed and increase understanding but also meet them where they are. If a student needs support in a particular area of reading, or if a student is reading well above grade level and needs to be challenged, teachers must have tools and strategies to individualize instruction. A Master of Education in Special Education degree from Mississippi College offers an all-online program to meet the needs of experienced teachers who wish to take their own learning to the next level.

Learn more about the MC online M.Ed. in Special Education program.


Hartford University: Diagnostic-Prescriptive Approach

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