Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type



Reading instruction has historically been deemphasized for students in special education, and the limited research on this topic reveals that sight word vocabulary is most commonly taught in special education classrooms (Browder, Wakeman, Spooner, Ahlgrim-Delzell, Algozzine, 2006). However, successful reading instruction must target the five essential components: vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, phonics, and phonemic awareness (National Reading Panel, 2000). The extremely small body of research attempting to teach phonics and phonemic awareness to students with mild to severe disabilities approaches instruction from a decoding framework with mixed success (Browder et al., 2006). Alternatively, this study aims to teach from an encoding framework. Encoding is the process of converting speech sounds to print by applying the alphabetic code (Herron, 2008). Students are actively engaged in the process relying on their current level of knowledge to construct words. Any attempt is viewed as a success that can be gradually improved by feedback and increased phonological and phonemic awareness. This study investigated whether encoding practice embedded in a narrative context would improve participants’ developmental spelling patterns across intervention sessions, and whether scores on measures of phonological awareness, alphabetic knowledge, print knowledge, language abilities, and spelling would improve following the 18 intervention sessions. Prior to any intervention, participants completed multiple baseline probes attempting to spell three lists of target words that were randomly selected from the words that would be targeted during intervention. Immediately before intervention sessions, participants attempted to spell five target words independently. During intervention sessions, the same five words were practiced in a narrative context with scaffolding and feedback (i.e., examiner and Phonic Faces). Participants again attempted to spell the same five target words independently immediately following the intervention session. On average, participants’ spelling attempts improved following intervention sessions. One participant made expected positive changes in encoding abilities from baseline to intervention, while the other participants made inconsistent progress. From pretest to posttest, participants made clinically significant gains on standardized measures of phonological awareness, vocabulary, and language measures. Findings of the study suggest that students with developmental disabilities have the potential to learn early reading skills when given direct instruction and practice.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Norris, Janet