Reading Comprehension: How to Help Students with Disabilities

Image of Four Students Sitting at a Table with a Teacher Reading a Book with the Text "Reading Comprehension: How to Help Students with Disabilities".

What Is Reading Comprehension?

Reading Comprehension is simple. It is understanding what you have read. As teachers, I think we overcomplicate reading for our students. And for our students with disabilities, they are especially overwhelmed.

Reading comprehension isn’t answering an open-ended question. It isn’t comparing three passages on the same topic. It is so much more simple than that. To better help them improve reading comprehension, we need to take a look at the foundation of reading.

What Impacts Reading Comprehension?

In my mind there are three barriers that stand in the way of students understanding what they read. These are background knowledge, the ability to multitask, and vocabulary.

Lack of Background Knowledge

Poverty and ethnicity impact the experiences and opportunities that our students have to develop background knowledge in a big way. Without background knowledge, it is hard for students to draw conclusions, visualize, and relate to the central idea.

Another huge factor in a student’s ability to understand what they read is their fluid intelligence. This depicts how a student will experience an event and what information they will retain. A student with a higher fluid intelligence is able to remember, obtain, and understand more of an event than someone with a lower fluid intelligence.

Ability to Multitask

While reading, we are thinking about how so many things! We’re thinking recalling words, chunking words into phrases, and focusing on fluency. Meanwhile our brains are processing the details in the text that allow us to learn new information, visualize a setting, identify a character’s problem, and question the author. Reading is truly a BIG job for our brains.

Limited Vocabulary

This one is an obvious one, but it is also often overlooked. If students do not understand the meaning of the words they are reading, it can affect the entire meaning of that passage. It is important to take time for vocabulary.

To help your students, find quick and easy ways to help them understand new and difficult words. You could spend time looking them up in a dictionary or online, use picture cards, videos, or stories to help your students better understand the new word.

Image of Three of Primary Gal's Resource Room Reading Series Booklets on a Desk

What Do Good Readers Do?

If those are the barriers, what do good readers do? Good readers do a lot as they’re reading. Good readers make predictions, monitor comprehension, and read accurately and rapidly. They note organization and structure, make mental notes, ask questions, make inferences, and visualize. There is so much that goes into being a good reader, and they do it all without even thinking about it.

At first, all of that sounded so intimidating. How am I going to get my kids to do those things?! In the book Ten Essential Instructional Elements for Students with Reading Difficulties by Andrew P. Johnson, I came across a sentence that made me feel a little less intimidated. He said, “We can improve comprehension by improving thinking skills.”

Thanks, Andrew! I’ll work on that. ❤️ Over the next six weeks, I’ll be share blog posts to help you improve thinking skills in your students.


How to Progress Monitor & Teach Virtually

One question that I keep seeing over and over again is, “How are you progress monitoring while teaching virtually?” Great question! And let me tell you, it is a TOUGH task. But I have a few ideas and approaches to help you get started and progress monitor while ALSO teaching virtually.

Collect Data During Virtual Groups

If you have students with IEP goals for any of the skills below, you can progress monitor them as you are using the Special Education Reading Series!

  • Decoding
  • Sight Words
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Reading Fluency

It will be quick, easy, and integrated into your daily routine. It isn’t as perfect as an in person assessment, but hey! We’re all doing the best we can!

And don’t forget, there are digital and printable versions of this series. 😍

Collect Data During Virtual Math Groups

During your virtual math groups, it’s ok to have a combination of guided practice and independent work time. When they are working independently, track how many problems they are able to solve correctly. You don’t have to let students know you’re writing down “points” or information as they work.

I’m using my Special Education Math Series to make our routine seamless from in person and virtual.

Digital versions of 2-Digit and 3-Digit interventions are included in this series.

Screen Share

I also love to use the digital assessments from my Progress Monitoring Collection to assess my kids using screen sharing!

Whether you are doing in person or virtual, small groups or one on one sessions, this 400+ page file is perfect to assess an array of skills!


Virtual Learning: This is What You Need to Send Home with Students

Virtual Learning Take Home KitLast spring, we were all thrown into the deep end when it came to eLearning. My administration has really focused on the difference between what we did last year and the expectation for this year. This year, we are doing virtual learning. Meaning, the expectation is the same as a typical school year, but kids are given the choice to learn virtually. As a district, we might even find ourselves moving from in person to virtual multiple times throughout the school year.

My plan is to send home virtual learning kits with everything my kids will need to continue holding our reading groups on Google Meet. Here’s what I’m including for all of my students with reading goals.

Virtual Learning kit with Slugs yellow week 8 book from reading series

Reading Books

I used the printable booklets from my Resource Room Reading Series to quickly print ten weeks of books in one trip to the copier! My virtual students will be able to follow along with my in person groups every single day.

I added all ten booklets to these poly envelopes!

Virtual Learning kit with Slugs yellow week 8 book in poly envelope with two highlighters


Next, they’ll need highlighters. Every day, we use our blue highlighter to hunt for sight words and our green highlighter for decodable words. All kids love highlighters. I don’t want them missing all the fun from home.

Virtual Learning kit with Slugs yellow week 8 book in poly envelope with two highlighters and three markers


Each day, we read the story three times. After each reading, I pass out a marker for them to color one smiley face to represent each reading. Scented markers are my favorite!

Virtual Learning kit with Slugs yellow week 8 book in poly envelope with two highlighters, three markers, and two pencils


I think many of my virtual learning participants will already have pencils, but I wanted to be sure. I didn’t want any excuses. In the envelop I decided to included two sharpened pencils!

Slugs yellow week 8 book in poly envelope with two highlighters, three markers, and two pencils. Letter tile FREEBIE

Letter Tiles

My small groups wouldn’t be complete without working on our decodable words each day. In the regular Ziploc baggie, I included two of each letter in the alphabet. In the colored bag, students will add the letters that we will actually need for that week’s list of words. I’m hoping this can be done by the parent, but you never know!

If you need letter tiles, you can download them here!


Special Education Math Groups: This is How I Structure My 20 Minutes

Text "SPED Math Routines: Here's How I Structure My 20 Minute Groups" with Image of Amanda Sitting Behind a Desk
As a special education teacher, I cover so many grade levels. I struggle to fit in time for math. Typically, I have about twenty minutes for each of the special education math groups that I instruct.
In that twenty minute small group, I have SO many things to cover. I like to practice multi-digit addition and subtraction, as well as math facts. Depending on the group, I also cover other skills that are critical for my students, like reading graphs, telling time, counting money, word problems, and number patterns.
But how do I get all of that done in twenty minutes?
Student Completing Math Problems on 3-Digits Week 1 Day 2 with a Hundreds Board during Special Education Math Groups

10 Minutes: Addition & Subtraction Computation

I spend the first ten minutes of our group working on computation. We begin with addition and subtraction WITHOUT regrouping. As the year progresses, we begin working on addition and subtraction with regrouping.
For my students, we often work hard throughout the entire year in order to master this goal.
Copy of 3-Digits Week 1 Day  Math Problems with a Cellphone Laying on Top with a Timer Set to use during Special Education Math Groups

2 Minutes: Prize Box Problem

I don’t know about your kids, but my students with disabilities are often capable of so much more than they believe. In my small special education math groups, I found that they were relying heavily on ME to guide them through each problem. I needed a way to motivate them to try problems on their own.
So, I began to have them complete a prize box problem. I set a timer for ten minutes when we first begin our group. We work through each problem in our booklet until the timer goes off. When it does, the very next problem becomes our prize box problem.
If they can solve it correct on their own, they can get in the prize box. It’s simple but effective! Earlier in the school year, I had different requirements to get in the prize box, such as starting in the correct column, trying to regroup, or attempting the problem by themselves.

5 Minutes: Critical Math Skills

We are PUSHED for time, and we have gotten pretty good at speeding through some of these critical skills. We practice things like reading graphs, telling time, counting money, solving word problems, and number patterns.

3 Minutes: Timed Math Fact Test

While this group is usually focusing on larger problems, I still think solving math facts fluently is important. At our school, a lot of our classroom teachers give some form of timed math fact test, whether it be on paper or digitally.
I think my students need that practice in a safe place. We work on small mastering small goals in a few minutes per day.


How to Juggle In Person and Online Teaching

Text "How to Juggle in Person & Online Teaching" with Image of a Student Sitting in Front of a Computer Working
Shew! This is a tough one. Juggling in person and online teaching is going to be a BIG part of our school year. Here are the things that I’m planning to try. Will it work? I don’t know. Will I likely have to revise this blog post a few weeks into school, probably! But here are my thoughts.

Set a Schedule

I am going to set a schedule, just like I would do if it were a “normal” school year. I’ll share this with parents and let them know what time their child will need to be present in my small group.

Place Your Laptop in One Seat

I plan to have a designated spot in the middle of my table for my laptop. For each group, I’ll turn on Google Meet and sit directly across from the laptop. Then, I’ll be able to see and hear my students attending online.
I am planning to use Google Classroom’s Meeting Link feature to help save time transitioning from one group to another.

Run Group Like Normal

At this moment, I plan to run my group like normal. Each group will likely vary as far as the number of in person students versus online students. That’s ok! I want to try to serve as many kids as I can throughout the day.
I’m planning to use my phone or iPad like a document camera, so that my at home students can see what we are doing together.

Send Supplies for Online Learners

In my small groups, we use highlighters, markers, pencils, crayons, hundreds charts, and printable booklets. Depending on their grade level and IEP goals, we sometimes use spinners and dice as well. I plan to package those materials up and send them home.
For some students, I think this will be difficult. I’m still planning to try because I think it will significantly help them to be successful in the group.
What are your ideas for juggling in person and online teaching?

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