Emily Confronts Her Fiercest Bear: Word Reading Disorder with Naming Speed and Phonological Deficits

  • Molly Drake Shiffler


The winding road leading through the forest grew narrower and darker until it tapered into a two-track lane where gravel and horseshoe prints dotted the slippery surface of compacted snow. The reading specialist was feeling almost lost in that dark subzero landscape when the lights of a small enclave shone through the thick woodland. Set in a ring encircling an oval-shaped forest clearing, the windows of the hand-built fieldstone homes glowed with the serenity of an illustration from Van Allsburg's Polar Express. Centered in the clearing stood a snow-patched barn, a maze of hound dog runs, sleigh-ride facilities, and a shed reserved for bear hunting gear—mainstays of Emily's family's lifestyle for three generations. That December night, thankfully, the local bears did not make one of their routine visits.

The reading teacher was visiting Emily's home because her slow reading pace, labored decoding, and sharp contrast between listening comprehension and reading comprehension echoed the reading patterns of an older generation living in those softly lit houses who had been students in the school district's first Title I elementary reading program 30 years ago. Informal assessment at school indicating slow reading rates (16 words per min) and weak phonological segmenting skills had suggested that Emily was at risk for double-deficit dyslexia, a form of reading disorder as formidable as any bear. Her parents described her as an inquisitive, bright child who struggled with reading, math facts, and writing, especially noting reversed words in reading and letters in writing. Her birth and developmental history were not significant for illnesses, injuries, or serious medical conditions. Milestones included speaking single words at 8–9 months, composing sentences at 1 year, and walking at 10 months. Family history included dyslexia for Emily's father and his two brothers, although her father felt that his reading difficulty resulted from lack of effort and his own father's habit of withdrawing his sons from school to help in the woods and fields.


Word Recognition Reading Comprehension Phonological Awareness Reading Disability Oral Reading 
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Resources for Clinicians and Families

  1. Both the Journal of Learning Disabilities (July/August 2000, Volume 33, Number 4) and Scientific Studies of Reading (2001, Volume 5, Number 5) published theme issues addressing double-deficit hypothesis, naming-speed, and related fluency issues.Google Scholar
  2. Blachman, B. A., Schatschneider, C., Fletcher, J. M., Francis, D. J., Clonan, S. M., Shaywitz, S., et al. (2004). Effects of intensive reading remediation for second and third graders and a 1-year follow-up. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 444–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Fletcher, J. M., Lyon, G. R., Fuchs, L. S., & Barnes, M. A. (2007). Learning disabilities: From identification to intervention. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  4. Morris, R., Lovett, M., & Wolf, M. (In press). Two upcoming articles reporting results of large population study on phonological and naming speed interventions. Journal of Educational Psychology (in press).Google Scholar
  5. Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. Retrieved November 21, 2007, from
  6. The Center for Reading and Language Research, Tufts University. The RAVE-O program: A comprehensive, fluency-based reading intervention program. Retrieved November 21, 2007, from
  7. Winn, B. D., Skinner, C. H., Oliver, R., Hale, A. D., & Ziegler, M. (2006). The effects of listening while reading and repeated reading on the reading fluency of adult learners. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 50(3), 196–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Wolf, M. (2007). Proust and the squid: The story and science of the reading brain. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  9. Wolf, M., & Denckla, M. (2005). Rapid Automatized Naming and Rapid Alternating Stimulus Tests. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.Google Scholar
  10. Wolf, M., & Katzir-Cohen, T. (2001). Reading fluency and its intervention. Scientific Studies of Reading, 5(3), 211–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Wolf, M., Bowers, P. G., & Biddle, K. (2000). Naming-speed processes, timing, and reading: A conceptual review. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33(4), 387–407.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Systematic Sequential Phonics They Use (Cunningham):

  1. Edmark Reading Program, Computer-based, intense automatic high frequency word recognition program.
  2. Great Leaps Reading, Kindergarten through high school fluency intervention.
  3. Language! A Literacy Intervention Curriculum, Comprehensive program for struggling readers grades 4 and above
  4. QuickReads, Fluency program with CD for grades 2–5.
  5. RAVE-O, Multilayered fluency intervention program for early elementary grades addressing all levels of naming-speed model.
  6. Reading Mastery (Science Research Associates), Basic curriculum in a learning disability pull-out program.
  7. ReadIt, Electronic fluency program developed by Marilyn Adams for grades 2–5.
  8. Read Naturally, Self-monitored CD fluency program for grades 1–7.
  9. REWARDS, Word attack and rate development program for elementary grades and above.
  10. Spell Read P.A.T. (Phonemic Analysis Training, www.spellread.comPhonological/decoding/spelling intervention for ages 5 years to adult.
  11. Text Talk Isabelle Beck's outstanding vocabulary building program embeds both lexical and syntactic development in age-appropriate literature conversations. Students with low to below average semantic knowledge scores in one university's urban literacy center responded enthusiastically to Text Talk, and it was incorporated into both the after-school program many of the students attended as well as the kindergarten classrooms in low income schools that other students attended.
  12. Wilson Reading System, Elementary to adult phonological/decoding/spelling intervention based on Orton Gillingham.

Resources for Families

  1. Hall, S., & Moats, L. (1998). Straight talk about reading. New York: NTC Press.Google Scholar
  2. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Includes summaries of neurological studies.
  3. National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, Finding Common Ground,
  4. Words Their Way (4th Ed.) and the related series of reading stage-appropriate sort books by Bear, Invernizzi, Johnston, and Templeton builds general analytic phonic skills and would be valuable as a home or supplementary program component.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Molly Drake Shiffler
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Literacy and Language DevelopmentCardinal Stritch UniversityMilwaukee

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