One of the greatest challenges for any educator is dealing with a student with reading difficulties. However, a number of different programs exist to deal with the different forms of comprehension difficulties such challenging students may face and present for an educator. While the Edmark Reading Program is designed to bridge the gap between auditory and visual learning for developmentally disabled students, Reading Matery programs are specifically designed for students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. The auditory and picture matching approach of Edmark has been shown to be helpful for students from developmentally and socially disabling backgrounds, with little educational reinforcement or support, while Reading Matery seems be most suitable for students with cognitive impairment of their reading capacity who are otherwise normal.
The Edmark Reading Program was initially developed over a 15-year period between 1960 and 1975, with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to apply the principals of B.F. Skinner's behavioral psychology to the reading education of children with mild and moderate levels of mental retardation and to children (at the time) "previously thought unable to acquire reading skills." (Sulzbacher 2005) The Edmark program is a highly structured sight word program. (Mayfield, 2005) The Edmark programmed instruction is also sequential and individualized so that the child can proceed at his own rate, yet still be supported within the context of a conventional classroom environment with a syllabus and schedule. (Bijou & Brinbrauer, 1966)
The Edmark program's basic principals, which have all been present since the Edmark program's original conception and design are errorless discrimination, response shaping, selective reinforcement and the principals of direct instruction. The program is built around the assumption that students with cognitive difficulties learn best if they experience low levels of error and frustration. The program has also been expanded to include ESL students and students who are identified as 'at risk' or living below the poverty line. The program deploys small steps matching sounds and pictures, then sounds and words, to teach each new word. It assumes because of the student's mental abilities or exposure that generalization of newly learned behavior in the form of words would not occur unless these words were specifically taught within the program. "These concepts were considered somewhat revolutionary at the time, but are now generally accepted throughout special education." (Sulzbacher, 2005)
One question that Edmark was designed to answer was whether severely retarded children ever bridge the gap between auditory and visual processing, a crucial start on the path to reading comprehension. By matching dictated words to pictures and to printed words, eventually developmentally disabled students using Edmark became able to transfer to the purely visual task of matching printed words to pictures thus successfully bridging the gap between the auditory and visual, a specific challenge for the students the program was designed to help. (Sidman & Cresson, 1973) However, students with cognitive difficulties processing words on the page, such as dyslexic students might not be able to benefit in the same way from Edmark.
Using objective measures, researchers of a 1992 study concluded that the Edmark Reading Program produced significantly greater academic achievement in developmentally disabled students than the other two commercially available programs for such students. Students in the Edmark program demonstrated longer-term retention of the skills learned with the Edmark Program after one year. The study even demonstrated that the students who successfully completed the program had also learned to generalize their reading ability to previously untaught words, one of the questions of the approach. Later, in a follow-up report, it was demonstrated that these Edmark-taught students went on to maintain and build upon the academic skills they learned from the program. At the time of that follow-up study, 68.5% of the students had left the institution for the developmentally disabled where they had been living and learning before, during the Edmark teaching. At the follow up, 13% of the former students were living independently and fully employed. (Sulzbacher, 2005).
Edmark has not only been shown to be effective for developmentally disabled students. Its official program website recommends its use with ESL students as well, because of its heavy emphasis on hearing the language, and speaking the language, and also because students may not receive much English language learning reinforcement at home, if they are the children of first-generation immigrants. (Edmark Website, 2005) Also, a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education demonstrated the applicability of components of the Edmark Reading Program presented by computer with the Touchwindow interface. A 1992 review with 40 preschoolers looked at other parameters of the Edmark reading program, such as its advantage for students with cerebral palsy or other motor handicaps because of the program's compatibility with single switch technology like Edmark's touch window that seemed promising. (Sulzbacher, 2005).
A more recent study of the Edmark approach was conducted to determine the effects of an alternative reading program on the performance of at-risk but not developmentally disabled first graders. Sixty first-graders from three North Louisiana public elementary schools with high poverty rates were selected for study. The students were designated by their teachers and principals to be functioning in the bottom 20-30% of other first-grade reading students within the district. The students were thus purposefully selected as below average on tests but not necessarily inherently below average cognitively. These selected students were pre-tested on three subtests of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test-Revised (WRMT-R), Form G, and randomly assigned to either a control or an experimental group. (Mayfield, 2005)
The experimental group students received 15 minutes per day of tutoring by America Reads Volunteers in the Edmark Reading Program, a highly structured sight word program; control group students were simply read aloud to for 15 minutes each day by the same volunteers. Results indicated a significant difference in the performance of experimental group of students on the WRMT-R Passage Comprehension subtest and Edmark posttest. Qualitative data indicated that more experimental group students than control group students exhibited significantly improved reading ability, attitudes toward reading, attitudes toward school, and attitudes toward self. Results suggested that schools should consider the use of volunteers to implement one-on-one tutoring in the Edmark Reading Program to teach a supplementary sight word vocabulary to at-risk first graders.
(Mayfield, 2005) Thus, Edmark's 'hands on' approach may be helpful for students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well.
In contrast to Edmark's wide-ranging applications of its sigh-based learning, Reading Matery focuses specifically on dyslexia, and according to the Center for Dyslexia, provides not a comprehensive program, but merely "assistance with and supplementation of specific instruction, and for remediation of target problem areas in developing pre-reading and reading/writing/spelling skills." (2005) Hear/Say/Listen to the words, alphabetizing, and rhyming all connect sound to visual components, as well as word sorting tasks such as grouping by beginning letters and vowel sounds. Understanding the logic of language and reinforcing language skills is key, and assumes a basic level of educational support and linguistic support at home in contrast to the Edmark approach. Edmark, in contrast, because of its focus on individuals with impaired overall capacities, who may also live in non-English speaking or group homes with other impaired abilities, assumes less of an ability to soak up language and new words from the environment.
Also, decoding is a greater emphasis in the Reading Matery programs, as decoding is one of the difficulties that dyslexics often report in grappling with learning how to read, hence the frequent misuse of letters and mis-substituting of vowels and consonants in the performance of dyslexic readers. Thus, the program Reading Matery is designed to underline the specific dyslexic's need for reinforcement in his or her word sorting capacity and to learn other decoding methods to compensate for potential cognitive decoding difficulties amongst dyslexics, rather than an overall reinforcement of pictures, words,…