Can a student benefit by having a text read aloud to them rather than reading along silently? Can he or she do better on a test that’s given orally rather than silently writing the answers? How about letting the student decide?

That’s right, giving students a choice of whether to take a written test or have it read out to them may improve their performance, make them feel more included in the class, and even empower them. This teaching strategy is especially effective with students on an IEP, who can sometimes feel they’re not fully part of an integrated classroom.

Teaching Strategy - Read text to studentsHere’s an example from early in my teaching career. As the special education teacher in a new co-teaching relationship, I wanted to make sure my students were successful and got the support they needed without garnering the stigma of being “special ed.” My students tended to do better when tests were read to them, but I didn’t want to pull them out of the classroom during a test and have it be obvious that these kids were different.

My solution: extend an invitation to all of the students in the classroom. Anyone who wanted to have the test read to them could come with me down the hall during the test. I shared the idea with my co-teacher, who gave me a look of disbelief. “If you tell the class than anyone who wants the test read aloud can go with you to have it read orally, half of the class will go with you.”

I didn’t believe that, thinking that only my IEP students would be interested in having the test read to them. But on the day of the test, sure enough, half the class raised their hand!

True to my word, I led half the class down the hall, wondering how I was going to recover from this fiasco with my co-teacher. However, it turns out neither of us should have worried. Although much of the class was interested in trying the oral version of the test, they quickly learned that this way of testing is slower and it can be uncomfortable for students who don’t need this type of support. Within five minutes, several of the students asked to return to the other classroom to take the written test instead.

What’s interesting is that not all of the students who were not on an IEP returned to the written test! A few stayed with my group for the first oral test and even opted for this method on later tests.

Ultimately, the option was a win-win for all of the students. Those who returned to the written test felt that they had a choice in the way they took the test. Those who stayed for the oral test helped to de-stigmatize the accommodation of reading the test aloud because the option was not limited to IEP students.

This implementation can be used for more than just tests. It can support students who benefit more from having a text read aloud. Students who struggle to comprehend literature may be able to better focus on the material when it is read aloud to them.

Conversely, students on an IEP now have a choice to either have a test read aloud to them, or to take a written version of the test. Especially with older students in middle school and above, this is an important choice for them to make themselves. It provides a way to truly understand and support students’ needs both academically and emotionally in the co-teaching environment.

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