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Word Study in the Inclusive Secondary Classroom: Supporting Struggling Readers and Students with Disabilities

reviewed by Kelly Anderson - May 19, 2017

coverTitle: Word Study in the Inclusive Secondary Classroom: Supporting Struggling Readers and Students with Disabilities
Author(s): Melinda Leko
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807757780, Pages: 144, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

The ability to read and comprehend text is critical to school achievement and is also considered to be an indicator of overall long-term success. In early elementary grades, children learn reading skills essential to accessing content and information as they progress through their education and into adulthood (Spark, Patton, & Murdoch, 2014). Students with disabilities are particularly at risk for experiencing difficulties learning the basic foundations of reading because, for many students with learning disabilities, reading is their primary area of difficulty (Coyne & Koriakin, 2017). English language learners, minorities, and children living in poverty are also at risk of low reading performance. For many students with and without disabilities, performing at a basic proficiency throughout elementary grades can result in a lack of motivation when facing the content area instruction required in middle and high school. Without targeted interventions at the secondary level, many adolescents become disengaged and overwhelmed with the sheer volume of reading necessary to be successful in the academic content areas. In her book, Word Study in the Inclusive Secondary Classroom, author Melinda Leko provides a practical guide to implementing interventions with struggling adolescent readers at the secondary level. The book’s chapters are divided into three sections: foundations of reading, implementation of word study, and strategies across various content areas. The content and resources within each chapter provide a roadmap that guides readers’ development in understanding key concepts of the reading process, and initial steps for implementation of strategies. The content and organization of the book is well suited for both experienced practitioners as well as future teacher candidates.

The first section of the book, Chapters One through Three, Leko refers to as The Whats, Hows, and Whys of Reading for Struggling Readers and Students with Disabilities. The main goal of reading is comprehension. But students who struggle with reading comprehension typically do so because of the inability to become proficient in the skills involved in the reading process. Setting the stage for subsequent chapters, Chapter One reviews the five key areas of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Instruction of these five foundational skills of reading in isolation fails to recognize the relationship among these skills that is critical to effective reading (Murawski & Scott, 2017). In Chapter Two, Leko provides compelling rationales for emphasizing the “interconnectedness” of the five primary reading skills when working with students both with and without disabilities who demonstrate difficulties with various aspects of the reading process. Additionally, the author describes why some students struggle with reading and the impact of effective reading instruction. Chapter Three concludes the first section with a refreshing review of the numerous “rules” of the English language, like consonants and regular versus irregular words.

The second section, The Nuts and Bolts of Word Study, paves the way for readers by describing beginning steps toward implementation of word study instruction in secondary classrooms. In Chapter Four, Leko unpacks well-known research-based instructional principles such as explicit and systematic instructional techniques, the impact of small group instruction, and the importance of corrective and immediate feedback to students. It is a recognized fact that assessment and instruction are vital components of effective teaching. Leko makes the connection between assessment and instruction clear through explicit examples that demonstrate use of data-based decision making in planning instruction. Chapter Four concludes with Leko providing a plethora of assessment resources, as well as a discussion of their applications when used to inform the selection of curricular materials and to determine levels of text difficulty for students when using word study instruction. Chapter Five ties together the implications of word study and advanced word study strategies for adolescent struggling readers. Specifically, Chapter Five outlines methods and strategies of word study that can be easily translated into classroom practice. Leko provides numerous examples in this chapter, along with tables and figures that illustrate each approach to implementation of word study.  

The book concludes with the final section, Word Study in Secondary Classrooms, Chapters 6 and 7. Secondary classrooms are centered on content areas such as mathematics, science, English, language arts, and social studies. In this section, Leko addresses the use of word study and advanced word study in each major content area, while helping readers understand the implications of dense, complex content texts for struggling readers, particularly students with disabilities. Similarly to Chapters Four and Five, Leko applies structural analysis and other research-based practices such as graphic organizers as instructional tools that, when used with word study, aid students in expanding their learning and understanding relationships among complex concepts. Leko’s expertise in word study is shared in Chapter Seven as she “brings it all together” for readers. In this chapter, Leko breaks down steps toward implementing word study through planning for instruction and student grouping, and providing ample opportunities for students’ practice of the five primary reading skills.

Word Study in Secondary Classrooms is an excellent resource for an experienced secondary teacher or a teacher education candidate. It provides readers with a wealth of research-based word study methods and strategies that can be easily implemented in secondary classrooms with struggling readers. The author, Melinda Leko, is artful in sharing well-known, research-based strategies in a way that is understandable and clear to the novice and the experienced teacher alike. The layout of the book is user friendly, and most appealing is the way Leko blends illustrations in the form of tables and figures to aid in the reader’s understanding of content, including humorous cartoons, a range of “Tech Tips,” discussion questions, and online resources. This is an excellent book for Professional Learning Communities (PLC) involving secondary general and special education content teachers, or as a text for a teacher education course preparing preservice candidates to work in content area classrooms with students with disabilities and other diverse learners.


Coyne, M. D., & Koriakin, T. A. (2017). What do beginning special educators need to know about intensive reading interventions? Teaching Exceptional Children, 49(4), 239-248.

Murawski, W. M., & Scott, K. L. (2017). What really works with exceptional learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sparks, R. L., Patton, J., & Murdoch, A. (2014). Early reading success and its relationship to reading achievement and reading volume: Replication of “10 Years Later.” Reading and Writing, 27, 189–211.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 19, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21982, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 4:05:46 AM

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About the Author
  • Kelly Anderson
    University of North Carolina Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    KELLY ANDERSON, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education and Child Development (SPCD). Her areas of expertise include general curriculum, evidence-based accommodations and modifications, differentiated instruction, and behavior management. Dr. Anderson currently teaches courses in the B.A. in Special Education & Elementary Education and the M.Ed. in Special Education, as well as serving on masters’ and doctoral committees at UNCC.
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