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Diliberto’s curriculum aimed at helping students with learning disabilities

A curriculum written by Jennifer Diliberto, clinical associate professor of special education, is helping children with learning disabilities better develop their reading skills.

“Taking on Tough Words,” which has been adopted by school districts in 12 states, includes a teacher’s guide with lessons and a student workbook – all based on Diliberto’s research into practices that help struggling readers.

“It’s a very targeted intervention specifically designed to help students that are struggling with decoding multi-syllabic words,” Diliberto said.

The publisher, Attainment Company, a Wisconsin-based publisher of teaching resources for students with disabilities, describes “Taking on Tough Words” as a new researched curriculum that includes 90, 15-minute lessons for reading and spelling multi-syllabic words. It is recommended for upper elementary through high school students.

For example, the first couple of lessons teach students how to define and describe characteristics of a syllable, while the third lesson teaches them how to define and understand terminology needed for syllable pattern instruction. By Lesson 13, they are learning to decode and encode open and closed syllables.

Diliberto, who is dyslexic, realized at an early age that she not only wanted to be a special education teacher, but that she wanted to help train others who chose to take that route in education.

Her curriculum grew out of her dissertation research at UNC-Charlotte. Prior to her dissertation, she and one of her mentors in the doctoral program were conducting a research study using a reading program that was not explicitly teaching how to divide words into syllables. At the same time, Diliberto and her mentor were co-teaching a literacy method course, in which her mentor did a lesson on syllabication.

“I was like, ‘That’s what’s missing from that program,’” Diliberto said.

Diliberto felt that teaching syllabication could be the key to success for students struggling with reading. So as part of her dissertation she developed teaching lessons that would address that piece and could be used in conjunction with core curriculums.

To get it published, Diliberto said she revised the curriculum and brushed up every single lesson. She said her curriculum follows the format of a multi-sensory structured language program while solely focusing on decoding and encoding. Most multi-sensory structured language programs teach syllabication as part of the instructional lesson.

Diliberto said some schools are using “Taking on Tough Words” with students who need more intensive intervention in multi-syllabic word reading, as well as for those students who have been identified as having a disability and need more specially designed instruction.