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This chapter presents the background to the study; statement of the problem; purpose of the study; research questions; significance of the study, delimitation and scope of the study and operational definitions of terms.

  • Background to the Study

According to Andazyi (2004) and Wixon, Peters, Weber & Roeber (2007), reading is the process of constructing meaning through the dynamic interaction among the reader, the text and the context of the reading situation. Reading process involves visual motor skills and perception of the symbols by the brain. It is generally broken down into two components: “reading” the words, or decoding and understanding what is read, or comprehension. This study intended to use the definition according to Manzo and Manzo (2003) who define reading as the act of simultaneously reading the lines, reading between the lines, and reading beyond the lines. “Reading the lines” is the process of decoding the words in order to reconstruct the author’s basic message. “Reading between the lines” is the process of making inferences in order to reconstruct the author’s implied messages. This requires an understanding of the integral logic of facts presented as well as an understanding of connotative and figurative language. “Reading beyond the lines” is the process of judging the significance of the author’s message and constructively applying it to other areas of knowledge and experience.

Typical reading difficulties of adolescents with mild disabilities include problems with vocabulary, word recognition, reading comprehension and reading rate. Reading appears to affect performance in all other academic subjects as well as to impact vocational needs and options (Hallahan, Kauffman & Lioyd, 2005). Mercer (2007) denotes several types of reading problems that are typically found among students such as reading habits, word recognition errors, comprehension errors and miscellaneous symptoms. Merce also lists several common problems experienced by some students who suffer from reading disabilities. These include: omitting letters, syllables or words; inserting extra letters, words or sound; substituting words that look or sound similar; mispronouncing words; repeating words and using improper inflection during oral reading. Reading disability is a deliberating problem for many children, adolescents and adults in North America and throughout the world. Educators, parents, physicians, as well as society in general share a common concern about individuals who do not learn to read. All teachers have the responsibility of understanding and helping their failing and frustrated students. Elementary classroom teachers, reading teachers, special education teachers and secondary school teachers need knowledge about the assessment and treatment of reading difficulties (Richet, List & Lerner, 2009).

Children with learning disabilities have their primary educational problem in the area of reading. The reading problems of all these students have a substantial impact on their ability to master other subjects in school. Richet et al (2009) indicate that as a primary cause of school failure, poor reading ability leads to lowered self-esteem and serious emotional overlays. Moreover, reading problems prevent individuals from reaching desired career goals and robs them of the opportunity to read for pleasure and enjoyment. Reading difficulties are the principal causes of failure in school. Richet et al affirm that reading failure could lead to misbehaviour, anxiety and lack of motivation. According to Lerner (2006), reading experiences strongly influence self-image and feelings.

Secondary students must use basic skills as for learning tools. There are substantial reading demands in all content areas, with texts often at high readability level. Reading problems for students with learning disabilities frequently continue into high school (Algozzine, O’shea, Studdard & Crews, 2008). In the world conference on special needs education at Salamanca in which Kenya was represented, the government was called upon and urged to ensure that, SNE is included in teacher education programmes both pre service and in service to enhance inclusive education.

The results of 2010, 2011 and 2012 of the ten mixed secondary schools out of 19 public ones in Shendam LGA of Plateau State were below the national average mean grade of 6.This fact attracted the interest of the researchers and sought to find out whether the trend was the same in the consecutive years and whether the current students with learning disabilities would fall in the same trend. Reading in English is taught at primary school level (pre-unit to class 6) as a basic skill, in addition to listening, speaking and writing in syllabus (Oyetunde, 2009). A large number of pupils with learning disabilities lack sufficient knowledge in English reading comprehension and also have difficulty comprehending English words. Furthermore, when they are promoted to secondary school level, such students meet teachers who are not ready to teach reading due to the negative attitude of teachers of English. They believe that teaching reading should be done in primary level by primary school teachers. Again, in most secondary schools, library resource is not well-established. The available reading materials and class readers are oftenly ignored due to the wrong attitude of teachers towards teaching reading. Finally, library lessons are used in teaching literature in pursuit of good scores. The concern for the national mean grade makes the teachers forego teaching reading which in turn affects the performance of all the other examinable subjects. Therefore, the researchers sought to identify and establish the effects of students’ reading difficulties on academic performance in mixed day public secondary schools in Shendam LGA. These mixed schools include: Government Secondary School, Shendam, Government Girls Secondary School, Sendam, Government Secondary School, Kwansang, COCIN Salvation Shendam and St. Benedict Secondary School, Shendam, .

  • Statement of the Problem

A number of learners, for unexplained reasons, are unable to use reading as a tool for learning, getting new information, ideas, attitudes, and values from senior secondary schools (SS 1) upwards. Even after they have been taught, it is quite unfortunate that a large number of them are unable to read efficiently at higher class levels. It is quite sad that between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of school – going learners with learning disabilities have reading difficulties. The government of Nigeria planned to achieve education for all (EFA) by 2015 and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2030 through provision of quality education that is accessible and relevant to the lives of all children including those with special Needs  as many children experience learning difficulties and thus have special educational needs at some time during their schooling, pre-service training programmes should provide a positive orientation towards special needs to all teachers.

Possessing this knowledge, the researchers found out what happens to such learners with learning disabilities after they were promoted to secondary school level in Shendam LGA. There are 89 mixed registered public secondary schools in Shendam. Eighty-seven (87) of them are mixed day schools whose analysis of 2010, 2011 and 2012 registered mean grades far below the country’s average mean grade. This study sought to determine the relationship between this poor academic performance and reading difficulties because many say reading difficulties is the principal cause of failure in school. The researchers, therefore, wished to establish whether reading difficulties could be a major contributing factor to the poor performance since reading skill is needed in order to interpret examination questions and even to comprehend what the questions require for an answer. Word recognition, reading comprehension and application are the reading skills assessed most often. Learners with reading problem in English have problems in school performance in general.

  • Purpose of the Study

This study sought to find out the extent to which reading difficulties affect academic performance of students with learning disabilities in some selected secondary schools in Shendam LGA. Specifically, the objectives of the study were to:

  1. Establish comprehension errors that affect students’ academic performance in secondary schools in Shendam LGA.
  2. To find out the effects of reading difficulties on students’ academic performance in secondary schools in Shendam LGA.
  • Identify challenges faced by secondary school English language teachers in dealing with reading difficulties regarding comprehension errors in secondary schools in Shendam LGA.
  1. Establish appropriate strategies that would enhance reading comprehension, in secondary schools in Shendam LGA.
    • Research Questions

The following research questions were formulated for the study:

  1. What are the comprehension errors that affect academic performance of students in secondary schools in Shendam LGA?
  2. What are the effects of reading difficulties on students’ academic performance in schools Shendam LGA?
  • How do English language teachers handle reading difficulties in relation to comprehension errors at school in secondary schools in Shendam LGA?
  1. What strategies can be used to minimize comprehension errors amongst students in secondary schools in Shendam LGA?
    • Research Hypotheses

The following hypotheses were postulated to guide the study

  1. There is no significant mean difference in the comprehension errors and academic performance of students in public schools.
  2. There is no significant mean difference in reading difficulties on students’ academic performance.
    • Significance of the Study

Data and information obtained from this study can be used to inform teachers and students about learners with reading difficulties in order to improve their academic performance.

The findings provide appropriate information to Nigeria Institute of Curriculum Development (NICD) as they develop curricula and syllabus for respective academic levels for learners with reading difficulties.

Policy-makers are informed about students’ reading difficulties and the need to train secondary teachers on Special Needs Education. Teachers are made aware of students in this category and the need to offer them assistance.

Finally, parents can gain from their children’s improved academic performance.

  • Delimitation and Scope of the Study

The study was concerned with students with learning disabilities in secondary level and excluded other causes of reading difficulties except the comprehension errors which the researchers were able to handle in the limited time. The researchers were interested in the public mixed day secondary schools leaving out the provincial and private secondary schools in the local government area. This meant that the results would not be generalized to all schools or other settings except to those with similar sociocultural and geographical locations.

  • Limitation of the Study

The researchers wish to extend their scope to all the secondary schools in Shendam Local Government Area but due to financial constraints and time factor, it was not possible for the researchers to sample opinions of students that are more than the sample size. More so, there are also difficulties in administration and collection of the responded questionnaires because most of the sampled schools are scattered. Again, there is also difficulty in gathering information from authors because there are limited literatures.

  • Operational Definition of Terms

Academic Performance: It refers to how well or badly individual student scores in each specific examinable subject in secondary school as indicated by scores and grades.

Comprehension: Reconstructing the author’s message using one’s experiential knowledge of language and thinking skills

Decoding: Secondary school learners‟ ability to recognize words and associate meaning with them

Disability: This is students‟ lack or restriction of ability to perform a mental or physical activity in the manner within the range considered normal at a given age or sex in a school setting

Emotional Adjustment: It refers to student’s ability to change his/her behaviour and attitudes to agree with the feeling of others at school.

Inclusive Education: This is an approach in which learners with disabilities and special needs, regardless of age and disability, are provided with appropriate education within regular schools

Reading Difficulty: It is used interchangeably with the terms reading disability and learning disability in this study. It includes problems in reading habits, word recognition, comprehension, word grouping and punctuations.

Reading: The process of constructing meaning through the dynamic interaction among the reader, the text and the context of the reading situation.

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