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Pupil-made pictorial prompts and fading for teaching sight words to a student with learning disabilities.

A nine-year-old male student with learning disabilities exhibiting speech and language delays, reading below grade level, participated in the study. He was taught to illustrate his own picture prompt materials for learning basic sight words. The experimenters used a multiple probe design across word sets, shown on flashcards, as well as reading in context to evaluate treatment effectiveness, illustrating word meanings by drawing a representative picture was first modeled for the participant. Subsequently, he was told word meanings, and he illustrated the remaining target words. The participant faded his self-made prompts by drawing illustrations, progressively reduced in size and color intensity, during remaining treatment sessions. Rapid acquisition and retention of the target words occurred. Social validation information indicates the participant and his teacher liked the treatment. Self-made prompt materials have implications for reducing teacher preparation time and for increasing individualization.


Students with learning and behavioral disabilities commonly exhibit academic achievement that is inconsistent, less than the achievement of peers, and display resistance to instructional efforts. Reading is one of the more troublesome academic skills for these students. Clearly, children with disabilities need effective and direct methods to learn basic reading skills in a systematic, logical manner (Browder & Shear, 1996; Browder & Xin, 1998; Mosley, Flynt, & Morton, 1997; Nicholson, 1998; Rich & Blake, 1994). Sight word reading is one of the basic reading skills that successful readers must acquire (Ehri, 1995).

Sight vocabulary is a list of words recognized without mediation or utilization of phonetic analysis (Browder & Lalli, 1991). Sight word reading can be defined as a discrete, observable response that is controlled by a printed stimulus (Browder & D'Huyvetters, 1988). The Dolch List of words is one of the most frequently used when teaching sight vocabulary, and, after many years, it still represents the vocabulary in primary materials (Leibert, 1991; Palmer, 1986). As suggested by Doich (1948), an individual who can read all 220 words of the original list should be able to read books of third grade difficulty. Once learned, sight words facilitate the increase of fluency and discrimination of other words in context.

Over the years, behavioral technology has been employed successfully in teaching sight words to students with moderate and severe, and to a lesser extent, mild disabilities. Specifically, behavioral technology employs stimulus control strategies to clearly indicate or set the occasion for a correct response by the learner. Some examples of instructional strategies based on stimulus control procedures are stimulus shaping, and stimulus fading. Stimulus shaping refers to the presentation of the target stimulus (e.g., sight words) with a distracter stimulus that differs from it. Stimulus fading is an errorless procedure that involves the addition of a prompting stimulus, gradually removed or faded by reducing its intensity or components (Browder & Lalli, 1991).

Numerous studies have employed variations of stimulus fading as a means to facilitate the discrimination from a prompt to a desired stimulus (Corey & Shamow, 1972; Dorry & Zeaman, 1975; Karsh, Repp, & Lenz, 1990; Keel, Koorland, & Fueyo, 1997; Knowlton, 1980; Lalli & Browder, 1993; Walsh & Lamberts, 1979). One prompting strategy is the use of picture prompts along with words. Knowlton (1980) employed sight words displayed with illustrations of the words to teach students with learning disabilities. The illustrations were faded by placing tracing paper over the illustrations progressively until no longer visible. Barudin and Hourcade (1990) compared the relative effectiveness of three instructional procedures (sight word, picture fading, and tactile-kinesthetic) in teaching students with moderate and severe mental retardation to read a series of words. They found that all three procedures had a significant effect compared to the control condition. For picture prompt fading, Barudin & Hourcade employed photogra phs of illustrations for the sight words. Subsequent fading was achieved by using overlays of 65 line, half-tone photoscreens with progressively less light transmission. Walsh and Lamberts (1979) employed a similar procedure for fading professionally made line drawings used to illustrate sight words. Keel, Koorland, and Fueyo (1997) used computer generated illustrations for sight words faded by reducing the density of dots per inch on dot matrix printed instructional materials.

The previously described examples of picture fading procedures employed use of researcher developed or obtained materials, and were time and labor intensive to produce. Various researchers have commented on the extra effort required to develop such materials (Browder, Koury, Belfiore, Heller, Wozniak, Lalli, & Hullin, 1990; Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1987; Keel, Koorland, & Fueyo, 1997). The development of such materials would be especially labor intensive for classroom teachers with limited time resources (Browder & D'Huyvetters, 1988).

Interestingly, others assert that students may be a resource for instructional material development (Karlin, 1975; Solo, 1999; Stutz, 1992). For example, Rich and Blake (1994) examined the effects of student-drawn pictures to represent main ideas of text, in addition to the inclusion of a choice of strategy for each phase of the reading process. Fourth and fifth-grade students in an inclusion setting served as participants. Rich and Blake reported the students felt drawing pictures provided a visual summary of the text. Rich and Blake also found that students remembered the story information for longer periods of time without rereading. Currently, no systematic studies of pupil-made picture prompt materials for acquiring sight words are available.

This study will examine the efficacy of a set of procedures for teaching basic sight word recognition. The experimenters used pupil-made illustrations of sight words as prompts, faded by progressively reducing their size and intensity. These procedures comprise a stimulus control strategy, specifically prompt fading, to provide errorless or near errorless sight word acquisition in a child with mild disabilities.


Participant and setting

The participant was a nine-year-old African American male in second grade, who was receiving special education services for students with varying exceptionalities in a public elementary school in a southeastern small metropolitan area. The participant was previously identified by the district school system as a student with learning disabilities. On the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, he obtained a global grade equivalent below 1.0. He obtained a global grade equivalent of 1.9 in mathematics. He obtained a score of 75 on his most current intellectual assessment using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-revised. Additionally, he was diagnosed as having speech and language delays. Instructional sessions took place in a 10 by 14 foot spare room, adjacent to a self-contained special education classroom. The spare room was used for small group instruction and contained a rectangular table and two chairs. The classroom contained furniture and materials typical of a primary class (e. g., chairs, de sks, bulletin boards, books). For most sessions, the classroom teacher and her assistant were present.

Experimental design

The experimenter used a repeated measures single-subject multiple probe design across behaviors (i.e., sets of words) (Homer & Baer, 1978). Dependent measures included seeing and saying previously unknown words shown on flashcards, following each instructional session. A second dependent measure comprised reading aloud a 175-word story created to include the unknown words.


Probes employed flashcards consisting of target words unknown to the participant. Target words were divided into three sets. Each set was assigned to one of the three baselines of the multiple probe design. Cards were shuffled before every session to prevent possible memorization based on order (Byrnes, Macfarlane, Young, & West, 1990). Flashcards were shown to the participant, and he had 5 seconds to say a word correctly before another word was shown. Words said incorrectly, or not said in 5 seconds, were scored as incorrect. The passage (i.e., a story) probe consisted of paragraphs containing the previously identified target words. The participant read the passage aloud, while the researcher followed along on another copy marking target word errors. All target words appeared in the passages, once or twice. The researcher recorded, in a simple yes/no record, whether a word was stated correctly. Since the response was simple to asertain and record, and did not involve complex coding or other naturalistic obse rvation procedures, a second observer was not employed for reliability purposes.


In the first instructional session for each seven word set, the experimenters used large, 5 x 8 inch index cards. Eight different colored markers were available for the student to create pictorial prompts on the cards. In the second treatment session, the experimenters used medium 4 x 6 inch index cards, a box of 16 crayons, and a box of eight colored pencils for each word set. No markers were available during the second treatment sessions. Crayons and colored pencils were used to create a reduced intensity, visual prompt on cards during the second treatment session. In all sessions, the participant used a black marker to write the actual words on cards. In the third treatment sessions, the experimenter used smaller 3 x 5 inch index cards.

Target word selection. The participant read orally from the easier half of the original 220 Dolch Basic Sight Word list for three consecutive sessions. Each session, the participant was instructed to begin reading on a different word. After a word had been missed on three consecutive sessions, it became a target word. Twenty-one target words were identified and arranged in three sets of seven. These twenty-one words were targeted for instruction using the pupil-made prompts. Table 1 lists all target words. These same words were used to create a story for the passage probes. Before the first baseline probe, the participant read the passage, and target word accuracy was recorded.


Pupil-made prompts and fading treatment. All treatment sessions lasted approximately 20 minutes. During the first treatment session, the researcher wrote a word from the first set of seven a large index card using a black marker. The researcher read the word aloud and discussed its meaning with the participant for approximately 3 minutes. The researcher read and spelled the word aloud and used the word in a sentence. Next, the researcher drew and colored a picture, as a model, illustrating the meaning of the target word. Next, the researcher selected another word from the first word set and repeated the previously described 3-minute discussion. Next, the participant was asked to write the word on an index card, draw, and color a picture that best illustrated the word. This activity continued, and the participant made index cards for the first 7 words. Following each treatment session, the experimenter probed the participant on all target words, using small index cards displaying the word alone.

The second treatment session, the participant made a card for each of the 7 target words in the set. Only medium size index cards, crayons, color pencils, and the black marker were available. Reduced card size and less intense coloring instruments represent a visual prompt fading step.

The third and final treatment session for word set one required the student to write the words alone on small size index cards using the black marker. Figure 1 displays an example of the pupil-made picture prompts for one of the target words. Following the probe on these 7 words, the participant read the generalization passage. Probing on the passage followed the last prompt fading step (i.e., card with word alone) for each set of words. In subsequent sessions, the same procedures were conducted for word sets 2 and 3.

Social Validation. Both the student and his teacher were interviewed upon completion of the study. Further, expert validation was arranged to obtain a second and third opinion about the believability and reliability of the change in data following introduction of the treatment across the three word sets.

Figure 2 displays results for baseline and treatment conditions across the three word sets. Each point on the graph represents the number of target words read correctly during that session. During baseline, the majority of data points show correct words at 0 or 1 values. During treatment, words correct per session ranged from 5 to 7. Median treatment values ranged from 6.5 to 7 words correct, with no overlap in data occurring between baseline and treatment. Follow up probes were conducted five to six sessions following the last treatment session for each word set. Words correct remained at 7, suggesting the treatment contributed to retention for the follow up period.


Percent of target words read correctly during the three passage probes was obtained just before baseline probes and at sessions 9 and 16. The percentages of words read correctly were 29%, 67%, and 95%, respectively. Increases in correctly read words in context point to acquisition of the words over the course of the study, and to generalization from the treatment to words in context.

To further validate evidence of a functional relation between the treatment and positive changes in the words read, graphs with removed phase change lines, and all data points connected were shown to two experts in behavior analysis. Neither were told the nature of the study, nor the specific dependent variable. Both experts were asked to note the first session indicating the onset of treatment. The experts identified those points with plus or minus one session accuracy.

The participant was also queried about the treatment. He stated that he enjoyed the picture prompt method. Additionally, the participant stated that he would like to keep his self-made cards to show to his family. The participant's teacher, having observed treatment sessions throughout the study, believed that the method could be implemented easily in classrooms for students with mild disabilities. She considered the treatment steps easy to follow. Further, she stated that implementing this method would minimize the preparation of teaching materials and motivate her students.


The treatment package consisting of brief explanations about word meanings, pupil illustration of a picture prompt, and a series of prompt fading steps to obtain transfer of stimulus control from prompts to target words was clearly successful after just three treatment sessions for each word set. Three demonstrations of a functional relation between onset of the treatment and increases in number of words said correctly argue for the efficacy of the procedures.

The relative contribution of each separate element in the treatment package is unclear. Possibly, the student illustration activity itself could be sufficient to teach the meaning of each sight word. On the other hand, repetition encountered while drawing the subsequently less intense, or faded, illustrations could contribute in important ways to the acquisition and retention of the sight words. Additional research to perform component analysis of this treatment is warranted. This study examines systematic use of pupil-made materials, specifically pictorial prompts, to acquire sight word reading skill. Although the use of pupil-made prompts does not appear in the literature, the study of pupil-made materials may intersect with other approaches related to assisting those with disabilities. For example, choice-making is present when a student determines the nature of the illustration that is produced. In this study, while a model was provided to the student in the first treatment session, the purpose was not to prompt a particular kind of picture, but was used to show the participant what general steps were expected. The illustrations generated by the participant were not related to those the researcher drew in the initial modeling, and were, therefore, illustrations chosen by the participant. Dunlap, dePerczel, Clark, Wilson, Wright, White, and Gomez (1994) point to the benefits of choice-making to promote adaptive behavior in students with behavioral challenges. They assert that interventions more responsive to individual initiatives and preferences are an important direction for educating students.

Additionally, a multisensory dimension may be operating for students who illustrate prompts. Traditionally, students taught multisensory approaches are involved in tactile or kinesthetic activities, such as tracing a word created from sandpaper letters (Barudin & Hourcade, 1990). Pupils illustrating their own prompts for sight words have to engage in physical movements and attention required for drawing. Consequently, learners are more active and employ more sensory avenues during the illustrating and fading activity than might occur during activities in which students are simply shown and told the word, or asked to repeat the word after hearing it.

The nature of sight words may lend themselves to instruction based on picture prompts. Karlin (1975) asserts that Dolch words are difficult to learn because of the type of words included in the list (e.g., is, were, when). Illustrations assist in providing word meaning at a more concrete level. Ehri (1995) hypothesizes four stages associated with sight word acquisition. In the first stage, termed prealphabetic, learners acquire sight word meaning by an associative process that does not require knowledge of grapheme/ phoneme relationships. During this first stage, learners use visual cues based on some elements of the sight word to associate meanings with the word. This prealphabetic stage is characteristic of beginning readers at the first grade level. For learners with disabilities, this stage may persist much longer beyond first grade and delay movement to subsequent sight word stages that employ progressively more alphabetic features of sight words.

Usefulness of this treatment may depend on the reduced teacher time required for materials preparation and the individualization possible for each learner. The complexity of materials preparation is clearly a barrier to wider use of materials with picture prompts. Even when picture prompts are used, illustrations are selected by those preparing the materials, and may not provide meaning for individual learners under instruction. Pupil-made prompts serve as individualized materials for students who choose and create them.

In conclusion, use of the pupil-made prompt treatment package resulted in clear improvements in individual sight word recognition. Introduction of the treatment package also correlated with improvements in context-based recognition for a student with learning disabilities, two years below grade level in reading. Further research and replication is necessary to fully understand the variables that affect treatment reliability and learner gains, and to explore parameters associated with time and effort requirements for teachers and students choosing to employ pupil-made prompt materials.

Table 1

Initially Unknown Target Sight Words Arranged Randomly into Three Sets

Set Words

1 five, on, don't, come,
 around, from, know

2 before, what, again, no,
 soon, carry, ride

3 first, fall, fear, could,
 done, grow, draw


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Address: Mabel O. Rivera, Dept. of Special Education, 205 Stone Bldg., Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306.
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Author:Rivera, Mabel O.; Koorland, Mark A.; Fueyo, Vivian
Publication:Education & Treatment of Children
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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