Case Study

The following is a case study of a student with reading difficulties. It is a portion of my final project for Marygrove College’s Reading 510 – Reading Diagnosis and Differentiated Instruction for Diverse Learners which I took during winter 2017. I utilized a variety of formal and informal literacy assessment tools to provide information that was useful in planning effective strategies to better meet my struggling student’s instructional needs.


Emma (name changed for confidentiality) is a ten year old student at Yan-Feng Elementary School in Caotun Township, Nantou County. After school, she receives English instruction at U-Best Educational Institute. I chose to work with Emma for this course because over the last few months I have observed her mumbling difficult words when reading aloud, she often asks me or her classmates how to spell high-frequency words when writing, and she looks unhappy when presented with large blocks of text to read.


Emma has been learning English since she was enrolled in our school’s English immersion program for preschoolers and kindergartners when she was four years old. I took over teaching Emma and her class after Lunar New Year last year when their leading teacher moved back to Canada. It was soon clear that her reading and writing ability was below her classmates’ and we would need to work hard together to catch up.
Emma lives with her two parents and her twelve year old brother. Her father runs a massive gravel company along the Wu River in Caotun Township. Emma often entertains the class with stories about the snakes her father’s employees catch and occasionally brings bananas to share that were grown on the company’s land. Her mother is a housewife and spends a lot time running errands for her in-laws and keeping them company. Emma does very well at her elementary school and her grades are usually above 90%. Her older brother, however, frequently scores below 70% and is disinterested in school.
During my interview with Emma, she told me that Zongyi Da Jihe was her favorite television show. Her favorite person on the show is A-Xiang who berates contestants in Taiwanese Hokkien. Emma would like to make up a television show about people doing dangerous stunts. Her favorite movie is the teenage romantic comedy Our Times. Cats are her favorite animal and she would like to be one. She wants to be one because they can sit around and do nothing. She has traveled around Taiwan and many of its offshore islands extensively but has never traveled abroad. If she could go anywhere in the world, she would like to go to Japan because she likes Japanese food. Given the opportunity to travel through time she wants to go far into the future because she’s curious to see cool technology. Her favorite subject is Art because her teacher is kind, funny, and doesn’t assign homework. The latest book she read was Osborne’s Tonight on the Titanic which she picked up at the school library for a book report. She thought the book was boring but enjoyed the ending because “a lot of people died”. At home she enjoys reading her brother’s Doraemon comics, but admits she rarely reads anything unless it is assigned. Her ideal rainy day is spent playing games on her mother’s iPad and her ideal sunny day is spent riding her bicycle. Her favorite sport is running and she enjoys fishing and camping with her family. If given money, she wants to buy a smartphone because her brother has one and she wouldn’t need to borrow her mother’s.
Looking at Emma’s behavior log of demonstrated multiple intelligences her biggest strength is her visual-spatial intelligence. Emma has demonstrated strong spatial intelligence when she drew and described a map for an alternate route to her father’s company that I was able to follow by bicycle.
Emma’s interpersonal intelligence is also very strong. She is comfortable socializing with all of her classmates, teachers, and school staff. Emma is also a very caring individual. During our school’s summer sessions she requests to help the teachers in our daycare department. Emma volunteers to help these youngsters get accustomed to their new environment by taking new students on walks around the playground and is an extra helper in the room to assist the teachers to get the children ready for nap time.
Going through a checklist of observable clues to classroom vision problems there was little to note. Emma wears glasses for nearsightedness (myopia). There weren’t many behaviors that Emma displayed to conclude her problems with reading were due to vision problems. Under the category of eye movement abilities I observed her displaying a short attention span in reading or copying while under the eye teaming abilities category she consistently shows gross postural deviations at all desk activities. I don’t think these two observed behaviors are a sign of a more serious vision problem. I believe the demands her elementary school classes place on her are exhausting. On the topic of visual form perception I observed Emma repeatedly confusing similar beginnings and endings of words. The more thought I give into this the less I feel it is a problem for her because the only time she makes these confusions is when reading difficult, less frequently encountered words. I have also observed Emma squint to see the whiteboard and make errors when copying from the whiteboard. This problem was largely alleviated in our previous classroom when she sat closer to the whiteboard. Now, however, she sits further from the whiteboard and even through she has to squint and makes errors when copying she refuses to move closer.
For the checklists of symptoms of hearing difficulties and the symptoms associated with emotional maladjustment I have not observed any behaviors that would lead me to believe Emma suffers from hearing difficulties or is emotionally maladjusted. Emma gets along with all her classmates as well as younger and older students from other classrooms very well. From what I can gather, she has a healthy and stable home environment.


For a writing assignment using a prompt, Emma did not make any notes on her paper or draw any pictures to guide her writing. When she tried to turn in her first draft, I asked her to return to her seat to see if there were any errors or any changes she wanted to make. She took her paper to her desk, slumped in her chair, spun the paper around a few times, and stood up to turn it back in when another student got up to turn his in. In her writing this week, Emma used the imaginative voice and told an enjoyable story.
Emma’s developmental stage of spelling is between transitional and conventional. She spelled hurt as heardt and throw as thow. Surprisingly, she also used invented spelling for the high- frequency words mom (mon) and play (paly). For the past several months I have observed Emma ask her classmates how to spell words when writing. Recently, I have encouraged her and others to not rely on each other for correct spelling, but to try their best to sound out the word as best as possible.
On mechanics, Emma formed graphemes correctly, wrote legibly, and used appropriate capitalization. Even though she inverted the paper, she titled her composition. In her writing she over relied on conjunctions when she should have simply started new sentences and changed her tenses inappropriately. There were no indentations, commas, question marks, or exclamation marks written in this week’s assignment. In her writing, she made more mistakes than her classmates. During weekly spelling quizzes, which tests spelling abilities on words picked from our content area textbooks, she consistently scores lower than her classmates.


I administered Bader’s Graded Word Lists tests on February 15. I believed that Emma would be able to read Test E (3.0) with no difficulties so I started off with Test D (2.0). She had no trouble reading any of the words except one. She made a pronunciation error with the word stopped. She used /id/ as the ending sound instead of /t/.
Next we moved on to Test E (3.0). She said all the words confidently except for since. Immediately after saying the first word correctly she got to the second one, slumped in her chair and said, “Oh! I don’t know! Tell me!” I told her she was doing an excellent job and encouraged her to sound out the word and try her best. She stared at the word for a few more seconds and asked if she could say the next ones. She was able to read them perfectly.
After this test I told her to not be discouraged and asked her if she wanted to take a break or try the next list. She told me she wanted to do it. She spoke the first six words flawlessly but did not attempt the words preview, laughter, or preparation. She read each word as “I don’t know” and finished with correctly reading the word building – the last word on the list. I asked her to look at the ones she couldn’t read and encouraged her to try those but she was non-responsive. Through these tests I have concluded Emma’s highest instructional level is 3.5.


I administered Bader’s Graded Reading Passages on February 22. Based on the results of the Graded Word Lists, I chose to administer passages 2C and 3C. For Graded Passage 2C, Emma had adequate background knowledge about frogs. Although she couldn’t remember the English words for “tadpole” or “amphibian,” she could describe their life cycles and knew a lot about their diet and habitat. Emma was allowed to read the passage silently before reading aloud. While reading, she made two substitution errors: she said tired instead of tried and shiny instead of still. She repeated herself at the beginning of the second paragraph and corrected herself when she mistook and for all. She omitted the s sound on the word flowers (twice) and id at the end of wanted. She also misread ribbit, ribbit as rabbit, rabbit. Emma was able to retell five memories from the story in order. She was able to answer all but one of the comprehension questions. Her reading rate was 107 words per minute and read the passage word by word in a monotone voice without expression.
For Graded Passage 3C, Emma had adequate background knowledge about having an accident and hurting herself. She told me a brief story about falling off her bicycle last year. Prior to telling her to read silently I pointed to the word “Band-Aid” and explained what it was because this proprietary eponym is not used to describe adhesive bandages in Taiwan. She displayed that she understood when she pointed to an adhesive bandage on her elbow and no further explanation was required. In this passage, Emma frequently omitted or mispronounced ending sounds on past tense verbs. She also omitted the t at the end of just. I pronounced the word sting for her when she mumbled something incoherent while reading. She pronounced James as Jame despite saying it correctly two times earlier and mispronounced Miss Smith as Miss Sama. Emma was able to retell five memories from the story in order and could answer six comprehension questions correctly. Her reading rate, at 94 words per minute was twenty-two percent slower than Graded Passage 2C. She read the passage word by word in a monotone voice without expression.
Through administering these two passages I have concluded that Emma’s instructional level is grade 2.5. Emma displayed good retelling and comprehension abilities but frequently omitted or substituted incorrect ending sounds on regular past tense verbs. She also had a lot of difficulty reading words that were not in her sight vocabulary.


I believe a lot of Emma’s reading difficulties result from not reading much at home. Research shows that parents can encourage reading by reading themselves and setting aside time daily for their children to read (Shapiro, 2014). The author of the article Motivating Children to Read makes several suggestions that I would like to share with Emma’s parents including: parental modeling, carrying reading material when traveling, and setting aside time to read as a family (Kuersten, n.d.). I understand it is difficult to change behavior for adults so the two most realistic suggestions that I can make to her parents are to carry reading material for Emma and her brother on their frequent trips criss-crossing the island and setting aside time for their children to read. There are several actions I can take in my classroom to encourage recreational reading for Emma and her classmates including: providing a relaxing atmosphere for students to practice reading, sharing literature, providing literature relevant to Taiwanese culture, and a system for students to exchange books with one another (Gipe, 2014, p. 14). Using peer reading as an instructional strategy would be very effective because of Emma’s strong interpersonal intelligence. Another strategy is one I will begin this summer when Emma and her classmates are in our school all day. I would like her and other volunteers from our class to read to our pre-k and kindergarten students. This will help Emma build confidence through reading simpler texts and improve fluency while doing something she enjoys.
Two 40 minute sessions per week will be set aside for writing and recreational reading. I plan to supplement the recreational reading time with Reader’s Theater to engage students as they practice fluency and improve comprehension. The other period will be spent on what the National Right to Read Foundation calls the Big Five: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary Development, Fluency, and Comprehension (NRRF, n.d.). While reteaching a lot of what has been learned it will be essential keep in mind the needs of both struggling and advanced learners (Tomlinson, 2014, p. 42). The class will be fast paced with a wide variety of activities and differentiate process and product to accommodate learners with the appropriate level of challenge. Using tiered assignments will help meet Emma at a level she can be challenged but not frustrated so she can do meaningful tasks that move her forward (Robb, n.d.). I believe these strategies will not only help Emma but help the class as a whole, giving them essential skills that they will use as they continue learning and using English throughout their schooling and into adulthood.
There are strategies I will institute to address Emma’s needs regarding spelling. We will use personal dictionaries as a way to accommodate individual differences and bridge the gap between spelling instruction and application in writing (Anthony, n.d.). I will encourage students to include words they have trouble remembering how to spell while writing, words whose meaning is difficult to remember, and words we encounter from our content course readings. Designing activities around word categories and incorporating these into our personal dictionaries would also help meet Emma’s instructional needs.
Several strategies can be used to change Emma’s negative view toward writing. Making more time for nonstructured writing could help encourage Emma to write by providing a supportive, risk-free environment (Gipe, 2014, pp. 162-163). Since Emma has strong interpersonal intelligence, I believe she would benefit greatly from collaborative writing and creating stories using write a sentence / make a story and dialogue journal activities. Using paragraph hamburgers would help Emma and the class organize ideas into a cohesive paragraph and illustrate the organizational structure of ideas (Richards, 2017). Through these strategies, I believe Emma will gain confidence in her writing and see writing in a more positive light.


Anthony, S. C. (n.d.). Suggestions for Using Personal Dictionaries [PDF]. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from

Gipe, J. P. (2014). Multiple paths to literacy: assessment and differentiated instruction for diverse learners, K-12. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Kuersten, J. (n.d.). Motivating Your Child to Read. Retrieved February 09, 2017, from Learn to Read the Right Way | NRRF. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2017, from

Richards, R. G. (2017, February 13). Dysgraphia: A Student’s Perspective on Writing. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from

Robb, L. (n.d.). What Is Differentiated Instruction? Retrieved February 17, 2017, from

Shapiro, J. (2014, May 14). Kids Don’t Read Books Because Parents Don’t Read Books. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from

Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). The differentiated classroom: responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Student Behavior Log of Demonstrated Multiple Intelligences
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Inventory of Pupil Interests and Activities
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Observable Clues to Classroom Vision Problems

Checklist of Symptoms of Hearing Difficulties &
Checklist of Symptoms Associated with Emotional Maladjustment


Student Writing Sample

Developmental Writing Checklist

Graded Word Lists

Graded Passage 2C

Graded Passage 3C