Texas Tribune Q&A: Q&A: Jill Allor

Research by Prof. Jill Allor of SMU's Department of Teaching and Learning focuses on reading and reading disabilities.

Jill Allor

With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:

Jill Allor is a professor with the Department of Teaching and Learning at Southern Methodist University. Her research focuses on reading and reading disabilities.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Edu: Tell me about the most important aspects of your research as it relates to kids with disabilities and struggling readers.

Jill Allor: One of the things that’s really interesting about kids with disabilities is the things we know that are effective for teaching kids in general are also effective for them.

The differences are in how explicit we need to be and how much repetition is needed. A child with a disability needs more intensive instruction — they need more practice and they need every step laid out very carefully. 

Research shows if you start out with explicit instruction in kindergarten and first grade, you can address reading problems extremely early. You can prevent many problems and prevent some kids from even needing a diagnosis. 

Trib+Edu: What are some of the biggest challenges in identifying and addressing these problems?

Allor: There are some kids that have average intelligence or better but yet struggle to learn how to read. We have a lot of research about what to do for them. They need explicit instruction and the primary problem is usually in the phonological areas. So focusing on phonics early and making that very explicit is critical. 

The majority of the kids in special education have learning disabilities. But more recently, since 2005, my focus has been on students who have intellectual disabilities.

A student with a learning disability generally has an average IQ level but has an unexpected problem learning how to read. For a student with an intellectual disability, they’re going to have problems learning in all areas.

What we found in our research is all of the things that work for students who have a learning disability, who are struggling readers, also work for (students with an intellectual disability) but it needs to be even more explicit and more intensive. 

Read the full interview.