Literacy Instruction New vs Old Thinking in Special Ed

Literacy instruction has long been considered a challenge for our most diverse learners. We thought that many could not learn so why teach literacy. Shouldn’t we teach more functional skills instead? The answer is no but I invite you to read on to find out best practice when teaching literacy with complex learners.

Use explicit literacy instructional strategies

In the past we tended to have a large emphasis on functional skills; rote learning tasks or singing alphabet; and readiness skills. But what did our students actually learn? Literacy is the most functional skill we can teach. Today we emphasise explicit instructional strategies in alphabet, phonics, reading, writing and word study daily.

Literacy is learned through interaction

We used to think literacy was sequential. That by exposing students to literacy they would absorb it when they are ready to and that there were prerequisites to learning. Historically, we waited for children’s development and skill to progress to teach them the next step. Learn more, do better. We need to teach all students emergent literacy instruction though explicit and engaging activities. Educators need to do this from the earliest opportunity. After all we do not always know what the student is learning until they have learned enough to inform us. Therefore is is vital that all students can interact with us by providing and teaching how to communicate with robust communication systems. We must believe that all students have the potential to learn and teach them accordingly.

Literacy Instruction is taught at school

Literacy learning takes place at school or so we used to think. In fact, learning about language starts at birth. It is the family that are the first teachers of literacy. Language in the early years is learned in a range of contexts and everyday activities. Contexts that include home, in the community and in preschools or specialty intervention centres. This learning is important as it sets up the foundation for the learning to come at school.

All students can learn to use print meaningfully

Will all students learn to read? Perhaps not. However all students can learn to use print meaningfully. Take the alphabet for example. Students can learn a few letters of the alphabet. This information can be used to provide valuable cues. Teaching the alphabet must be a priority. For more on teaching the alphabet see here. Communicating by looking, pointing or typing this key information, can help adults to interpret what a student wants, needs or is commenting about.

Another example is by teaching students to identify and apply a pre-typed name in sticker form to sign. Learning to use text prediction to hit one letter and have a word generated is a worthy and useful option. Lastly of course students can learn to use Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) to communicate with others.

Literacy Instruction in 2021

We need to change our old ways of thinking about what to teach and how to teach it with our most complex learners. All students deserve to learn literacy skills. It is the right of all learners. Start with the alphabet, shared reading and writing along with independent reading and writing. Do it as often as possible, for as long as it takes to improve literacy for all. Information for this article was gleaned from Literacy For All website and it can be accessed here.

shows the front cover of a text: Comprehensive Literacy For All. Teaching students with significant disabilities to read and write. Picture of a tree with a child sitting in a wheel chair under it reading a book. Authors named Karen A Erikson and David A. Koppenhaver

A fabulous book to learn how and what to teach in literacy for our most complex learners.

It can be purchased here for those interested. I can highly recommend it. To be notified when I have a new post and for support and tips, along with a catalogue of freebies, I invite you to join my mailing list. Enter your details below.

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Aroha, Ann

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