2000 Conference Proceedings

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Peggy A. Locke, Ph.D.
AbleNet, Inc.
1081 Tenth Avenue SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414-1312

In recent history, much attention has been focused on the need to embrace the diversity of all members of our collective cultures. There is one group however, whose voice often remains unheard: individuals with severe physical and cognitive disabilities. While active participation and inclusion in natural settings is a goal for students with significant disabilities, it also greatly benefits students without disabilities. A recent study by Craig (1996) surveyed students in classrooms in which a peer with severe disabilities was fully included. Her results indicated that in addition to many benefits, 39% of the students surveyed reported that the experience had taught them to "accept people as they are," a critical first step in embracing diversity. The inclusion of students in regular settings has been, and continues to be on the rise (McLeskey & Henry, 1999).

While the trend toward full inclusion is increasing, it does not occur without some very unique challenges. Often it is difficult for professionals to identify activities in which individuals with significant disabilities are able to participate. Speech/language clinicians, educators, and other professionals are finding the need for quick, effective, and appropriate strategies for enhancing the participation of students with severe disabilities in regular curriculum activities.

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Many of the problems arise when creating participation activities to use during academic activities such as reading and writing activities. To better serve these students with the most significant cognitive and physical disabilities who are in included settings, an examination of regular curriculums is advantageous. Specifically, let's examine reading curriculums.

Traditional reading curriculums are usually based on using traditional reading basal series. In this model, teachers follow teacher guides. Often worksheets are included and reading groups are formed. Students are expected to go through very specific reading steps to complete one stage and advance to the next. The inclusion of students in these settings is difficult when a traditional curriculum is adhered to.

In the early 1990's, Pat Cunningham and her colleagues developed a "different kind" of reading approach. That approach also included the use of traditional basal readers and incorporated both phonics and whole language methods. Her approach is often referred to as the Four Block Model. This model includes Guided Reading (comprehension, reading for meaning, etc.), Working with Words (phonics, spelling, grammar, etc.), Writing, and Self-Guided Reading (learning to read for enjoyment). In each of these blocks, there are several activities which teachers can select from on a day-to-day basis. If followed, each block is to be presented in classrooms for one-half hour, resulting in two hours of reading instruction a day. This model has proven very strong and is now becoming a strong reading approach adopted by several schools across the United States.

However, whether or not a teacher uses the Four Block Model, many of the activities suggested within the model can be used as support activities regardless of the reading program adopted by the school district. These activities are reinforcing for students, clear and easy to understand, and make instruction fun for both the teacher and the students. Regular teachers look for these kinds of support materials and special education teachers look for ways to include students.

By using the Four Block Model and the activities suggested which support this model, inclusion can be very strong. The activities can be used for all students regardless of whether or not a student has a disability. Not only can regular teachers increase the participation of students in instructional reading activities, the participation of students with the most severe physical and cognitive disabilities can be increased by easily adapting these activities. As a result, students with severe disabilities cannot only begin to experience the benefits of literacy exposure, but begin to develop emergent literacy skills.

Emergent literacy is a term that is often found in the current literature and was discussed in 1993 by Pat Mirenda. She stated that ?Literacy is more than learning to read, write and spell proficiently. It is learning to enjoy words and stories when someone else is reading them. It is learning to love books and all the worlds that can be opened by books. It is a way of achieving social closeness through sharing literary experiences with friends or classmates. It is finding out about the way things are in places we have never visited or in places that have never existed. If we understand that literacy is all of these things and more, we can also understand that everyone can achieve some degree of literacy if given opportunities and exposure.... The notions that children are too physically, too cognitively, or too communicatively disabled to benefit from experiences with written language, are not supported by current emergent literacy research!? Current literacy research would in fact support the exposure of literacy activities to all students regardless of the disability.

Research indicated that individuals who experience early literacy learning difficulties in school tended to remain poor readers and writers throughout their school years (Juel, 1988). In addition, these individuals were less likely to be accepted by their peers in school (Donahue & Prescott, 1988), and as adults, were likely to be severely restricted in their vocational options (Richardson, Koller & Katz, 1988). Specifically, literacy skills impact an individual's likelihood of successful competitive or supported employment (Koppenhaver, Evans, & Yoder, 1991). For individuals with the severe disabilities, the lack of literacy skills only further accentuates their already existing problems of inclusion and acceptance. Even if a student does not become an independent reader or writer, the literacy experience can still be very important to that individual.

The benefits of being exposed to literacy activities for students with the most severe physical and cognitive disabilities are endless. It means that students can begin to learn that words correspond to speech and that words are made up of sound. They can learn that words are something to pay attention to. They can learn about the world around them by simply listening to stories. Most importantly, they can increase their opportunities for social closeness. Reading books with a friend, sharing stories, coloring, or telling a sibling about an event are all emergent literacy experiences and all experiences that enrich social closeness. Because of this, the more literacy experience you can give an individual the better. The good news is that literacy is also a high priority in regular classrooms, and through the use of simple support activities based on the Four Block Model, students can easily be included in literacy activities that benefit all students.

During this presentation, the instructor will discuss numerous ways in which professionals can actively facilitate a student's literacy development regardless of the severity of their disability. Regular education reading activities which are based on the Four Block Model will be presented. Adaptations of these activities, including the use of simple technology for participation of students with significant disabilities, will be shared. Participants will leave with specific reading activity ideas that can be used by regular classroom teachers and can easily be adapted for their students with the most severe physical and cognitive disabilities.

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Craig, C.J. (1996). Family Support of the Emergent Literacy of Children with Visual

Impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90 (3), 194-200.

Donahue, M. & Prescott, B. (1988). Reading Disabled Children's Conversational Participation

in Dispute Episodes with Peers. First Language, 8, 247-258.

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 437-447.

Koppenhaver, D.A., Evans, D., & Yoder, D.E. (1991). Childhood reading and writing

experiences of literate adults with severe speech and motor impairments. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 7, 20-33.

McLeskey, J. & Henry, D. (1999). Inclusion: What Progress Is Being Made Across States? Teaching Exceptional Children, 31 (5), 56-62.

Mirenda, P. (1993). Bonding the uncertain mosaic. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 9, 3-9.

Richardson, S.A., Koller, H., & Katz, M. (1988). Job Histories in Open Employment of a Population of Young Adults With Mental Retardation. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 92, 483-491.

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