2002 Conference Proceedings

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Jean M. Slater
Slater Software, Inc.
Email: jean@slatersoftware.com

The ability to recite nursery rhymes has been found to be one of the best indicators of future reading success. Through nursery rhymes, children learn the patterns of spoken language--i.e. phonemic awareness. These phonemic awareness skills provide the framework for understanding the next level of language development--understanding the graphemic system, or print. The more proficient phonological and phonemic skills are by the time a child beings phonics instruction in school, the better equipped that child will be to Òcrack the codeÓ and understand the relationship between phonemes and graphemes.

Nursery rhymes are a staple in early childhood classrooms (preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade). It is hoped that children come to school knowing these nursery rhymes, but the fact is that more and more children are not familiar with them. This presentation will show how nursery rhymes can be used to teach the phonemic awareness skills needed for reading and writing success, and can also be used as the framework for emergent and beginning literacy skill development.

When speech therapists want to increase the quantity and quality of communication with children who are low- or non-verbal, one strategy is to insert a Òcommunication loadÓ into a routine. The routine is familiar, understood, and predictable, and it is, therefore, relatively easy to require some additional communicative act in order to complete the routine. Once nursery rhymes are familiar, working with them can afford a parallel strategy for educators teaching beginning reading and writing skills. The rhymes are, or become, familiar to children, and are easy to learn and understand. If we use the familiar rhymes to introduce new skills, a Òreading loadÓ has been inserted into the lessons.

Many materials will be shared which will demonstrate how nursery rhymes fit comfortably into a balanced literacy approach to reading. A discussion of the Four Blocks framework will be a part of this presentation. Developed by Cunningham and Hall, the Four Blocks method for teaching literacy combine different approaches to beginning reading: Guided Reading, Self-Selected Reading, Writing, and Working with Words. Participants will understand how teaching nursery rhymes can address all those areas. They will see activities which focus on phonemic awareness skills, vocabulary, and written expression. Early childhood research says that teachers should establish a literacy-rich environment, engage children in language games, and promote literacy-related play activities which focus on vocabulary, phonics, and comprehension. All the materials and activities shown will relate to those identified guidelines.

In addition, it is vital that children with disabilities be included in literacy activities. Research on the importance of developing reading and writing skills in this population will be shared. Participants will learn ways to adapt lessons so all children can participate to their fullest. They will see adaptations for children who are non-verbal (Cheap Talk, Go Talk, single message switches, communication boards), and for children who are physically unable to write (PixWriter setups, IntelliKeys overlays, and scanning). Participation and interaction must occur for children to learn--and this is equally true for children with significant disabilities. The attendees will see how lessons can be adapted and modified so all children are active learners.

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