I knew immediately that this article was to like this article when I read the quote that it opened with: "Researchers and professionals need to work actively to reverse the forces at work in our culture that lead to the ostracism of children who are different."
Over the past year and a half, my views about literacy instruction for the students that I have on my caseload have changed quite a bit. I have been fortunate enough to take workshops and/or courses form Linda Burkhart (PODD Communication), Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver (Literacy in AAC Course) and Caroline Musslewhite (Literacy Workshop and Communication Circle Workshop). I have also participated, along with two different teachers from the school I work at, in the Literacy for All project last year and this year.
It is not that I didn't believe in literacy instruction for "my" students so much as I was thinking of literacy as a series of lock step skills that needed to be mastered. Sadly, a drill based approach to literacy still seems to be a reality for many with disabilities even against that fact that so many classrooms have moved to approaches that are much more comprehensive and interactive. The functions of literacy skills seem go quickly get lost in this approach and these students are then faced with the added challenge of low motivation on top of the challenges presented by their disabilities. Without the context of what one is doing, it is hard to stay motivated to to do it.
"For all children to bcome members of their literate communities, we must consider reading and writing not as end products but rather as socially communicative practices that begin to emerge early in childhood as other communicative abilities do. Both oral and written language are thus viewed as primarily communicative practice, and an intervention to achieve that end is best viewed as situated practice."
This article goes on to present a model for five level literacy instruction that is influenced by the Social Interaction Model, the Participation Model and the Situated Pragmatics Model along with possible goals for each of the five levels.
It reflects the path that we have started down with the students that I have on my caseload over the past couple of years. It is not always an easy path as it is slow and the focus is on interactions and the process rather than individually produced products. The model is based on interaction to create understanding in the emergent stage and only moving on to conventional literacy when there is a deeper understanding. The reality is that we can push students in to the emergent stage long before understanding and get the paper products that some would equate to learning so much quicker.
What is the benefit of this approach? How much research has been done?
It's all still so new and when it's about students with complex communication needs it is sometimes hard to measure these things. Sometimes we need to just assume that these students will develop literacy skills in much the same way as others but they will require more time and because of limitations, they will also require others to be more deligent of keeping it all going. I believe in the end the benefit will be motivation. The article itself speaks to the benefit being that focusing this way also focuses in communication and interaction and these two things result in an increased quality of life for anyone.
What I know is that making this shift has resulted in increased levels of interaction and engagement both with others and with literacy skills. I know that I am imagining going places with letter by letter generative reading and writing that I had never imagined before with some of my students. I know that I can see a deeper link between communication and litearcy and have found new ways to teach both in the crossover between the two. I know that these skills we are working on are more authentically transferable then what we had worked on in the past.
Finding this article was exciting for me because it framed so much of the learning journey about literacy and communication that I've been on (and will continue to be on) over these past couple of years.