Saturday, December 29, 2012

Using the Nonverbal Approach to Promote Literacy

I came across this Power Point presentation a few weeks back and have since found a couple of research studies on the "Nonverbal Approach to Reading (NRA)".  When I attended the "Literacy and AAC" course put on by Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver in May, they spoke of the goal of reading instruction being that of "reading silently (in your head) with comprehension".  Seems logical but for students who do not talk what does this mean?  From everything that I've read what it means is that we need to be explicit about teaching them to read silently in there head.  We need to actually talk to them in the teaching process about what they are hearing in their heads while reading. 

I'm excited to begin trying this NRA method with a few of my students after Christmas.  I am using a modified approach to Patricia Cunningham's "Systematic Sequential Phonics They Use: For Beginning Readers of All Ages" with three of my students and have now created NRA Power Points to go with the word wall words that are introduced with this program.  One of the research articles that I read talked about including a motoric prompt to go along with steps of the NRA approach as they were then able to tell when students transferred the skill and were using the approach with other words.  I'm excited to add in this NRA piece.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Interactive to Independent Literacy: A Model for Designing Literacy Goals for Children with Atypical Communication

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.