One highlight of our fall is the work we are doing in an Individual Support classroom. During the summer a group of eight staff (two supervisors including me, two speech pathologists, one behaviour specialist, two teachers and one reading specialist) headed to Detroit, Michigan to learn with Dr Karen Erickson and Dr. Dave Koppenhaver about Literacy for Students with Significant Disabilities. This new information often caused us to have great paradigm shifts in the way we have "always done things" to a new way of thinking. This group didn't need to be told to presume competence in our students but that we would deliver a literacy program rich in reading and writing with full access to the alphabet for ALL students. This carved away some of our beliefs that all students could not learn to read and Picture exchange should suffice for communication for some students. However, we were told that while pictures could offer a start, they could not completely communicate for a student because meanings of pictures are often ambiguous.
So we discussed all of our learning at length and helped the two teachers along to create their initial plan for their students. They were excited to begin to offer a literacy rich program to all of their students with a systematic approach provided by the presenters.
When we returned, our SLP and Reading specialist presented to another classroom. We were pleasantly surprised and pleased as the staff embraced this new learning. What is even more exciting, every time we go back to the classroom, new and exciting things are taking place. They have begun shared reading (reading for engagement and enjoyment) and independent writing for all students (the scribbling we encourage our emerging writers to do at young ages), signing in and out of the room (this means being creative for writing for students who may not yet be able to hold pencils - they have purchased some great letter stamps with easy grips!) and a name wall so students can see and learn their names. We are beyond happy with the work this class has done and I expect there will be a great deal to share as the year progresses.
Finally, our group has decided to have our two teachers who came along on the trip and our teacher who is doing awesome things in the classroom, as well as four educational assistants who have begun this work with students who are included come together for a day of sharing on the district PD day. We hope to share our current successes, some challenges and then some resources. We will take a look at the Tar Heel Reader. This website offers many created books for students to enjoy in shared and independent reading time. Especially great because they are FREE! Creating books is an equally beneficial tool for students to see themselves as authors.
At the end of the day, we will take a look at writing IPPs that address literacy in these classrooms and for students with significant disabilities. Click here for sample IPP goals for students with significant disabilities. As well, we will look at the Alberta Education website to look at the new templates for IPPs for students with severe needs. One thing to note that if you want to see the new templates, you need to open up the link in Explorer. These new templates require teachers to tie the literacy and numeracy goals to the Program of Studies. Yes, even for our most complex students and especially for them. It is so easy to limit their goals to behaviour and compliance but we need to do so much more if these students are to be able to communicate in our community when they graduate. We owe it to them to teach necessary skills of reading and writing (however that looks for each student - up to us to be creative in finding the best way for them to communicate) using alternate pencils if needed. Check here and here and here for information on alternate pencils.
As we move forward, we hope to involve many more teachers to make a literacy community of practice for any teacher who wants to create a literacy rich classroom for students in Individual Support Classes (ISP), Community Life Skill Classes (CLS) and Interactions Classes for students with severe Autism. We believe all and we mean ALL students need access to the full alphabet and our goal is to make this happen in our district! Can't wait to share more updates!