If you have been reading my blog for a while you know there are a lot of subjects under the special ed umbrella that I am pretty passionate about talking about. I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about staff training and behavior change. Those are two of my favorite topics and I quite literally can talk all day about them. In fact, I often do in my professional development workshops. Well, it dawned on me recently that one of my favorite topics to talk on hasn’t gotten that much love recently – literacy.
Saying literacy is important is really an understatement. Literacy is THE thing your students need. We live in a text rich world. And for our students to participate in that world to any degree, they need the literacy skills to understand and utilize all that text. Literacy is how we communicate, how we learn, how we entertain ourselves, how we get attention, and so much more. It’s what ties everything else we learn in school together.
Now many of you are probably on board with the whole “literacy is ridiculously important” idea. But where the trouble comes is how to approach literacy instruction with some of our students. As Dr. Stephen Shore said, “If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism.” Our approach to teaching reading needs to be individualized. Strategies that worked with other students may not work with your current group. You will need to get creative. You will need to rely on those evidence based strategies that we all know and love.
1. Use small group instruction.
As with most areas of a classroom with a wide range of needs, small group instruction is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck – especially when it comes to teaching reading. You can focus on specific skills and individualize your lessons. 20 minutes of a targeted Guided Reading Group is way more powerful than 60 minutes that aren’t on the appropriate level. Group students in similar reading levels. If your class has a really wide range of learners, you may need to create larger groups or have some students in w group alone. That’s okay! If you need ideas for what other centers to setup while you are running Guided Reading Groups check out here.
Reading may be hard for some of your kids so take any other surprises away. Make this part of your day extremely structured and routine based. Utilize mini schedules to show what activities you are doing. Have the rotations always go in the same order. Let the heavy lifting come with the academics not with dealing with unanticipated events or changes. Check out my templates here!
3. Use Visuals
Structure is a tool that helps our kids be successful. So are visuals! Visuals help your students understand their day, process your verbal language, and comprehend academic expectations. Lean into visuals when setting up your literacy instruction. Use visuals to clarify behavioral expectations AND to teach new concepts. Visuals are a prompt that I love to use because they can be easier to fade. My student can use visuals without. And remember – it’s my job to lose my job. Use visuals as a cue for what type of strategy you’d like the learner to use or what type of information you are looking for.
4. Repetition and Reinforcement
We learn new skills through practicing something repeatedly and getting reinforcement when we do it right. Same applies for the literacy skills we are teaching. Give you students lots of opportunities to practice the same skill. And make sure that behavior is consistently reinforced. You want to give them a ‘why.’ You may have to add in a contrived reinforcer right now (ie iPad, tokens, etc.) but eventually you want to work towards that amazing embedded reinforcer when your students see the value in learning literacy skills.
5. Give meaningful extension opportunities.
I know many of your feel the pain of being short staffed. I get it. It’s real. But the very tiny silver lining in being short staffed is that your students get lots of chances to work independently. Independent work is such an essential life skill. Incorporate meaningful independent work into your literacy stations. Give your students the chance to practice what you taught them on their own!