Friday, April 24, 2015

Literacy Program Reflection

This semester I took a class called Literacy Programs, and focused my research on (surprise surprise) people with disabilities. I primarily researched literacy for children with disabilities, but since development can be so different across the board, my findings could really be applied at any age.

Most of the research I found was conducted in 2009 or later, showing the changing approach in special education. Now that students with disabilities are typically included in at least one "traditional" class, they also are required to take the same standardized tests as other students. If students with disabilities aren't being taught what their traditional classmates are being taught, then those students will score lower on the standardized test, which will lower the school's average and affect funding and support. I find it a little outrageous that students with disabilities have only been taken seriously for the last six years or so, but better late than never!

To be fair, I can see why this is the case. It can be difficult to teach anyone to read, but some disabilities might make a person unable or unwilling to speak. Some people with disabilities might be able to identify letters, but not when those letters are side by side to form a word. Some people with disabilities might be able to read words, sentences, or even paragraphs, but be unable to retain the information long enough to be tested about it. It does make sense for children with disabilities to initially be taught simple words necessary for everyday life, like their names, names of family members, words on street signs, and symbols they would encounter in public, like restroom logos. It's sad, however, to think that in many cases, this is where their education ended.

I observed two storytime programs at the Central library - one was a sign language storytime, and one was a music appreciation event. I loved seeing the array of programming the library offered, and it gave me a lot of ideas for different programs that could be aimed at people with disabilities, or how to change them slightly to try and engage different levels of development. I also attended a webinar about identifying and working with children and teens with autism. This hit close to home because a teacher I interviewed said a four-year-old with autism had been asked to leave the library after having a behavior. Even though his parents were with him and calmed him down, the librarian wouldn't let him back in to the program because she didn't understand his condition or how to work with him. It was a horrible story to hear, but it made me feel like the path I'm researching in my classes will be worth it in the real world.

I interviewed a teacher at a preschool and learned how they approach literacy with their students, ranging from toddlers to five-year-olds. Because this teacher had retired from the special education school system, she had a lot of experience to draw from, as well as a lot of great ideas on how to teach literacy to all ages. I learned from her that small victories had to be appreciated, like when students sat still for a whole picture book, or were able to ask for a story by its title.

I found a variety of resources that can be used to teach literacy to people with disabilities, including a website that has over 200 adapted texts. Adapted texts are traditional books (picture, chapter, novel, nonfiction, and more!) that are broken down to have larger text, sometimes accompanied by relevant pictures; these books have more white space and might summarize longer chapters and repeat key information for easier recall. I also found a great book (Including Families of Children with Special Needs: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians) that will help librarians serve people with disabilities who come to the library. I also think webinars are a great way for librarians to quickly (in about an hour) and easily learn about certain disabilities and how to provide library services for those populations - while earning Continuing Education credits!

Overall, I felt very inspired by all the research I did this semester. At the same time, I felt very overwhelmed. Can -I- teach people with disabilities how to read? Do I have enough education - and enough patience? I still have a lot to learn, and I'm going to continue touring local special needs preschools and talking with the teachers there. I think the most important thing about teaching people with disabilities how to read is to use all the resources you can. Reach out to include parents, caregivers, special ed teachers, librarians, siblings, friends. Try a certain method, and if that doesn't work, move on to something else - but always come back and re-try what didn't work before. You never know when you're going to make a breakthrough, and repetition never hurts!


Browder, Diana, Susan Gibbs, Lynn Ahlgrim-Delzell, Ginevra R. Courtade, Maryann Mraz, and Claudia Flowers. 2009. "Literacy for Students With Severe Developmental Disabilities: What Should We Teach and What Should We Hope to Achieve?" Remedial and Special Education 30 (5): 269-282. Accessed January 22, 2015. doi: 10.1177/0741932508315054. 2015. “Investigating Adolescent Issues in Autism Spectrum Disorder and the DSM-5 Criteria.” March 18. issues-in-autism-spectrum-disorder/

Exceptional Parent, published by epWorld, Inc.

“Family Tunes and Tales.” February 28, 2015. Memphis Public Library and Information Center, Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

Feinberg, Sandra, Barbara A. Jordan, Kathleen Deerr, Michelle Langa, and Carrie Banks. 2013. Including Families of Children with Special Needs: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. Chicago: ALA Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Goggans, Louis. 2012. “Memphis Public Library to Improve Literacy for the Hearing-Impaired.” Memphis Flyer, February 14. Accessed February 27, 2015. http:// library-to-improve-literacy-for-the-hearing-impaired

Lead Teacher (name redacted for privacy), special education at SRVS Kids. Interviewed by Allison Renner. February 19, 2015.

Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities. 2015. “Adapted Literature and Lessons.” Accessed February 6, 2015.

“Read With Me, Sign With Me.” February 14, 2015. Memphis Public Library and Information Center, Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

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