AAC and Literacy
Conference Summary: The Four Blocks™
By Valerie Maples
month’s article is from guest writer and parent Valerie Maples. Valerie attended the AAC and Literacy
conference with Dr. Karen Erickson, Director, Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at UNC and Dr. David Koppenhaver, Professor
of Reading at Appalachian State University. Below she details what she learned
through this experience. Thanks so much,
Valerie, for sharing your experience with us!
had a while to mull over all the information presented at the AAC and Literacy
Conference sponsored by the Center for Autism and Related
Disorders at the University of Florida in
Gainesville, and I still can't quite wrap my mind around all of it. Dr. Karen
Erickson and Dr. David Koppenhaver, two of the most highly regarded experts on
literacy, presented us with valuable information, scientific evidence, and
physical proof that students of all abilities benefit from literacy
exploration. It is their belief, no, conviction, that all students are capable
of reading and writing. The proof was irrefutable and the examples were
The conference focused on a structured learning plan - The Four Blocks™ Literacy Model - developed by Dr. Patricia
Cunningham, a professor of education at Wake Forest University and
Dorothy Hall, a former curriculum coordinator, who has taught at the elementary and
college level. Significant time was spent demonstrating programs developed by
the Literacy Center sponsored by Chapel Hill including the Deaf-Blind project, work
by Gretchen Hanser, and outreach work students with low socioeconomic status in
rural North Carolina. Additional footage and
training supporting literacy opportunities for girls with Rett syndrome was discussed and was incredibly
informative. At the conclusion of this article, you can get a first-hand look
at their work with two participants from the Deaf-Blind classroom.
The Four Blocks™ Literacy Model
is based on the premise that students benefit from four, 30 minute learning
sessions, one each devoted to self-directed reading, guided
reading, working with words, and writing. They emphasize that
writing without standards must be a daily occurrence.
reading, the child has an opportunity to choose his own book in a format
accessible to him and allows him to read for pleasure with no planned purpose
or evaluation. Providing a variety of
choices to fit each individual student’s interests is essential. Tar Heel
Reader is a free online resource that provides interesting reading material for
older learners who read at a very basic level. It also provides an opportunity
for students to write their own books and publish them to the web site.
In guided reading the
teacher leads the process, helping the student identify important concepts. Teachers may focus on a variety of
comprehension strategies during this time: activating prior knowledge of the
topic, predicting what will happen next, using graphic organizers such as webs
and story maps, and encouraging students to ask questions in their mind as they
are reading. Working with words focuses on developing a word wall of common
words that are central to the writing process.
Students may use word sorts, word hunts, making words, rhymes and other
activities to become familiar with word patterns that will help them recognize
common words by sight and use this knowledge to de-code similar but unfamiliar
Writing without standards is
a time when students use whatever means possible to write. The child can use anything
from a traditional pencil to a keyboard to single switch or two switch scanning, to write whatever they want, however they
want, without any assessment, correction or comment on their writing in either
form or substance. They might select the
letter "a" 30 times or scribble random letters, but you simply date
and retain samples for down the road.
Samples of this can be seen in the two case stories (Matthew and Jake)
in the resources section at the end of this article.
In the resources section
of this article you will also find several ideas on accessible tools. They
include among other options, alphabet eye gaze frames, print and Braille flip
charts, Intellikeys overlays, and switch accessible onscreen keyboards.
Exploration of alternate tools for kids who cannot write in traditional ways
was demonstrated with even severely handicapped kids who appeared initially to
have no awareness of even having a tool, but daily writing with their most
effective alternate tool led to emerging literacy in both reading and writing.
To say that their methods represent a paradigm shift would be an understatement.
It's basically turned everything I know on its side and forced me to look at
things from a new perspective. The nature of reading
disabilities goes far beyond the child’s disability, and encompasses
issues of ineffective or inappropriate instruction, due to lack of underlying
skills. Over and over again the presenters demonstrated how children who had
not made progress with one program could benefit from a simple analysis of
skills, while continuing to attack literacy with The Four Blocks ™ Literacy Model, supplementing with an additional
30 minutes a day in a target area. This comprehensive approach produced
absolutely amazing results.
Dr. Erickson and Dr.
Koppenhaver stressed that while participation is important, cognitive engagement
is essential. We need to move away from motivators and
reinforcers and move towards cognitive engagement to enhance children’s
literacy skills. One of my favorite mantras, “NOT using device for tell/test/show
me” is another cornerstone of AAC and literacy. We were taught how to use
reverse vocabulary - asking our kids to describe words instead of plugging in
obscure vocabulary. This means we have to be very thoughtful about use of
symbols and icons. By building on connections, not definitions, we are
scaffolding true learning and will be better able to link new information to
known information to make it relevant so they can relate it to real
I hope I can find time to
share more about the process and more tools, but above all, I hope if others
have the opportunity to attend a workshop with Dr. Karen Erickson and Dr. David
Koppenhaver, that they jump at the chance!
Wonderful resources are
Books and materials to support The Four Blocks ™ Literacy
Model of reading instruction can be found at Carson Dellosa Publishing
AAC ConsumerNet ----- Check it out!
Your feedback is always valued. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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