Strategies for Teaching Reading to Visual Learners

There seems to be confusion about whether or not students with autism are able to learn to read. While students with autism may have a difficult time with phonics instruction and comprehension they CAN learn to read. Even when students aren't speaking and writing, they can learn to read and spell. Keep in mind that literacy covers a wide range of skills from exposure to print material to formal instruction.

Why spend the time to teach reading?
The ability to read can help to increase functional communication. Information a student may not process and understand auditorally may be understood visually. Reading will increase knowledge as well as provide a leisure skill. Reading can also increase social skills by providing a common topic to talk about.

Why teach reading using whole words instead of phonics?
Many children with autism have strengths in visual learning and decoding skills and are weak in auditory learning and comprehension. By modifying a reading program to focus on visual learning styles, students with autism can experience success. There is more than just a link between literacy and language. Language is the basis for literacy. Text that we read is oral language set down in visual mode. We cannot see spoken words, but we can see written words. For children with strong visual spatial skills, this can be their key to opening a locked door. One child with autism stated that learning to read was like finding water in the desert. 

How early should literacy skills be introduced?
Koppenhaver & Erickson (2003) conducted a study in North Carolina with preschool students with autism. They found that by providing a literacy rich environment for preschoolers with autism and severe communication impairments, the students increased their understanding and use of print materials and tools (without direct instruction, but in a tightly structured environment). By increasing natural opportunities for engagement with printed materials and writing tools, emergent literacy behaviors increased.

What Can I Use in My Classroom?
Comprehensive Literacy: The most popular method currently practiced is a comprehensive literacy approach. Many educators are using a 4 Blocks framework developed by Patricia Cunningham. The Blocks include:
  • Guided Reading – to enhance comprehension
  • Self-Selected Reading – to build fluency
  • Word Block – to develop spelling and word decoding
  • Writing – to teach how to write

This method includes a phonics dimension, but does not focus on phonics. Exploring more on this topic may be useful. Many books and courses are available that teach the dynamics of the 4 Blocks framework.

During reading, take photos of the student and constructed into a book. The books are duplicated so that all students have their own copy during a guided reading activity. The target words in the language experience story are used in word games for additional practice. The book is duplicated; some copies are adapted, and made available to the students for self-selected reading. The target words are also used for writing journals and daily news. Preliminary results from research indicate that more literacy behaviors are exhibited when the student uses language experience books that are adapted with Picture Communication Symbols (PCS).

What do these ideas have in common?
Instruction starts with words, not letters or sounds.
Instruction begins with words that have meaning and motivation for the student.
Instruction and materials are individualized for each student.
Games are incorporated into instruction and provide lots of practice when working with words.
Remember that language made visual will enhance communication and that all students can learn to read. Keep reading material on the child’s instructional level.
All students are different and what works for one child may or may not work for someone else. The important goal is to begin teaching every child to read, regardless of the barriers. If you hit a barrier, be creative and find another way to get to the goal.

Ideas for Your Room
  • Look over your classroom and see if there are any modifications for making language visible and to encourage reading.
  • Try setting up an interactive bulletin board or word wall with a picture and word match activity.
  • Set up baskets or boxes with various levels of reading materials. You can include books, magazines, maps, menus, training booklets or just about anything that has words on it.
  • Set up a writing center with different types of writing tools (paper, pens, pencils, crayons, letter stamps, magnetic letters on cookie sheets, etc.)
  • Consider adapted books based on language experience of the classroom routine.
  • Take digital pictures of the daily activities
  • Insert the pictures into a PowerPoint slide show.
  • Write a sentence for each picture
  • Adapt with Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) to make language visible.
  • Print and Enjoy Reading!
  • Encourage students to use literacy materials in their dramatic play. For example, in the home area place food packages, appliance instructions, and menus.
  • Read aloud to your students and use pictures to insure comprehension.
  • For primary students that are progressing on a reading program, Teach Me Language, by Sabrina Freeman and Lorelei Dake have published a language program that incorporates reading. 
Don't forget an extra 20% off at my TpT store today and tomorrow.
Have a great week.

Math Intervention Idea Websites

This year I'm in and out of classrooms for math. When I'm in class I support core and help teachers help all students access core. When it comes to pulling students out for support, its for work because we don't have anything that moves students quickly enough to help them access core material. This is more true for students  in the upper grades, my district doesn't have a tier 3 math program. A couple of resources were shared just before break that I wanted to share that should help you out in your small group math planning.

Illustrative Mathematics has activities based on Common Core Math standards K-8.  Membership is free. All the activities are hands on and designed for small groups.

Solon's Math Recovery has several  math videos covering numbers words & numerals, structuring, addition & subtraction, multiplication & division, and place value. (Structuring is a skill that supports efficiency when solving additive and subtractive tasks as students learn to compose and decompose numbers with and without visual support.) The activities are hands on and have suggestions how to adapt the activity. They have a nice list of links worth checking out.

I;m looking forward to using some of these activities next week. Have a fabulous weekend.

Small Group Writing

I don't teach writing. When I say this, I mean, I don't teach the writing process. Two years ago, my building began a journey to increase our state assessment writing scores and a teacher stumbled upon Every Child a Writer. Since then most of my fellow teachers have been trained in ECAW. We use it as a resource as we have a district mandated curriculum that we all use. Our of district says that Writer's Workshop is core instruction, so by the nature of how workshop works I don't teach writing. But I do teach students how to write in complete sentences and how to write about what they read. 

Many of my students have a difficult time taking their verbal thoughts and putting them in writing. So, I've been working on creating scaffolded paragraphs for them to use depending on what kind of text they have been reading. These have also helped my English Language Learners. 

What is National Literacy Coalition's “Every Child a Writer?”

Every Child a Writer (ECAW) is based on the Australian genre-based approach to writing. Through direct instruction and joint construction of text, students master descriptive, explanation, instruction, persuasive, and narrative writing.

Demonstrated Writing
                                                                                                                                     Source: via Jan on Pinteres
Demonstrated Writing offers students a daily glimpse into the thinking of the fluent writer in action. The teacher demonstrates the writing process by planning and crafting written products in the five major genres of writing (descriptive, explanation, instruction, persuasive, and narrative). Focusing on the writer’s process, the teacher models the “think-aloud” strategy, while composing for his or her students. This daily demonstration leads to small-group instruction focused on specific skills, or targets, for each group.

Differentiated Writing

Differentiated Writing, the joint construction of text,
is when the teacher and a small group of students work together to compose written products within a given genre. Instructional targets are differentiated in response to the needs of the group, and the teacher “scaffolds” their instruction, gradually releasing control and responsibility as students gain skills and confidence. Instructional targets focus on techniques for planning, organization, vocabulary usage, sentence and paragraph structure, and conventions/mechanics (including spelling).

Directed Writing

Directed Writing gives students daily opportunities for practice of the genre and instructional targets taught in the Differentiated Writing group. From plan development to drafting, revising, editing, conferencing, and publishing, students have regular opportunities to independently apply their new skills within topic areas of personal interest and experience. A central feature of the Directed Writing component is the provision of instructional time for a variety of writing conferences including small group and partner conferencing. In this way, students are prepared for genuine independence as developing writers.

Here is a sampling of the ones I have used with my small groups. I use them to focus the students comprehension but wanting them to write about they have been reading as well as talking about the book. I'm working on more that focus more on ECAW. Don't forget about the sale next Monday and Tuesday at the TpT store and extra 20% off everything in my store.

Wilson and Making Words

My students dread making words or in their minds spelling. They think spelling and that  counts. Its hard for them to think of it as just making words to practice spelling the words they can read.  That way when you get to the a spelling test you get them right. Even dictation is NOT a spelling test. Its practice.But we need LOTS of help with spelling the words we are learning to read.

I found this app with letters and was like lets try practice making words with this. And what fun we had practicing making words with MagLetters Lite. The app works just like fridge magnets. Because iPads are multi-touch unlike a Smart board  students can help each other directly and show them how to fix the word. They had a blast! My district building techs were asking if I had found ways to move the iPads from "games" to having students use them to produce. This is one of those apps. Wilson doesn't allow for much deviation but how you do things with in the program can make fun. My guys needed fun on the last day before break

How does it work? At the bottom of the screen there are the letters, numbers, and symbols.  To move between them the students use the arrows. The letters are small enough that multi-syllable words fit. The background can also be changed. Students could do several words on a page and clear the page or just do one word at a time. They said this was on of their favorite "non-game" apps--better than white boards.

I wish everyone safe travels this week and everyone a fabulous Thanksgiving. Be sure to stop by my store and follow me to get updates on new products and sales. I'll be holding a Monday and Tuesday Cyber Sale at my TpT store.

ScootPad and Freebie

I came across ScootPad, while looking for ideas for my math students to do besides MobyMath. ScootPad is grounded in Common Core reading and math and FREE. ScootPad is a really cool because its based on skill mastery but unlike MobyMath there is no pretest. The creators of ScootPad recognize that no two students are alike and that they will master skills in different ways. ScootPad helps students gain mastery through gradual and thorough practice.

My students like the practice as it builds confidence in learning and keeps them moving forward at a pace that is appropriate to them. I get progress reports on they each did and can assign homework for them on skills missed. since there is no placement text, I have to place them in a grade in which I think they are mostly independent in. (They have not noticed it's not grade level material. Which is a good thing.) Parents have access to all of their child’s progress and alerts.  As I use this as part of my small group math time, the practice is short and doesn't take students more than 10 minutes to complete daily practice.

I have a group of kids working on closed syllables and having a difficult time understanding what some of the words mean. To help them out, since they love the other Draw it's. I hope your students love playing it as much as mine. Click here to get your copy. Have a wonderful week!

Part 2: Who Will be at My Child's IEP Meeting?

On the School's Side

Guidance Counselor: Your child's counselor may be pulled in to attest to problems, coordinate class selections, or sign off on a plan. If you've already met and talked to the counselor on a regular basis, this shouldn't be a problem, unless you've clashed. Even then, though, you'll know what to expect.

Transition Coordinator: If your child is moving from one school to the next, a representative of the future school may want to be in on the planning meeting. You may want to arrange for this. You may want to talk to this person in advance.

Paraprofessional: The good part -- Having your child's aide in the meeting can provide another firsthand source of information from someone who likely has your child's interests at heart. The bad part -- If your child's aide is in a meeting, your child's aide is not with your child. And who is, exactly?

District: This probably means you're in trouble, you pushy parent, and someone's come from the home office to apply the smackdown. Whether this individual has any particular knowledge of your personal child and his or her needs is another matter entirely.

On Your Side

Your Spouse: Presenting a united front as your child's parents makes it apparent that you're involved, concerned, and participatory.

Your Child: This is the person the plan is being made for, after all, and having him or her present as a living breathing human and not as a list of deficits can keep everyone on track, not to mention giving your child an introduction to self-advocacy. Still, would you want to be in that room, as a child, with people talking about you? It freaks some kids out. It freaks some adults out, too.

Your Friend: Having a sympathetic companion can make you feel less ganged-up-upon, and can also serve as a second brain to remember what went on and corroborate bad treatment. Don't spring the extra person on the team, though; let them know in advance you're coming with an entourage.

Your Paid Advocate: A hired gun who knows the law better than you do and isn't afraid to call the house's bluff can put you in a powerful position. There may be times when the stakes are so high that you'll need to go this route. If you're not there yet, though, the presence of an advocate may be seen as a sign of bad faith and a threat, and close the door to cooperation.

And now, the star of the team, the number-one MVP.


Yeah, you, the parent. You are the most important member of your child's IEP team, far and away. Don't let those suits convince you differently. You are the expert on your child, and your child is the reason all those people are sitting there. You are the only one to have seen your child in multiple settings, in multiple school years, in multiple moods. You are the only one who has talked to the doctors and the specialists. You are the only one who has traced your child's development from early days until right now. And you are the only one who will still be involved in your child's care years from now, when the decisions made at this table will bear fruit.

Since that last one is the only thing you really have control over, consider these three questions:

Do you dress the part? If you're showing up at meetings in jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers while everybody else is in business suits and shiny shoes, you're sure giving off a "just here to sign, ma'am" vibe. You don't have to drop a month's salary at Brooks Brothers or anything, but grown-up attire wouldn't hurt.

Do you make a professional presentation? Whatever you expect of the school personnel at that table, expect the same from yourself. If you expect them to document their observations and recommendations, document yours. If you expect them to report from records rather than memory, bring records of your own. If you expect them to deal in specifics and facts rather than platitudes and preconceptions, watch what you say, too.

Do you do anything but go to meetings and sign papers? Think about how infuriating it is when some district upper-up who has never met your child drops in on a meeting and, on the basis of a light scan of your child's file, starts setting policy and goals and expectations. Then think about what teachers and administrators must feel about parents who make no contact at all during the school year, then descend in a meeting to throw questions and judgments and orders around? Keeping up a constant dialog throughout the school year will not head off all problems, but it will squash the stupid little ones that get going due to lack of communication and connection.

The bottom line is, if you want to be a member of the team, then act like a member of the team. Your child will come out a winner.

Besides Me, Who Will Be at My Child's IEP Meeting?

As a parent you are the first member of your child's IEP team. But there are other members who come and go depending on the needs of your child.

The Core Team Members

While there are a stunning array of people who will move onto and off of the IEP field, three players will probably do the largest amount of ball-carrying for students with special needs. They're the ones who will send you letters announcing scheduled meetings, and the ones who will hand you the 5,000 copies of the booklets on knowing your rights. They'll be responsible for evaluating your child on arrival in the system and periodically thereafter. One of these individuals will probably be assigned as your child's case manager.

The School Psychologist: Back before RTI, the psychologist is the person who will give your child IQ tests and other psychological surveys as part of the evaluation portion of IEP planning. The psychologist may make observations during the meeting about your child's psychological state or concerns. If your child is having problems during the school year that require counseling, this psychologist may be able to help, or there may be another school psychologist who handles counseling of students.

Special Education Teacher: The special education teacher is the person who will give your child tests that assess level of educational achievement and ability. The special education teacher may make observations during the meeting about the appropriate educational placement for your child. Should your child need special learning techniques, modifications and accommodations in the classroom, the special education teacher will be able to strategize those with you and the teacher, and help monitor progress. This teacher will be charged with outlining your child's educational progress and prognosis for the IEP, and with gathering opinions from all other teachers as appropriate. What you hear from the teacher at the meeting should be consistent with what you've been hearing throughout the year. If not, ask why. If you haven't been talking with the teacher throughout the year ... well, then I'll ask, why not? Don't be a stranger.

The Social Worker: The social worker is the person who will take down a family history during the evaluation process. The social worker may make observations during the meeting about your child's relationships with other students and general participation in the school experience. Should your child need special assistance with peer relationships and conflicts, the social worker may be able to arrange appropriate programs.

The Regular Education Teacher: From the school's point of view, nobody knows your child better than the teacher. So it's natural for the teacher to be involved in the planning of the IEP. Your child's regular education teacher will always be at the meeting. That's good news for you if you've built a rapport with a teacher, or if a teacher has a particularly good feel for your child's abilities and needs. If your child has multiple teachers in the course of a school day, they won't all crowd the meeting.

The Speech Therapist: The speech therapist works with your child on receptive and expressive language. In clear language, what that means is that what your child understands of what people tell him, how she is able to make that understanding clear, and how she is able to make her own self understood are all within the speech therapist's area of interest. This includes both types of articulation -- the proper production of speech sounds, and the proper forming of thoughts into words. Be sure all your concerns for your child's language usage and understanding are being addressed, not just her ability to move lips and tongue properly.

The Physical Therapist (PT): The physical therapist works on your child's gross motor skills -- no, not the ability to burp impressively or spit across the room, but the movement of major muscle groups to make big movements like walking, running, catching a ball or kicking it. Once your child is in school, there may be a particular emphasis on skills that enable a student to make it untroubled through a school day, like walking without jumping or flapping, participating in gym class, or carrying a lunch tray or a binder. You should listen to the goals set by the PT and make sure they're meaningful to your child's life and priorities.

The Occupational Therapist (OT): As the PT looks at gross motor, the OT deals with fine motor skills, those small precise movements we all take for granted and our kids can't do if you paid them. Things like printing and handwriting clearly. Tying shoes. Coloring in the lines. Turning a combination lock. Did I mention printing and handwriting clearly? The occupational therapist will, and writing is likely one of the things that will pop up in OT goals. If your school therapist happens to be trained in sensory integration therapy, you may be able to have some of that calming, organizing activity written into your child's plan as well. It will have to be undertaken in a way that makes it important to schooling, however. (Like being able to remain seated, or keep from disrupting the class.)

Turn in for Part Two, Who Will Be at the IEP Meeting?

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I'm Ms. Whiteley. I teach in the beautiful Mile High state--Colorado. This is my 13th year teaching in an rural K-6 Elementary school as a Exceptional Needs Teachers. As Exceptional Needs National Board Certified Teacher, I believe that ALL students can learn and be successful. When I'm not in school, I love to take my two Italian Greyhounds hiking 14ers and reaching for the stars. Thanks for Hopping By.

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