Reflecting on strategies

The overall goal of the Literacy for All communities of practice was to enhance teacher capacity to meet the literacy and communication needs of students with significant cognitive disabilities. With each community of practice, different literacy resources and strategies were identified and used in the classroom with students, analyzed for their effectiveness and appropriateness, and adapted to better meet the literacy needs of students with significant disabilities.

Teachers participating in the 2015-2016 Literacy for All community of practice explored a variety of strategies to support literacy development for their students with significant disabilities. Some of the strategies included predictable chart writing, using alternative pencils, celebrating writing with an author’s chair, exploring word identification and decoding through working with words, and organizing writing around meaningful purposeful communication and authentic writing tasks.

Participating teachers provided reflections on these strategies as well as information on how they used them to support literacy development for their students. Please click on individual slides to enlarge them.

Predictable Chart Writing

Predictable chart writing is a type of modeled writing initially developed by Dr. Patricia Cunningham as a technique for helping all students, irrespective of their language skills, to be successful in the writing process.

Predictable chart writing is a fun and easy, shared group writing experience where teachers write with students over the course of one week. It is a way of providing some structure, while allowing students to generate their own ideas.

Predictable chart writing can easily be differentiated to support individual student learning needs. For example, some students will learn that what they say can be written in words. Other students will learn that writing goes from left to right, starting at the top of the page and working to the bottom. Other students will learn how to structure sentences using capital letters at the beginning and punctuation at the end. Teachers can focus on a specific skill to demonstrate as dictated sentences are being written down.

Learn more about Predictable Chart Writing at –

Everybody needs a pencil!

In order to develop literacy skills, all students need a way to write using the full alphabet no matter what level of understanding they appear to have about print.

Developed by Hanser (2009) at the Centre for Literacy and Disability Studies (CLDS), an alternative pencil is defined as anything that provides a student with access to all 26 letters of the alphabet.

Learn more about alternative pencils here –

Supporting Independent Writing

Writing is a complex task involving ideas, language, words, spelling and transcribing or selecting letters. We need to teach all of these skills – and eventually students need to be able to do all of these, within the one task, to become writers.

Research has shown that typically developing children in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms receive an average of 85 opportunities during the school year to learn how to make meaning through writing. Students with significant disabilities who are at this emergent writing stage require just as many if not more opportunities to write about things that matter to them. The goal is for students with significant disabilities is to write and then write more.

Using photos or pictures that are meaningful to students as ‘prompts’ for writing creates a context for what otherwise may be interpreted as random scribbles, marks, or letters. These photos or pictures help the teacher attribute meaning to the student’s writing.

A emergent writer is one who is learning to use written language to express communicative intent, and beginning writing is defined as starting with emergent writing (drawing, scribbling, and writing letters) and ending with conventional writing abilities, usually acquired by second or third grade for typically developing children (Strum, Cali, Nelson, & Staskowski, 2012).

Students with significant disabilities who are early conventional writers are beginning to attend to task, to understand how to use their pencil and that writing carries meaning.

Learn more about supporting independent writing for emergent writers here –

Learn more about supporting structured and independent writing for early conventional writers here –

Author’s Chair

Use of an Author’s Chair can help to develop a community of writers in the classroom and support students’ developing interests in writing as a form of communication and thinking. During Author’s Chair, students share drafts, parts of drafts, or completed writing with small peer groups or with the whole class and seek feedback from classmates as well as respond to their questions. Non-verbal students could have their draft imported into a talking word processor or similar device so that the student can have their text read aloud.

Working with Words

At an emergent level, word work will focus on phonemic awareness with activities created to bring attention to rhyme (word endings), rhythm (memory), repetition, alliteration (word onsets), and predictability. For older emergent literacy learners, it is important to keep all activities age respectful.

Word work at an early conventional level would include making words, word sorts and transfer, word wall activities and keyword decoding.

Learn more about alphabet and phonological awareness for emergent learners here –

Learn more about word identification and decoding for early conventional learners here –

Reflections from Literacy for All 2014-2015

Teachers participating in the Literacy for All 2014 – 2015 community of practice worked with the following professional resources: Clicker 6 software and/or Clicker apps, Dr. Karen Erickson’s Making Words phonics lessons to introduce and build decoding skills, and Scholastic’s Talk About series of 24 non-fiction books designed to provide models of everyday English language for students who are learning English or who have limited English language skills. Strategies used with the resources to support literacy development for their students are posted below.