First Things First
If you're going to get stuff to implement best practice in your classroom, you ought to start by informing yourself about what constitutes best practice in literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities. I base my response here on:
(a) a belief that good instruction is good instruction (i.e., I believe all human beings learn to read and write in essentially the same ways, but that students with significant disabilities require greater consideration about how to make good instruction accessible);
(b) good instruction isn't good until and unless children choose to read and write more often and more successfully when they don't have to as a result of that instruction;
(c) good instruction is only good to the extent that it increases students' ability to read with greater comprehension and compose messages with greater clarity.
So, here are the best sources for figuring out what constitutes best practice in literacy (particularly for students with significant disabilities) in the most organized and research-based ways:
• Invest some some of that money in a week-long short course that Karen Erickson and I teach in various locations each summer. You can find the 2015 summer list here. The course will introduce you to theoretical models and frameworks, practical assessments, instructional strategies, and resources. That is, it will help you begin to organize your thinking about best practices and begin to put them into place in your own work.
• Invest some time in reading all of the information and resources provided by the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies.
• Invest significant time in viewing and working with the online modules in math, language, communication, reading, and writing at the DLM Professional Development site. These modules are full of specific examples, children's work samples, video samples, and teaching ideas. The self-directed modules are intended for individuals who just want to learn on their own. The facilitated modules are intended for school systems who want to organize continuing education. I like the facilitated modules best, because they have more information.
• Purchase a copy of Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four Blocks Way for a whopping $13.99. Ignore the technology ideas, which are mostly outdated, and read to understand the framework and instructional suggestions. (Karen and I are working on a new book that will be done in 2015.)
Here's one more piece of advice if you wish to implement best practice in literacy for students with significant disabilities:
• Ignore any paper, chapter, website, book, speaker, video, presentation, handout, physician, administrator or other source that uses language like "prerequisites" or "readiness" or "functional literacy" or talks about only some students and not others being "candidates for literacy instruction" or suggests that literacy can only be learned by "higher functioning" students. Translate any of this kind of information as "we, the authors/speakers of these ideas do not have sufficient experience or creativity or energy to figure out how to teach children with complex needs how to read and write. We don't understand how important it is that your child typed GO GMN in his car seat when you were on your way to Grandma's. We don't understand how difficult it has been with your child's complex health, communication, physical, sensory, and other needs to make print and learning sufficiently available for him. We don't understand the power of literacy for communication, independence, confidence, employment for individuals with significant disabilities. We are unwilling to continue problem-solving because we tried once/twice/(some number of times) and the children did not progress, so it must be their fault and not ours that they did not learn."
So you just spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,500 or so in tuition, travel, and materials, if you follow the suggestions above.
More to come in the next few days on: reading comprehension resources, writing instruction resources, self-selected reading, and letters, sounds, and words instruction.