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“You know, after all these years, I really, really see it as about my imagination for a kid. Their only limitations are how I imagine they can do things.”

~ Zan Currin, Inclusive Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher, The Jowonio School, Syracuse, NY

This website is focused on imagining and realizing the full literate citizenship of young children with significant disabilities in inclusive early childhood programs. Literacy development is considered a natural, fundamentally important part of growing up. We know the process begins very early in a child’s life. However, young children with significant disabilities have generally been excluded from rich, exciting literacy opportunities in their early educational experiences. Most often this exclusion takes the form of early childhood segregation. We reject all educational segregation.

On this web site you will find articles, web links, and resources that can be used to create literacy opportunities for young children with significant disabilities in the inclusive classroom.

Literacy Practices

How do we define literacy?  

Shayne, the teacher, was on her knees, forehead-to-forehead with Steven, a four-year-old who stood his ground.  With finger jabbing toward Shayne, he made a series of enunciations that ran together like the sounds of a spoken sentence, but without discernable words.  Shayne, however, appeared to understand perfectly.  “You say you’re going to have fun?” she asked,  “I say, ‘No way!’”   Steven's teacher recognizes his communication as meaningful and she responds to him with respect and humor.  We define literacy in a far broader way than just reading and writing. We describe literacy in a way that recognizes its social dimensions. Traditionally, literacy is most commonly conceived as a fairly rigid commodity acquired during childhood through individual exposure to direct instruction in a series of subskills arranged hierarchically. We argue for a social model of multiple literacies that are dynamic and constructed in interaction among individuals. We do not deny the place of direct instruction, but understand other approaches to literacy as equal in importance.                    

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The 5 Currents of Literacy

Early literacy development is intertwined with early inclusion. Our own research demonstrates that the following currents of literacy development are vital for young children with significant disabilities:

bulletMaking Sense of the stories of others.
bulletFinding and expressing meaning in one’s own experience.
bulletCommunicating thought through symbol.
bulletInterpreting others’ symbols.
bulletDeriving joy from critical, reflective engagement with symbols and printed language.           

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Enacting Multiple Literacies  

Several of the children sat at the tables, pouring over menus, shouting orders to a “waiter” who scribbled on a pad. “I want a hamburger” one student yelled. “You get the pizza” the waited explained, scribbling furiously on the pad. “How much is the meal?” One student asked the waiter, grabbing a stack of fake money. “Eight hundred dollars,” the waiter responded. “I don’t have eight hundred dollars,” the patron retorted. “Then you’re out of the restaurant!” As students entered into dramatic play they were included in the practice of deciphering the alphabetic text, engaging in pre-writing practice, and participating in symbolic pretend play. This form of transcendence is one of 10 narrative forms that structure literacy practice and participation in early childhood inclusive classrooms.                     

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Every child strengthens the literate community

In an inclusive early childhood community children with significant disabilities encourage teachers and their peers to explore novel ways of sharing thoughts and intentions with them.  In some instances a child with a disability may use a communication board or sign language, thus introducing their peers with and without disabilities to the names and uses of a more diverse literate environment. 

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To learn more, go to "Our Project" in the left hand column.

The contents of this site were developed under grants from the U.S. Department of Education (nos. H324D010031 & H324C040213).  However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and no endorsement by the Federal Government should be assumed.  For further information, please contact the project Directors Dr. Christopher Kliewer at christopher.kliewer@uni.edu or Dr. Christi Kasa-Hendrickson at christi.hendrickson@uccs.edu.