Assistive Technology in Education/Early Childhood

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Early Childhood[edit | edit source]

Emergent Literacy[edit | edit source]

Emergent literacy is defined as the early stages of development that begins at birth and continues until children learn to read and write conventionally. It progresses through a variety of phases that includes oral language, early experiences with print, picture books and writing. Young children learn literacy skills in a variety of ways as they play, handle books, observe adults using print materials, and interact with others during storybook reading. One of the keys to successful achievement of literacy is the active participation of children in literacy activities. Children need to be actively involved in handling books and interacting with family members and teachers during reading time. Although active involvement of children in literacy may seem natural, active participation may be a challenge for children with disabilities. Children who have physical and cognitive limitations may miss valuable opportunities to develop literacy in the same ways as other children (Robinson, 2006).[1]

Children who are nonverbal or have physical disabilities may have limited opportunities to learn to read, may have little interaction with others during literacy activities, and may be given fewer opportunities to read and write than their peers without disabilities. Technology-based literacy activities can provide modifications and adaptations that support children who are nonverbal or who have physical disabilities to be successful in instructional process (Beck, 2002).[2]

Child reading at Brookline Booksmith.jpg

Early communication development requires that children participate actively in their environment. This becomes extremely challenging for children who have significant social, cognitive, motor, and sensory disabilities. They often cannot independently interact with people and objects in the environment due to hearing, vision, or motor difficulties, do not present the ability to become fully independent communicators, and are not provided with multiple opportunities to engage in communicative-rich environments with a variety of capable partners (Dell,Newton, Petroff, 2008).[3] Many times, children with disabilities are viewed as illiterate and are not afforded the opportunity to exercise communication through reading and writing. To counteract this, it is important to use simple technology to help these children communicate and participate in literacy activities.

A rising number of studies have looked at the significance of assistive technology and its appropriate implementation for students with special needs. Using intervention strategies with both high-tech and low-tech devices have helped children with disabilities succeed with developmentally appropriate activities. There are many products available to assist students with learning and literacy development. This portion of the book will focus on one of the assistive technology curriculums that are available that promotes literacy development at its earliest stages. The MEville to WEville: Early Literacy and Communication Development Curriculum created by AbleNet and Don Johnston is a product that offers students with multiple physical and cognitive disabilites the opprtunity to participate in literacy instruction. It is an example of a research-validated curriculum that supports early literacy research findings.

MEville to WEville[edit | edit source]

MEVille to WEVille Curriculum[edit | edit source]

The MEville to WEville curriculum is the first ever research-based literacy program that meaningfully and systematically integrates reading, writing, speaking, augmentative communicating, and listening for elementary students with disabilities in the moderate to severe range. Lesson activities are written based on the understanding of the early literacy learning as described in the reports and additional research readings, such as National Reading Panel [4], Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children[5], and Rand Reading Comprehension Reports[6].

MEville to WEville was specifically developed for students with disabilities who have difficulties learning to read and write through traditional instructional methods. The instructional approach used in MEville to WEville supports integrated literacy and communication learning through a series of different activities that offer the opportunity for students to learn skills through repetition with variety. Rather than repeating the same skill until it is learned to a predetermined level of mastery, students are taught to apply skills across contexts. The intended result is increased comprehension and the ability to apply the new skills when and where appropriate (Erikson, Clendon, Abraham, Roy, & Carr, 2005).[7]

Students with disabilities often have difficulties learning to read and write using traditional instructional methods. The MEville to WEville curriculum provides step-by-step instructions that clearly illustrate how to integrate these important skills into a teacher’s instructional activities. In addition, the systematic approach and organizational structure of the units allows the educator to spend more time focused on students’ individual needs as the lessons are all planned out.

Designed to build a classroom community that encourages a sense of belonging, each unit offers students a new and different perspective on themselves, their families, and their school. MEville to WEville teaches reading, writing, listening, and speaking while using augmentative communication for students with communication disorders within the structure of its well designed curriculum.

Each unit contains a teacher’s manual with 75 lessons and extension activities. An “Action Dictionary” that serves as a guide for differentiating instruction for a range of needs and specific recommendations for making adaptations for assistive technology users is included in each unit. A separate story book, along with a host of reproducible activities designed to make consistent implementation in a demanding environment a reality is also incorporated into the curriculum. The lessons in each unit are broken down into five categories: language development, reading and listening comprehension, writing, reading, and literacy experience.

Lessons that are in the units involve:

Learning New Words: Students identify new words and develop expressive language skills through saying words, singing songs, and using words in high-interest activities

Vocabulary Activities: Students practice using the vocabulary words in engaging activities designed with repetition and variety to promote the understanding of each word

Word Wall Words: Students learn high frequency words needed in reading and writing through activities such as clap/chanting, writing, and word identification

Literacy Lessons: Students engage in lessons using literature books and real life experiences to practice choice making, direction following, and giving a personal response

Writing Lessons: Students make decisions about individual and group writings and express themselves through book making and other structured writing projects

The MEville to WEville curriculum can be presented in instructional units as small as 30 minutes, or several lessons can be presented over the course of the day, increasing the student’s literacy experience to one that is comparable to those of non-disabled peers. The lessons and activities are designed to actively engage the student in the reading and writing experience, presenting hands-on participation that is differentiated for all levels of ability. In addition, many of the lessons offer the opportunity for parents to become involved as students share information about themselves and their families across the curriculum.

This resource systematically targets literacy skills that research has shown are critical to literacy learning success while incorporating content area goals and objectives. All lessons support the following literacy skills and are filled with fun and engaging lessons relating to the ME, MY FAMILY, and MY SCHOOL themes.

Literacy Learning Areas:


Word Identification

Print Concepts

Oral Language

Phonological Awareness

Character Education and Community Building Outcomes: Students will further develop a sense of "Who I Am"

Students will experience a sense of belonging

Students will learn to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments, contributions, and differences

Students will experience a valued role as they learn "What we do for each other is important"

Every student's voice will be heard

Including students with severe disabilities is easy. The Action Dictionary references every action verb that is used in the MEville to WEville curriculum. These action verbs are words presented in bold throughout the manual. The Action Dictionary describes various ways in which students' actions may be adapted or modified to enable active participation in the lesson. Also included is the Assistive Technology Quick Set Up Guide, which provides the information you'll need to set up the assistive technology recommended in the MEville to WEville curriculum.

MeVille to WEville makes collecting student data easy too. The Student Data Collection Charts are provided for you to easily record and share your students' growth and progress with others. Use these charts to keep track of the ongoing participation and progress of your students. These charts can also be used to capture baseline information prior to starting the program.[8]

To view a demonstration of this curriculum, click on the following link:

You can also view sample lessons from the MEville to WEville curriculum, click on the following link:

Download an informational sheet for MEville to WEville including pricing and order information for all three units:

MEville to WEville with Start to Finish Literacy Starters Program[edit | edit source]

Recently, AbleNet, and Don Johnston created The MEville to WEville with Literacy Starters Program. This new product expands the original MEville to WEville curriculum with the addition of Start-to-Finish Literacy Starters book sets for each of the three units. The new addition to the curriculum builds on the original program, adding further enrichment with the addition of three more instructional areas: word study, comprehension, and writing. There is an additional teacher’s manual which contains lessons to support the implementation of the Start-to-Finish Literacy Starters content.

Each of the Start-to-Finish Literacy Starters sets contains three different content related books per unit. The books are distinguished as “Enrichment” “Transitional” and “Conventional”. The enrichment book contains the most words and the richest language. They are written to teach students about language and to help them develop concepts of print. The transitional books are written to encourage beginning readers to focus on the illustrations and the print contained in a book. Transitional books have fewer words than enrichment books and support the student to use print and picture cues in order to learn to read independently after several repeated readings. The conventional books contain the simplest text and the fewest words, many of them high frequency words. The student is given assistance in order to eventually be able to read the books independently for the purpose of developing fluency and increasing understanding. The books have a soft cover and contain photographic illustrations depicting real people engaged in the stories. The content and text is appropriate for all students including those in middle school and beyond. A CD-ROM is included with each set of books that enables the stories to be displayed and read aloud on the computer in a format that is identical to the soft cover books. Being able to view and read the books on the computer ensures access for all students as the books are switch accessible as well. The stories can be read aloud by the computer or the read-aloud feature can be turned off so that the student can read them independently.

Sample Lesson Plan from MEville to WEville with Start-to-Finish Literacy Starters:

Recommended Assistive Technology Tools[edit | edit source]

In order to use the MEville to WEville curriculum to its highest potential, Ablenet recommends some assistive technology devices that are available through their company. Depending on the needs of the child, some of these tools can be purchased for the children to use in conjunction with the program.

Click on the Headings to learn more about the tools!

Communication Tools Access Tools Participation Tools Mounting Tools Learning Devices
BIGmack Communicator Big Red Switch Battery Operated Fan UltraStik Adhesive BookWorm
LITTLEMack Communicator Jelly Bean Switch Battery Operated Scissors Universal Switch Mounting All-Turn-It Spinner
Little Step-By-Step Specs Switch Paint 'N' Swirl Slim Armstrong Mounting
Big Step-By-Step Battery Device Adaptor and Notching File Stapler Sensitrac Mounting System
iTalk2™ PowerLink 3 Control Unit Talking Symbols Notepad
Super Talker Single Switch Latch and Timer (SLAT)

MEville to WEville Research[edit | edit source]

In 2004, Dr. Karen Erickson from the Centre for Literacy and Disability Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill completed a research study to evaluate the effectiveness of the MEville to WEville program. Initial results indicated: children initiated more communication and interaction during the program, children developed stronger social relationships with their peers in special and general education, children became more socially responsive, and teachers were able to spend more time addressing communication and literacy. Dr. Karen Erickson called MEville to WEville “the first ever research-based literacy program that meaningfully and systematically integrates reading, writing, speaking, augmentative communicating and listening for elementary students with cognitive disabilities in the moderate to severe range” (Spectronics, 2009).[9] Research was conducted on three classroom teachers and their 23 students with significant developmental disabilities. The study was conducted over 8 weeks as the MEville to WEville curriculum was implemented. Although the results of this study wer positive, further research would need to be conducted in order to gain a full understanding of the implications of implementing this curriculum into your reading program.

To read the research reports click the following links:

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

For schools and teachers that are constantly struggling to find ways to teach all children to read, including those students with the most challenging learning requirements, MEville to WEville offers a complete, age- appropriate means to accomplish this result. It is a program that is worth investigating if you are looking to include a literacy program designed for children with special needs.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Robinson,L.(2006). Adapting Literacy Activities for Young Children. Retreieved July 14, 2009, from
  2. Beck, J. (2002). Emerging literacy through assistive technology. Teaching Exceptional Children 35(2), 44-48.
  3. Dell, A., Newton, D.A., Petroff, J.G. (2008). Assistive Technology in the Classroom: Enhancing the School Experiences of Students with Disabilities. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
  4. National reading Panel. (1998). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read.Retrieved August 3, 2009, from http://www.nationalreading
  5. Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children: Executive Summary. Retrieved August 3, 2009 from
  6. Rand Corporation. (2004). Reading for understanding: Toward a program in reading comprehension. Retrieved August 3, 2009, from all/reading/readreport.html
  7. Erickson, K.A., Clendon, S., Abraham, L., Roy, V., & Van de Carr, H.(2005). Toward positive literacy, outcomes for students with significant developmental disabilities. Assistive Technology Outcomes and Benefits, 2(1), 45-55