Teaching Literacy to Students with Significant Disabilities: Strategies for the K-12 Inclusive Classroom (Book Review)

Teaching Literacy to Students with Significant Disabilities: Strategies for the K-12 Inclusive Classroom

Teaching Literacy to Students with Significant Disabilities: Strategies for the K-12 Inclusive Classroom by June E. Downing

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this recently for a continuing education course I had to take to renew my state teaching license. I have no particular expertise in working with students with disabilities nor any training, prior to taking this course, in learning support or special education. But, it’s now a requirement (and a reasonable one, I think) in the state I’m licensed in that all teachers must take a special education course to renew their licenses, so here I am having read this, participated in the obligatory forum posts and responses of online courses and if not having been transformed by the book’s ideas, then at least having found a nice congruence between the author’s ideas and my own convictions about personalized learning for all students.

More than anything else, Downing is out to challenge traditional definitions of literacy which focus on the reading and writing of abstract symbols and preclude students with significant disabilities. Instead, she advocates for a more inclusive model in which students with disabilities are able to participate in learning activities that are developmentally appropriate yet still rigorous and tailored to the real-life needs of these students. It makes a lot of sense and, most of all, completely jibes with conversations being had in modern schools about differentiation, personalized learning, student agency, co-construction, concept-based learning, competency-based progression, etc. Choose your buzzword, essentially, and notice how aligned it is with what Downing is recommending here. Like everything else in education, the only obstacle is a willingness to think differently and embrace the uncertainty of trying something new.

So, while Teaching Literacy to Students with Significant Disabilities may not rank among truly revolutionary or inspirational books about teaching and learning, it has a lot of logical and practical advice to offer classroom teachers who, like me, may know next to nothing about special education. It makes sense that as curricula begin to focus more on thinking and learning than on prescribed content and common assessments and as schools purport to teach the whole child it’s important to think about the place of students with even the most severe disabilities in the classroom.

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