Literacy Skills and Older Students with Disabilities: Abandoning Sight Words and Juvenile Books

Almost 15 years ago Browder et al published a study about adapting and using grade-level literature to teach middle school students with moderate to severe developmental disabilities.  They asked what literacy outcomes could be hoped for, what supports would be needed, what research could be used to guide the process, and what could teachers learn from a new form of instruction.

adapt books for students with disabilities

They based the idea on the data that shows that students who are read to and involved in story reading activities score higher on measures of vocabulary, comprehension, and decoding, and gain more meaning from text than students who do not have these experiences.

They recognized, of course, that older students would need different contexts and strategies than younger students, as well as using books with more mature themes and concepts. They also recognized that the books used would need to be adapted to be made accessible to these students; rewriting chapters to be abbreviated, simplifying vocabulary, using visuals with key words, adding repetition, and making adaptations for those with physical disabilities.

In their study, they created specific task analyses and trained teachers in specific strategies and showed some positive results.

In a workshop I took with Diane Browder, we actually rewrote the chapter of “The Island of the Blue Dolphins;” a book typically used in 6th grade, to be appropriate for this group of students.

I was so excited by the idea that not only did I share it with the teachers to whom I was providing consultation at various school districts at the time, I decided to do some book adaptations myself.

julie of the wolves

One of these ended up in my TPT store; “Julie of the Wolves.”  I had a lot of fun with it, but have not yet seen teachers or SLPs jumping on the bandwagon. I’d love to adapt some other middle school novels, tho.

activities for julie of the wolves

arctic tundra book

Chime in and let me know what books you’d like to see adapted.

In the meantime, keep on talking!

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