The premise of The Accessible Reading Project was stated simply and with conviction at our initial pilot project team meeting in September. Ruwani Payoe, a teacher at Perspectives II, reminded us of the lack of literacy-rich experiences of many of her students due to disabilities or unfair social circumstances. She believes that alternate formats and accessible materials offer pathways that can equalize literacy experiences, “because every student has the right to access a story.”
Part I : The Intention & The Team
The first pilot of the Accessible Reading Project is taking place at Perspectives II High School (PII) during the 2016-17 school year. PII is part of the English Montreal School Board’s Outreach Network of high schools, and supports about fifty Secondary 4 and 5 (Grades 10 & 11) students who need more individualized attention and support than is usually possible in a typical high school environment. The student body is diverse, and students often have complex learning and behavioural challenges. Many students have negative learning experiences dating back to their elementary years.
As most students struggle to stay motivated and engaged with reading, The Accessible Reading Project intends to reach all students, and takes a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach. The project also focuses particular attention on students with documented learning disabilities, needing Tier 2 and 3 interventions within the Response to Intervention (RTI) model. By introducing accessible materials (such as enhanced
e-books with text highlighting and audio narration, and / or TTS-enabled digital texts) and alternate format materials (such as audio books) into the classroom, the intention of this pilot is twofold:
– To offer students with learning disabilities a way to bypass the barriers caused by decoding text, so that they can access content at the same levels as their peers; and,
– To foster independence in, and engagement with, reading in all students.
Because the implementation of accessible and alternate format materials requires a variety of professional expertise, the project coordinator assembled an interdisciplinary team of personnel at the school-, board-, and province-levels:
– Two (2) Perspectives II English Language Arts (ELA) / Resource Teachers
– Library Technician (assigned to 11 Outreach & Social Affairs high schools)
– Speech Language Pathologist
– Literacy consultant
– English Language Arts consultant
– Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) consultant
Province-level (Accessible Reading Project staff):
– Coordinator of the Advancing Learning in Differentiation and Inclusion (ALDI) project.
The team members bring knowledge of language disorders, literacy frameworks and English Language Arts learning outcomes, technology tools, and e-book publishing trends. They meet regularly (occasionally together, usually in smaller groups) to determine a process for implementing alternate format and accessible materials in the high school ELA classroom, following best practices from within each member’s field of expertise.
An ongoing concern for the entire team is the determination of the “when”, “what” and “why” of intervention. In other words, how to strike a balance between remediated reading instruction and the use of accessible or alternate format materials. There is a lot of variability within the pilot classroom, and many challenges in identifying the underpinnings that impede reading comprehension, be them from diagnosed language disorders or a lack of language-rich experiences. There is no magic formula, and each student’s needs must be examined on a case-by-case basis. This is especially true at the senior high school level, when students are expected to have already mastered decoding and fluency. We must ask ourselves, “what learning outcomes must be prioritized for these students?”
Working with the pilot team to craft a workable process, the Perspectives II teachers will move this from theory into practice with their students. The team feels that situating the process in a school is a viable way to meet our end goal of providing teachers from across the province with guidance to inform the use of accessible and alternative format materials in their own classrooms.
In our next post we will discuss the initial introduction of accessible e-books to students via reading engagement surveys and an interest inventory.
( Our next post about the classroom pilot is: Stay Gold! Measuring Impact. For more information about the pilot project at Perspectives II, please check out the other blog posts about our classroom experiences.)