Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

 
I'm excited to start filling all the blank pages! 
I feel like a lot of things are going to come in to alignment
as we move forward.  Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Literacy Assessment for Students with Complex Needs

As our approach to literacy learning shifts around the students that I have on my caseload I am finding a need to take a different approach to literacy assessment.  Gone are the days where I can just say where they are in the Edmark Reading program or write general statements in regards to how they have engaged in literacy experiences.  When you make the end goal letter by letter generative reading and writing it changes things. 
This is a work in progress and I'm trying to develop a system where literacy skills are assessed at the beginning of the year and each of the three reporting periods.  Each of these assessments would then be used to guide our literacy programming for that student for the upcoming term. 
 
Emergent-Transitional-Conventional Reading Rubric
Kathy Strauler Literacy Rubric (2007)
 
This rubric allows for getting baseline information as to where students are at on the emergent to conventional reading skills continuum.  The process involves you engaging the student in reading and rating them in the areas of phonemic awareness, concepts of print, word recognition, fluency and comprehension.  I see this as a starting point and a neat one-page overview.  Assessment is meant to guide us as educators so we know what the next step will be in facilitating increased literacy learning.  On the reading front, this can be done by usign the more extensive Emergent Literacy Behaviour Checklist for students at the emergent level or by completing a Whole to Part assessment for those moving in to the Conventional Level (see below). 
 
I posted about the "Interactive to Independent Model" a couple of days back. The document that I linked there includes explanations and examples of things to be working on for both reading and writing at each the emergent, transitional and conventional stages.  This has just become one more resource in my "what do I do with this assessment data" toolbox.  
 
 
Emergent Writing Data Collection Form
 
The rubric I posted above does not include a section for writing.  I have to say that I thought very little about writing for my students before this past couple of years.  The writing students did was actually copying and/or fill in the blank choice types of activities.  Because of their limited communication systems, I didn't feel like we had a lot of other options because I felt they needed to know and understand the alphabet and letter sounds before you could start working on authentic writing. 
 
Two things changed this. The first was taking a PODD workshop from Linda Burkhart and coming to understand the movement away from the reductionist approach and towards giving students extensive vocabulary in their communication systems.  The second was going to the "Literacy and AAC" course by David Koppenhaver and Karen Erickson and seeing alternate pencils in action at the same time as getting a better understanding of writing and motivation.  At the course David Koppenhaver talked about "functions of literacy" rather than "functional literacy" and this really struck a chord with me.  By taking things apart and breaking it in to what we percieve to be small and manageable pieces we take away the function and meaning and therefore also take away the motivation to write.  I was reminded of how children progress through the emergent stage of writing by going from scribbling to letter like scribbling and moving through an exploration process until they begin to write in more conventional ways.  I could clearly see how important is was that we allow students with complex needs to also go through these stages and that we provide them with whatever type of pencil and paper they need from the start rather than putting pre-requisites on being able to write. 
 
The approach we are taking is that of "writing without conventions".  We are finding things to write about and ensuring that we have visuals or some way of knowing what the student is writing about.  This might be linked to curriculum material (go online and find visuals if there aren't any in the curriculum materials we are using), something that has happened to them (we are using Remnant books, step-by-step communications, home-school communication books, personal cameras as ways to track and be aware of the "stories" that our students have to tell us in the hopes that they will have the same story telling experiences other students have), giving choices of topics or responding to what they are saying with their communication systems to find topics.  We then get out the alternate pencil and start the writing process, accepting any writing that is given (pounding on keyboard, eye gaze process of partner-assisted scanning through alphabet flip books).  We are just new to the process so I can't yet share great success stories.  I am including the data collection form that speaks to the progression that students are to take through this process below.  This is just one part of their literacy programming.  They are also doing word work, reading work, communication work and some are exploring programs like Clicker and Intellikeys at the same time. 
 
Information on Alternative Pencils can be found on the Center for Literacy and Disabilities Website: http://www.med.unc.edu/ahs/clds/products/available-for-purchase
 
Link to Emergent Writing Data Collection Form: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BxGmSYp3oABNSzJZbWxxMllwZFE
 
 Emergent Literacy Behaviour Checklist
Alberta Education - Litearcy for All Pilot Project (2012-13)
 
Part of the "Literacy for All" project that I have been involved in for the past two years has involved the development of an "Emergent Literacy Beavhiour Checklist".  This assessment looks at (1) interaction with books, (2) engagement in the act of reading, (3) interactions during literacy activities, (4) engagement in storytelling, (5) interactions with symbols/print, (6) drawing/writing and representing, and (7) alphabet knowledge.  I have found it useful in setting goals and thinking about next steps when working with students at the emergent stage.  I have a lot more thoughts on emergent activities related to engaging with books, communicating related to books, alphabet awareness, use of technology for reading, social interaction when reading...etc. that I will share in future posts.  Once again, that love and understanding of books and reading will provide the needed motivation to move in to more conventional forms of reading. 
 
Whole to Part Reading Assessment
 
 
As students with complex communication needs move from emergent literacy to conventional literacy, assessments shift from purely observational rubric types of assessments.  Barriers exist here because many conventional assessments rely on speaking or writing and some of the students I have on my caseload are not able to do this effectively enough to give a really clear picture of what they know.  Ultimately, the goal of reading instruction is silent reading with comprehension. 
 
Whole-to-Part is a reading intervention system based on research by Jim Cunningham.  The assessment process involves the following three domains:
  • Word Identification - being able to read words quickly and easily
  • Listening Comprehension - listening and understanding when someone reads a story
  • Silent Reading - reading and understanding what is read silently
I have had two different opportunities in the last two years to attend workshops/courses on how to modify this assessment process for students with complex communication needs.  It involves using a standard reading assessment (we are using Jerry Johns) and modifying tasks so that students will be able to answer receptively.  So for word identification, students are presented with a power point slide that has four words (one in each corner) and asked to eye gaze or point to a given word (or this could be done on paper or with word cards).  For listening and reading comprehension, the answers to the mulitple choice questions are presented in the same way and the student picks the most appropriate one.  Doing a google search on "Whole to Part Assessment" genreates a lot of presentations and handouts that more fully explain the process.  I am just at the point where I have one of the students on my caseload and the materials ready to give it a go and see what we get for results. 
 
The purpose of the assessment is to know where to focus extra effort in order to move that student along the continuum of silent reading with comprehension.  The one I found interesting in this assessment is the listening comprehension as it speaks to the need for the student to have receptive understanding.  Many of my students probably have less "life experience" than others due to the complications and medical needs that come with creating those life experiences.  It speaks to how important it is to build background knowledge, focus on vocabulary and make connections.  It always goes back to that "input before output" approach. 
 
Here is a great document that answers the question of what to do with the assessment data. For many of my students we are finding ways to embed all the elements of literacy in to general education curriculum but I'm also looking to do daily intervention pull out with them and this gives a framework for those who are moving in to the more conventional levels. Although it is all a balancing act right now as we move between two different delivery methods in the middle of these changes. 
 
 
Alberta Education Inclusive Education Literacy Rubrics
| Writing | Viewing and Representing | Listening | Speaking | Working with Others Rubrics |
 
I wanted to just mention these.  I have not yet used them but I see a lot of promise in these as possible assessment tools as well.  Right now they are part of the IEPT (Inclusive Education Planning Tool) that is being piloted across Alberta.  I could eventually see these being used as part of a beginning of the year assessment package to help guide us in deciding on goals for those students who are at this more conventional level. 
 
Link to Literacy Rubrics (under Language Arts tab): http://www.learnalberta.ca/content/ieptLibrary/index.html

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Using the Nonverbal Approach to Promote Literacy

 
I came across this Power Point presentation a few weeks back and have since found a couple of research studies on the "Nonverbal Approach to Reading (NRA)".  When I attended the "Literacy and AAC" course put on by Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver in May, they spoke of the goal of reading instruction being that of "reading silently (in your head) with comprehension".  Seems logical but for students who do not talk what does this mean?  From everything that I've read what it means is that we need to be explicit about teaching them to read silently in there head.  We need to actually talk to them in the teaching process about what they are hearing in their heads while reading. 
 

 
I'm excited to begin trying this NRA method with a few of my students after Christmas.  I am using a modified approach to Patricia Cunningham's "Systematic Sequential Phonics They Use: For Beginning Readers of All Ages" with three of my students and have now created NRA Power Points to go with the word wall words that are introduced with this program.  One of the research articles that I read talked about including a motoric prompt to go along with steps of the NRA approach as they were then able to tell when students transferred the skill and were using the approach with other words.  I'm excited to add in this NRA piece.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Interactive to Independent Literacy: A Model for Designing Literacy Goals for Children with Atypical Communication

 
I knew immediately that this article was to like this article when I read the quote that it opened with: "Researchers and professionals need to work actively to reverse the forces at work in our culture that lead to the ostracism of children who are different." 
 
Over the past year and a half, my views about literacy instruction for the students that I have on my caseload have changed quite a bit.  I have been fortunate enough to take workshops and/or courses form Linda Burkhart (PODD Communication), Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver (Literacy in AAC Course) and Caroline Musslewhite (Literacy Workshop and Communication Circle Workshop).  I have also participated, along with two different teachers from the school I work at, in the Literacy for All project last year and this year.
 
It is not that I didn't believe in literacy instruction for "my" students so much as I was thinking of literacy as a series of lock step skills that needed to be mastered.  Sadly, a drill based approach to literacy still seems to be a reality for many with disabilities even against that fact that so many classrooms have moved to approaches that are much more comprehensive and interactive.  The functions of literacy skills seem go quickly get lost in this approach and these students are then faced with the added challenge of low motivation on top of the challenges presented by their disabilities. Without the context of what one is doing, it is hard to stay motivated to to do it. 
"For all children to bcome members of their literate communities, we must consider reading and writing not as end products but rather as socially communicative practices that begin to emerge early in childhood as other communicative abilities do. Both oral and written language are thus viewed as primarily communicative practice, and an intervention to achieve that end is best viewed as situated practice."
This article goes on to present a model for five level literacy instruction that is influenced by the Social Interaction Model, the Participation Model and the Situated Pragmatics Model along with possible goals for each of the five levels. 
 
It reflects the path that we have started down with the students that I have on my caseload over the past couple of years.  It is not always an easy path as it is slow and the focus is on interactions and the process rather than individually produced products.  The model is based on interaction to create understanding in the emergent stage and only moving on to conventional literacy when there is a deeper understanding.  The reality is that we can push students in to the emergent stage long before understanding and get the paper products that some would equate to learning so much quicker. 

What is the benefit of this approach?  How much research has been done?

It's all still so new and when it's about students with complex communication needs it is sometimes hard to measure these things.  Sometimes we need to just assume that these students will develop literacy skills in much the same way as others but they will require more time and because of limitations, they will also require others to be more deligent of keeping it all going.  I believe in the end the benefit will be motivation.  The article itself speaks to the benefit being that focusing this way also focuses in communication and interaction and these two things result in an increased quality of life for anyone. 
 
What I know is that making this shift has resulted in increased levels of interaction and engagement both with others and with literacy skills.  I know that I am imagining going places with letter by letter generative reading and writing that I had never imagined before with some of my students.  I know that I can see a deeper link between communication and litearcy and have found new ways to teach both in the crossover between the two.  I know that these skills we are working on are more authentically transferable then what we had worked on in the past. 
 
Finding this article was exciting for me because it framed so much of the learning journey about literacy and communication that I've been on (and will continue to be on) over these past couple of years. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Shifting Gears

I'm not going to lie.  Trying to navigate having "my" students in three different schools in the first months of this year has been tough.  There have been times where I've wanted to throw up my hands and move them all back in to the self-contained world we used to have that was so much easier to manage.  Although I believe in this in theory, there have been times when I've questioned if we can actually make it work in practice. Those are two different things.

But those are just fleeting moments as most of the time I can see the advantage and/or potential to each of them to the programming they have now in comparison to the programming we had before.  Ultimately, this is moving towards truly personalized programming for these students. 

Which brings me to my thought on shifting gears.  For a while now a lot of the focus of this blog has been on the concept of inclusion and some of the philosophies that sit behind it.  As Simon Sinek says "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" and that has been what this blog has been about.  But thing evolve and in this situation I'm seeing that the what actually is part of the why. 

Inclusion for my students begins with presuming their competence.  If we authentically do that the question of where they should be fades away and the question of how are we going to do it starts to drive you.  You begin to think in terms of what are the barriers to engagement and learning that exist for this student.  And you begin to understand that the education of these students is actually just ongoing process of asking and problem solving around how you break down the next barrier.  Each barrier you break down equates to a better quality of adult life for these students.  And shouldn't quality of adult life be the ultimate goal of education?  This is not a soft statement. It is actually a lot harder to think to in terms of qualty of adult life then it is to think just of the skills we want a student to learn.  Quality of adult life is defined by relationships, social interactions, authentic contribution, self-awareness and self-determination, ability to communicate effectively, literacy skills, purpose, interdependence...etc. 

It seems it is time for the focus of this blog to shift again as my own professional learning is shifting.  It is time to start digging in to the what and the who in regards to those things that project students towards that increased quality of life. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

2012-13: A Brand New Year

We are in the middle of transitioning the way that we serve the students that I have had on my caseload for several years now.  The last couple of years I have kind of lived between two worlds while we have done some testing of the waters.  This year I feeling like what I'm doing is a bit more focused.  There will still be lots of change and growth but the difference now is that I can focus on facilitating inclusion by offering both direct and indirect supports rather than coordinating a self-contained program.  My students have been dispersed to their age-appropriate schools and this means that I will be traveling between schools to oversee their programs.  It is not "perfect" inclusion but rather an exploration of how we can increase routine, social and academic participation in general education classes and settings for these students.  We are looking to find and grow the things that work.  As we begin to understand what works we will be able to apply it across other areas of these student's education.  I'm excited to continue with this learning process that started a few years back.

Focus areas right now include...
  • Exploring with primary classroom teachers Daily Five and CAFE as a possible inclusive literacy structure.  This is exciting as we are talking about inclusion from a design perspective rather than from a retrofitting approach.  How can we set things up right from the get-go to ensure that all students are learning at an appropriate level... including students with significant disabilities. The other area we will step in to with this project is exploring assessment for all students - again, including those with significant disabilities.  
  • Exploring iPads and personal computers to increase communication opportunities and to increase academic participation.  We are planning to further explore curriculum connections we can make with communication apps and a variety of software including Read and Write Gold, CoWriter, Dragon Dictation, Clicker and Classroom Suite.  We are also just looking to use these devises as sources for visuals to modify assignments that the other students are given. 
  • Starting to create a Comprehensive Literacy Course at the High School Level that incorporates both Literacy and AAC concepts and skills.  Developing this course is going to take some time and it will need to be flexible enough to meet each student's needs.  At this point I'm imagining this as a course that students would take as part of their schedule some day. 
  • Creating a "Community Connections" approach for Community Based Programming.  This is instead of something like work experience in that we would be focusing on finding connections in the community rather than building independent work skills.  The ideal would be that one of those connections would lead to possibilities around an assisted work placements but the focus is to extend the approach of looking for and nurturing social connections in the school setting to doing the same in the community as these students get older.  
  • The across the board focus areas that we will continue to work on include facilitating social opportunities and relationships, increasing independence in routines through the use of appropriate and only-as-special-as-necessary supports and increasing awareness about disability.  
I think it's going to be a great year!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Favorite Reads of the Summer

As summer winds down, I thought I would share my favorite reads of the summer.  I am leaving out the books "The Daily 5" and "CAFE" as I feel they warrant a completely separate post because of everything that is in them that encourages student agency and because we will be working with them through the Literacy for All project this year and so I will be writing about them as we learn more. 


Seeing the Charade: What We Need to Do and Undo To Make Friendship Happen by Carol Tashie, Susan Shapiro-Barnard and Zach Rossetti

This book takes a hard look at how the special education system as it is designed right now plays a role in the social isolation of students with disabilities.  It works through the barriers to friendship for students with disabilities and give some suggestions related to how to overcome these barriers and support the development of meaningful, authentic relationships for students with disabilities.  I thought it was a great book but it is a book of challenge as well because as great as it looks on paper I was left wondering how you take what is on paper and turn it in to opportunities for these kinds of relationships for students with disabilities.  What I felt was the best suggestion in the book was to engage students in the question of how we go about making this shift, perhaps with a type of peer advisory group whose job is not to be a person's friend but to inform adults about the culture of the world they live and possible in points for friendship.  I like this idea.  In fact it was as I read this that I started to see a little seed for a possible masters thesis being planted.  It reminded me as well of the blog "Beyond the Crayon" and student inclusion action group that was created there. 


Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone by Douglas Biklen with Richard Attfield, Larry Bissonnette, Luch Blackman, Jamie Burke, Alberto Frugone, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay and Sue Rubin

This is a powerful book and shows a different view of autism and disability then what seems to be the prevalent view right now.  A majority of the book consists of the stories of people with autism by people with autism.  Some of the people who tell their stories are people who have been perceived as being "extremely disabled".  These people tell their stories are communicating them through either typing or by a combination of speech and typing.  The book speaks (once again) to the need to always assume competence in those that we label as "non-verbal".  For me it was one of those books that reminds me (again) of how much we still have to learn and figure out when it comes to people with disabilities and how important it is not to define their cognitive capacity based on what we have figured out at this current time.  It also speaks to how important it is to always be looking for that communication system that allows someone to show their full potential and until we find it we need to assume complete competence.    


Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton

This is a book about social change.  The title is a play on the book "Getting to Yes" because the authors feel that when it comes to social change the best we can do is to get to maybe and then to start to explore what that means.  As I read through the book, I realized that "maybe" might even be more powerful than "yes" because "maybe" has the potential to engage others while "yes" really just creates a plan that others must blindly follow.  The book also talks about complex systems and how change in complex systems happens through relationships.  As I read through this part I thought that this might be part of why my own learning was ignited again when I started to get involved in learning online.  It was through all those points of connection that I started to think differently and started to think about the possibilities which results in acting differently.  It was a timely book for me as there are times when I get frustrated with the slow, non-linear changes that are happening for the students I serve and this book was a good reminder.  This book again started to ignite a bit more of the idea for my masters thesis.  The book talked about "Developmental Evaluation" as opposed to summative or formative evaluation in a social change process.  This is something I plan to dig in to some more. 


A Good Life: For You and Your Relative With a Disability by Al Etmanski

This was my "mommy book" for the summer.  My son is moving to junior high this fall and as we sit on the edge of this transition as well as making changes to his programming, I felt it important to project forward as see if we were focusing on the right things to set him up to live a happy and productive adult life.  One of the differences of raising a child with a disability is that you have to plan these things where as with other children these things evolve and you help but you also know that your child will take sole responsibility for their "good life" some day.  So this summer I started looking for life planning types of books and came across this book pretty early in the process. I was immediately drawn in as this is a book that is written by and with parents of children with disabilities.  These are the experts and the book was born out of a desire to make sure one's child would live the adult life we all want for our children.  It's basically a workbook that you and the team around your child would work through in planning for their future.  But in planning for their future you are actually planning for their now.

The most powerful statements in the book were related to research around what factors result in safe and happy lives for people with disabilities.  The number one factor tied to safety, healthy and happiness is the number of relationships that a person with a disability has.  The other interesting thing stated was that it matters that the people who have relationships with the person also have relationships with each other (like a spiderweb) as this is what accounts for an increased level of safety and happiness.  This book spoke to the idea of developing natural supports around a person.  This book also spoke to a little piece of each of the other books that I've read above.  And again... the idea of that peer advisory group to help us figure out how to 'do inclusion' as a masters project came creeping in.

It's obviously been a great reading summer.  I just want to say that I am not negating the importance of academic learning by focusing this much on relationships as I truly believe that learning happens in relationships and that people with disabilities can have them both.  It does not need to be one or the other.  I can't say that I have a list of things to do as a result of what I've read.  I can say that I think differently and there is a whole lot more "maybe" happening and I'm excited to see where it all goes as we move forward.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Find Joy in the Journey

Skrtic proposes that schools evolve into problem-solving organizations where the fundamental structure of the classroom is replaced with more flexible structures that are more adhocratic in nature or focused on problem solving – organizations in which educators customize programs for individual students.  For Skrtic, in a problem solving school, disability becomes an opportunity to innovate and improve.  “Regardless of its causes and its extent, student disability is not a liability in a problem-solving organization; it is an asset, an enduring uncertainty, and thus the driving force behind innovation, growth and knowledge.” (Effective Inclusive Schools, 2012, Thomas Hehir and Lauren Katzman)
Summer is quickly coming to an end and it is time to start thinking about another school year.  My job is different this year as the students who are on my case load will begin at their age-appropriate schools this fall.  Rather than being in one classroom in one school, they are going to be in several classrooms at three different schools.  The elementary students that I have now have had general education classroom primary placements for either 2 or 3 years and we are now looking to continue this approach as two of them move on to Junior high.  This will obviously present a whole new set of challenges as they will need to learn to navigate a much larger world then what they now know.  The high school students that I have will be moving full time to our division high school.  With them we are not looking to continue, but rather to begin, and our beginning steps will probably be little ones. 

It would perhaps makes sense at this point to lay out how I see this all evolving... to give a picture of what this might look like at the end.  But the reality is that this has kind of taken on a life of it's own and it is not solely mine to create.  Over the past two years I've become very aware that this is not about planning and executing every step we take.  There are too many factors that will bounce off of each other but, more important, there are too many experts that we have not yet identified.

Last year, I peeked in on the gym class that one of my students was in.  They were playing dodge ball and this was a student who becomes overwhelmed with noise and business.  When we operated from a self-contained approach, he would go and join his grade for gym class but never participate.  He would sit on the side of the room, turn his back to the craziness and "stim" to drown things out.  This past year, his primary placement became that of being with his grade level peers and he was able to be in the classroom during subjects like math and language arts when the classroom is calmer.  He was able to get his sea legs and start to build some relationships with the students around him.

That day when I went in to gym class, I was surprised to see him in the middle of a game of dodge ball!  I stayed to watch for a bit and realized that a group of his peers had brought him in to the game but not only had they brought him in to the game, they were protecting him from being hit by the ball by forming a sort of wall around him while they continued to play the game.  And then I noticed one of them hand him a ball so that he could throw it.

I went back a few days later to see him playing floor hockey.  This time there was not a group around him but as the puck came towards him there was a pause to see if he would hit it.  When he didn't, the game continued.  They were not slowing the pace of the game down but rather just either knowingly or unknowingly giving him enough time that he would be able to hit the puck if he so choose.

We can't write stuff like this in to a plan.  As nice as it would be for us to be able to make an inclusion plan and follow it step by step and see these students included in the end, sometimes not having too defined of a plan is the best plan because it leaves room for people to step in and be part of the plan.

As we sit on the edge of a new year with a whole lot of new adventures ahead, I am excited to see what we can build.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Contribution of Being

We know the research is out there to show that other students do not miss out when students with disabilities are included but what matters more is what others gain when students with disabilities are included.  The Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network website (http://plan.ca/future-planning/contribution/) outlines that there are two ways for people to contribute.  The first is one that we are all well aware of and one that many "life skills" programs are built on and that is the contribution of doing.  We give students "jobs" around the school or classroom so that they are contributing.  This is a tough one because this approach can be taken to the point where we are actually defining the social status of a student by the jobs that we assign them.  It also doesn't get to the heart of contribution as it is often action without the affective component that is so vital to contribution.

PLAN also talks about the contribution of being and defines it as
These are contributions made by a person’s presence. Many people with significant disabilities offer grace, caring, attentiveness, wonder, acceptance, silence, receptivity, compassion, inspiration, pleasure, gratitude, loyalty, and friendship. These gifts – often overlooked in our society – are critical to society’s well-being. In fact, they are a necessary antidote to ‘too much doing.’
So...  What if we authentically looked at community building instead of classroom management?  Would people then see the students that I serve as assets rather than liabilities in this kind of classroom?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How about calling it community building instead of classroom management?

This was a great statement made by @AmyRass on twitter today.  It reminded me of this video about empowering people and how important the way we frame things is.


I am remembering back to when I first started to wrap my head around what "inclusion" actually means.  So often we go to the idea that inclusion means belonging but in the end belonging happens on a spectrum and it seems to be that at times this definition can actually work against the development of meaningful relationships for people with disabilities.  So I go back to my original idea of inclusion meaning being part of a community.  I think the extra that comes with being part of a community is that when you are part of a community you don't just take from it, you also give to it.

So back to that twitter question.  What if we authentically looked at community building instead of classroom management?  Would people then see the students that I serve as assets rather than liabilities in this kind of classroom?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Creating Resource Lists by Using Pinterest

I have been on pinterest for some time but have really not been motivated to use it.  This past week, my son ended up in the hospital with a terrible intestinal bug and I ended up with a lot of time on my hands while he slept, rehydrated and got back to being the healthy, happy little boy that he is.  So - I explored pinterest on my iPad a lot and came up with an idea.

What I'm looking to do is create "Boards" that link to each of the grade level units that the students on my caseload will be a part of in inclusive classes.  The ideas can be used either with the whole class if the teacher chooses or they can be used as a modification so that my students can actively engage in the curriculum objectives.  I'm including mostly hands on, non-writing activities as these are the ones that the students on my caseload need (and I believe there are many others who also need these types of activities but we don't always have time as teachers to find them and set them and link them to the learning that should be happening).

So I have begun and just wanted to share what I'm up to these days :).  I plan to also transfer these ideas in to unit binders over time so that we also have them in "hard copy" so that those who prefer that medium can also access it.  It's going to be an ongoing project but what I had been thinking to do even before this pinterest part of this is to create grade level unit binders that list possible adaptations and modifications that can be used as a type of resource to draw ideas from.  It would obviously be a dynamic document that gets added to as we move forward.  I'm thinking they may end up actually being binders in bins as the bins will include the adapted materials that we make as we go along.

Just looking to build a resource database and this is first step.  I have added a link to my pinterest page on the sidebar :).

Friday, July 27, 2012

Playing to Your Strengths

Just wanted to post this because I am feeling pretty blessed to have a job that connects so closely to who I am :).

Love this: "A strength is an activity that makes you feel strong!"



Sunday, July 1, 2012

Supports for Overcoming Barriers to Learning - Assissitve Technology

"In order to make the Four-Blocks Framework accessible to children with disabilities, we consider six general areas where children with disabilities often differ insignificant ways from their classmates. These differences are significant because they impact the relative success or difficulty that children experience while participating in literacy activities.  The six areas include communication, cognition, physical abilities, senses (primarily vision and hearing), affect and attention.  As educators, we find that these areas of potential differences are more informative to instructional planning than the label assigned to characterize a student's type of disability (health impairment, learning disability...etc.).

Once we have identified one or more significant difference, our problem-solving efforts focus on identifying or developing adaptations that neither change the fundamental nature of an activity or make it more difficult or less desirable for children to achieve than the original activity."  (Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four-Block Way, page 7)

I think one of the other barriers that often exists for students with significant disabilities is one that comes down to just a complete lack of experience.  Sometimes experiences don't happen because those around them are so busy addressing day to day care, medical, sensory and behavioural needs.  This goes back to Linda Burkhart's line of "input before output".  We so often quiz these students to see if they can do something and then when they do not quickly show they can, we take it apart and start focusing on skills. instead of creating more experience to learn wholistically.  

Moving the elementary and middle school students that I serve from a self-contained to inclusive settings over the past couple of years has resulted in a personal shift in thinking in regards to instruction and learning for these students.  In a self-contained setting, I found I was often thinking in terms of breaking things down, remediating, simplifying, creating experiences...etc.  Having my students in classrooms where a curriculum drives what is going on shifts one's thinking more towards the bigger picture and the more I think about the bigger picture, the it becomes clear to me that by breaking things down too much we take away the function and the purpose and the why of what we are doing... and therefore we also take away the motivation.

The literacy and AAC course I attended in May really confirmed a lot of the thoughts that I had been having in thinking that when we break things in to skills, rather that focus on cognitive processes, we are actually setting up barriers to learning for students with disabilities.  It seems to go against what should be.  We want to help.  We want to simplify.  We want manageable pieces.  But the manageable pieces don't really have meaning in isolation and this impacts motivation and understanding and, most importantly, the opportunity to make personal meaning.

This is what I've learned by thinking of my students as being members of general education classrooms.  Certainly I could have now taken these things that I've learned and changed what I was doing in the self-contained world that we had been functioning in quite well for so many years but I have also come to see how much my students look to their peers as models and how much the other students are learning as a result of these students being full members of their classes.  The peer part of this is really another post all together that I plan to make at some point as it is one of my focus areas for next year.  This idea of overcoming barriers to learning that is based in general education curriculum is another one of my focuses.  

This will be part of my professional growth plan next year.  The action items that I am currently looking at in working towards a deeper understanding include the following.  Note that I am continue to focus in mostly on literacy and numeracy as I think the things that we learn through these is what will build the groundwork for other subject areas.
  1. Continuation in the Alberta Education "Literacy for All" pilot project.  This fall we will be "going deeper" and looking at "The Daily Five" and "The Cafe Book".  I have been posting as part of a book club for "The Daily Five" the past few weeks.  I am seeing great potential for authentically including the students on my caseload within a structure and approach like the one outlined in this book.  
  2. I have ordered some books from Attainment company outlined below that I think hold great promise around looking at the use of Assistive Technology to help provide access to curriculum content.  I was excited to see that the sample pages that are available on the website from these books was broken down in much the same way as what is outlined in the quote that I started this post with - by taking a look at what the challenge or barrier is and then addressing that.  
  3. We will continue to work with the "Action Dictionaries" that are a part of the "MeVille to WeVille" and "Equals Mathematics" programs.  These are great resources because they take words that you often see in objectives and give alternative approaches to ensure that students with varying needs are able to participate in the learning that is going on in the classroom.  
  4. I'm planning to attend a two single day workshops by Dave Edyburn in Edmonton in August.  The first is "Practical Strategies and Technology Tools for Supporting Diverse Learners in All Classrooms" and the second is "Technology Interventions for Learning Coaches".  I have read a lot of Dave Edyburn's work and I'm excited to have the opportunity to learn from him.  
  5. Continue to connect with others online who are passionate about the same things.  I believe that the "Enhancing Inclusive Environments: Support for Implementation" online community of practice will become one of the hubs for this as we move forward.  
  6. Next year we will be working on building a more cohesive support team around these students with a focus on enhancing membership, participation and learning in general education settings for these students.  It is a process and it is a matter of finding ways to move along a continuum.  Its really a matter of engaging in that process rather than over focusing on the product as the education of these students is about finding the best ways to allow them to live full, inclusive lives as adults. What better place to figure that out than in inclusive classrooms?


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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Masters Program - One Year In

Next week I move back to Lethbridge for our second of three summer class sessions.  We officially have one full year of our program behind us with two years still ahead.  It seems like just yesterday we were starting this program but it is also hard to imagine a time when I wasn't balancing masters courses on top of everything else.

When I started this program I was expecting to get something very different out of it from what I feel I'm getting out of it.  I took the program to grow my knowledge related to inclusive education.  I was hoping they would hand me some magic approach or formula or list of things to do that would make inclusion 'work'.

This program has impacted me - personally and professionally.   There have been many other things going on at the same time as this program and I can't really put my finger on which individual thing has had the most impact because I think it is is the interplay between all these factors that creates the impact.  Take one part out and it would be a different impact.  But I do believe that my masters program has one of the larger impacts.  Not because of the content that I'm learning though.  I want to try to put it in words before I move in to year two in a couple of days.

I find it hard to recall specific content from many of the courses that I've taken as it sort of just became a part of the way that I think.  I think differently about learning as a result of even just the base level of understanding of how the brain works that I have gained through our neurology classes.  I think differently about inclusion, learning, leadership...etc. as a result of the course we took last fall on UDL and differentiated learning.  Perhaps the course that had the most profound impact on me though has been the course on research methodology that I took this past semester.  I have a deeper understanding of the interplay between research and practice and a deeper respect for the practitioner research that is necessary in the area in the are of inclusive education.  I understand "rigor" differently then I did before as my thoughts about research were pretty narrow and clinical.  Although we didn't explicitly talk about "Living Theory Research" taking this course was a catapult in to finding out more about this.  It has made me rethink weather I want to go thesis route in this program.  This research class has also made me look back at the things I so often do as "experiments" and realize the elements in action research that are already there.  Finally the combination of all the courses to this point has made me want to learn more and to find others who want to engage in that process.  It has ignited a spark that was just not there before.

This masters program could not have happened at a better time as we were already in the process of changing practice towards being more inclusive for my students and this program, along with participation in the Literacy for All project and being IEPT pilot school have all come together at the right time. 

This summer I will be making a decision as to weather I will continue with the program as is or if I will be going thesis route (which will mean I will not be doing some of the remaining classes).  With everything that is going on in my job right now I am in a great place to do practitioner research - but I'm also realizing how vulnerable one must become to this type of research in a field that is controversial. 

Lots of decisions to make this summer. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Daily Five Book Study - Chapter 3

 
1. Why is a gathering place important?

Many of the younger students on my caseload have fairly significant sensory challenges.  The idea of a gathering place on the floor even through intermediate years holds a lot of appeal in regards to fitting sensory breaks right into the learning that goes on in the classroom.  The gathering place also eliminates other distractions that would come with sitting spread out in desks.  I have seldom seen gathering spaces for students beyond first grade so really liked the explanation in regards to this space being an indicator of changes in routines, a space that allows for more focus and a way to ensure that students are getting up and moving on a regular basis.

I do not have my own classroom so am unable to set up a gathering space but I can see how this approach would lend itself nicely to the visual schedule and choice board work that I do with several of my students in their classrooms. 

2. How did your students progress with picking appropriate books?  What went well?  What had to be changed?

I love the idea of teaching students to pick good fit books rather than testing them out and telling them their reading level and then having them pick books with that particular label.  Again - I do not have a classroom so really can't answer this question other than to say that I really enjoyed reading the section "good fit books" and the lesson with the bag of shoes.  I'm hoping that we might be able to do the shoe lesson in at least one of the classrooms (or more) where my students will be this fall as I think it is a great way to explain diversity as well as explain good fit books.

3. What rituals and routines do you need to teach for this structure to be successful?

As I read through this book I am finding myself making links to the supports that we often put in place for students with special needs and seeing how they can be done on a much more universal level.  We often do visual reminders, visual or written task breakdowns, social stories, rehearsals (verbal, visual or written) with students.  At first, we make them for students but over time we engage students in the process of making these or talking about these.  We work through prompt fading and hand over more and more of the control for these.  I think the idea of "anchor charts" really mirrors a lot of the work we do with students that I work with.  I also think the idea of keeping anchor charts up after they are made is a great idea.  I would love to see a classroom with walls full of records of the knowledge about learning that students have constructed throughout the school year.  This is an exciting idea to me :).

I like the thoughts related to "muscle memory" and the need to actually physically do the things that we are learning.  We have been focusing a lot lately on "sensory tools" and "sensory regulation" at a universal level in schools in my area.  Although I am a big fan of addressing sensory needs, there is something that doesn't sit right with me around some of the ideas that are being presented because they do not seem to be linked to learning.  The approach outlined in this chapter around practicing for the length of time that a student is able to sit still and then building stamina over time sits much better with me as the final goal in this approach is about learning.  It is evident that this might be a slow process for some classes but once through the process it seems it would make a world of difference for the rest of the year. 

I think it is great that all of the ideas outlined in this chapter are related to increasing student awareness of themselves and their learning and that all of the techniques will ultimately increase student independence and ownership.  The framework is given but the details are co-created with the students as they move along.  Anchor charts are not already up but rather students contribute to them both in the beginning and as they check-in to see how they are doing they will add more to them if needed.  I really like the idea of never giving a thumbs-down for check in as being indicative that all students do the best they can and also sending the message that learning is a process and it is okay to be on the path. 

4. What is one statement that stood out above everything in this chapter?

"Whatever we teach, weather learning to walk down the hall correctly or learning to read independently, we were mistaken when we assumed that once shown how to do something children would do it successfully ever after.  If we provided practice time, we often made the first few practices too long or did not repeat the sessions often enough to ensure success for all."  (page 36)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Inclusion Through "Mommy Eyes"

Just sharing some pictures of my son who has Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder and is included in a grade 6 classroom.  This is the first year in several years that he has been included as he spent the four years before that in a self-contained classroom.  He was integrated for a fair number of non-core courses when he was in a self-contained classroom and the students in the general education classrooms that he was in were always kind and accepting of him but we never real saw interactions beyond the surface level being nice to a child with a disability.  He has come a long way in regards to social interactions and independence this year as a result of being constantly exposed to and interacting with peers in the general education setting.  I'm including some pictures of him with his classmates on the camping trip they went on this past week.  The first set of pictures have Mikey (my son) chasing a squirrel around camp.  He quickly engaged other boys in assisting him with finding the elusive squirrel and eventually they all headed up the hill in chase of him.  The second set of pictures is at the beach the next day.  I also included some pictures of him at the end of the day all worn out.  I was not there with him (as what grade 6 boy wants his mom at camp with him) and am thankful to his teacher and classroom learning assistants for opening up this opportunity to him.  Enjoy the pictures.














Friday, June 22, 2012

Daily Five Book Study - Chapter 2

 
Chapter 2 speaks to my heart.  I believe very strongly in truly inclusive learning and this chapter does a great job of explaining a lot of what I believe inclusive learning to be about.  It speaks to setting priorities related to developing community and student agency.  It speaks to setting up learning environments that ensure that all students are engaged and learning.  It speaks to scaffolding and supporting students to become independent, focused learners.  I see so much potential in creating inclusive classrooms that are responsive to each student's learning needs based on what is written in this chapter. 

Because my role is not that of a classroom teacher I am answering the questions for this book study from a bit different angle. My role is support the learning and inclusion of the students on my caseload.  All of those students have multiple complex needs and most of them have complex communication needs.  Programming for these students in general education settings requires adaptations, modifications, assistive technology (AT), alternative and augmentative communication (AAC), alternative assessments...etc.  Sometimes we get so caught up in thinking about all the specialized supports and approaches that students with significant disabilities "need" that we end up actually narrowing our focus too much and creating barriers to authentic learning.  The foundational concepts discussed in this chapter speak to the base that is needed for all students to learn - including those with significant disabilities.  I would tend to argue though that although these things are not always freely given to students with disabilities, they tend to be given to them more then to those with disabilities.  Sometimes in our efforts to help students with disabilities to learn we end up unknowingly taking away from them some of these foundational concepts (example: we have learning assistants hover close to them rather than find natural supports that would allow them independence or we step in an help them when we see them start to struggle rather than give them the time and space and resources to figure it out themselves).  All too often with students with disabilities we reduce things to "skills" rather than focusing on cognitive processes and in doing that, we actually make things harder for them because we take away motivation and the picture of the bigger why.  

1 .What goals do you have for your classroom as you work to implement the principles and foundations of the Daily 5 discussed in chapter 2? What support do you need to do this?  

I feel that to successfully include the students on my caseload all those that work directly and indirectly need to adopt all of the principles outlined in this chapter when working with them and those around them.  I think operating from these principles would build a good base for an inclusive classroom.  In the world of special education we focus a lot on "independence" but sometimes the things we do in the name of independence end up creating barriers.  There is a story in the building stamina section that references walking around and praising students while they are trying to teach stamina and how doing that actually created a barrier to what they were trying to achieve as students became focused and dependent on the teacher feedback.  In our desire to help and to push a student towards independence we sometimes create dependencies by over-prompting, over-directing and over-reinforcing when we don't really need to and create learned helplessness in our students.  We talk about this with students with disabilities but I think the same is true in general education when we think of truly independent self-directed learners - it is just perhaps just a bit more subtle.  I once read something that referenced how when you look at a kindergarten room and  a grade 12 classroom in referenced to independent SELF-DIRECTED learning we seem to be doing things a bit wrong.  The kindergarten students have centers where they explore and interact and the grade 12 classrooms have rows of desks where teachers stand in front and feed information to students.  It seems that somewhere along the line we have mixed up the definitions of memorizing and learning. 

The six principles and foundations of the Daily 5 are:
  • Trust:  This one makes sense but in practice it is a challenge because it goes a bit against what we believe as teachers.  It goes further than just believing that our students can follow the routines to the point of believing they can direct and create their own learning.  
  • Choice:  I like the way this section is outlined as choice within structures.  The structures are taught but then motivation is created by giving the student control of choosing things like order and what books to read and what to write about.  This is a great way to ensure that each student's learning is personalized. 
  • Community:  I like how this section described behaviours in a positive light by referencing community members holding each other accountable for behaviours of effort, learning, order and kindness.  This section speaks to helping each other to remember expectations and supporting each other in learning and speaks to the need to look to building a learning community rather than creating discipline or management plans.  It also speaks to the often untapped resource of peer influence and interaction when it comes to "on task" behaviour. 
  • Sense of Urgency:  This section is about ensuring students understand the why of learning.  Not understanding the why is perhaps one of the biggest challenges in a lot of special education approaches because in our need to simplify we often take away the why.  We break things down so much that the student we are "teaching" cannot see the bigger picture and understand the why. 
  • Stamina:  This section speaks to the understanding that we need to scaffold and support students in being able to do literacy activities independently for extended periods of time.  It speaks to needing to take time to build and learn these skills.  It is a bit different from breaking it in to pieces and then putting the pieces together afterwards. 
  • Stay Out of the Way:  This one ties it all together.  Once everything else is in place we need to stop our urge to jump in too often and continue to trust that students will not only continue to follow routines but that the things they do within those routines will actually build their own learning.  They need the time and space to interact with what they are doing without interference.  When it comes to students with special needs we find this one particularly difficult as we believe we are helping by always directing and "teaching".  But there is a difference between teaching and learning and we need to let all students own their learning.  Of course... there is a balance which I'm sure we will learn more about when we start reading about mini-lessons and conferencing. 
2. What stands out as the most significant aspects of this chapter? 

I'm pulling some of my favorite quotes that I think speak for themselves to answer this question...

"Not when we trust kids enough to show them how." (page 19)


"A sense of community provides members with ownership to hold others accountable for behaviours of effort, learning, order and kindness." (page 21)

"If a student is disrupting others during their work time, the community will joint together to encourage, support and hold this child accountable for his or her learning behaviour."  (page 22)

"If we are instructing so much that the students don't get a chance to read, or if we are counting working working in a workbook as reading time, then we're not giving them enough time to become better readers or writers." (page 24)

3. How do the foundational principles of the Daily 5 structure (trust, choice, community, sense of urgency, and stamina), align with your beliefs that support your teaching strategies and the decisions that you make about student learning? 

These principles align very closely with my beliefs.  The challenge always comes down to bridging the "knowing-doing gap".   On paper these sound great but in practice old habits die hard.  We want to help and we believe that helping involves stepping in and giving advice, ideas, directions...etc. We say we trust our students but this goes deeper than just trusting them to follow routines.  This chapter is about trusting them to direct and monitor their own learning.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Daily Five Book Study - Chapter 1


I have been part of the Alberta Education "Literacy for All" pilot project this year.   This project included being a part of province-wide community of practice of educators who were exploring literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities. We were told at our wrap up that the project will now become "Literacy for All: Going Deeper" and continue in to a second year.  The focus of the second year will be linked the books "The Daily 5" and "The Cafe Book" by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  I'm excited and I immediately started re-reading "The Daily 5" book I have and ordered "The Cafe Book".  Imagine my surprise when I came across this book study on the blog Special Education Strategies and More.  I figured because I'm reading the book anyway it might be fun to join in to this online book study.  I look forward to reading and learning other people's posts about this book.  

I am not a grade 1-3 teacher but am hoping that we will be able to implement some of the strategies outlined in these books in the 1-3 general education classrooms that the students I support are a part of.  My role is that of a inclusion facilitator for those students - kind of a cross over between Alberta Education's Learning Coach model and the role outlined in the book "The Inclusion Facilitator's Guide".  All but one of the students that I serve are in the process of developing alternative or augmentative communication approaches (AAC) so this adds some challenges in regards to figuring out appropriate literacy instruction and assessment strategies for them.  

Some of my thoughts that link to the things I have been learning in the last while as well as the population of students that I teach include the following... 

Extension Activities 

I have been teaching this population of students for six years now.  When I first started almost all of my literacy lessons were made up of "extension activities".  We would read a book or story or poem and then do an active activity that allowed students to do something active - cooking, crafts, visuals, games...etc.  Sometimes we would do cloze activities or vocabulary activities as well.  With a few of the students, we would work on site word reading programs (often with visual symbol support) or functional reading by way of learning what environment signs mean.  Over the past couple of years I have been exploring the concept of comprehensive literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities and the links between the use of AAC and literacy learning and coming to realize the need to have the ultimate goal of literacy instruction for these students to be print based generative reading and writing.  I have explored other comprehensive literacy frameworks and this idea of no longer thinking of extension activities as literacy instruction seems to come up again and again.  We need to be engaging ALL students in the actual acts of reading and writing for extended amounts of time every day.  This book aligns with the direction that I would like to go with literacy learning for the students I serve. 

Learning Environment

The authors of this book reference this as a "Management System" but I would tend to think of it more as focusing on and setting up a learning environment.  I really like the focus on developing independence in meaningful activities.  The idea of spending at least a month at the beginning of the year creating the environment for learning is one that speaks to the concept of inclusion.  The tasks that are being done are related to community building, understanding citizenship (roles and responsibilities), defining and practicing expected behaviours, building stamina and coming to understand the needs of each unique group of students.  It speaks to knowing students as individuals and responding to their unique needs.  This, to me, is a huge element of what inclusion is and in the descriptions given in the book I can see that every child could function and learn in the environment that is created through this system.  It holds a lot of promise for inclusive learning. 

Student Agency

The structure is obviously one that is meant to facilitate independent learning.  Teachers respond to and work with individual students.  There is a reference in the chapter to a student being able to pick an area that they are struggling with as a goal they want to focus on.  I skimmed through "The Cafe Book" when it came in the mail and I was excited to see the focus on students setting individual goals.  This speaks the to what I believe the purpose of school to be.  Student need to understand and take responsibility for their own learning.  The idea of aiming for intrinsic motivation is one that I believe strongly in.  I think it is great that it is stated that kids can do this no matter what age they are.  To me, spending time on this is time worth spending.  It may take longer at first but it will result in more authentic learning.  

Worksheets

On page 10, the question "How will we know students are learning if they don't hand in worksheets for us to correct?" is referenced.  The shift from assessment FOR learning to assessment OF learning requires a philosophical shift but it also requires a shift in processes.  I think if we are really doing assessment of learning we are using different strategies then we would if we are doing assessment for learning but I'm not sure if this is what always happens in practice.  When we use things like worksheets as assessment for learning it kind of shuts down the learning process as it becomes about the process rather than the product.  Again, I took a quick look through "The Cafe Book" and some of the pages for keeping assessment notes that come from conferencing.  This concept is one that I look forward to digging in to further as I read through both of these books.  

My other bottom line on the concept of worksheets is that I see them used way too often with students with disabilities.  I think it is linked to a "behaviourist" approach.  Break things down in to rote skills and then repeat, repeat, repeat.  I am not a fan of the approach and I find the approach is used with students in self-contained classrooms more often then it is used with students who are included in general education settings.  Non-worksheet instruction is just so much richer in regards to experiences and connections that can be made.  What is important is finding a way for that instruction to account for all students and I think this method is looking like it holds promise at least in the area of literacy instruction.

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Now onto the questions...

1. On page 4-6, the authors present two different pictures of their classroom.  In thinking about about and reflecting on your own practice, how would you characterize your literacy block?  Does it look more like the first or the second scenario, or is it somewhere in between?  How will you change it?

As we are in the middle of transitioning our approach to educating the students that fall under my umbrella this is a difficult question to answer because more than half of my students now join general education classrooms for literacy instruction.  Most of these classrooms have a balanced approach to literacy and as I said above we are looking to possibly do some work with the Daily 5 in two of those rooms this fall but both rooms already have great literacy programs.

With my students who will be going to the high school we are looking at a schedule for them that will include both time together and time integrated in to other classes in the high school.  We are looking at using one of the four blocks in the day as a literacy class to address literacy learning that is appropriate for them.  I am looking to set the classroom up based on "The Four Blocks" literacy model with a modifications and assistive technology as needed.  Because there are only three students it will look a bit different but the idea of having a comprehensive program with micro-teaching and then lots of time to read and write and do word work will be in place.  

2. The typical teacher is very busy having students do lots of different activities.  How is what you are having students do now in your classroom creating quality writers and readers?  

This year I have been trying to focus more on reading and writing and using communication systems in literacy learning rather than just literature exposure, extension activities and sight word programs.  It was a stat and we probably saw the most excitement in the area of doing word work with this population.  Next year, I am looking at further expanding to look the four blocks and include:
Word Work: Planning to do both word wall work and using Patricia Cunningham's Working with Words with students.  With my students we need to tie in their communication systems as well as ensure that the students have access to do this work (through pointing or eye gaze).  Modifications have to be made to allow for participation. 
Writing: Planning to explore the use of "Alternate Pencils" (will write a post about this soon) as well as generating a variety of sources for students to pull from to decide what they are going to "write" about.  At first we will be thinking of writing in terms of just generating a list of letters related to a topic and also incorporate the use of their communication systems to talk about what they are writing about.  I'm planning to use remnant books as one source that student's can generate ideas for writing.  The explanation of this will take more than a few words here and I plan to write a post about it soon.  I'm excited to add this piece to our literacy plan because writing to this point has consisted of mostly doing cloze passages by eye gaze to picture to make choices about what word to put in sentences.   
Guided Reading: This will be done with the whole group and we will be looking at doing an Anchor-Read-Apply sequence with a piece of writing.  We will be rereading the piece of writing several times with a different purpose each day.  This I will also write more about.  Many of my plans came from the Literacy and AAC course that I attended a few weeks ago. 
Self-Selected Reading: Here we will be doing both partner reading and using technology to read.  One sight that I am going to explore extensively to find "just right books" is going to be Tar Heel Reader.  I'm seeing I have a lot of posts to add in the near future :). 
I think that this will cover each of the elements of "The Daily Five" even if it is in a bit different format.  My interest in this method for my high school students is actually in the "The Cafe" book as I am hoping to get some ideas related to assessment for that.  

3. What sets the Daily Five structure apart from what you are doing in your classroom?

As I have already mentioned, we are just in the process of changing our approach to literacy and programming with these students so there are many changes that will come from thinking in terms of more comprehensive literacy instruction for this population.