Usining a Sign-Up Sheet Strategy to Encourage Emergent Literacy Skills in Young Children with Disabilities
Godt, Pamela, Hutinger, Patricia, Robinson, Linda, Schneider, Carol, Teaching Exceptional Children
When teachers and families involved with two Interactive Technology Literacy Curriculum projects added interactive computer technology to classroom literacy materials, they expected the technology to lead to effective literacy experiences for preschoolers with disabilities. Results supported those expectations (Hutinger, 1998). Information was gathered from 13 demonstration and research classrooms in rural and urban West Central Illinois preschools. Using appropriate software and literacy activities in daily routines and events led to early skills in reading and writing (Hutinger et al., 1998). Models of best practices for appropriate literacy instruction to children with disabilities are scarce at best (Erickson & Koppenhaver, 1995). Surprisingly, use of a sign-up sheet strategy to manage turn-taking on the computer led to advances in writing. When writing for a purpose, 3-, 4-, and S-year-olds with disabilities progressed from scribbles to recognizable symbols as they made use of the sign-up sheet over time.
An emergent literacy approach stresses that written and oral language develop concurrently and interrelatedly from birth. Literacy is much more than reciting the alphabet. Oral and written language are both best learned when used in purposeful contexts and when children have opportunities to observe and interact with others who write and read (Clay, 1972; Durkin, 1966; Gibson & Levin, 1975; Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1984; Mason & McCormick, 1981; Sulzby, 1988; Teale, 1986). Quality preschools provide developmentally appropriate activities that support learning new tasks including emergent literacy tasks in motivating naturally occurring situations. Children demonstrate great interest in making marks on paper at an early age. Their scribbles, random letter-like forms, and letters are clearly early forms of communication through writing.
Creating an Environment That Supports Emergent Literacy
A develop mentally-appropriate literacyrich environment is an important component of the Interactive Technology Literacy Curriculum, eMERGing Literacy and Technology: Working Together (Hutinger, Beard, et al., 1997). Interactive software and related print materials provided an appealing literacy element in the preschool classroom. Children used software that incorporated multimedia presentation of story books, as well as HyperStudio, an authoring program, to create their own stories (Hutinger, Beard, et al., 1997).
Emergent literacy research indicates that teachers can increase by 3 to 10 times the amount of time that children spend on reading/writing behaviors simply by "littering the environment with print." (Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1984, p. 43). When teachers make paper, pencils, and markers accessible to children during play activities, children tend to do much more writing. Therefore, teachers of young children are encouraged to provide writing activities, such as the sign-up sheet, that will let children demonstrate and build upon the knowledge they have already acquired about literacy through being read to, watching others read and write, and making their own communication attempts. The role of the teacher becomes one of setting up the environment to encourage interactions with print and to support self-generated, selfmotivated, and self-regulated learning (Shealy, 1996).
As Morrow (1997) and others have demonstrated, young children learn writing skills best in situations that are meaningful and functional for them. Cunningham (1995) noted that one of the most important and first words that young children learn to write is their own name. The sign-up sheet makes use of this finding. Emergent literacy research has clearly shown that children do not acquire "bad habits" and incorrect spelling by being allowed to "write" before they can officially write correctly and accurately in traditional modes. If sign-up sheets are available and used regularly, children practice signing their names for a specific purpose. …