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Dr. Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite

Friday, January 20, 2023

The Fletcher Miller Newspaper!

Before jumping into the journey of our school newspaper, I wanted to introduce ourselves. We will be contributing here and there with some fun ideas around teaching emergent literacy! Fletcher Miller is a self-contained school in Jefferson County Public School District in Lakewood, Colorado. We serve students ages 3-21 all with multiple, complex disabilities. We have roughly 100 students in our school, of which about 90% are emergent literacy learners. We are passionate about creating age-respectful and meaningful literacy opportunities for our students. We love to think of creative ways to reach this complex population and provide opportunities that help them to access the world around them. We are so looking forward to connecting, and sharing what we do! 

Do you remember your school newspaper? I still have some of mine! The idea of a school newspaper came up when thinking about authentic learning experiences for our students with complex, multiple disabilities. Wanting to diversify reasons for writing, and allow a different, collaborative, opportunity to write. 

We started out by exploring newspapers both in print and online. We quickly realized that many of our students had never interacted with a newspaper before! It isn’t a total surprise, since most people are getting their news from the internet these days, but it ended up being a fun exploration. The feeling of the paper, the smell of the ink, and even how differently pages turn was a unique experience. The fact that the pages will fall out was an interesting exercise in adaptation for the adults. We ended up using paperclips to keep the pages together, and finding different ways to help turn the big pages for our students with physical motor impairments. For our students that primarily use switch scanning to access their literacy, we looked through newspapers online. We worked collectively to highlight the different sections and what belongs in each section. Not only was this a great literacy exploration activity, it was also a super rich language activity. Explaining sections like the horoscope, advice columns, and the classified section was so much fun! The students get such a kick out of the horoscope section, it’s become a favorite to write! From there, we asked each student which section they wanted to contribute to. Students would either use a conventional yes no response to auditory scan, or their dedicated communication systems. Once their section was selected, they would then narrow down to a topic. We ask students to use their alternative pencils to generate letters and words around the topic first.

If they selected an obscure topic or section, we made sure to learn more about the topic or section first before asking them to write. For instance, this month a student selected that he wanted to write a classified ad. He also picked dogs, spiders and alligators in his topic selection. We explored different classified ads and what they mean. Some sell items, some post about jobs, and some highlight an event, like a garage sale. He decided to stick with the “job” section of the classifieds. It was easier for his learning partner to then help him explore jobs where he might see a dog, spider or alligator. He decided on petsitter. For an emergent communicator, this is a huge amount of fringe and tier two and three language. We acknowledge that, and align our expectations to balance out the engagement of the student. We know the students will be absorbing much of these lessons receptively and that generating novel language around these topics will be tough. But, viewing this as an authentic writing opportunity and a world knowledge building experience, makes it fun and valid learning. The alternative pencils are used to generate letters and word-like groupings, and the writing was followed up with specific feedback from the students' learning partners. In the example of the classified ad, the student selected letters “LLF.” Words like “leash, learn, food, fun” were used to make a connection between their writing, and words commonly used by a pet sitter. Then the students are asked “Would you like to add any additional words from your communication book?” Some pick additional words, and some don’t. The last task of generating the newspaper is our editing section. We ask students to pick pictures they want to be included with their posts, fonts and colors. On the last day of newspaper creation, we set up a newspaper stand and sell the newspaper. This time is a blast. Kids love hearing others read their newspaper and talk about it with them!  Here are some snapshots of our newspaper! Let us know if you create one with your class! 

Follow us on Instagram! @fletchermillerschool

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