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“How To” Instructions for Literacy Tutors

These are to provide (hopefully) understanding and direction for teachers and tutors wishing to promote literacy instruction for any and all hoping to learn how to read, with background and perspectives on the entire process, how it works and proceeds.

Presentation Objective #1

  • Identify the means for providing literacy skills to individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (or anyone else) who wish to learn how to read. 

If you wish to create your own literacy materials, please modify all emergent literacy material texts into size 28 Ariel Font for easing of visual recognition for readers. 

Make use of personal autobiographies for individuals who are at or just below the Piagetian Parallel Play or Group Monologue behavioral level to introduce literacy and reading to them in a very personalized format.

To make up autobiographies: ask caregivers, guardians, parents (all) if they can provide photographs of their individuals throughout their lives (if possible) with commentaries on the backs of each photo: of who are in the photo, how old, names of teachers, dogs, cats, address of first home, town name, neighbor’s kids, relatives, and relationships, siblings, etc. The photographs can be scanned and put into chronological order. A story can then be generated regarding each photo in the first person so it becomes autobiographical.


Laminate each page (if possible) and place all in a three-ring binder as a permanent story book for the individual’s reading it whenever he or she wants to read.  

Copy and print up (adapted into size 28 Ariel font) favorite movie scripts selected and well known to the particular individuals within the Autism Spectrum (And maybe others) who probably have the scripts memorized so that learning and matching the alphabetic symbols to the known scripts is an ease for learning literacy acquisition.​

To get Movie Scripts: Google search any movie by looking for any movie title ________ followed by the word ‘script.’ If the movie is written out, copy and paste the movie to your own WORD documents and change the font to Ariel size 28, and there is your reading material (though you may have to reformat it to have it look like a decent document to read).  

Provide regular reading sessions where all others who are developmentally below the levels necessary for learning how to read can be read to, using books, stories, newspaper articles, recipes, essays. etc., etc., etc., such that familiarity with reading, by being read to, can be established.​

Presentation Objective #2

  • Evaluate all individuals within your home or facility (or within their own homes) to determine levels of literacy competency. 

What are the necessary prerequisites for learning how to read?

Are your individuals verbal? Are they able to carry on a give and take two-way conversation (albeit simple, perhaps) with another? Can they be “reasoned” with? 

When beginning to actually learn how to read using the very basic emergent literacy materials, all of my students needed to possess 1.) relatively good eyesight (though this is technically not necessary as individuals who are unable to see can acquire literacy through Braille means) and 2.) an ability to carry on a two way (give and take) verbal conversation (or can do so with sign language, or any other adaptive means through the use of computers and other electronic means), being a little above the Piagetian Group Monologue Behavioral Developmental level [also referred to as the “parallel play behavior level”](M.A. [mental age] somewhere around 3.0 - 3.5). 

Being able to carry on a two-way conversation, give and take, is at about a 3 year old mental age developmental level. It is considered to be just above the Piagetian Parallel Play or Group Monologue behavioral level. Let me explain: Imagine, if you will, being at a preschool nursery school session with 3 year olds, and there are 3 three year olds sitting on the floor seemingly talking to each other, while playing with their favorite toys. And the first one says, “My daddy is a fireman and yesterday he went to a fire to put it out.” And the second one says, “Last night mommy and I made a chocolate cake and I got to help her mix all the stuff in a bowl,” and the third one says, “This morning I put on my favorite dress with the shoes that match and I did it all by myself.” And the first one says, “The fire was a big one and my daddy helped some kids and a little old lady get out of a building, and he’s a hero.” And the second one says, “And I got to lick the bowl when we were done putting the cake dough into the pan.” And the third one says, “I even got matching barrettes and hair ties to match my dress.” The reason I am relaying this to you is that the developmental levels these hypothetical children are displaying can be seen as very similar perhaps to some of our more conversant adults who may on the surface be able to carry on a conversation, but after a few moments you begin the realize that the conversation is basically one way and they have not heard a word that you’ve said while being only focused on what they have been telling you; not quite like echolalia, but somewhat close: they can talk your ear off and yet have no idea what you’ve said in the process. This is a preliterate developmental stage. 

Folks who are at or below the group monologue behavioral level can experience literacy through prepared autobiographies, relating to their own personal information and lives, and they can also be read to in groups where stories, nursery rhymes, song lyrics, newspaper articles, essays, anything with words in print, can be read to them and then have simple questions and answers either during and/or afterwards, doing this over a long period of time until the give and take of conversation is established as a means of communication.

​So…………If they can carry on a two way, give and take, conversation, albeit simple, they can be taught how to read.​

Presentation Objective #3

  • Identify appropriate literacy materials for continuing literacy events. 

Once literacy viability is established (or not), have your individuals wishing to learn how to read sit down with a one-on-one tutor: Find a very quiet, well-lighted (try to have the light behind you and focused on the pages) place to sit, either table or couch. 

Plan to work for at least an hour, once a week (same time if possible) uninterrupted.

Make sure the student has his or her glasses if necessary. (If you think that your student needs glasses but does not have them, or has never had them, try to find an ophthalmologist or optometrist who will be receptive to your student’s needs and wishes and provides him or her with glasses that are exactly what your student needs; it would be imperative that your student be able to see adequately to see the print on the page.) Begin by explaining that the two of you will be reading together, sort of (this is a one-on-one process). Open the book and point to each word and read each word while pointing at the words being spoken (if the student wishes to do the pointing, fine). Expect the student to say each word first. However, after a few seconds, if the student doesn't offer a guess, speak the word being pointed at, and then ask the student to say the word out loud. If the student is able to say the word, go on to the next, and the next.​

If the individual in question is able to read all or most of the words on the first couple of pages, skip ahead to a more advanced story. If the same thing happens again go on further ahead. Find a story level where some of the more difficult words are not known, and that is where you should begin your literacy tutoring process with this student. If your student has difficulty with the opening first level, start there.​

Pay attention to the guesses. If the student guesses the right word due to context, great. If the student picks a different word that begins with the same letter as the word pointed at, great. If the student indicates through continuous correct guesses that a word or words are 100% memorized correctly, great.​

Whenever a mistake is made, wait a brief second for possible self-correction. If no self-correction, offer the right response, with no fanfare. Never criticize. Always praise. Sometimes, do not correct, if the flow of reading is really good and the word in question can be figured out later​.

When the session ends (time), note where the student ended and mark with a sticky note, or note with a paperclip where to begin the next time. If the advancement of reading seems too difficult, review, often. Repeat the stories until confidence and competency are determined.

​This is not rocket science. It's more like a toboggan ride downhill. Let gravity take the two of you on a flowing ride. If the material is too easy, skip ahead. Adapt to your student's needs. If too difficult, back track. 

Stay with the large print materials until either student requests different books (library items) or emergent literacy materials available are accomplished. Once basic sight words are absorbed, also try "Beginning Reader Series" books (levels 1, 2 , & 3) (Like: Nate the Great, Frog and Toad, The Arthur Series, Cat in the Hat, etc. Your librarian will know the books referred to here) from the library, or simple ESL translations (like the Tommy and Ricky Mystery series), Large print Illustrated Classics, Large print books, etc. Why are we suggesting these books? There are very few age appropriate emergent literacy materials. So, we are forced to use what exists, what works.  ​

Never quit. Never give up. There are quick periods and slow periods in the developmental process. You will begin quickly to recognize "light bulbs" going off, plateaus, self-discoveries, points of illumination. These are golden moments. Make sure to let your student know that he or she is reading, not learning how to read, that your student is actually doing it, and that it really is a lifetime process.​

Presentation Objective #4

  • Describe in detail the literacy acquisition process from emergent literacy acquisition to advanced independent reading.

The acquisition of literacy takes place within the human brain/mind. It is only acquired through active social involvement and direct interaction with reading materials, speech, and communication, where flowing, accessible, unencumbered purposeful contacts (moments of acquisition) are maintained throughout a meaningful infusion of calculated substances to be processed by the mind/brain for study and assimilation.​

The mind/brain acquisition of literacy is also only possible through active and proactive willingness and assent on the part of the learner who chooses to be and to become involved step by step, day by day, in the process to acquire literacy. There are innumerable obstacles that may (and can) present themselves environmentally, socially, medically, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and academically in the lifetime pursuit of literacy that must be met head on and overcome for the acquisition to happen.​

There must be a huge and unquenchable internal “fire” (desire) to learn and to succeed within the learner for literacy to happen. Reading to the individual, presenting easy reading materials for the individual, and always being available for tutoring at regularly scheduled times to promote the security necessary for the process to develop and to be viewed by the reader as being worthwhile are all necessary conditions for success. If this “fire” is not there, it can be ignited with long term proper nurturance. However, if the student refuses (for explainable reasons of perhaps prolonged psychological damage and abuse) to be ignited or if the student sabotages the efforts and deliberately negates any attempts to ignite the “fire,” the quest for this one may be considered as being over and done [“horse-water-drink”].​

Although it has been extensively researched and well documented by many that language (hearing and speech) is hard wired into our mental “hard drive” (genetic) systems, and is almost consequently inevitable (because we are able from birth to have functional mechanisms for both vocalization and hearing [the hearing being fully operational at 100% capacity between 6-7 months gestation in utero]), the literacy component (reading and writing) may be “software” materials that require installation in order to be accessed. Literacy acquisition may be in fact the most necessary, unnatural skill we ever acquire as human beings (Yes, we’re not born with the tools).​

As language acquisition, though, actually begins prior to birth, “in utero”, in developing children, through 100% functional hearing mechanisms being activated at between 6-7 months gestation, language begins with listening in the womb to all future significant others (mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, neighbors, etc.) and this sensory accommodation promotes the preparation for knowing these persons who are environmentally so vital and important; whereas, literacy begins with the first visual encounters with print (and pictures): logos, colors, and designs, used for the purposes of imparting knowledge, direction, choice, and information, etc.: i.e., STOP, C.V.S., McDonalds, Burger King, Cheerios, Target, Gerbers, Ivory, Kleenex, Ford, Chevy, GMC, Sesame Street, Disney, Tonka, Barbie, Nickelodeon, The Simpsons, Coke, Pepsi, M & Ms, Campbells, Peter Pan, Wonder, Welches, Cocoa Puffs, etc., etc.​

Children’s language milestones generally include: At birth: upon hearing familiar voices, turning the head through motoric reflexed patterns to focus on the physical sources/speech from parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. (thus jump starting the communication/language learning process, as there is an inevitable [on the whole] joyous spontaneous purposeful reaction to baby’s communication efforts); Three months: Smiling, gurgling, mouthing imitations, socially recognized facial replications, various types and levels of crying, yelling, cooing, as behavior/as communication to demand needs, wants, etc.; Six months: “Ba-ba,” Ma-ma,” “Pa-pa,” consonant and vowel combinations replicating simple variations of single word patterns and imitations; Nine months: simple words such as: ”cookie,” “more,” “please,” “good,” “down,” “up,” “go,” “want,” etc,: One year: (simple sentences) “Please more soup,” “Wanna cracker,” “I did not,” “Go ride car,” “Sissy did it,” No me go bed,” “Pick me up,” “Can I have a cup of water.” By the time a child enters school at the age of 5 or 6, whether or not he or she can read a word, he or she has basically mastered rudimentary language skills successfully, having a vocabulary of somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 words, being able to make sentences and ask questions, with competent understanding and use of grammar and syntax, etc.

​When a child first is expected to begin the process of learning how to read and enters kindergarten or first grade, and he or she begins the process of being taught how to read (although he or she may have begun the process at home, or in some other social context) [though it may also be that the child actually does his or her own teaching, and the teacher is more-or-less a facilitator of the process], each child, when presented with simple primer reading materials first begins to recognize, remember, and retain whole basic sight words, through a one-on-one cooperative learning process.​

“Learning how to read” may in fact be a complete misnomer. Learning how to read may be an “associative task” whereby the student is shown new visual symbols, whole words in print, which literally represent (or equal) previously known, spoken, and heard words used in everyday verbal language. Matching up, mentally, the newly presented visual symbols with the old known and used verbal words would then be a simple act of memorization and matching through multiple trials of repetitive attempts. We speak in whole words, flowing from one to the next to the next, as the words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.) have specific meanings in socially accepted contexts. Words are made up of letters, and the letters in and of themselves, have no socially acceptable concrete meanings in speech. Only when in socially acceptable combinations (whole words) do letters have significance for shared understandings. So whole word acquisition is where literacy begins. Based on previously (“Prior knowledge”) learned and used social speech patterns.​

Frank Smith, author of the book Understanding Reading (Lawrence Erlbaum Associate, publishers, 10 industrial Ave, Mahwah, New Jersey, copyright 2004), states so matter-of-factly on the opening page of his seminal text: “But there is nothing special about reading in terms of what a reader has to do. Reading does not make any exclusive or esoteric demands on the brain. There are no unique kinds of movements that the eyes must make in reading that they do not make when we examine a picture or glance around a room. No particular kind or degree of visual ability is required to discriminate among printed letters or words. And there is nothing exceptional about the language that we read either. Written language is not the same as speech; each has its own characteristics and conventions. But there is nothing the brain must do to make sense of written language that it doesn’t do to comprehend speech. There is nothing distinctive about learning to read. Reading requires no special talent or unique brain development. Any child who can see well enough to distinguish one face from another in a photograph and who can understand the familiar language of family and friends has the ability to learn how to read.” Roughly interpreted, these statements indicate 2 necessary pre-requisites for progressing into learning how to read:

  1. Needing relatively good eye-sight with or without glasses (although this fact may be important to provide proper means for input for deciphering written symbols, non-sighted people can do exceptionally well with Braille materials and other means).

  2. Having the capacity to carry on a 2 way, give and take, conversation with another, where the sharing of mentally understood ideas are exchanged (this skill implies that the cognitive abilities of the prospective readers are above and beyond the Piagetian “group monologue” or ‘parallel play” developmental levels [basically a 3 to 3 &1/2 year old Mental Age]. 

As youth around the world are in the precarious position of having this (necessary but unnatural) skill foisted upon them (demanded of them), it would seem entirely reasonable and perhaps civilized to make the presentation of all usable emergent reading materials as visibly simple, as unencumbered by extraneous visual noise, and as large and visually accessible as possible. Therefore, this researcher suggests that, until all rudimentary and advanced reading skills are acquired (generally around a 3rd to 4th grade level, or at 8 to 9 years of age) all educational reading materials should be placed in size 28 Ariel font for any students demonstrating having difficulty with deciphering letters, letter combinations, and word patterns (Data suggest that the numbers of those having such difficulties are between 1/3 and  2/5 of all students in schools in the USA today.) To do anything less would probably continue the illiteracy rate in this country, which appears to be a constant but fixable “status quo.”

In looking at the step by step acquisition process of acquiring reading (for English) there really does appear to be a universal pattern: The first step is the memorization of basic sight words (maybe 3-5 hundred nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc., until a very functional bank of these simple whole words is acquired (word by word, generally, single syllable words at first). [Please see attached files on this web site regarding 1.) basic sight word list and 2.) rhyming dictionary]

After these basic sight words are initially memorized, it is actually during the process of one-on-one reading (In a cooperative learning style) that the student begins to recognize patterns of recurring letter sounds (i.e., “boy,” “book,” “bed,” Bob,” “be,” all have that “bah” initial sound, as with “do,” “dog,” “day,” “desk,” “did,” “door,” all having that “dah” beginning sound). ​

Connecting letters with their corresponding sounds, through mentally comparing beginning letters in basic sight words produces a marvelous tool and milestone in literacy acquisition:  “Phonemic Awareness.”​

Single initial letter awareness can then be extended to single “end” letter awareness (i.e., “bad,” “hard,” “end,” “fed,” “lid,” “card,” “sled,” with the “dah” end sound, and “list,” “hit,” “but,” “met,” “fact,” “set,” “boat,” “not,” “cat,” “shot,” “sent,” “fit,” with the “tah” end sound). This aspect of phonemic awareness is then extended to consonant clusters at the beginnings of words (i.e., “ship,” “shop,” “shape,” “shed,” “shoot,” “shall,” “show,” “shore,” “sharp,” with the “sh” sound combination, and then also, “dry,” “drink,” “drove,” “drip,” “drill,” “droop,” “drop,” “drag,” with the “dr” sound combination). Recognition of consonant combination clusters at the endings of words also takes place (i.e., “sack,” “tack,” “rack,” “Jack,” “shack,” “pick,” “stick,” “Rick,” “black,” “track,” with the “ck” end sound, and also, “”fish,” “mash,” “wish,” “dish,” “hash,” “cash,” “crash,” “flash,” “trash,” “mesh,” “clash,” “wash,” with the “sh” end sound, as examples).​

As repetitive learning continues, single vowel awareness begins to emerge (much more difficult to memorize with visual patterns, as English is not really a phonetic language). Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams in her seminal text Beginning to Read (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1994, Paperback) explains, only about 37 % of the rules governing sound and letter correspondences apply in the English language, with many more exceptions to the rules than there are consistencies in the rules, and while vowels have multiple possible pronunciations, phonemic awareness does take place: (i.e., “dine,” “fine,” “line,” “mine,” “pine,” with the long “ī” sound, and “eat,” “beat,” “feat,” “heat,” “meat,” “neat,” “seat,” “cleat,” “treat,” “wheat,” “cheat,” with the “ea” combination having a long “ē” sound.​

During the entire process of the acquisition of levels of phonemic awareness, whole word memorization and recognition continue endlessly at a rapid rate (as long as extended regularly occurring reading sessions take place with a one-on-one tutor while doing actual reading of contextually rich conversational materials.

Simple basic multiple syllable words are acquired in the process of acquiring mono-syllabic basic sight words. (i.e., “little,” “around,” “table,” “morning,” “very,” “awake,” “over,” “onto,” “able,” “yellow,” “before,” “doing,” “under,” “always,” “easy,” “away,” “being,” “someone,” “maybe,” “upset,” “getting,” “begin,” “saying,” “second,” “behind,” “again,” “about,” “pretty,” “happens,” “only,” “early,” “because,” “water,” “lower,” “moving,” “sitting,” “summer,” “winter,” “cover,” “talking,” “telling,” “never,” “ever,” “goodbye,” “hello,” “happy,” “above,” “hurry,” “after,” “ahead,” “ago,” “into,” “almost,” “putting,” “also,” “color,” “seven,” “walking,” ‘seeing,” “below,” “within,” “lucky,” “nothing,” “playing,” etc.)​

The process of learning basic multi-syllabic words reinforces rudimentary understanding of syllabification which is the capacity of seeing how syllables are connected and work in words with roots, prefixes, suffixes and combinations of such.​

In this process, simple compound words help with the understanding and acquisition; and most elementary primer texts (including 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade levels) have an abundance of them for this very reason (i.e., “schoolyard,” “bookend,” “driveway,” “dishwasher,” “carport,” “football,” “blackbird,” “doorstop,” “doorknob,” “blowfly,” “hummingbird,” “horsefly,” “newspaper,” “armband,” “cheerleader,” “misstep,” “yardstick,” “courtroom,” “flashlight,” “thunderstorm,” “candlestick,” “freeway,” “stairway,” “fireplace,” “hallway,” “bathroom,” “washcloth,” “teapot,” “textbook,” etc,)

​As more and more reading in context is done, mastered, and acquired, simple multi-syllabic words containing Latin and Greek prefixes and suffixes work into one’s vocabulary, playing with verb tense endings and noun plurals, etc., for demonstrating the variability and versatility of word roots (i.e., “compare,” “detail,” “confuse,” “captain,” “action,” “remove,” “dictate,” “pronounce,” “require,” “involve,” “predict,” “using,” “happened,” “controller,” “likeness,” “harmless,” ‘instinctual,” “affordable,” “likely,” “shamelessly,” “hardest,” “simplest,” “refrigerator,” “mercenary,” “digital,” “orthodoxy,” “biological,” etc.)​

Utilizing contextually rich (almost conversational, at times) reading materials (stories with plots and theoretical underpinnings, all the way from the lowest emergent literacy levels through advanced literacy acquisition) is vitally, vitally important, for they provide instant reward and acknowledgment of successes with each and every challenge word successfully decoded and acquired. Reading of unknown “new” words is guessing, deciphering, and calculating, and allows for determining the meaning and pronunciation of each word encountered from all contextual and all experiential hints in order to work through the puzzles and dilemmas of word analysis. ​

Presentation Objective #5

  • Explain the reasons why literacy is such a vital and necessary tool for inclusion and integration for the advancement of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

In the field of Developmental Disabilities, perhaps the most daunting problems we are currently facing are the CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare) Federal mandates surrounding the very idyllic propositions that Inclusion and Integration will happen for all individuals with intellectual disabilities everywhere and anywhere.​

Today we have the federal mandates from CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to close the day programs, workshops, and ICFs with the reasoning that our populations of persons with multi-handicaps must become fully integrated into society, employed at work in real community jobs, living in private community residences, and spending quality time in recreational activities amongst “normal” peers. The question is: How are we going about doing this? Legally, rationally, expeditiously, painlessly, and feasibly? ​

Most of our folks can’t fill out an application, or operate a computer, or read labels at a grocery store, or decipher a medicine bottle, or read a bus schedule, or read a contract, or an insurance policy, or vote on issues at an election polling place, or utilize a library, etc., etc., etc………….​

Our public school systems historically have ascertained, through pre-literacy testing in nursery schools, kindergartens, and first grades, using simple assessments looking for color, shape, and size matching skill performances, whether or not all incoming students can eventually master academic training. And those who fail substantially at these initial tasks are, and have been, summarily, for decades, corralled into special education tracking, permanently, where non-academic training (Daily Living skills, rather than Academics like English, Reading, and Math) is provided until the age of 22, whereupon those who graduate from special education programs are then summarily shuffled into segregated day programs and workshop options.​

Maybe 2/3 to ¾ of all individuals labeled DD are capable of learning how to read and yet very few of these individuals have ever been allowed the opportunities to do so. And, because CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) in DC is now mandating integration and inclusion, all of our folks, who will be targeted for inclusion and integration, are going to be expected to fill out job applications, read bus schedules, read medicine bottles, read labels at grocery stores, read apartment building occupancy contracts, read participation rules of conduct at gyms and rec centers, work on computers, lap tops, or tablets, use a phone, and read issues on voting ballots, etc, etc, etc.

But guess what, although this literacy stuff in academic journals can be erudite and confounding and complex, the actual teaching of literacy skills is easier than easy. It is. If you can read, you can teach someone else how to read. The methods have been discovered, and adapted, and the materials are available.  And the means are so simple.​

Presentation Objective #6

  • Identify means for creating supplementary and complementary literacy materials that fit each and every individual’s specific learning needs.

Utilize what I have made available, freely, here in this web site.​

All social events that involve reading, listening, speaking, and writing are occasions for literacy and the advancement and enhancement of such skills that promote literacy. Make up your own materials. The instructions for doing so are simple. Grab stories (nursery rhymes, song lyrics, poems, essays, recipes, movie scripts, whatever, etc.) off of the internet and turn them into size 28 Ariel Font books and use them. If necessary, add pictures that correspond to the words in your stories and paste them above the words.

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