“Emergent literacy is not age dependent but is based on experiences with print!”
​-Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver, Edmonton, July 2015


Who are emergent readers and writers? ​

A emergent writer is one who is learning to use written language to express communicative intent, and beginning writing is defined as starting with emergent writing (drawing, scribbling, and writing letters) and ending with conventional writing abilities, usually acquired by second or third grade for typically developing children.
(Strum, Cali, Nelson, & Staskowski, 2012)

An emergent reader is…

Many of the studies and literature surveys have a similar message that has been repeated over the last four decades- even when taking into consideration many of the recent technical advances, nothing replaces sound early literacy instruction. Regular participation in reading and writing activities plays a central role in supporting typical children’s understandings about print. Research in emergent literacy for children with complex communication and physical needs suggest that this population benefits from the same type of literacy activities used with typical children.” (p. 4) (Toby, where is this from?)

Research also indicates that students with significant disabilities benefit from the same type of literacy activities used with typically developing children but may require more time and opportunity.

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Old assumptions (Reductionist approach)

An emphasis on functional skills, rote memorization, and readiness activities typically take precedence over in-depth literacy instruction (Skotko, Koppenhaver, & Erickson, 2004). Koppenhaver and Yoder (1992) note that literacy development for 70-90% of students with significant disabilities, even those with average intelligence, rarely approaches conventional literacy skills that we expect for typically developing students.

  • Literacy is learned in a predetermined, sequential manner that is linear, additive, and unitary.
  • Literacy learning is school-based.
  • Literacy learning requires mastery of certain pre-requisite skills.
  • Some children will never learn to read.

New thinking (Emergent approach)

Holistic and explicit instructional approaches to balanced literacy that include daily reading, writing, and word study are critical for all learners, including those with significant disabilities (Erickson, Koppenhaver, & Cunningham, 2006; Sturm & Clendon., 2004).

  • Literacy is learned through interaction with and exposure to all aspects of literacy (i.e. listening, speaking, reading, and writing).
  • Literacy is a process that begins at birth and perhaps before.
  • Literacy abilities/skills develop concurrently and interrelatedly.
  • All children can learn to use print meaningfully.

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Where can I learn more?​

Literacy, Assistive Technology, and Students with Significant Disabilities. Karen A. Erickson, Penelope Hatch, and Sally Clendon, Focus on Exceptional Children, Volume 42, Number 5, 2010.

Research-Based Practices for Creating Access to the General Curriculum in Reading and Literacy for Students with Significant Intellectual Disabilities. Karen Erickson, Ph.D., Gretchen Hanser, Ph.D., Penelope Hatch, Ph.D., Eric Sanders, M.S./CCC-SLP, 2009.