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Language, Literacy and Children with Special Needs: Enabling Teachers to Enable Children

A new book goes a long way toward helping teachers develop strategies that work with special needs children in the regular classroom.

Book Cover Image What worries some teachers most about inclusion is the fear of being unable to meet the needs of a child with a disability. The new book Language, Literacy and Children with Special Needs, by Sally M. Rogow, goes a long way toward helping teachers develop strategies that work.

"This book is for teachers ...who are working in primary classrooms with children with disabilities and other special needs," explains Rogow. "Its purpose is to help teachers find ways to enable these children to learn to read and write together with their peers."

With wide implementation of inclusion, the number of teachers with students who have disabilities in their classrooms has burgeoned, creating a ready audience for this book.

Rogow summarizes the guidelines on which inclusion practices are based. These are a few of those parameters:

  • "Children with special needs are more like their non-disabled peers than they are different from them.
  • The aims of literacy instruction apply to all children.
  • Children with special needs are expected to abide by the same rules and regulations as other children. Too many special concessions teach children to feel different and their peers to become less tolerant.
  • Students should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own work and behavior. Do not make excuses or exceptions.
  • No more than one or two children with disabilities should be integrated into a mainstream primary classroom at any one time to avoid giving children with special needs too high a profile."

But Rogow's book is much more than prescriptive. Vividly retold case studies provide ample examples of specific steps to help children with various disabilities read and write. In addition, an appendix provides an extensive list of professional literature related to inclusion, children's books that might be useful in the classroom, children's literature about disabilities, and computer resources, including software.


At age 6, Lindy seemed younger, perhaps because she had a language disability and speaks in single words or short phrases. She rarely engaged in interaction with other children in her class. In the classroom, she painted at the easel and scribbled with crayons.

Ms. W, Lindy's teacher, wanted the withdrawn child to listen to stories with other children. One day, as Ms. W read Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings, she noticed that Lindy smiled when she heard a passage that evoked images of traffic. Ms. W invited the children to describe the pictures they saw in their minds when they heard the words "Honk, honk went the speeding cars." Lindy joined the other children in repeating the sentence. Later when children were writing or dictating stories about traffic, Lindy wanted to participate. Ms. W used a modified cloze, or sentence-completion, technique to help Lindy do this.

The children also painted or drew pictures to go with their stories. Although Lindy's painting was only splashes of color, with no people or objects, Lindy worked carefully and kept the colors clear. When Lindy said, "I paint colors. I paint red, orange, blue and green," Ms. W wrote her comments on the paintings. She also wrote the names of the colors on separate pages, using markers that matched the colors. Every day Lindy painted another picture in a different color. Eventually, her paintings, with descriptive words written by the teacher, made a book.

When it was Lindy's turn to select a book for class reading, she chose Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. Lindy said, "The book tell about night. It get dark in night." Ms. W helped Lindy make her own goodnight book. She went on to use an adapted computer keyboard to write about her experiences. In this way, Lindy began learning to read and write.

Other students in the classroom noticed Lindy's progress. "Lindy's learning to do the same stuff as us," one of the children said.

The tale of Lindy's success and other stories like it not only will inspire educators but also will give them concrete ideas for teaching reading and writing to children whose abilities with language are limited.

Following the child's cues -- building on the child's interests -- is often key to the direction, Rogow suggests.


"It's important," Rogow writes, "to emphasize that the context of the classroom is the framework within which individualized programs and adaptations take place."

Enabling the child with a disability to truly join in the class is essential. Enabling the child to join peers enables the child to learn more, and the more the child learns, the better interactions with peers will be.

Teachers of children with special needs, Rogow asserts, must use methodology and teaching strategies that they prefer. Teachers may adapt strategies to suit specific children, but they should not treat children with special needs much differently than they treat their other students. Helping children with special needs know that they are more like peers than unlike them will enable those with special needs to achieve more. Giving special privileges to children with disabilities, Rogow maintains, only impedes their progress toward learning and acceptance.


In the book, the victories of children and teachers are hard-won. Teachers work with children step-by-step, and eventual outcomes, while positive, aren't miraculous. Some children make tremendous progress and others make some progress.

Rogow emphasizes the point that peers without disabilities learn from children with disabilities as the children with special needs are learning from them. Rogow's philosophical and pragmatic position is that inclusion benefits all children. Her stories about children convince us that her position has validity.

Language, Literacy and Children With Special Needs by Sally M. Rogow, The Pippen Teachers Library, Pippin Publishing: Scarborough, Ontario, Canada (1997).

Article by Sharon Cromwell
Education World®
Copyright © 1997 Education World

Related Sites

  • Inclusion: Has It Gone Too Far? Check out this story on this week's Education World CURRICULUM page.
  • U.S. Department of Education The Department of Education operates this gopher site. Within this site, you'll find menus about various aspects of education, such as special education.
  • Circle of Inclusion An outreach training project addressing the challenges of developing an inclusion program is featured on this Web site. Included are names and phone numbers of project contacts.
  • AskERIC Virtual Library The full-text database of ERIC digests are online. Useful search terms include special education, inclusion, teaching, and elementary. References with an EJ (ERIC Journal) number are available through the originating journal, interlibrary loan services, or article reproduction clearinghouses: UMI (800) 248-0360 and ISI (800) 523-1850. References with an ED (ERIC Documents) number can be ordered through EDRS: (800) 443-ERIC.