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Web Posted on: November 23, 1998


Carol Bell
27 Horrabin Hall
1 Circle Drive
Western Illinois University
Macomb, Il 61455
Voice/Message: 309-298-1634
Internet: CA-Bell@wiu.edu www.mprojects.wiu.edu/littech

Letha Clark
27 Horrabin Hall
1 Circle Drive
Western Illinois University
Macomb, Il 61455
Voice/Message: 309-298-1634
Internet: L-Clark2@wiu.edu


The Early Childhood Emergent Literacy Outreach Technology (LitTECH) Project is a federally funded outreach project that is based on the assumption that emergent literacy forms the groundwork for attaining adult literacy and is important in programs for preschool children with disabilities, just as it is important for children without disabilities. Emergent literacy emanated from cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995; Katims, 1994; Mason & Allen, 1986; McGee & Lomax, 1990; Sulzby & Teale, 1991). Literacy is a social, psychological, and linguistic process. An emergent literacy approach stresses that written and oral language develop concurrently and interrelatedly from birth. Both oral and written language are best learned when used in purposeful contexts and when children have opportunities to observe and interact with others who write and read (Clay, 1975; Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1984; Sulzby, 1990) as opposed to rote learning of letters, words, or sounds.

At every level, from early childhood through adulthood, literacy is a critical survival component for all the citizens of the United States in the Communication Age. While the National Education Goals emphasize that by the year 2000... 'every adult America will be literate...' and 'all children in America will enter school ready to learn...' the President expressed the need for every child to be able to read by third grade. Noting that 44% of American 4th graders failed to read at grade level in a 1994 national assessment, Secretary Riley not only urged Congress to pass a strong child literacy bill before adjourning this year, but also called for 'pre-kindergarten caregivers working together to develop pre-literacy skills and children with limited English, disabilities & from low-income homes to receive special help. In order to meet this goal, programs must be implemented to foster emergent literacy for all children beginning with the earliest concepts, including youngsters with disabilities.


Many children with oral language delays and impairments have significant literacy problems before they are in first grade (Scarborough & Dobrich, 1990). Children who fail to 'catch on' early keep falling further and further behind and are likely to end up repeating a grade or are assigned to transition classes (Strickland, 1990). As children fall 'behind' in reading move into the upper grades, they do not 'catch up.' Rather they stay 'behind' (Clay, 1979). The outlook for children with disabilities to experience opportunities to develop literacy is grim. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) tend to emphasize fine motor tasks and self-help skills. Erickson and Koppenhaver (1995) found that when IEPs focused on academics, tasks were likely to include name recognition and rote memorization. Models of best practice providing strategies in how to provide appropriate literacy instruction to children with disabilities are scare at best (Erickson & Koppenhaver, 1995).

The LiTECH Model

The LitTECH Interactive model couples computer technology with a tested preschool curriculum to produce positive literacy outcomes for young children with disabilities. The LitTECH model was originally developed in a research project, The Early Childhood Emergent Literacy Technology (ECLT) study. The study, a rigorous naturalistic inquiry was conducted in 16 preschool classes in rural and urban communities in west central Illinois over a three year period. The ECLT was designed to describe and explain the effects of an Interactive Technology Literacy Curriculum (ITLC) on the emergent literacy knowledge and abilities of three, four, and five year old children who demonstrated mild to moderate disabilities.

Observations, content analysis of field notes from over 600 hours of observation, videotapes, portfolios of children's drawings and writing samples, teacher and family interviews, and pre- and post-test data on an Informal Literacy Assessment measure, as well as a Behavior Interaction Tool were collected on 255 children during a three year period. Eight teachers, 24 support staff, and families participated in the study, which was conducted in public school settings with all the concomitant problems related to bus schedules, illness, holidays, snow days, families' moves and problems, lack of space, changing program assistants, and assistants who were indifferent to the goals of the project.

Overwhelmingly across treatment classrooms and sites, a variety of data sources teachers comments, field notes, and videotapes document increased social interaction using the ITLC. Children asked questions, made comments, and pretended to 'read' stories, skills that mark the beginnings of later success with written language (Kahmi & Catts, 1989; Stanovich, 1984). When children interacted with selected software, they engaged in social interaction with other children and adults, promoting listening and language skills.

Children engaged in the ITLC are exposed to books. One teacher commented about a child who was in an ITLC classroom for two years: He can hardly make it through a story on the carpet during group time; however, he is making books of several pages in length, illustrating, and dictating words to it. It is a story that makes sense and has sequence. He likes to hook the pages together so it turns the pages like the computer. He has drawn arrows at the bottom of the pages like the computer screen. It has been neat to watch [this child] because he has very little interest in books otherwise.

The model is based on an emergent literacy approach and Macomb Projects' successful experience with young children and technology. Classroom management techniques involve methods to integrate technology activities during group time and free choice. The management issue is important to the development of emergent literacy components. Placement of the technology center, facilitating children's management of the computer center, and supporting groups of computer users to promote socialization, oral language, and turn taking are critical factors. Careful review of software leads to selection of software titles that support both literacy and the classroom curriculum. Software titles are interactive, appeal to a wide range of abilities in a class, nurture children's learning styles, and support activities in the reading center, other areas of the classroom and at home.

Activities are designed to promote literacy development at the computer center as well as in other areas of the environment and other curricula areas. Three types of software, organized according to levels of interactivity, are used: (1) interactive commercial software which can be used to extend literacy concepts and behavior including the Living Books series such as Stellaluna (Living Books, 1996); (2) commercially available graphics and story-making software such as Kid Pix 2 (Brøderbund, 1994) and Stanley's Sticker Stories (Edmark, 1996); and (3) HyperStudio (Roger Wagner, 1996), an authoring program used by teachers and children to develop their own software based on meaningful experiences such as a favorite story, art work, field trip, or a child's family.

Participant Outcomes

Outcomes include positive child and classroom changes as well as identification of necessary conditions for implementing the ITLC in preschool programs. Strategies to manage the ITLC in classrooms and training needs of staff and families will be discussed as will children's experiences with various software and its integration into ongoing daily activities. Presentation of findings will be made through discussion, slides, and videotapes. Examples of software and activities related to the ITLC will be discussed. Child and teacher produced products derived using HyperStudio will be shown. The design of this session will encourage interaction between participants and presenters. Resource information will be provided for session participants.


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