Planning For Independence

 Language Arts


The ability to use and understand language is a central concern of all curriculum development. Because language is the basic tool for structuring and making sense of events, it is the most important tool for learning.

Language is rooted in experience. Thus, students' experiences and knowledge provide teachers with starting points for the further development of language skills. It is the teacher's role to acknowledge students' developmental levels and language abilities and help students relate what they have experienced, felt, or thought. The goal of the language arts program is to develop to the fullest each student's ability to understand what others say; to speak so that needs, feelings, and ideas are communicated effectively; to read for pleasure as well as for information; and to write to describe experiences and express thoughts and feelings. The ultimate goal for students is to be able to use language efficiently with a variety of people and in a variety of situations.

The whole-language approach is based on the recognition that language is derived from experience and that the language arts skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing are interrelated and should be taught in an integrated way. Teachers should take advantage of opportunities that occur naturally throughout the school day for students to listen attentively, to communicate with others, and to read and write for meaningful purposes.

In the whole-language approach, students are given opportunities to read to improve their reading skills and time to write to improve their writing skills. This contrasts with the approach in which component skills (e.g., spelling, grammar, punctuation) are singled out for direct teaching and reinforcement. In the whole-language approach, children are encouraged to express their ideas and feelings and to find new interests to talk about. Techniques include brainstorming and use of learning centres, and materials include literature and printed material from everyday life (e.g., newspapers, magazines, advertisements, notices).

An effective language program is one that can accommodate the interests, needs, and strengths of each student. Students who communicate using sign language and/or pictures should be provided with opportunities to expand their skills. Students who can learn to read should be encouraged to develop an appreciation of the significance and usefulness of reading in their lives. Computers can be used very effectively by some students for reading, writing, and drawing. In all cases, students should be encouraged to select their language to suit the purpose of their message and the needs of their audience.

Teachers should consider the communication demands of the classes in which their students participate. Preparation for and follow-up after integrated or subject classes will help students to cope with these language demands. Teachers should also address the language demands of the community activities in which students participate. By increasing their proficiency in the understanding and use of language, students can increase their independence in the school, home, community, and workplace. Feelings of self-confidence and self-worth will increase as students experience success in communicating with others, drawing meaning from print, and expressing ideas in writing.

The Planning Cycle

Assessment and Development

In the first two phases of the planning cycle, educators need to: ;

  • assess students' understanding and use of language in a variety of natural settings and with a variety of people;
  • determine students' reading and writing demands and language opportunities in the home, the school, and the community;
  • where appropriate, involve students in determining learning objectives
  • determine parents' expectations and priorities for language learning;
  • specify language goals in all subject areas; conduct interest and attitude surveys as part of the assessment process;
  • plan to teach students to read and write personal and social messages, such as components of personal identification (e.g., name, address, telephone number); descriptions of self, reminders, messages, requests, and lists of things to do, prepare, or buy; and letters and notes to thank, to invite, and to express sympathy;
  • ensure that skills such as phonics and punctuation will be taught in the context of students' own reading and writing;
  • plan a physical environment that will emphasize the importance and relevance of reading and writing activities (one that provides, for example, interesting books, current magazines, message boards, sign-up lists, bulletin boards containing important notices);
  • arrange for a language-rich environment, good language models, and opportunities for students to interact with peers who can understand and respond to their language;
  • arrange opportunities to participate in dramatic arts or to role play with peers.

Implementation and Evaluation

In the last two phases of the planning cycle, educators need to:

  • use students' reading and writing performance as the principal source of information about which skills to teach next;
  • give a high priority to the interpersonal aspect of language;
  • focus on language activities that are meaningful and useful to students;
  • use peer tutors in the implementation of programs;
  • expose students to literature, through reading, listening, or viewing;
  • make use of daily activities that occur naturally in the school and the community to develop language skills (e.g., listening to school announcements; relaying oral and written messages within the school; reading signs, posters, labels, directions, and notices);
  • provide students with opportunities to use computers for interactive reading programs;
  • provide opportunities for students to become active listeners and viewers of films, radio, and television;
  • while recognizing students' preferences in reading, viewing, and listening, expose them to a broad range of media to encourage a wider repertoire of interests;
  • evaluate students' language performance in relation to the purpose and function of the activity. Evaluation should be co-operative, positive, and constructive;
  • evaluate students' performance continually through observation and student-teacher conferences, rather than through standardized tests; teach students to apply their language skills to their leisure activities;
  • encourage students to enrol in continuing education courses after graduation to improve their language skills.


Ontario. Ministry of Education. Focus on Writing. Curriculum Ideas for Teachers. Toronto: Ministry of Education, Ontario, 1982.

Case Study - Elementary Level

Student Profile Patrick is an active six-year-old who has multiple handicaps. He has partial vision, and his speech is unclear, although his parents and teachers can usually make out what he says. His high activity level interferes with his ability to stay on task. His gross-motor skills are delayed in comparison to his other skills. He demonstrates an interest in puzzles and construction blocks, but he has difficulty with concepts such as colours, figures, numbers, and letters.

Learning Environment Patrick attends a special class in a regular elementary school. He is integrated in a Senior Kindergarten class each morning and afternoon.

Expected Learning Outcomes Patrick is expected to:

  • increase his willingness to communicate with his peers;
  • attempt to communicate as clearly as he can;
  • develop the skills and attitudes necessary to learn to read and write.

Student Program Patrick is being provided with opportunities to:

  • play at the building centre and gradually use other activity centres as he gains confidence and expands his interests;
  • play with letter blocks in preparation for letter recognition;
  • assemble puzzles that relate pictures to words;
  • experiment with writing lines and squiggles and then tell the teacher what he is writing, in preparation for more formal writing activities;
  • learn specific ways to ask for help, indicate a preference for an activity when appropriate, greet another child, and listen attentively to other children;
  • learn to co-operate and to take turns;
  • follow directions and routines;
  • participate daily in circle activities in which colour, number, and letter concepts are reviewed;
  • listen to stories read by the teacher, participate in the related discussions, and, if possible, develop a list of favourite stories;
  • through exposure to his peers' activities, develop an interest in printing and drawing;
  • "write" by having his stories written by the teacher or a facilitator;
  • learn to write the first letter in his name and use a name stamp to "sign" his work;
  • learn to identify his written name by sight;
  • associate printed symbols with familiar objects in the classroom;
  • compile a list of common logos that he recognizes.

Case Study - Secondary Level

Student Profile Fifteen-year-old Anna has Down syndrome. Her teachers describe her as a friendly, interactive girl who enjoys the company of adults. They are pleased that Anna has recently become more attentive to her Grade 8 peers and is begining to share some of their interests (e.g., fashion and music). Anna expresses herself readily and carries on a conversation with ease. She has devloped some basic literacy skills; for example, she can identify and write the letters of the alphabet, can read common signs and notices, has a basic sight vocabulary, and writes her first and last names. Although she is able to copy printed material, she rarely initiates a writing activity.

Learning Environment Anna attends her community school and is registered in a special class. In preparation for her transition to secondary school next year, she is being provided with many opportunities for integration. She is integrated into the Grade 8 class for guidance, physical education, social sciences, and family studies.

Expected Learning Outcomes Anna is expected to:

  • increase her language skills;
  • begin to use these skills in personally useful ways;
  • participate in language arts with her Grade 8 peers in order to increase her exposure to a range of reading and writing actitivities.

Student Program Anna is being provided with opportunities to:

  • read materials about subjects that interest her and discuss these with her peers and teachers;
  • interact with her Grade 8 peers and discuss topics of shared concern;
  • read and follow her own timetable so that she will no longer require teacher reminders to prepare for her next class;
  • learn new subject names to ease her transition to secon dary school and to allow her to use a timetable inde pendently in Grade 9;
  • write a list of the books or materials that she requires for her classes, and update and change this list as necessary;
  • read modified materials in specific subject areas (e.g., guidance, history);
  • in co-operation with her parents, use a TV guide and the newspaper to look up information in which she is interested;
  • in co-operation with her parents, choose favourite records and tapes. In preparation for these activities, she will prepare a list of favourite performers;
  • compile a personal directory of names, addresses, and telephone numbers, especially useful because she will be leaving many of her classmates;
  • learn the social function of writing by sending thank-you notes, greeting cards, and invitations when appropriate occasions arise;
  • join the Grade 8 class to study a novel (ie.e, listen to the story on tape and then join a small group of her peers to discuss it);
  • identify skill areas in which she needs and wishes to improve;
  • discuss what she is learning in various subject areas;
  • take part in daily writing activities that follow the four stages of prewriting, writing, postwriting, and sharing and that are based on her personal interests, experiences, and concerns;
  • learn that writing and reading can be personally useful (by reading, for example, school notices that outline special events and activities, flyers and brochures outlining community programs, written information regarding her secondary school program);
  • be exposed to reading activities that may lead to leisure activities (e.g., collecting and looking through magazines).

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