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Centers for literacy in a Multi-level Special Education

National Association of Special

Education Teachers



This Month’s Topic:

Centers for Literacy in a Multi-Level Special Education


Maricel T. Bustos, M.A.


Research have indicated that students’ with I EP placed in an inclusive setting tends to have  increased in test

scores, enhance self-esteem and good communication or social skills  (Power-de Fur and  Orelove, 1997)   It is in

this perspective that more school district are pushing on placing students with IEPs in the inclusive setting.

Given this scenario, the numbers of students in the self-contained setting tend to decrease. This put a special

educator in a self-contained classroom to handle multi-level grade levels.  This kind of setting now places a

special educator in a challenging position on how to teach students with varying grade level, readiness level,

abilities, achievements, learning modalities and weaknesses.

Teaching a self-contained classroom with multi-grade levels demands a great deal of planning on the part of the

special educator.  The needs of the students are complex and thus, “The one size, fits all approach” to teaching

does not apply at all.  One way to address each of the educational needs of each student in the class, the  special

educator needs to differentiate instruction through the use of the Literacy Centers .  However, Tomlinson (2002)

indicated that differentiation of instruction adds up to classroom management and adds up on how to

accommodate students with special needs.  Thus, making differentiation a lot difficult at first.

Differentiating instruction in Literacy starts with preassessment (Tompkins,2006 and  Heacox,2009).  The

special educator may choose to use formal assessments or informal assessments to be able to know, understand

and determine the skills that need to be learn in literacy.  Since assessment and instruction are interrelated, the

data obtained from the assessment can help the special educator in preparing the materials in the centers that

will address each skills that need to be reinforce. The data obtained can also be used as a basis for grouping


Whole group instruction is used to introduce a new topic to the entire class.  However, this kind of instruction

makes it difficult to address individual needs of the students (Vaugh, Boss and Schumm, 2006).  Therefore, in a

multi-grade level class, the special educator needs to instruct in a small group setting or one-on-one as needed.

The idea is, while the special educator is working with the “targeted students”, and the rest of the students will be

working on their assigned literacy stations.  The success of using literacy centers lies on the special educators

ability to plan and group students based on their need .



Suggestions on How to Make transition  in the Different

Learning Centers


Have a  Literacy  Rotation  Board.  Place this board in  the class that  is accessible for  all  students. Have  a

pocket card with the  students’ names.   And  then use colored  sticks and each  color  represent a  literacy

center. For example, the red stand for phonological awareness center; green for phonics center;   yellow

for fluency center;  purple for Vocabulary center and blue for comprehension center.   In this way, when

teacher inform  students  to go  to their respective center, all they need to do  is look at the  color of their



Have a printed rules and procedures on each center.  State the behavioral expectations expected of them

like how do they get the materials, how do they use the materials and how to put the materials back.


Have a chart in each center which specific materials the student can use for a day. Since each center has

several materials, it is important that the teacher will assign materials that the student will be able to do

independently.    For  example,  if  two  students  were  assigned  in  the  Fluency  Center,  each  students  will

working  based  on  their  ability.    One student  might be reading  preprimer sight  words,  while the other

student might be practicing fluency reading grade level passages.


Take time to walk-through the students in each centers.  Teach the students how to use the materials in

the centers. This takes time but this is one way to make them independent learners in the centers.  They

should  familiarize  themselves  which  materials  each  student  will  be  able  to  use and  explain  why  some

students may not use the other materials.

Practice…Practice….until students will be able to go to their centers with no prompts from the teacher.


Teach  students  that  when  they  are  working  in  their  centers,  they  may  not  ask/approach  the  teacher.

Teach the students that the teacher is invisible when teaching a group of students. I wore a Princess Hat,

and informed students in the centers that when I am wearing it, they can’t come to me to ask questions.

Thus, they were told to ask 2 classmates using the whispered voice.


Provide  one  material  to  address  the  components  of  each  elements  of  reading.  And  as  days  pass  by,

include some materials that will support the topic that the special educator is teaching.

Literacy Centers

Phonological Awareness

Research  have indicated that children who go to school without phonemic awareness tends to learn

to read  successful  while  children who lack  phonemic awareness tends to  have  difficulty  in reading

(Cunningham )  It is in this perspective that the special educator should be able address the needs of

students who lacks this skill.

Special Educator should provide materials for the following components of phonemic awareness:



Rhyme Identification


Rhyme production



Syllable blending


Syllable segmenting


Syllable deletion

Phonemic Awareness


Phoneme Identification


Phoneme Isolation (initial and final)


Phoneme Blending


Phoneme Segmentation


Phoneme deletion


Phoneme Addition


Phoneme Substitution




provides  printable  materials  to  address  all  the  identified  components  of

phonological awareness.

Differentiation: each student can work on a skill that they need to learn based on their preassessment.  And then

once the student mastered the skill, move up the student to another skill until phonological awareness develops.

Phonics Center

The goal  of  phonics  is  to  teach  students  semantic  relationships  between  letters and  their  sounds.    If students

were  able  to  represent  letters  with  sounds  and  then  blend  them,  then  the  student  starts  reading.  However,

reading becomes a problem when students can not represent the letters with their sounds.

The center should have an activity based on the following components of Phonics:

• Capital Letter Names

• Lowercase Letter Names

• Consonant Sounds

• Consonant Digraphs

• Vowel Sounds

• Short Vowel Sounds

• Short Vowel with Consonant Digraphs

• Short Vowel with Consonant Blends

• Vowel + e

• Vowel Diphthongs & Vowel Digraphs

• R- and L- Controlled

• Prefixes

• Suffixes

• Multi -Syllabic Words

Differentiation:    Based  on  their  preassessment, students  who may  need  to  know  their  letters and  sounds can

work on it.  While students who needs to learn consonant clusters will work with blends.


provides printed center materials to address some the identified components  of phonics.


Is  the  ability  to  be  able  to  read  accurate  and  rapidly.    The  special  educator  should  provide  each  students

repetition of reading sights words and grade level words.

The center should have materials that will address:


Sight words (Prek to Grade 3)     http://fishforwords.com/sight-word-lists.php


Fluency Phrases  http://www.readingresource.net/support-files/shortfluencyphrases.pdf


Grade level Passages (for independent readers)

Differentiation: Students will practice reading fluency based on their level.  A preprimer reader will practice pre -

primer  sight  words.  A  beginning  reader  may  practice  fluency  using  phrases  and  independent  re aders  may

practice passages from grade level text.


It  is  important  for  students  to  inverse  vocabulary  usage  as  it  contribute  significantly  to  the  reading


The center should have








Word Maps



Other  materials  that  you  will  produce  as  you  teach  vocabulary  such  as  synonyms,  antonyms,  context

clues, prefix and suffix.

Differentiation:  Students who can read and write will use the word map to find the definition of their grade level

word.   Students may opt to choose the dictionary  or  other  resources in this center. Students who can’t  read or

can’t write words, will be allowed to use drawings/symbols/letters to represent their answer to the word map.


Comprehension refers to the student’s ability to understand the text she/he is reading.

This center should have


Graphic organizer/thinking maps


Brief Constructed Response Questions


Classroom Library


Sight word Reader Books  (Red)


Beginner Reader Books (Orange)


Intermediate Reader Books Green

Differentiation:  Color  code  the  books  in your library.   Based  on  the students’ preassessment, inform  students

which  color  book  they  will  read.  Students  may  choose  to  use  graphic  organizer  /  thinking  maps  that  were

discussed  in  class.    Or  the  fluent  readers  and  writers  may  choose  to  answer  a  Brief-Constructed  Response



Teaching in a multi-grade level self-contained class can be overwhelming and challenging.  Using differentiation

in the literacy centers will be able to  address the diversity in readiness, interests, leaning modalities and abilities

in a multi-grade level classroom.  The special educator will conduct an informal or formal assessment to identify

the strengths and weaknesses of the students.  Data obtained can be used for plan ning the materials that will be

prepared in  each literacy  center  and  used  for groupings  as  well.  The data  obtained can  also be  used  for small -

group instruction.

Teaching the  students the  behavioral expectations and  the procedures for using the centers  i s a must to have a

smooth  transition  in  the  different  literacy  centers.    The  literacy  centers  are    tools  that  students  can    engage

enthusiastically  in  learning  without  direct  instruction  from  the  special  educator.  This  also  give  the  special

educator  the time to pull-out targeted students who may need to learn a particular skill in class.

Teaching in a multi -grade level can be demanding and stressful.  But with the use of the literacy centers, teaching

in a multi-grade level class is doable.


Gambell, Morro &  Pressley  (2007) Best Practices in Literacy Instruction p. (159) New York: Guilford Press

Heacox, D (2009)  Making Differentiation a Habit p. (27)   Minnesota : Free Spirit Publishing

Tompkins, G.E. (2006). Literacy for the 21

Century  p. (110)  New Jersey: Pearson

s t

Vaugh, Bos & Schum (2006).  Teaching Students Who Are Exceptional, Diverse, and at Risk   p. (440)  New York

:Allyn & Bacon

Vaugh & Linan-Thompson (2004). Research-Based Methods of Reading Instruction p. (8)

Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.