Over the past year, area teachers have welcomed Northwest Area Education Agency’s (AEA) distribution of literacy kits for students with disabilities because of the amazing progress demonstrated by those who use them.

Northwest AEA employees Judy Janson, occupational therapist, and Karen Miller, speech-language pathologist, explain that the kits include adapted text, worksheets, lesson plans and other supportive materials, like story props and videos, which are used to engage students and make story content meaningful.

“The kits were designed to help with lesson plans and alternate assessments, and to foster communication opportunities,” said Miller. “They allow students with significant disabilities to read text aligned with the general education curriculum.”

Janson added that the kits provide the means for teachers to approach literacy with ready-made materials to use and adapt for their individual students.

The literacy kits started with the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa Department of Education (DE) Literacy Project Grant. As part of a literacy team for Sioux City’s Unity Elementary, Janson and Miller received training regarding Karen Erickson's and David Koppenhaver’s Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four-Blocks Way.  After working with their team for a year, they observed “amazing progress” by their students with significant disabilities.

The need to share this approach with other teachers and districts became apparent. In order to share the success students experienced with the Literacy Project, the literacy kits evolved in February 2011.

Emily Thatcher from the Iowa Department of Education approved a Parent Educator Connection grant to fund the development of five literacy kits. Separate kits were designed for preschool (Ten in the Bed and Ten on the Sled), early elementary (Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type), late elementary (Because of Winn-Dixie), middle school (Al Capone Does My Shirts) and high school (Into Thin Air).

Sioux City East Middle School teachers received literacy training last summer and began using the kits this past fall. Janson and Miller also introduced them at speech and assistive technology meetings. Several AEA employees have checked out the kits for special education classrooms they support.

The AEA asks for feedback through a survey tool after teachers use the kits. Here are some comments:

“My students take alternate assessments, and I needed to find age-appropriate material to read to my students and ask questions. I used the adapted text rewritten by AEA because it was shorter and more age appropriate. The visuals were a great way to engage my students.”

“There was more interest in the topic and good participation from the students. The story took longer to complete but the students understood more than they would have before using the literacy kit. The children enjoyed passing the props around and this helped them relate to the characters in the story.”

The kits were created to meet Iowa alternate assessment standards. Although the books were designed for specific grade levels, all the kits are appropriate for the age group above or below the targeted grade level. The kits include a family-school connection. They also contain a parent packet so that teachers can send an adapted book, commenting sheet or activity home.

Janson and Miller are hopeful the kits will be used for years to come. Almost all the materials are on a flash-drive so teachers can duplicate the materials to build their own kits. The Sioux City Community Schools Special Education Department copied and distributed all the kits to their appropriate buildings to be used by special education teachers. Future plans include teaching a class so teachers can build a literacy kit for the book they chose.

For more information about the kits, please contact Judy Janson at or Karen Miller. To reserve a kit, please contact Marguerite Stephens, assistive technology support secretary.