Cornerstones is a technology-infused approach to literacy development designed for early elementary children who are deaf and hard of hearing (and that can be used with other students who learn well visually and struggle with literacy).
Using a video-based story, teachers set high expectations for their students around the following:
- Identification of Words in Print - Students will learn to recognize a large repertoire of vocabulary words in print.
- Word Knowledge - Students will learn about words conceptually, and understand multiple aspects of each word.
- Story Comprehension - Students will increase background knowledge to facilitate comprehension of written materials.
Teachers can immerse their students in the story for two hours every day over six or seven days, following the Cornerstones Lesson Guide. To maintain students' interest, varying approaches are utilized. For example, sign language, print, still images, and meaningful discussion can all contribute to the understanding of "pride." Reading the word in different contexts, asking and answering questions, and engaging in writing tasks all reinforce that knowledge.
The Cornerstones approach values deep knowledge of words, encouraging children to explore, among other things:
- similarities and differences between words
- hierarchies of words
- sets of words along a continuum
- multiple meanings of words
It is also important for children to understand that every story has a predictable story grammar. To help them see how the story elements fit together, teachers use a story grammar graphic. Then, thinking out loud as they read the story, teachers model the kind of reading that "good" readers practice. Cornerstones lessons incorporate guided reading, shared reading, and independent reading. All these terms are explained in Teaching Strategies (80K PDF file), a supplement to the Lesson Guides.
The Cornerstones approach was developed over two years under a federal Steppingstones grant, with participation from classroom teachers in deaf education (including some who themselves are deaf) and academics in the field of literacy research and teacher education. Teachers field-tested a Cornerstones unit, "The Fox and the Crow," in their classrooms, and allowed our research team to gather information about the potential effectiveness of the unit to improve literacy skills.
A second grant funded the development of two more units — Click, Clack, Moo and Joseph Had a Little Overcoat — and enabled the project team to work with teachers and students throughout New England to conduct a rigorous evaluation of the approach in multiple classrooms. Analysis of the results will be posted shortly, so check the Web site for information about the impact of Cornerstones units on teacher practice and student learning.