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Illustration of books on their side and pages of an open book with text overly: Leading with Literacy Virtual Hosted by Building Wings

2023 Leading with Literacy Summer Summit
Information Coming Soon!

Enhance Your Literacy Instruction for Students with Complex Learning Barriers

Are you meeting the widest range of needs for complex learners in your school or district? Learn fresh strategies for comprehensive literacy instruction LIVE from literacy thought leaders!


Leading with
Literacy 2023 Virtual Summer Summit

The inaugural live Summit was held on July 28, 2022 and plans are underway for a similar Summit in 2023. 

Interested in Recordings from the 2022 Virtual Summit?

Speakers from the 2022 Summit

Aqua colored Building Wings logo on the screen of an open laptop with a white background
Headshot of Karen Erickson wearing a red shirt, with a purple scarf


Ph.D., Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies, UNC at Chapel Hill

Headshot of Caroline Musselwhite

Caroline Musselwhite

Ed.D., CCC/SLP, AAC Intervention

Headshot of Amanda Soper


M.S., CCC-SLP, AACreATively

Don Johnston wearing a headset in a helicopter


M.S., CEO/Founder Building Wings

Kelly Key smiles at the camera


M.S., Assistive Technology Coordinator, Barrington
220 School District

Headshot of Marlene Cummings.


M.A. Alternative/Augmentative Communication Consultant, Oakland Schools

Michael McCormick in a navy suit and purple tie.


M.S., Penn-Delco School District

Selfie of Maureen Donnelly


M.Ed., Curriculum Development Manager

2022 Schedule at a Glance

10:45 AM CDT

8:45 AM PDT | 9:45 AM MDT
11:45 AM EDT | 4:45 PM BST

Virtual Lobby

Join in at this time if you’d like to view and become familiar with our on-line dashboard and get prepared for the keynote presentation at 11 a.m. CDT.

11:00 AM CDT

9 AM PDT | 10 AM MDT
12:00 PM EDT | 5 PM BST

Virtual Lobby

Join in at this time if you’d like to view and become familiar with our on-line dashboard and get prepared for the keynote presentation at 11 a.m. CDT.

Keynote Presentation

Presenter: Karen Erickson, Ph.D


Literacy improves lives, but learning to read and write doesn’t just happen. We must make it happen through comprehensive instruction. Effective comprehensive literacy instruction is best delivered by interprofessional teams that address the full range of each learner’s needs. Yet, just one person can change the trajectory of a learner’s literacy outcomes. It takes just one person to decide that literacy learning is possible and just one person to provide comprehensive instruction day after day. You can be that person!


12:00 PM CDT

10:00 AM PDT | 11 AM MDT
1:00 PM EDT | 6:00 PM BST

Strand One | (Pick one of three sessions)

Participants can selected to attend one of the following three presentations and will receive recordings for all sessions

Presenter: Kelly Key, M.S.


Dr. Karen Erickson says, “The only way that someone with complex communication needs will ever be able to communicate whatever they want with whomever they want, whenever they want is if we teach them reading and writing”.*

This is a mission our staff feels passionately about.  Join this session and learn how this unit school district (ages 3-22) uses the Comprehensive Literacy approach to teach literacy to emergent learners that use AAC.  Specific examples of lessons, curriculum, and activities will be shared as well as how we increase authentic communication with our AAC users during literacy activities by using specific partner skills and strategies.  Information will also be shared on the creative ways we use our student’s AAC during literacy activities.  These include using their AAC as their “pencil” when writing, spelling support, phonics, comprehension, and more).

*Citation: Why is Literacy Critical in AAC by Karen Erickson – YouTube. (2022). Youtube.Com.

Presenter: Caroline Musselwhite, Ed.D, CCC-SLP


Many learners with significant disabilities have complex needs, such as using AAC systems, physical access, and/or vision issues.  This session will share simple strategies to (quickly!) make instruction more effective and more engaging.  Light and high tech supports will be shared for each component of emergent literacy instruction. Come prepared to construct a plan for developing – and maintaining – the focus of all learners, plus the links to a toolbox of materials, tips, and strategies. 

Presenter: Amanda Soper, M.S., CCC-SLP


Children with complex learning needs including Cerebral Vision Impairment (CVI) can learn to communicate, read, and write!  Visual behaviors associated with CVI may impact students’ learning, so it is important for educators and families to understand their specific learning needs.  Amanda will examine the visual complexities unique to the student, educators can isolate these visual behaviors and provide appropriate strategies and supports to help students with CVI become readers and writers.


12:55 PM CDT

10:55 AM PDT | 11:55 AM MDT
1:55 PM EDT | 6:55 PM BST

Strand Two | (Pick one of three sessions)

Participants can selected to attend one of the following three presentations and will receive recordings for all sessions

Presenter: Marlene R. Cummings, M.A., CCC-SLP


In recent years, educational teams have deepened and expanded their knowledge base in comprehensive literacy for students with complex needs.  Having this knowledge in the hands of a few “experts,” however, is not a sustainable model of support for all  literacy learners. To ensure a larger impact and foster sustainability, we must move to a model that builds capacity. What tools and strategies can we use to shift the current “expert” mindset to one of collaboration and shared knowledge?  During this session, we will describe capacity building and its components, ways to build capacity, and the benefits of a collaborative model.  Participants will be encouraged to consider their current state and determine what shifts can be made toward a capacity building model.

Presenter: Maureen Donnelly, M.Ed.


For many reasons, helping emergent readers begin their literacy journey can be filled with obstacles both real,like access, and perceived, like attitude. Comprehensive literacy instruction, as defined by Erickson and Koppenhaver, encourages us to provide daily instruction in shared reading, independent reading, alphabet and phonological activities, shared writing, and independent writing. While we may embrace this approach and endeavor toward its aim of conventional literacy for all, starting out can feel overwhelming. This session will encourage participants to take the first few steps by reframing their thinking about emergent learners, prioritizing instructional time, leveraging student interests, and finding new ways to see and measure progress. 

Presenter: Michael McCormick, M.S.


Programmatic improvement may seem like a daunting task. Deciding when, how, or where to start is a decision each District must make when seeking to embed or improve literacy instruction for students with complex learning needs. This session will focus on one District’s approach to doing so. Participants will leave with a variety of resources to engage in the process in their District at different levels including IEP goal writing, specially designed instruction, professional development, measurable annual goals.


1:50 PM CDT

11:50 AM PDT | 12:50 AM MDT
2:50 PM EDT | 7:50 PM BST

Closing Remarks

Presenter: Don Johnston, M.S.


Don Johnston, CEO and Founder of Building Wings, will share his childhood experiences as a struggling learner and the impact one individual had on his life and legacy. This is an opportunity to experience Don’s story, and take the next steps so that you can change the literacy trajectory for the learners in your life. You won’t want to miss Don’s  closing remarks!

*Attendees will receive a recording of all eight sessions.*

Why Attend?

Are you meeting the widest range of needs for complex learners in your school or district? Learn fresh strategies for comprehensive literacy instruction LIVE from literacy thought leaders!


In just three hours, you will gain fresh strategies, tip sheets, and templates from literacy leaders to enhance your instruction for students with complex learning needs.



Customize your learning path by selecting from several live sessions. Plus, hear inspiring opening and closing remarks from Karen Erickson and Don Johnston.

CPDU Credits

Do you need summer professional development? You’ll receive a completion certificate when you register for the virtual summit, attend the sessions, and fill out the post-session form.


The virtual summit is designed for school-based teachers, administrators, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, paraprofessionals, and literacy advocates.

The LIVE virtual summit was held on Thursday, July 28, 2022, from:

  • 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. CDT
  • 12 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. ET
  • 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. MT
  • 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. PT

You will receive an email before the virtual summit with information on how to access the event on your computer or smartphone. You’re welcome to join in from your desk, home office, couch, deck, or even the beach!

You can pay by credit or debit card and will receive an electronic receipt, in case you need it for reimbursement or record-keeping. We are unable to process refunds.

Karen A. Erickson, Ph.D.​

Karen A. Erickson, Ph.D. is Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. Her focus is on understanding the best ways to assess and teach reading and writing to children with the most severe disabilities. As a special education teacher, Dr. Erickson has worked to support students with a range of disabilities in a variety of classroom settings, particularly students who do not use speech as their primary means of communication.


Author Profile:,Ph.D.

Caroline Musselwhite Ed.D., CCC-SLP

Caroline Musselwhite Ed.D., CCC-SLP, is an assistive technology specialist with more than 45 years of experience working with children and adolescents with significant disabilities. She has taught courses at several universities, authored a number of books on educational topics, and presented thousands of workshops throughout the world. She is also a founding member of the Board of Directors for the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC).





Amanda Soper, M.S., CCC-SLP

Amanda Soper, M.S., CCC-SLP, Amanda currently works at a special education charter school in Washington, DC. as the Assistive Technology Specialist. Amanda is an adjunct professor at Gallaudet University and owns a private practice, AACreATively Communicating, seeing private clients who use AAC in Maryland and DC. Amanda specializes in working with individuals with complex communication needs who use AAC.





Don Johnston, M.S.

Don  Johnston, M.S. is the Founder/CEO of Building Wings LLC, Don Johnston Incorporated, and a Board Member of Texthelp. Don founded his company in 1980 for the purpose of developing educational tools and materials that transform the lives of people across all learning styles and abilities. He is the visionary behind Readtopia, Co:Writer, Snap&Read, and more.

Kelly Key, M.S.

Kelly Key, M.S., is the Assistive Technology Coordinator for the Barrington School District (EC-Transition) in Barrington, Illinois. She has worked in the field of special education for over 25 years. Prior to becoming an administrator, she taught special education students with multiple needs for 9 years. She has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education, and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Leadership as well as an ATACP.

Twitter: @KKey_AT

Marlene R. Cummings M.A., CCC-SLP
AAC Consultant, MRC Communications

Marlene is a speech-language pathologist, former early childhood educator, and Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC) Consultant. Her 40-year career is highlighted by her passion to create environments and change culture for students with complex communication needs in AAC, language and literacy. Marlene designed and implemented an AAC classroom program for students with severe apraxia and an accompanying Assistive Technology Center in a large suburban school district.  She specializes in designing innovative implementation systems utilizing cutting edge professional learning frameworks and dynamic service delivery models to build capacity and sustainability among teams and organizations. In addition, Marlene’s past classroom experience drives her exploration and use of universal AAC supports and strategically chosen implementation strategies. She currently influences others in the field through state, national and international conference presentations focused on AAC implementation frameworks, capacity building, shifting mindsets and job embedded learning models. Marlene teaches graduate students in AAC, contributes posts on PrAACtical AAC and other blogs and newsletters and most recently collaborated with The Center for Literacy and Disability Studies on a train the trainer literacy initiative.




Michael McCormick, M.S., LBS

Michael McCormick, M.S., LBS is Supervisor of Special Education at Penn-Delco School District in Pennsylvania.

Michael McCormick is a Secondary Supervisor of Special Education for the Penn-Delco School District. Previously, Michael worked as a Low-Incidence Special Education Teacher, Secondary Transition Coordinator, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Exceptionality Programs at Bloomsburg University, and Supervisor of Early Intervention. He graduated from Bloomsburg University with a dual degree in Elementary and Special Education and continued to earn his Master of Science in Special Education with a focus in Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Michael furthered his education at Bloomsburg University to obtain his Principal and Supervisory Certificate. In addition, Michael is a Licensed Behavior Specialist (LBS), a Safety Cares Trainer, Check & Connect Trainer, and Executive Committee Member of the Greater Philadelphia Light the Night Event. Michael strives to help create a world that is a more inclusive environment for all by advocating for individuals with exceptionalities and providing training to parents/guardians, educators, and students.


Maureen Donnelly, M.Ed.

Maureen Donnelly, M.Ed. is a Curriculum Development Manager at Building Wings. Maureen is an early childhood educator by training who has worked with students of diverse ages and abilities, from preschool through college. Throughout her 25-year career, Maureen has developed numerous products and written hundreds of books that support the literacy learning needs of beginners. She lives and works in Kittery, Maine, in an office stuffed with children’s books.


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