Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sequential Phonics for Struggling Readers

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Many students struggle when learning to read. One of my children had a very difficult time learning to read and after testing it was determined that he had a reading disability. About 15% to 20% of the U.S. population has a specific reading disability sometimes called dyslexia, which is the major cause of reading failure in school. It is important to note that reading difficulties exist on a spectrum. Some children will do well with a quick intervention and other children, like my son, will need lots of support and explicit instruction in reading.
After researching different ways to help my child, I found that a systematic, multisensory approach to teaching phonics was needed. According to the prominent dyslexia researcher Dr. Sally Shaywitz the key ingredients of an effective early intervention are:

Systematic and direct instruction in:
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Syllabication
  • Spelling
  • Reading sight words
  • Vocabulary and concepts
  • Reading comprehension strategies
  • Fluency Training-Fluency is the ability to read quickly, smoothly, accurately and with good comprehension. 
  • Enriched language experiences-Interactive dialogue involving listening, speaking and storytelling.  
In this blog post, I want to focus on the first three in the list!

Phonemic Awareness
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In order for children to learn to read print, they must be aware of how the sounds in words work. They must understand that words are made up of individual speech sounds, or phonemes. Phonemic awareness involves segmenting (dividing spoken words into individual sounds), blending (putting these sounds together), and manipulating (adding, deleting, or substituting sounds). Although people often use the terms interchangeably, phonemic awareness is actually a subcategory of phonological awareness, which refers to a more general understanding of the sound structure of language. Here is a guide by the University of Virginia on phonemic awareness instruction.
Phonemic Awareness is so important! Research indicates a strong relationship between early phoneme awareness and later reading success, and it links some reading failure to insufficiently developed phoneme awareness skills. Reading Rockets has more ideas for developing this important skill. The best news about learning phonemic awareness is that it is and should be fun!
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Mrs. Judy Araujo has a wonderful website that is just full of great ideas! Don't miss this one!

Phonics involves the relationship between sounds and their spellings. Phonics is the understanding that sounds and print letters are connected; this is the first step towards “reading.” The goal of phonics instruction is to teach students the most common sound-spelling relationships so that they can decode words. This comes naturally for the majority of students. For some students, like my son, this did not come naturally. I learned that students who fall into the moderate to severe spectrum of dyslexia need to learn language in a structured way from the simple to the complex. It needs to be multisensory (students are taught using all pathways to learning: auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic (movement).  This instruction needs to be cumulative where new learning is connected with what is already learned. 
There are different ways of structuring phonics instruction. I teach phonics based on the six types of syllables (closed, open, silent e, vowel teams, r-control and consonant le). This is an approach to teaching phonics that does not rely on a program. The goal is not to teach phonics rules. The goal is to teach the student to recognize the patterns of the syllables in words. I have taught many children over the last 25 years to read this way. Remember, children with dyslexia are intelligent! They can pick up the patterns when taught in a systematic way. 

A very helpful book that uses this structure of teaching phonics based on the six syllables is Angling for Words- Basic Angling Practice Book by Dorothy B. Montgomery - Linda M. Gipson. It allows the teacher to take students through word work in a sequential order. It gives you a word list for all 6 syllable types and has sentences that match the word pattern you want to practice. Be sure to get the teacher's manual that comes with the student book. Corresponding phono-cards are also very helpful. They can be found here. Here is an outline of the progression. In the teacher's manual there is a blank fish that can be filled in for each child as they move through the syllables. 
Option: Here you can find a similar lesson plan and guide for free. A free list of words can be found here!

Helpful Ideas and Supports
  • One helpful tidbit is to give each of the vowels a hand motion. This allows the teacher to remind the student what to say without actually saying it. Mine are: short a-an open palm, holding the largest apple that they have ever seen! Short e-rubbing a finger along the "edge" of the table (this positions the mouth and teeth correctly. Short i-itch by scratching my hand. Short o-opening my mouth, saying the short o sound and circling the opening in an o shape. Short u-pointing up. You may have different motions. Just make sure they are quick and subtle. My students will use these on their own to help them remember. It is a great kinesthetic connection to the short vowel sounds.
  • Comprehension is not always an issue for a student with dyslexia. It wasn't for my child. To foster his comprehension skills, I read books aloud to him, watched movies (asking questions) with him, and bought many picture books and magazines for him to read. This helped him enjoy reading until his decoding skills improved. In the classroom, we foster this idea by approaching literacy in a balanced way. We use read alouds, shared reading, listening to reading, and many literacy activities that support struggling readers.
  • Cursive Handwriting is important! I have always taught cursive handwriting in a very distinct way to my students.  Maria  Montessori’s extensive observations of children revealed the importance of learning through movement and the senses. Research corroborates the vital hand/brain connection, proving that new pathways in the brain develop as children use their hands to explore and interact with the world. I love this quote: Only three fingers write, but the whole body works.”-Medieval Scribe. Students with dyslexia need the motor memory and tactile experience that comes with handwriting. Cursive letters can all begin on the line (the way I teach) and letter reversals are almost impossible. Maria Montessori believed that writing of single letters could begin with three or four-year-olds. She noted that children try to write before they begin to read.I have seen this countless times with littles! I encourage you to take the time to research this vital link for struggling learners.You can find out more here and here

Multisensory Approach

Example of the lesson plan steps:

1. Visual drill- Students see the letters or groups of letters for the sound(s)/spelling pattern(s) you are working on. They can name the letter(s) and say the correct sound(s) for the letter.

2. Auditory drill- The sound the letters or groups of letters make.  Teacher says sound(s)and student repeats.  Then, the student writes all the ways that sound is spelled.

3. Read words- blend sounds they are learning into words and break the word into sound parts. Elkonin Boxes are great for this!

4. Dictated spelling words- teacher says word(s), student repeats it and then writes the word down.

5. Dictated sentences- student writes complete sentences with that contain the sound taught throughout the lesson.

6. Reading passages/books- The student will read a passage or book that has many words containing the sound presented from step 1. I have used phonetic readers (Primary Phonics, Bob Books) to match my phonics skills to a text. The goal is to move the child into a variety of books and genres, especially ones that interest them. Here is a resource in finding books matched to levels. 

This lesson plan format can be used in small group or individual reading instruction. It is an excellent way to provide intervention for those students needing this level of support. 
I hope that this information has prompted you to discover different ways of supporting students with dyslexia and those who are struggling in other ways. We must be persistent in our efforts to help them be successful.


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