We’re welcoming Kim from Activity Tailor to Minds in Bloom today! Kim is sharing her insight on helping students with SSD challenges to be more successful in the classroom and reconsidering making students spell what they can’t say.
When I’m writing a note and don’t have the luxury of spell-check to step in and fix my “typos,” and I have a less familiar word I need to use, I pause. I might “say” the word in my head or try to picture what it looks like on the page, or I might actually “sound it out” aloud. This approach of listening to the sounds, as well as drawing on my knowledge of spelling rules, will usually get me the correct spelling.
But what about those students who can’t pronounce the word correctly? Those cuties that trot off to speech a couple times a week may not be able to produce one or more phonemes. Where does that leave them?
Even in the absence of language deficits, children with speech sound disorders (SSD) are at a much greater risk of reading and/or spelling issues. Those at particular risk are the ones that have atypical errors (ex. substituting “f” for, well, everything) which suggests a weakness in how they process phonological information, as opposed to having trouble with the motor component, and also kiddos with articulation errors that persist beyond the age of beginning reading instruction.
Persist beyond the age of beginning reading instruction? Really?!
Reading instruction begins at a much younger age than it once did, and as public schools have increased both the qualification criteria and age for children to receive therapy for articulation errors, this has increased the likelihood that more of your students will fall into the category of having errors beyond the start of reading skills–often well beyond. So now what?
Classroom teachers are well aware of the importance of strong phonemic awareness skills for the acquisition of reading and spelling. In preschool this usually includes rhyming skills, awareness of syllables, and identifying initial consonants. In early elementary ages, this may also encompass blending sounds and the ability to manipulate sounds within a word. Often, children struggling with these skills, especially in conjunction with articulation errors, will need a referral for a speech and language evaluation.
This can even crop up for those “bright” early readers that rely heavily on sight words and memorization but lack strong decoding skills.
Many of these SSD kiddos will need explicit instruction in this area, sometimes even if their articulation errors have resolved. And children that have language delays in addition to their articulation errors are at even greater risk for reading/spelling struggles.
Specific instruction in these phonemic awareness skills might be provided in the classroom and supplemented in speech therapy or with a well-planned home program. There are lots of available resources!
But while phonemic awareness is the best predictor of reading success in 3rd grade, by the time children reach 5th grade, and words become longer and more complex, morphological awareness becomes the greater predictor.
Morphological awareness is the understanding that the small components of language, markers like “-er,” “a-“ and “-ing,” have an impact on word meaning and follow set rules for spelling and, often, pronunciation.
It’s not uncommon for students in later elementary grades to still receive or to begin speech therapy to remediate articulation errors. While morphology is a useful area of study for all students, it can be a particular benefit to those who don’t always “hear” or produce these language markers appropriately.
How can you work on this?
- Provide focused instruction on root words, suffixes, and prefixes. You may need to pay particular attention to those with “tricky” articulation sounds like “r” (ex. –ary, -er, -ard, -ery) and “th” (ex. –with-, -pathy).
- Ask “what related word do you see in here?” when encountering new words related to previously known information.
- Move from transparent words to more opaque words. For example, determining the base word of “fourth” or “Italian” is more readily apparent that that of “fifth” or “spacious.”
- Give students a word, and ask them to create a sentence with a related word rather than the specific one given. For example, giving the word “photo” might generate sentences with “photograph” or “photography.”
Articulation errors may persist well beyond reading and spelling acquisition. By providing a strong linguistic foundation for sounds and meanings, you can maximize their success and may help them improve their production, too!
Kim Lewis, M.Ed., CCC-SLP is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Greensboro, NC. She is also the author at Activity Tailor, creating independent learners with perfect fit activities on her blog and in her store. In her spare time, she can be found reading, cooking, or ballroom dancing with her husband (much to the despair of their teenage children).