For some, learning to read and spell is a relatively simple process. They easily grasp and apply the idea that letters are simply the symbols we use to represent the sounds of the words we speak. Therefore, reading energy can be spent on gaining meaning from the printed word rather than “figuring out” the printed word.However, a significant portion of the population experiences some degree of difficulty with reading and spelling accuracy. These persons struggle with how to “figure out” the words on a page or how to spell the words needed to write a sentence. Their inaccurate reading and spelling interferes when they must learn from and communicate through print.
These individuals may think they cannot “sound out” words because they are visual learners. They may have tried to memorize words or guess at words from context cues or the first letter of the word. They are often referred to as delayed readers, learning disabled, or dyslexic.
Though most of these persons are average to above average in intelligence, they experience a frustrating inability to match that potential in the area of written language.
Effects of underdeveloped phonological processing
Why do people who seem equal in basic intelligence, motivation, and educational opportunities have such different experiences with learning to read and spell? Recent research identifies a mental process crucial to the development of word recognition and spelling. This process has interchangeably been referred to as phonological processing, phonemic awareness, phoneme segmentation, and auditory conceptualization. These terms are used to describe one’s ability to perceive the identities and order of individual sounds and syllables within spoken words. For example, most persons can learn sound/symbol associations in isolation: d=/d/ as in dog, f=/f/ as in fan and i=/i/ as in it. However, many persons cannot perceive those same sounds when they occur in a word or syllable. Therefore, though they are taught phonics, they may look at the word “fat” and say “fan” or look at the word “stream” and say “steam.” They cannot auditorily perceive their errors.
Though they can point to each letter in “stream” and verbalize its name and sound, they are unable to notice that when they read it as “steam,” a sound was omitted. These persons may also spell “girl” as “gril” or “equipment” as “eqetment” or make speech errors such as saying “estatic” for “ecstatic” or “irrevelant” for “irrelevant.”
In the absence of adequate phonological processing, the reader must rely heavily on context cues (guessing at words) and on visual memory for the correct letters in the correct sequence in order to recognize words and interact with print. The use of these strategies alone generally results in independent reading levels significantly below intellectual potential.
Estimates of the number of individuals who have difficulty perceiving the individual sounds and syllables in words (phonological processing) range from 10-33 percent of the population. Underdeveloped phonological processing occurs randomly in the population without apparent linkage to race, sex, education or intelligence. Measures of phonological processing are predictive of reading and spelling success for early school-age readers and are highly correlated with reading ability in adults.
Phonological processing can be developed, resulting in significant improvement for dyslexics and for those with less severe reading and spelling problems.
Development of phonological processing
The methods we use train the learner to consciously apply information from a sensory modality that focuses on the source of speech sounds—the mouth.
The learner is taught to notice the action of the tongue, lips and mouth when it produces a word (motor-kinesthetic information). This motor information provides the reader with a means of verifying the sounds and their order in a syllable or word. The integration of auditory (sounds), visual (letters), and motor information makes it possible for children or adults to independently “figure out” words and correct themselves when reading and spelling.
Persons from developmentally delayed to gifted have been able to dramatically improve their abilities to read and spell independently after trained professionals led them to notice and apply the motor-kinesthetic information available to them.
Results of stimulating phonological processing
Stimulation of phonological processing is not a reading/spelling curriculum or program. It is an approach that develops the sensory cognitive process that underlies individual success with any method of teaching reading.
When phonological processing stimulation is made a part of introducing primary students to the reading/spelling process, it accelerates decoding and spelling performance and often prevents associated learning disabilities. Children with adequately developed phonological processing are able to respond more readily to the reading and writing philosophies in use, so that the ability to think with the written form of the language can emerge as surely as spoken language emerged.
Intensive phonological processing stimulation for older children and for adults with reading and writing difficulties is also consistently effective. These individuals can become independent in reading and writing at age-appropriate levels within a few weeks or months, depending on the degree of deficiency in phonological processing and the amount of daily instruction received.
Stimulating phonological processing resolves an underlying cause of a wide range of difficulties with reading and spelling. It is not a compensatory or coping skill. It is the development of a mental process which changes the way the brain thinks about sounds and results in an answer for problems with reading and spelling accuracy.
Indications of underdeveloped phonological processing
Diagnostic evaluation that analyzes both written and spoken language performance can be used to determine the appropriateness of treatment for developing phonological processing. In addition, some or all of these symptoms may be noted:
- Difficulty learning letter names and remembering sounds for letters in kindergarten and first grade.
- Mispronouncing common words: Saying “susess” for success, “flustrated” for frustrated, “excape” for escape.
- Reading errors where sounds or syllables are omitted, added, reversed or repeated: Reading “bench” for beach, “slice” for silence, “conversation” for conservation.
- Misspellings that are not reasonable: action spelled “akshun” is reasonable—action spelled “anshul” is not.
- Misspellings with the right letters in the wrong sequence: Writing “left” for felt, “mojairty” for majority, “derss” for dress, or “saw” for was.
- Misspellings with syllables missing or in the wrong sequence: “phycian” for physician, “agate” for agitate or “cacipaty” for capacity.
- Appearing to be an underachiever who just needs to try harder.
- Poor understanding of written material, but understanding of material presented orally is generally adequate.