Learning the alphabet or letter recognition is your child’s first step towards mastering reading and writing. But sometimes, teaching such an important skill can be a confusing process for parents. Do you start with the letter names or letter sounds first? Is there a particular way children should learn their ABCs? And how do you make sure you are laying down the right literacy foundation for your little one? Dr. Jan Wasowicz, a speech language pathologist, gives us her insight on how to teach young children the alphabet.
When teaching young children the letters of the alphabet, do we teach them first to say the letter names or the letter sounds?
Dr. Wasowicz: “It depends,” applies here.
“Students need to learn how to form letters and need to know letter names. If that is our objective in a lesson, we use letter names, and the student says the letter name as they form the letter.
Students also need to learn and make connections between sounds and letters -phoneme (sound)-grapheme (print) mapping- to read and spell words. If alphabetic principle, letter-sound relationships, encoding (spelling) and decoding of words, and development of robust lexical (vocabulary) representations of words and word parts is our objective in a lesson, we have the students say sounds as they write (or read) the letters.
With a student who already knows her letter names, can form all the letters but needs to improve letter formation/handwriting skills, and also needs to improve phonological awareness (when listening to words or sounds), phonics (print-sound relationship), and reading and spelling skills, having the student say the sounds as she writes the letters allows us to simultaneously address multiple learning objectives at once.
As Dr. Virgnia Berninger says, the teaching of reading and writing is a very, very complex process. She writes, “Literacy instruction drawing on integrated reading-writing is like fine cuisine, which is made from multiple ingredients.”
When working with students, I often feel like an orchestra conductor leading an assembly of musical instruments (some of those instruments are not so well-tuned!). The processes of reading and writing—and the literacy instruction itself—are a dynamic interplay of multiple linguistic, cognitive, and sensorimotor elements that need to be called upon at just the right moment, in synchrony and fully integrated with each other for a masterful performance.
What we teach at a given point in time and how we teach something depends on many factors. Not the least of which is our instructional learning objective.
Effective teaching of reading and writing requires us to know what the individual student brings to the table. It also requires us to understand the WHY we do what we do.
When we understand the who (the individual student) and understand the why, we know what to do when.”
Dr. Jan Wasowicz has 35+ years of experience as a language, literacy, and learning specialist working with students who have language-based reading, writing, and spelling disorders in a variety of educational settings, including public schools, Head Start programs, and private practice.
Dr. Wasowicz has taught numerous university-level courses and is frequently invited to speak about best practices in literacy assessment and instruction at professional conferences.
She is the inventor of the Earobics® software, author of SPELL-Links to Reading & Writing, and lead moderator of the SPELLTalk professional listserv — the FREE professional discussion group dedicated to improving literacy through discussion of research and evidence-based best practices.
Dr. Wasowicz is an ASHA-certified, IL-licensed, and FL-licensed speech-language pathologist, and she holds a professional educator license with multiple endorsements from the State Teacher Certification Board of Illinois. She is also the founder and CEO of Learning By Design, Inc. www.learningbydesign.com.
The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a specific and unexpected learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. Individuals with dyslexia primarily have difficulty in phonological processing. Phonology is an underlying skill that facilitates both learning how to decode and spell. Students with dyslexia struggle with isolating the sounds in words, matching sounds with letters, and blending sounds into words.
In other words, these students have problems “cracking the code.” This means arbitrary written symbols (called orthography) are not automatically processed as well as their peers who have cracked the code with more automaticity do. As a result, an individual with dyslexia will find it difficult to sound out words and show poor spelling and decoding abilities.
When left unaddressed, dyslexia can also lead to problems in reading fluency. If you aren’t reading fluently, you will be at risk for having reading comprehension difficulties and will most likely avoid reading since it’s an unpleasant experience. Lack of practice reading means less exposure to vocabulary and reduced learning background knowledge. In short, without proper intervention, dyslexia leads to a foundational literacy issue, which then causes downstream issues.
For the most part, however, what exactly causes dyslexia is still unknown. We do know there is a genetic link; studies show that children with a family history of dyslexia or other learning disabilities are more susceptible. There are also other risk factors to consider, such as low birth weight, premature birth, and exposure to harmful substances (drugs, nicotine, alcohol) during pregnancy.
Common Signs of Dyslexia
Dyslexia can occur at all levels of intelligence. Children who struggle with dyslexia can often excel in other areas of learning and creative thinking. This is arguably one of the reasons why early signs of dyslexia are easy to overlook, especially in bright students. These students can easily compensate for this sometimes “invisible” learning disability, which makes knowing when and how to get a dyslexia diagnosis all the more necessary.
Typically, dyslexia is detected once a child enters school and starts learning to read. But younger children may also show symptoms that hint at a learning problem. Here are some early signs of dyslexia in children and teens to watch out for from The Mayo Clinic:
Often reverses and confuses word sounds, especially those that sound alike
Difficulty naming letters, numbers, colors, and even recognizing letters in their own name
Struggles to learn nursery rhymes, understand rhyming patterns, or play rhyming games
Reads below the expected level for their age (slow or inaccurate reading)
Struggles with understanding and processing what they hear
Struggles to find the right words or form answers and often opts to substitute words
Difficulty in remembering the sequence of events or things
Difficulty in distinguishing similarities and differences in letters and words
Unable to sound out the pronunciation of new words and struggles with spelling
Takes a long time to complete reading or writing exercises and shies away from reading tasks
Teens and Adults
Problems with reading, often leaving out short words or parts of longer words
Struggles with spelling and writing
Difficulty pronouncing expected or familiar words or names
Takes a long time to complete tasks that involve reading and writing or avoids reading activities
Struggles with “getting” jokes, puns, or expressions with meanings that are not readily obvious
Difficulty grasping a second language and telling or summarizing a story
Struggles with memorizing or doing math problems
When and How to Get a Dyslexia Diagnosis
Dyslexia becomes easier to spot once a child enters kindergarten or first grade. This is because children with dyslexia often struggle with understanding basic reading skills, so they will noticeably fall behind their peers.
Your child’s primary teacher will hopefully notify you if he or she is falling behind reading benchmarks. They may suggest an assessment and offer assistance on how to get a dyslexia diagnosis for your child. However, school districts and schools use their own metrics to determine what’s expected in terms of learning literacy. What parents don’t know is that many of these popular metrics are not researched-backed (This is another topic to be discussed at a later point).
A licensed clinical psychologist (ideally, a neuropsychologist) performs the testing for dyslexia on a child. Likewise, a licensed clinical psychologist can also work with a licensed speech language therapist, who can also collect necessary and relevant data (see below). Meanwhile, an occupational therapist can evaluate fine motor and visual spatial skills.
Moreover, a child or adult should undergo a neuropsychological evaluation to get a closer look at brain functions. This type of test can measure attention span, memory, and language skills. It can help determine the reasons a child is struggling in school and help you plan an intervention. And like any type of learning issue, clinical psychologists can also rule in or out co-morbity since many learning issues are not “pure” in nature.
Why Diagnosing Dyslexia is Important
When left unchecked, dyslexia and other learning disabilities can persist well into adulthood. Without any support, children with dyslexia can experience frustration and learning blocks that may ultimately hamper their learning growth and development.
In many cases, not knowing how to get a dyslexia diagnosis and ignoring the signs of learning disabilities can lead to moodiness and chronic stress, expose children as targets for bullying, and take a toll on the child’s self-esteem. These outcomes may worsen as a child gets older and cause further mental, academic, and career-related problems.
Having a formal evaluation and diagnosis also allows your child to qualify for their school’s special services and Individualized Education Program or IEP. In the United States, all students are eligible for IEPs. Entering your child into a specialized program gives you access to accommodations and modifications in your child’s academic path and goals.
Modifications make changes to what your child is taught in school and adjust expectations in what he is supposed to achieve. An example of this would be giving a different set of homework or grading using a different standard. Modifications are made on the child’s IEP.
Meanwhile, accommodations are steps taken by the school to allow children with dyslexia to keep pace with their peers. This may include:
Access to taped lectures and audio versions of learning materials
Use of text-to-speech software to help with writing
Extra time on tests and writing and reading exercises
No foreign language requirement
Access to vocabulary lists and new concepts ahead of time
Alternative books with similar content in the student’s reading level
Grading students on mastery of content instead of spelling or reading fluency
How to Best Teach a Child with Dyslexia
Finding out how to get a dyslexia diagnosis is only the first step in providing support for your child. Hence, your next goal should focus on finding out the best and most effective way for your child to learn.
But before anything else, it is important to understand that dyslexia is neither a disease nor a physical condition. It is a lifelong learning disability, which a timely diagnosis and the right intervention and teaching approach can successfully manage and correct.
Because dyslexia affects not only a child’s ability to read but also write and spell, it requires a multisensory structured language education (MSLE) approach.
One of the pioneers of this type of teaching method is the Orton-Gillingham approach. Its goal is to create a multisensory learning environment for individuals struggling with reading, writing, spelling, or a combination of all three. The Orton-Gillingham Approach uses sight, hearing, touch, and awareness of motion to assist the child in improving reading and other literacy skills.
How to Support a Child with Dyslexia at Home
While schools play a big role in a child’s success over dyslexia, at-home learning and support are just as important. Some of the most important steps you can take as a parent are:
Staying on top of your child’s IEP. Knowing how to get a dyslexia diagnosis and making sure your child receives a school’s IEP is crucial. But your job doesn’t stop there. It is just as important to keep communication lines open with your child’s educators. This is key to ensure the student is making progress and to figure out how you may be able to provide more help.
Reading with your child as often and as consistently as possible. It may be a challenge to get children to hunker down and finish a book, so pick fun reading materials like comic books, graphic novels, or choose-your-own-adventure books that make reading less of a chore. Emphasize on teaching phonics, and allow your child to practice reading without the pressure of being criticized or graded.
Taking advantage of technology. These days, there is an app or software for everything. Including dyslexia learning needs. Think text-to-speech, reading assistant apps, and spell-checkers.
Seeking the help of professionals. Finding a professional with Orton-Gillingham training (at least 40 hours worth), or even a speech-language pathologist with training in literacy, is the best way to provide further support for your child. For your child to succeed, it’s crucial to work with a professional that has a keen understanding of his or her needs and delivers a custom teaching approach.
Brooklyn Letters is a New York-based private speech-language therapy and tutoring company fully committed to providing fun, individualized, and dynamic tutoring, coaching, and therapy sessions for children and teens. We treat all kinds of speech and language delays and learning difficulties, specializing in evaluating and treating babies through adolescents.
Our services include:
Orton Gillingham Approach
Writing and Speaking Intervention
Comprehension – Listening and Reading Intervention
Reading Comprehension Tutoring
Decoding and Encoding
Reading Fluency Services
Brooklyn Letters offers in-home and online literacy (Orton-Gillingham Approach), math tutoring services, and speech, language, and feeding therapies in the New York City metro area seven days a week.