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Alternative Teaching Techniques for Low Achieving Students Phonological Strategies for the Struggling Reader

The Psycho-Educational Teacher


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Research shows a strong causal relationship between sound awareness- understanding that spoken words are made of sounds- and learning to read; sound awareness ability strengthens reading fluency. Phonological knowledge is an oral language skill; the student does not need to have any knowledge of letter names to be able to perform phonological awareness tasks. At the phonological level, we train the struggling reader to notice and manipulate sounds, not letters. Letters are represented by visual symbols such as chips, tokens, lines, or fingers. By contrast, phonics instruction, a higher-level skill, requires the student to know the way that letters represent sounds in a word. Although phonological knowledge precedes knowledge of soundsymbol relationship, traditionally, schools start teaching children how to read at the soundsymbol matching level or phonics, before the childs phonological skills are well established. Consequently, if the students auditory judgments are impaired, knowledge of letter-sound relationships will be impaired too, resulting in a struggling decoder and/or weak speller. Before we can even address a word reading and/or spelling problem, phonological skills need to be developed, in particular, the blending of sounds (synthesizing a sequence of sounds into a

word), segmenting sounds (separating all sounds in a word and in the correct order), and manipulating sounds (deleting, adding, switching, or substituting sounds in a word). The ultimate goal in any phonological knowledge training should be to help the struggling reader see how particular sounds in a word relate to particular letters or letter chunks. At this stage, sounds should be presented in a variety of words, long and short, and syllables, so that the student develops an automatic response to the visual symbols. The following alternative teaching techniques aim at helping the student develop strategies in understanding and analyzing sounds in words. Varying the level of complexity of the words that we use, we can use the same activities with the older student as well as with a younger child. Activities that Require Discrimination of Sounds Have the student perform a motor behavior like raising his hand, standing up, thumb up, or clapping when he hears the target word (e.g. brown). You can use a string of words (e.g. hill, thump, blush, brown, cake), or you can say the word in an oral sentence (e.g. Felix has curly brown hair). Initially, use words that the child can distinguish easily, and then have the student discriminate between words with a closer auditory resemblance (e.g. clown, town, brown, down, and frown). When you start the phonological training, use a slower pace (a one second pause between words), followed by normal speaking, and ending with a faster pace. You can also start with fewer choices (three words) and end with more choices (seven words). Have the student respond when he hears a target syllable embedded within a word, e.g. /ble/: pickle, puzzle, crumble, middle, and angle. Remember that you are pronouncing sounds (//), not naming letters. Have the student respond when she hears the target sound embedded within a word. For example, say, Raise your hand when you hear a word with the /ple/ sound: glass, stuck, blush, or plush. Make sure that you include words with the target sound always placed at the beginning of the word (beginning sound and sounds combination), at the end of the word (ending sound and sounds combination), and in the middle of the word (vowel sounds). Have the student discriminate between the same and different words. Do oral exercises such as, Stand up when you hear a word that is different from the others, pig, pig, pig, dig, pig.

Activities that Require Listening for Specific Words Prepare activities that require listening for specific words. For example, say, Sweater, garden, judge, dark. Did I say garden? Alternatively, say, Should I buy the blue scarf or the yellow one? Did I say shirt? Did I say blue? Prepare activities that require recalling specific words from sentences; for example, Will you eat beans or beets with your meal? Will you eat beans or _____ with your meal? Activities that Require Counting Words and Syllables Give activities that require counting groups of individual words, e.g., Tell me how many words you hear: hobby, candle, ant, garage, elf, reading. (Six words) Give activities that require counting how many words are in a sentence, e.g., Tell me how many words you hear in this sentence: Anthonys birthday is next week. (Five words) Give activities that require counting syllables or chunks in a word, e.g., Tell me how many syllables (chunks or beats) you hear in universe. (Three) Activities that Require Sequencing the Auditory Information With sequencing activities, the student must recall the auditory information in the same order. Sequencing activities are an excellent tool for strengthening the childs auditory memory. Some examples are: Have the student imitate a series of three to seven tapping or clapping sounds, e.g. clap, clap, rest, clap, rest, clap, and clap. Have the child repeat three, five, or seven items that you name. Read a sentence and have the student repeat the sentence. Start with short sentences and gradually increase in length. Use exercises such as repeating the days of the week, months, counting, or reciting the alphabet. Use varied rote sequences, e.g. name any letter of the alphabet and have the child recite the alphabet starting from that letter, or, starting with number twelve, have the child skip count by twos.

About the Author


Carmen Y. Reyes, The Psycho-Educational Teacher, has more than twenty years of experience as a self-contained special education teacher, resource room teacher, and educational diagnostician. Carmen has taught at all grade levels, from kindergarten to post secondary. Carmen is an expert in the application of behavior management strategies, and in teaching students with learning or behavior problems. Her classroom background, in New York City and her native Puerto Rico, includes ten years teaching emotionally disturbed/behaviorally disordered children and four years teaching students with a learning disability or low cognitive functioning. Carmen has a bachelors degree in psychology (University of Puerto Rico) and a masters degree in special education with a specialization in emotional disorders (Long Island University, Brooklyn: NY). She also has extensive graduate training in psychology (30+ credits). Carmen is the author of 60+ books and articles in child guidance and in alternative teaching techniques for low-achieving students. You can read the complete collection of articles on Scribd or her blog, The Psycho-Educational Teacher. To download free the eGuide, Persuasive Discipline: Using Power Messages and Suggestions to Influence Children Toward Positive Behavior, visit Carmens blog.

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