A Spelling Approach to Teaching the Alphabetic Principle and Phonemic Awareness

A Spelling Approach to Teaching the Alphabetic Principle and Phonemic Awareness

First Author: Kate Saunders -- University of Kansas
Keywords: Phonemic Awareness, Learning to spell, Decoding, Training study, Developmental Disabilities
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose
Persons with disabilities often cannot decode. I describe the development of a computerized instructional sequence, and an example supporting study, designed to simultaneously teach key prerequisites—phonological awareness (PA) and the alphabetic principle. The procedures are receptive, and eliminate complex instructions, accommodating students with intellectual and/or speech disabilities.
Method
Training includes: spelling words by selecting letters; teaching either minimal pairs or neighborhoods, thus promoting attention to target elements; many practice opportunities; immediate feedback; multiple generalization opportunities. Each sequence step targets one or more syllable elements: onset, rime, coda, and vowel. Individual steps have been tested in non-decoding participants. Studies use multiple-probe designs. Instruction occurs with some sound-letter relations, while other sound-letter relations are untaught controls. Replication with the control words follows. During instruction, participants learn exemplar syllables containing target elements, and receive frequent generalization tests. In the example study, we taught three men with mild-moderate intellectual disabilities, and knowledge of onsets, words with the rimes AG and ED (rag/red, mag/med, etc.) and assessed generalization to other words (e.g., tag/ted). Control rimes were IT and UN.
Results
Participants initially spelled no words. Typical of the sequence of studies, after learning 4 to 8 words, generalization was shown to the remaining 16-20, with no improvement in untaught, control rimes until procedures were replicated with them.
Conclusions
Correct responses on generalization tests demonstrate both PA and the alphabetic principle, skills known to facilitate decoding. Implementing these procedures—which can be presented by paraprofessionals—before decoding instruction, could free the time of skilled teachers for advanced decoding skills and meaning-based activities.