Classroom phonological awareness instruction and literacy outcomes in the first year of school

For #ResearchTuesday I went in search of some current research on phonological awareness (PA) skill development as part of learning to read. I did a quick search and found an article that was PERFECT for what our department has been thinking about and working on lately; helping teachers understand how PA skills are important to reading skills and are different from phonics. I was not surprised but very pleased to see that one of my favourite researchers in the world, Gail Gillon, was involved. Any of you who know me know that she and Laura Justice are my two personal literacy heroes in life. Anyhow, I digress.

Just so we’re clear from the outset: PA skills occur only while listening and speaking and basically entail if a person understands that language is built upon sounds (phonemes) and that these can be combined and recombined to make new meaning (words). Notice that PA skills are not letter-sound correspondence – that is phonics. Phonemic awareness is under phonological awareness and captures tasks at the phoneme level.

literacy pyramid

The introduction has a very nice review of several literacy interventions that include PA skills. They discuss how these interventions vary from broad (including many different aspects of literacy such as whole word, phonics, print/book concepts, and PA skills) to narrow (focusing on only one aspect of reading skills), and also range in intensity and duration. They propose that for classroom teachers to be able to employ a certain intervention to a whole classroom, it is better if it is short in duration and intensity (e.g. less than 2 hours a week).

The researchers note that the usual classroom curriculum for literacy in New Zealand (where the study occurred) is focused on whole language and phonics, but does not have a focus on PA skills.

This study has 2 hypotheses:

  • Children exposed to teacher-delivered PA instruction at the phoneme level for 20 hours over a 10-week period in the classroom will demonstrate significantly higher phoneme awareness, reading, and spelling skills and that this will be sustained to the end of the year (compared to children who receive the usual literacy curriculum only)
  • Children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) will demonstrate significant improvements in phoneme awareness, reading, and spelling following this same instruction but may show less growth than typically developing (TD) children.

Method 

129 children aged 5;0 to 5;2 were included in classrooms with 12 different teachers at various different schools with average SES. Two teachers from different schools were trained in the PA program and their students formed group A (n=18) and group B (n=16) and the other 10 teachers performed the usual reading curriculum in their classrooms (n=95) as a control group. Four children in group A and 3 children in group B presented with SLI based on standardized assessment.

They used a quasi experimental design because it’s too difficulty to control for everything in a classroom environment. In New Zealand, 4 school terms are broken into 10-week sessions. Term 1 everyone received regular literacy instruction. Term 2, group A had PA instruction and B and C had regular. Term 3, group B had PA instruction and Groups A and C were regular. In Term 4 everyone had regular literacy instruction again.

The teachers doing PA instruction were trained first in the background theory of the program, then in the program guide with resources and activities. The lead researcher co-taught the PA program with the teachers for the first 4 weeks and then the teachers were independent for weeks 6-10. All in, it was 8 hours of instruction for the teachers.

All students were tested for language, articulation, non-verbal intelligence, reading ability, and PA skills at the beginning of the school year. PA, reading, and spelling skills were informally measured at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. There was no difference between participants at the beginning of the school year.

The program

The PAT (Gillon, 2000) was adapted for classroom use. It covers onset-rime knowledge as well as sound recognition, isolation, segmentation, blending, and linking speech to print (phonics). They adapted the program to fit in with the classroom resources (books, topics) and by giving the teachers the instruction time, including how to make tasks easier or harder depending on a student’s skill level. This way, students would still be exposed to multiple PA tasks, but only be challenged at their own skill level for optimal skill development. Teachers did four 30 minute PA sessions per week in the class alongside whole language and Jolly Phonics instruction (the regular program).

Two important things to note here are 1) the PA program comprised about 20% of total in-class literacy instruction time per week and 2) other than one week on onset-rime knowledge, most of the time (9/10 weeks) focused on PA skills at the phoneme level and not word or syllable level.

Results

The students who had PA instruction in their class for 10 weeks (a short time, really) did do significantly better on reading and spelling compared to the children who did the typical whole language and phonics approach. By the end of the school year (age 6) only around 6% of the PA instruction students performed below age-expected level in word decoding. Compare this to 26% of the control group and you see a big difference for such a small change. Similarly, 6% of the PA groups were below age-expected level in reading comprehension compared to 31.5% of the control group. This change in how teachers approached reading instruction resulted in a 20% reduction in students with reading difficulties by the end of kindergarten. This difference in performance lasted at least 6 months after PA instruction stopped. The researchers stressed 2 factors about this – it was a short period of intense instruction delivered effectively in the classroom setting and it focused on the phoneme level, which is critical to early reading skills.

Additionally, the students with SLI demonstrated significant gains on all PA, reading, and spelling measures but they showed less ability to transfer phoneme knowledge to an untrained PA task compared to the TD children. Specifically, the children with SLI showed greater gains in initial sound identification and onset-rhyme than TD children, which likely speaks to their need for explicit teaching on phoneme-level skills. Otherwise, there was no big change or difference in onset-rime knowledge for any of the other students in the study.

The TD students with PA instruction had significantly higher gains in reading and spelling compared to students with SLI, suggesting the SLI students may need ongoing support to apply their enhanced PA skills. However, the children with SLI performed at a similar reading and spelling level to the children in the comparison group. This strongly suggested that children with SLI who have PA skill development as part of their early literacy instruction are positively influenced in their reading outcomes, even though they are at increased risk for a reading disorder. Small sample size of the SLI group is a limitation to the generalizability of these findings, however.

Small sample size, quasi experimental research design, and teacher/student individuality factors are limitations of this study, but I would posit that it is far more realistically designed than typical clinical studies in which you can control for most variables. Therefore, I (personally) suspect that these results would be replicable in other classroom environments with at least similar results.

How does this relate to my practice?

It relates to me very highly in that we are attempting to add a phonological awareness component to all students (SLI) on the therapy caseload, with specific goals for each student based on assessment results with the Pro-PA. So that means these students at increased risk are getting focused PA instruction. However, I set goals the way I would expect typically developing students to achieve these skills – starting with larger chunks (rhyme, syllables) and moving to phoneme level. Perhaps I should reconsider this and put more priority on phoneme-level goals for these students.

Which is interesting this should come up since I’ve lately been thinking along these lines somewhat already. In a conversation I had with a CDA, I suggested she leave rhyme for a while (the student REALLY wasn’t getting it) and focus on sound isolation instead since it is more specifically helpful/relatable to reading skills than rhyming is. Also, many students who have reading difficulty on caseload but have had PA intervention seem to be able to do most of the PA skills I assess (most of which are at phoneme level, including substituting the first sound) and yet continue not to be able to identify or produce rhyme. But that’s a different research paper to discuss.

This also relates to my current practice because it strongly suggests that I can help all students with reading if I can help teachers understand the link and power between PA skills and reading and spelling skills. This is a common theme in our department and we’ve been talking to teachers about PA skills for some time now. I often ask teachers about reading skills when I am about to assess a student and the conversation almost always goes like this:

Me: How are Billy’s phonological awareness skills?

Teachers: Pretty good – he knows all the sound-letter correspondences.

Me: Ah, OK – uh – thanks.

Then I have to make a mental note that that teacher does not know the difference between phonics and phonological awareness. Actually, I’ve realigned my mental note to be those teachers who DO understand the difference; it’s a shorter list. This happens in almost all cases. I have frequent conversations with teachers and resource teachers (special education teachers) about the specific phonological awareness skills of students on my caseload and am consistently surprised by their lack of knowledge and the sorts of questions I get about it. Teachers seem mostly to think of phonics, not PA, and typically only think of rhyme and possibly first sound identification as the extent of PA skills. This is confirmed to me every time I look at games, apps, and TPT materials designed to work on early reading skills. So, this research will further help our department educate teachers on the important role PA skills play in reading acquisition and to empower teachers to make a big difference for their students.

What do you think about this? Do you work with teachers who do a lot of PA or not? Do you even know what teachers you work with are doing as part of their classroom literacy instruction? Do you have thoughts or resources to help teachers with literacy instruction? I’d love to hear what you are doing in your practice!

Carson, K., Gillon, G, & Boustead, T. (2013). Classroom phonological awareness instruction and literacy outcomes in the first year of school. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44,147-160.

#ASHAFit 8 in 5 Challenge

Over the past year, several SLPs and AUDs have come together to create a support system for getting healthy and staying active through various editions of what we’ve called #ASHAFit challenges. The challenges have ranged in lengths and participant number, but all have looked at who can loose the highest body fat percentage in a given time. This time around, we are doing something a little differently for #ASHAFit85. Check it out…

The challenge:

Lose 8% of your body fat in 5 months

Start Date: Saturday, September 20, 2014 (or anytime the following week or so)

End Date: Saturday, February 21, 2015

You can follow along on FB over here too – we’ll be posting info and motivation along the way. Also from Twitter @ASHAFitness.

help scale

The rules:

  1. $50 entrance fee by paypal (that equates to $10 per month)
    1. All transactions to Tanya’s paypal account (slptanya at gmail dot com)
    2. All transactions should be in US funds (since the majority of participants will likely pay in US Funds). Paypal makes this very easy. The reason it needs to be the same this time is because it isn’t winner take all, it has to be equally distributed at the end. Mixing currencies will make this more complicated.
  2. At the end of the game, whoever has reached the 8% goal shares the pot. So at the very least you’ll have lost 8% for free (if everyone makes the goal).
  3. Starting Weight: Send in your weight via email (or fill out the form) that includes your name, preferred email, and weight numbers.
  4. Weight Verification pictures are required at beginning and end to ensure a fair game. These pictures will have to be emailed (fit4asha at gmail dot com) as there isn’t a way to attach them to the form. When you submit the initial email, take a full body photo of yourself standing on the scale (Scale Selfie!), in light clothing, and an up-close photo of your your weight with feet on the scale with the starting code word (the code word for week 1 photos is ‘success’) on an index card in view. The weight numbers on the scale must be legible to us.
  5. Weight is sent in at least semi-monthly to fit4asha at gmail dot com or you can submit it to the form (preferred for us). Only Katie and Tanya will see these submissions. The reason we want you to do this at least every other week is to help keep you motivated (5 months is a very long time) and on track. Weekly is preferred! Everyone involved will have access to an updated chart of who has lost what percentage throughout the 5 months. If you don’t submit, we’ll assume you’ve gained a lb and the percentage will reflect that!

upside-down-scale-300x253

Who should join?:

Anyone who wants that extra motivation to lose weight is welcome. You do not have to be an SLP or an AUD. You do not have to be going to ASHA this year. You do not have to be American (I’m not!!). You can be a computer programmer from Kazakstan and you are more than welcome!

If losing 8% of your body weight would put you in an underweight category on the BMI, however, joining wouldn’t be a healthy choice.

 Any questions, contact Katie and Tanya at fit4asha at gmail dot com!

Keep in touch via Facebook  and Twitter using the hashtag  #ASHAfit85

Submit your weight to the form:

Once we’ve started the challenge, every week (or every other week) you can submit your weight below or by clicking here and saving the link . The first time we’ll ask you for your email but after that we’ll just ask for your name and weight. Don’t submit to the form until September 20th or later since the weight you are now may not be accurate by then and will not count. Only the picture proof weight will count at the beginning (see rules above).

ASHAFit Biggest Loser III – Summer Edition

The ASHAFit Biggest Loser II challenge went well. Congratulations to Danielle who won, losing over 7% of her body fat in only 8 weeks! She won $50 and she feels better too. Lots of people did really great and even some lost a bit who are near their goal and have been having a hard time losing those last few pounds. 

Summer is upon us and if you’re like me, you get lots of great exercise but eat a few too many ice creams to cancel out the fitness. So, I’m running another one, starting June 28 and going until August 16 (8 weeks again). We’ll all be on vacation here and there, but maybe this will help motivate us to make better choices and more careful splurges

Same rules as before:

1. $5 entrance fee by paypal (to my email address; slptanya at gmail dot com)

2. Send me your weight (in text) as well as a picture of your scale reading for the first day (June 28)

3. Send me your weight numbers every Saturday (just the numbers, no picture).

4. I’ll post the full details of everyone’s cumulative loss every week or two (ideally every week but sometimes too many ppl don’t send me weigh-in numbers)

5. Send me the numbers EVERY WEEKEND please – it’s too hard for me to chase you down. Maybe do what Katie does – put a reminder in your phone/calendar.

Who’s in for another?  ALL are welcome!! Leave a comment, tweet me (@SLPTanya) or email me: slptanya at gmail dot com.

ASHAFit Biggest Loser: Take II

I lost a lot of weight on the last BL I ran. In fact, I lost 19 lbs in that 14 weeks and I won.  And then I got lazy and have gained back a bit of it. It was a long winter with many temptations to stay in and add to your personal insulation with fattening foods. Spring is here and summer is coming – who’s in to do it again?? I learned a few things with the last one. For instance:

  1. 14 weeks is WAY too long to run it. Even I had lost motivation by 10 weeks or so.
  2. People need skin in the game or they aren’t as motivated.
  3. Mondays are a terrible day to weigh-in!

So, here’s what I’m proposing. It will start anytime you want to this week and end in 8 weeks on Saturday, June 14th. Anyone who joins must put up $5 (to me through PayPal) and it’s winner take all. Lego-man-working-out-550x366  Image retrieved here.

Also, instead of emailing everyone who’s competing every week with the top 5 people and the percentage of weight they’ve lost, I will be posting EVERYONE’s cumulative loss every week (in an email). Not your actual weight; the percentage of weight that you lost. This way you have even more skin in the game than $5 – your pride! Weigh ins will be every Saturday (or at the very least sometime that weekend). Please don’t make me track you down – I don’t have time for that.

Many of you are wondering: Why are you starting this now on Easter/Passover weekend? All that yummy food and discounted chocolate is such a lovely temptation! To that I respond: Exactly! Plus I’ve been meaning to start this for a month and I just have to start it already and lock down my eating habits. If it makes you feel better, we’ll all have challenges over the course of 8 weeks. I’m moving houses (can we say take out?) and I have my and my daughter’s birthdays in that 8 weeks. This has been the busiest winter of my life but there is always an excuse not to start healthier living, right?

If you’re in with me (and you can join any time) send me a picture of your weight on the scale and some form of the date (smartphone, newspaper whatever). No need to send a picture every week, just the number (I’ll trust ya) until the end. If you win, you need to send me another such picture to claim the prize. I plan to start Sunday, because I’m a procrastinating sadist, apparently. You are free to wait until Monday but weigh-ins will be every Saturday until mid June. After you’ve sent me that, you must send me $5 via Pay Pal (same email address).

Who’s in?? Email me slptanya at gmail dot com.

UPDATE: OK I didn’t start until today, Tuesday the 22nd. Yup, I ate Easter candy. There it is. Anyone joining ‘late’ isn’t really late!

ASHAFit Biggest Loser

Image

DigitalBusStop.com

OK, I admit it. I fell off the wagon just a little bit completely. I did the planks (mostly) and sometimes did the pushups. I watched what I ate and exercised a lot with my bootcamp video game. I lost 15 lbs and I was feeling much stronger and fitter for sure. Then, life changed. I fell off the wagon. I haven’t really gained much back (2-3 lbs) since I fell off, but I’m not as fit, I’m not eating as healthy, and I’m no longer losing the baby weight. I’ve done some walking and biking and yoga, but I haven’t worked out properly since… May?

It’s time to get back on the wagon and I think I’ve found a fun way to do it.

We’ve used #ASHAFit13 on Twitter and Facebook to encourage each other and model our exercise and good choices as extra support. Let’s keep using it for that but let’s go a step further. I need more to keep myself motivated and thinking beyond today’s ice cream. I was talking about it with my friend, Mary Huston, and we came up with an idea.

If you also want to lose weight, consider joining a little game Mary and I are launching: our ASHAFit biggest loser challenge.

When does it start/end?

It will start Monday, August 5th, or whenever you feel like starting (though you’ll want to start as close to that date as possible to win). The winner is whoever lost the most weight body fat percentage by Monday, November 11th (the Monday before the ASHA conference in Chicago).  That’s 14 weeks so remember, it’s a slow race meant to change your lifestyle to a healthier one for keeps!

What do you have to do?

There are 2 ways you can play.

A)   Play for a fabulous prize – you must submit to me, by email (slptanya at gmail dot com), a picture of your weight as you stand on the scale with the date you are standing on it. This way I will know 1) it’s your real weight and 2) it’s current. You can use the day’s paper or take a screenshot with your device so there’s a time stamp on it. I will NOT share your weight with ANYONE. EVER. Only your overall loss. You’ll obviously have to submit a similar picture (on the same scale) at the very end as well.

B)   Play for fame only – You can just report what you’ve lost over time and play along but you cannot qualify for the prize without proof you’ve lost that weight through the photo. So if you’re uncomfortable with me knowing your weight, I get it. You can still try to beat us all and you can claim a title for your efforts (and more importantly, a healthier you!).  Consider taking the time stamped pic on Monday anyhow, just in case you change your mind later.

Whether playing for $ or fame, you are welcome to post how much you’ve lost every Monday as motivation for yourself and others, but this is not required.

 What can you win?

The title of losing the most in 14 weeks, for starters. A healthier lifestyle that should be a real habit by November, for more. And Mary and I are both contributing $25 to the prize for a total of $50.

Yup – soft, ethereal, internet transferred cash. You could choose to make it a gift card or dinner/drinks at ASHA or whatever, if you prefer. I don’t think $50 is too much as a Starbucks gift card, either ;)

What if you’re not going to ASHA or don’t even know what ASHA is (e.g. not an SLP or AUD)?

No problem. Anyone and everyone is welcome to play!

What if I (Tanya)win?

Well, I know I’m running this thing, but I’d like a shot at winning. It’s kind of the whole point of doing it. I highly doubt I can beat Mary, but I’m gonna give it a shot. So if I win, I’ll have a 3rd party from the Twitter community who’s not involved in the game look at my before and after weight pictures to prove I won. Let me know if you don’t think that’s enough (and remember that I can only actually win half the prize haha).

Who’s in??? Let me know in the comments if you’re in or if I forgot to outline any important details.

#ASHAFit13 FAQ

This post is brought to you by the word:

elucidate [ih-loo-si-deyt] /ɪˈlu sɪˌdeɪt/

verb (used with object)

1. to make lucid or clear; throw light upon; explain.
_____________________________________________________________

Yesterday, we started the #ASHAFit13 challenge and I did a blog post introducing it, but (and bare with us here) we’re making this up on the spur of the moment and as we go along so I thought a clarification post was in order. I’m going to try to answer most of the questions we’ve been getting so that everyone can participate however they want.

troopers work out

What is #ASHAFit13?

It’s a fitness challenge 4 of us made up to help support each other in getting more fit using simple calisthenics. The plan is to start very small and challenge ourselves incrementally to build muscle slowly and steadily until one day you realize you can hold a 2 minute plank or do 100 pushups/lunges. So far we’ve thought through 2 phases (phase 1 is core and upper body, phase 2 is lower body and cardio-ish) and the goal is to get toned up in major areas by the 2013 ASHA convention in Chicago this November.

We may not all actually get to attend ASHA this year, but we needed something to shoot for and we’re S-LPs and Audiologists so it made sense. You don’t have to be an S-LP, Audiologist, or planning to attend ASHACon to join up on the challenge, though! We’ll also give you ways to change up your exercise to target slightly different muscles in the same exercise and keep it from getting boring.

How do I join?

Any way that’s easiest/most natural to you. We’ve got various social media platforms where you can get updates and interact with others doing the same (or close to the same) challenge to keep motivated and accountable. You do NOT have to be on Twitter or Facebook to participate in this challenge (see below for more ways to participate and keep updated).

stormtrooperTwitter: Arguably the biggest place for the community and the reason there’s a # in front of the name of the challenge (called a hashtag). Follow @ASHAFit13 to get reminders and know what’s on schedule for that day, then tweet that you’ve completed your ‘workout’ and include #ASHAFit13 in your tweet. You can then follow #ASHAFit13 (by saving the search and going to it regularly) to see what everyone else is sharing for the challenge.

Facebook: We have a page dedicated to our challenge and you can Like the page to get updates and information just like on Twitter. Be sure to ‘Like’ the page and then click ‘get notifications’ in the ‘Like’ drop down menu so you see updates – we promise not to post 100s of times a day.

mfpMyFitnessPal.com: We have a private community on this site for those who use myfitnesspal to track food, exercise, and so on. Because the group is private, you have to be invited to join. Please add your username in a comment on this page to be added to the group. From there, you can friend those who are in the group to see their notifications of exercises completed and encourage each other. The app for myfitnesspal is great, but you have to log into the online version to join the group.

How do I know what to do each day?

For phase 1 you will do planks one day, starting at 10 seconds and increasing by 2 seconds every time you do your plank. You’ll do pushups the next day, increasing by 2 pushups every time. It will look like this:

Jan 1: 10 second plank

Jan 2: 2 pushups

Jan 3: 12 second plank

Jan 4: 4 pushups

Jan 5: 14 second plank

I think you get the picture. It can get hard to keep track of where you were last so you can either check your own log, or watch @ASHAFit13 on Twitter and/or the Facebook page to know what you should be doing. Once we get to phase 2 (lunges and burpees – we’ll start really slowly again!) we’ll give you more details and you can continue to follow along. Phase 2 will happen in mid April.

How do I track my exercise/participation?

mfp shot

Adding a plank in myfitnesspal- make the number of reps be the number of seconds.

MyFitnessPal: You can track exercise (as well as food) with this site/app. The app and online site are set up to track strength training in reps – if you are doing a plank, just add plank as an exercise and then make it 1 set and however many seconds you held the plank as the reps (see picture). When you add strength training, it doesn’t show up in your newsfeed, but you can just add a note that you completed your ashafit13 exercise if you like. The calories you burn doing pushups, planks, and other strength training is fairly minimal so it isn’t really worth citing it under ‘cardio’, which does show up in your newsfeed, depending on your settings.

dailymileDailymile.com: If you don’t want to track your food intake or anything else like that, Dailymile.com is a great alternative to use to keep track of your exercise and many people doing the challenge are also members of Dailymile. It’s easy to link your dailymile updates to Twitter and Facebook too so you can track your exercise and add the #ASHAFit13 tag for it to post with tag to Twitter automatically if you want (see pictures).

 

dailymileenter

This entry into Dailymile.com ends up like this on twitter:

tweet

Twitter/Facebook: You can post your workouts to ‘check in’ if you don’t want to do any of the above.

Personal journal:   If you want to participate, but don’t want to share it via social media, just keep track of where you are with a journal of your own if you like. You can check in on Twitter and the Facebook page to know what to do and when if need be.

I’m not fit at all – can I really do this?

Yes!! This isn’t easy for us either. That’s exactly why we decided to do this challenge: to challenge OURSELVES, not anyone else. But we’re starting small and building slowly so it’s completely surmountable! If you saw me doing a burpee, you’d realize I’m no fitness guru – far from it. Everyone is in this together and there’s no need to compare yourself to others. Do what you can do (and what you know to be healthy or OK for you – with your Dr’s blessing) and that’s enough, but know that you are in this with others who are not athletes either.

dreadmill

Why are people tweeting more than just planks and pushups using the #ASHAFit13 hashtag?

This is the beauty of Twitter – no one can ‘own’ or ‘moderate’ a hashtag and exercise is something people really like to share in a community – for good reason. We’re only on day 2 of having created the hashtag and already others are using it to discuss and tweet other workouts. It’s great, and there’s evidence that it’ll help encourage you to keep going and possibly add more healthy lifestyle habits to your repertoire so don’t worry about other people tweeting different workouts. The idea is to have a community encouraging each other to make healthy choices – the planks and pushups part of our challenge is just one way of doing that!

You’ve already started so I’ve missed the boat, right?

Wrong. If you’re reading this for the first time on February 3rd, or even August 20th, you can still join us. Start with a 10 second plank, just like we did on January 1st, and build from there. You’ll just have to do a somewhat better job of keeping track for yourself. If you feel you can ‘catch up’, great. If not, just start where you can and begin adding little by litte.

Have you got more questions I didn’t answer? Please leave me a comment and I’ll answer your Qs below!

Mr. Reader winner!

mr reader

Just a quick post to let you know that the winner of the Mr. Reader app (generously donated by Sean Sweeney) is Denise Durbin – congrats Denise. Thanks to everyone for their comments and for reading – hopefully you found some new bloggers or got to know some old ones better :)