In my years of performing assessments and providing therapy to students with speech-language disorders the knowledge gleaned has been reflexively instructive. I thank my students for expanding my knowledge base as they developed speech and language skills, subsequently applying them to literacy. Of particular import were those children who had resolved their speech-language issues and who were dismissed from therapy by first grade. However, some returned by the 3rd grade with issues in phonology impacting significantly on to the process of learning to read.
An analysis of their errors in spelling and reading was informative. There were discernable short vowel error patterns that prevented them from progressing beyond the reading of monosyllabic words. Inasmuch as the short vowel is the nucleus of every syllable, their inaccuracies hobbled their fluent, accurate decoding. While these children knew the rules of reading, many had inaccurate auditory representations and their speech production of these vowels was inaccurate as well.
A systematic analysis of short vowel error patterns provided a template for specificity in planning intervention. Unlike the outcome of typical reading evaluations, this molecular form of short vowel phoneme analysis identified error patterns resulted in a more focused and time-efficient intervention framework.
The test has been applied to thousands of 3rd grade students in the Plainview Old-Bethpage Central School District on Long Island, NY. Beginning in 2011, this project has been utilized by Mineola Union Free School District, a district with a high number of students coming from bilingual homes primarily speaking Spanish or Portuguese languages. While the less culturally diverse student population in the 3rd grade in Plainview could easily take the test, a very different outcome occurred in Mineola UFSD. The lower socio-economic level, culturally diverse students had greater difficulty approximating accurate short vowel proficiency. The sound matching of short vowels in English differed from other language vowel systems.
Remedial techniques included having the students listen to vowels and identify them correctly on a dry white board. Subsequently they would write non-words with the vowels and cross teaching to one another. It is vital, for students to not only identify the short vowel from an auditory skill set but also to say it aloud and then mark the vowel or write a word. This process closes the auditory-articulatory loop. Additionally, it enhances memory for phonemes and select graphemes.
This has been a very productive and exciting ongoing project that is changing children’s lives. It is enlightening to observe a new ESL group of short-vowel-challenged students trying to target correct short vowels. They initially are not hearing it accurately because the American English short vowels are not in their first language lexicon. These students are struggling for survival. Four months later, these same students are not only accurately selecting the correct vowel, applying it to novel words but are reading with relative fluency.