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.
My colleagues, Rebecca Kooper, Au.D., and Roy F. Sullivan, Ph.D., encouraged me to develop a criterion-referenced test, The Phonological-Orthographic Substitution Evaluation (P-O-S-E ©), to identify and categorize these short vowel error patterns which could be utilized in correction strategies by clinicians and teachers. In 2004, we commenced a 10 year endeavor to develop a test format and specific test items. Initially, we applied the prototype test to students in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades. We determined that students in the 3rd grade had sufficient awareness of short vowels in reading and spelling with requisite and fine motor skills needed to quickly write the dictated spelling words. At a later date, the Common Core State Standards, found that short vowel proficiency in monosyllabic words should be completed by the beginning of 3rd grade.
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.
The P-O-S-E © was administered to all 3rd grade students. Analysis of the outcomes gave direction to the course of remediation. The success of the P-O-S-E© project in Mineola School District can be observed on charts displayed within this website. The third grade in Mineola UFSD, obtained the highest NYS, ELA scores in the district, and the highest for the grade level in the history of the district.
Intervention was distributed broadly among many specialists. Classroom teachers, resource room, special educators, speech-language pathologists, reading teachers and ESL teachers all incorporated the P-O-S-E© intervention techniques into their typical teaching plans. The short vowel auditory training was simple, low cost, performed redundantly throughout the student’s day. Specificity of the P-O-S-E © report data, allowed teachers to narrowly focus their efforts, targeting the vowels in error.
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.
Now, the task of teaching them vocabulary and hence comprehension can be conducted more readily without the anchor of misheard and miscategorized short vowels. We have found that optimal results are obtained with a coordinated multidisciplinary remedial approach, guided by P-O-S-E © short vowel error patterns.