Teaching Sound Letter Correspondence and Consonant-Vowel-Consonant Combinations to Young Children who Use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (summary)

young children


For children who are at a pre-reading (emergent literacy) level phonological awareness and sound-letter knowledge are two of the strongest predictors of future reading ability. Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise that spoken words are made up of sequences of sounds, part of this is phonemic awareness; the understanding that words can be broken down into phonemes, the smallest sounds that make up words.

Children who use AAC are often found to have less advanced literacy skills than those who do not and teaching strategies need to be adapted to provide appropriate input, for example using means other than sounding out words aloud in reading and modifying the environment and prompts given to support learning.

What was the aim of the study?
The authors wanted to examine the effectiveness of an intervention strategy to teach sound-letter correspondence and the spelling of consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) combinations to young children who use AAC in a mainstream classroom by arranging the environment to create learning opportunities, providing adaptations to support the participation of AAC users and using specific instructional strategies.

What did the authors do?
The study involved two pre-school children who could point to target symbols from a choice of 8, responded to 75% of adult directions in the classroom and used fewer than ten intelligible words.

The children showed no knowledge of sound-letter correspondence and had not had any teaching related to this or spelling.

The study took place in the children's preschool classrooms during free-choice times. The researcher was based in a 'literacy' area with a selection of boards with 8 letters. Each of 36 boards had the same letters in a different layout.

To check pre-intervention knowledge three target letters were selected and the children were encouraged to 'Touch the letter that says ...' or 'Spell ...', a word made up of those three sounds. A different board was used for each trial.

The intervention took place in the same situation with the target child encouraged to ask others to join in the activity. The same instructions were used, but followed by the researcher modelling the correct response by pointing to the letters on the boards.

When the children began to demonstrate correct responses a time delay was introduced before the prompt to allow the children to respond first. Reward activities were given after correct responses.

Following success and a maintenance phase, generalisation activities were carried out using paper copies of upper and lower case keyboards for the sound-letter recognition tasks. The original boards were used for the spelling tasks in which CVC combinations that had not been taught, but used the same selection letter sounds were targeted.

What did they find?
Both children showed, and maintained, a significantly increased ability to match sounds to letters and to spell CVC words they had been taught and some to novel words too. However one participant showed no generalisation to the upper-case keyboard at all.

Preschool staff were found to have positive responses to the intervention and felt that the strategies could be used withinthe classroom for non-AAC users too. Most staff said they would be likely to continue using the strategies after the end of the study.

It is not possible to generalise the findings from only two participants more widely. Further investigations are needed to determine if a broader range of children would achieve the same results.

The use of specific teacher-child interventions with adaptations to response methods seems to be beneficial in teaching sound-letter correspondence and early spelling to children who use AAC.
It is important to be aware that many AAC devices use upper-case letters and knowledge of these might not be generalised from the lower-case forms more commonly used in preschool settings.

Things you may want to look into:

Simply a Speech Impairment? Literacy Challenges for Individuals with Severe Congenital Speech Impairments

A Developmental Continuum of Phonological Sensitivity Skills

Barriers to Participation in Kindergarten Literacy Instruction for a Student with Augmentative and Alternative Communication Needs

Initial insights into phoneme awareness intervention for children with complex communication needs

Reading and spelling in children with severe speech and physical impairments: a comparative study

The Effects of Phonological Awareness Instruction on Beginning Word Recognition and Spelling

Added to site July 2014