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Helping children break the literacy code

How do children absorb the intricacies of reading and writing? How do they mentally link sounds and the alphabet? How do they break the spelling code?

Children with normal speech ability acquire a sense of the phonological system with ease—they absorb it through speech games, nursery rhymes and jingles. Children with speech impediments find it more difficult. They must learn to associate sounds which they are unable to articulate with letters or letter combinations.

"Phonological awareness, or the ability to mentally combine bits of the sound puzzle, is essential for the child's reading and writing abilities," explains Janna Ferreira, speech therapist and postgrad researcher in disabilities.

She has studied how children with various kinds of functional disabilities can train their reading and writing skills. On November 9, she will publicly defend her thesis.

Janna Ferreira has developed a training program for children with reading and writing difficulties, and taken an prominent part herself in its application.

"An often-used strategy is to train the child in areas it already masters with the intention of compensating other shortfalls," she explains. But I have concluded that it is better to concentrate on those areas that most need improvement. It is better to complement skills, than to compensate shortfalls.

Janna Ferreira has also studied ways of training children with no or limited speech abilities.

"I encounter many children who apply alternative methods of communication—Bliss, for instance—which is advanced symbolic language. Intelligence is not the problem for these children, but acquiring an ability to read and write.

She continues, "Phonological awareness is not enough. Training in orthography is a key, the child must learn to visually recognize a word or parts of it, learn to use their sense of sight."

Her many training studies show that a child impaired by this type of disability can and should train many strategies to learn to read and write. Training leads to progress. This is true also for children who lack speech ability.

"Though speech plays a major role in the task of learning to read, other factors are also significant," Janna Ferreira concludes.


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Last updated: 2009-06-03