This is a guest blog post, written by Kelly Hoover. Kelly Hoover is an educational therapist and professional development director for Ascend SMARTER Intervention, a structured literacy curriculum designed to close the gap for struggling or dyslexic readers.
Did you know that our brains are not wired to read!? There are specific areas of the brain that control speech and motor planning, but there is no specific area that is designed for reading. Instead, three key processors must work together, at an insanely fast pace, in order to make this complex task of reading happen.
The brain must recognize visual form of the word (the Orthographic processor), hear the sounds of the word (the Phonological processor), and associate meaning to that word (the Semantics processor). This neural connection between the three processors must happen in less than half of a second in order to read efficiently. A breakdown in any one of these areas, can impact a student’s ability to read successfully.
To better understand this neural pathway that leads to reading, take a look at the Literacy Processing Triangle.
Students who struggle with reading, have difficulty because of a breakdown in one or more of these areas. They may have difficulties with phonology (understanding the sound structure of language), orthography (understanding the visual structure of language), or semantics (understanding the meaning structure of the language).
In order to deliver intervention that is truly targeted and individualized, we must understand where in this neural process, or where on the Literacy Processing Triangle, our student is breaking down. Once we know this, we can target those breakdowns by providing the right type of intervention support.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH AREA TO TARGET IN MY INTERVENTION?
If you are working with a struggling reader, use the Literacy Processing Triangle to help you map their neural process and determine where their breakdown(s) are occurring.
Orthography Clues: The Sound Drill is a great tool to support the Orthographic Processor. Since this is a part of your daily, structured literacy lesson already, you can gather some great insight here. If your student struggles to correctly identify letters in the sound drill, they likely have weak orthographic processing. If your student has been through the special education testing process, they have likely had a RAN (Rapid Automatic Naming) test. This test will shed light on how quickly and correctly they can identify letters and numbers. Again, difficulty on this test indicates a breakdown in the orthographic processor. Orthographic processing is necessary to see and recognize letters and rapidly understand what the symbol represents. This ability is crucial to reading and spelling.
Phonology Clues: Phonemic Awareness activities are a hallmark to a structured literacy lesson. These activities also help us hone in on students who may have challenges in this area, or a breakdown in their Phonological processor. Phonemic Awareness refers to hearing the sounds letters and words make. Activities like Phoneme Deletion (“Say cup without the /k/ sound.”) and Phoneme Isolation activities (“What is the last sound in mop?”) provide insight to a student’s grasp of Phonemic Awareness. If a student is struggling with your daily Auditory Drill, they are impacted in this area. Difficulty here means the student does not automatically understand how words break down into their smallest units (sounds).
Semantics Clues: When a student struggles to make meaning of what they have read, they are likely breaking down in the area of Semantics and Syntax. Some clues are when students have a difficult time determining if a word is a real word or a nonsense word or when a student can successfully decode a sentence or passage, but cannot tell you what it was about or recall important details. Click here for information about a fast way to assess a student’s semantic abilities.
I’VE DETERMINED WHERE THEY ARE BREAKING DOWN. NOW WHAT DO I DO ABOUT IT?
The first and most important step to solid, effective intervention is determining precisely where the student is breaking down. Now, you can use that information to prescribe targeted activities that are aimed at strengthening that processor, and strengthening the overall neural pathway for that student as they work on reading.
Orthography: In order to help your student develop skills in understanding the print structure of language, you will want to focus on activities that include letter recognition.
-The Sound Drill: If you aren’t already doing a daily Sound Drill with your students, this is a great place to begin. For more information on the importance of the Sound Drill, read here: What is the Purpose of the Sound Drill?
-Create tactile experiences for letter recognition. Have students trace letters using sandpaper or glitter paper while saying the name of the letter and the corresponding sound.
-Letter matching games can be helpful or make your own by using two sets of letter cards, letter tiles, or magnetic letters. Have students work on matching the letters from each set or pairing the letters while naming them.
-Make a game out of letter recognition. Click here to grab a free copy of our B, D, P, Q Letter Game.
Phonology: Strengthening the sound structure of language is best done through Phonemic Awareness activities. Refer to the hierarchy of Phonemic Awareness skills as you introduce these activities as there is a range of simple to complex that will be important to adhere to.
-Rhyme Discrimination: Orally present the student with two words and ask them to determine of the words Rhyme or Don’t Rhyme. You may need to exaggerate the ending or rhyme part of the word in order to help them hear the rhyme. “Pig and Wig. Do these words rhyme?” “Wig and Log. Do these words rhyme?” If you are wondering what to do if your student can’t hear the rhyme, click here.
-Phoneme Isolation: These drills focus on identifying or isolating one sound. “What is the first sound in cup?” “What is the middle sound in bean?” “What is the last sound in laugh?”
-Phoneme Deletion: Drills that ask the student to remove or delete a sound from a word can be tricky, so start with small, recognizable word parts and then move to individual phonemes. “Say popcorn. Now say popcorn without the ‘pop’.” “Say spider. Now say spider without the ‘der’.” “Say farm without the /f/.” “Say sling without the /l/.”
For more ideas in this area, read Phonemic Awareness & Phoneme Segmenting for Older Students and A Fun Way to Support Phonological Awareness at Home
Semantics: To reinforce Semantics, help students think about the meaning of words and/or sentences.
-Younger students can determine of words on a word list are real or nonsense words.
-Have students sort words from a word list into parts of speech such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
-Integrate the study of morphology into this work for older students. Understanding the meaning of common prefixes and suffixes will help them better determine the meaning of unknown words.
For more fun and easy ways to support the 3 bases of the Literacy Processing Triangle, check out the blog post How Do I Pick Relevant Activities for my Reading Intervention Students?
The Literacy Processing Triangle is a great tool to help you pinpoint areas of weakness in your students’ acquisition of literacy skills, and to help develop individualized intervention activities to support these specific areas of breakdown.
You can also use the Literacy Processing Triangle to help parents or teachers better understand their student’s reading profile, and the areas you are targeting.
If you have decided that you love the Literacy Processing Triangle as much as we do, and you want to read more about how to use it in your intervention setting, check out this article for more great reading: How to Target Your Intervention to Get the Best Results