Building a System for Literacy

In a recent post, we discussed the value of using systems to achieve goals. In our last post, we talked about the importance of using a speech-to-print approach when teaching children to read. In this post we’d like to tie those two ideas together and examine a little more closely the systems that support a speech-to-print literacy approach.

So, what is a system?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines system as, “A set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.” (System has several meanings, but this is the one that applies here.)

We’re surrounded by systems, even if we don’t think of them in those terms. A recipe is a system. Operating instructions are systems. Education itself is a system.

In its simplest form, a list is a system. In Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Dr. Atul Gawande compellingly demonstrates how a simple checklist can reduce catastrophic errors in complex tasks, from performing surgery to flying an airplane.

So, can we use a checklist as a system to support a speech-to-print literacy approach? At Lexercise, we think the answer is Yes. Of course, for a science-supported, best-practice, speech-to-print approach, the list is not random. What is included on the checklist matters a great deal.

Here are some of the essential elements included on our checklist.

The system:

    • provides explicit instruction about the speech sounds of English and explains how each speech sound can be spelled
    • starts with listening to sounds in spoken words, without letters
    • assures that the student’s pronunciation of each speech sound is distinct (for example, the vowel sounds in bat, bet, bit, bot, but need to be pronounced distinctively)
    • provides adequate practice for fluency at every level: letter-sound association, word decoding, spelling, and reading and writing sentences and passages
    • explains the patterns that govern spelling and pronunciation (for example, why is -a- pronounced with a short -a- sound in bat but a long -a- sound in bake and acorn?)
    • provides explicit instruction and practice with meaningful word elements, not just letter-sounds (for example, students need to be able to identify base words and prefixes and suffixes)
    • provides explicit instruction and practice with suffix spelling patterns, such as the Doubling Pattern, as in: bat + ing = batting
    • provides direct and explicit instruction for each concept followed by adequate practice focused on that concept such as phonics, syllable patterns, and other word elements; adequate practice is daily or at least four days a week, with hundreds of response opportunities
    • provides progress monitoring so that students do not move on to new concepts and skills until they have mastered the previously taught concepts and skills
    • provides instruction and practice at the sub-word level (with sounds, letters and word parts), the single word level (for reading and spelling), and the phrase, sentence, and discourse levels (for reading and writing), including use of sentence and paragraph conventions
    • provides opportunities for reading aloud, focusing on pronunciation and expression
    • provides instruction and practice linking listening comprehension and use of the mind’s eye to reading comprehension

If that sounds like a recipe you’d never make because it has too many ingredients, don’t be put off. In building the Lexercise system over the last 11 years, we have marshaled technology to provide these and other validated instructional elements and deliver an integrated system that checks all the boxes.

Every day, students (at home and in the classroom) are using the orderly, explicit, user-friendly Lexercise system to improve their reading, writing, and comprehension, and to advance their grade-level achievement. To learn more, explore the Lexercise website or schedule a free 15-minute phone conversation with a Lexercise therapist.


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Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC

MA/CCC - Cofounder and CKO

Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.