Building a System for Literacy

picture of a brain and how building systems of literacy would work

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 a 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 3 essential elements to include on your literacy checklist:

  1. Explicitly teach these concepts that explain how and why words are pronounced and spelled as they are, with a minimum of one 45-minute direct instruction lesson a week to be followed by daily review and practice. 
  • Explain each letter-sound, beginning with the speech sound and then connecting it with its letter symbol(s).  (For example,  the “m” sound is spelled -m-.)
  • Explain how to pronounce each speech sound. (For example, the vowel sounds in bet and bit are similar but must be differentiated for accurate reading and spelling.)
  • Explain how to write each lowercase letter with a movement pathway that is both distinctive and ergonomic. 
  • Explain the predictable patterns that govern pronunciation and spelling. (For example, there is a predictable pattern that explains why -a- is pronounced “ah” in mat and matter, “ay” in bake and acorn, “uh” in across and alike, and “aw” in all and water.)
  • Explain the three meaningful parts of English words, prefixes, bases, and suffixes, and how they operate. (For example, the word subtracting is made up of three meaning parts: sub + tract + ing.)
  • Explain suffix spelling patterns such as the Doubling Pattern (as in batted: bat + ed = batted), and the Dropping Pattern (as in dining: dine + ing = dining).

2. REVIEW & PRACTICE every concept for both reading and spelling with enough intensity and consistency for the student to achieve mastery. (For most struggling readers and spellers that means daily, with a minimum of 15 minutes a day, 4 days a week.) 

  • Provide practice reading and spelling words with concepts previously introduced (i.e., only the sight words and words with letter-sounds, word parts, and suffix spelling patterns previously introduced).
  • Provide practice reading and comprehending phrases and sentences made up of words with concepts previously introduced, creating in the mind’s eye an accurate and vivid mental image.
  • Provide practice writing sentences made up of words with concepts previously introduced, integrating legible handwriting and accurate spelling and use of sentence conventions. 

3. MONITOR PROGRESS reading and spelling accuracy of each concept so that instruction can be adjusted, assuring that students do not move on to more advanced concepts and skills until they have mastered the foundational concepts and skills.

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.