Multi-sensory language programme

Summary

The diagnosis of a learner as a dyslexic does not only affect the individual itself but also the environment surrounding him/her. The school environment has an important role since is the place where the student will be evaluated in terms of knowledge. Therefore the classrooms setting has to be re-modified in order to introduce the pupil into a new learning context. In order to achieve the best possible learning outcome the teachers have to change their teaching approach regarding to the abilities of their student. This has lead to the development of a number of teaching approaches. Some of them remain dominant until nowadays. One of the greatest principles underpinning most of these programmes is the multisensory element. Thus and the TRTS method proposed here, is a multisensory programme based on important principles. The idea underpinning this approach is that spelling is basic for reading, thus teaching reading through spelling seems more beneficial than the transfer of knowledge from reading to spelling. However studies have showed that there seem to be some conflicting ideas concerning the reading-spelling relations since some researchers believe that reading and spelling integrate and some others that are two different mechanisms. Finally, the underlying idea for all these approaches is that teachers should select an approach based on their students personal needs, strengths, weaknesses and learning preferences.

Educators have to consider a variety of factors when a student is diagnosed with learning difficulties. Their teaching approach has to be re-modified or completely changed on the basis of the learners needs and learning styles. The new programme selected has to be related with the learner itself and not with his/her disorder (Reid, 2003). Although teachers might find some programmes interesting due to their impressive reputation, they still have to remain focused on programmes that could best fit their learners profile (Reid, 2003).

According to Reid (2003), the major factors which need to be considered in order to conclude to an effective teaching approach for a dyslexic learner are the context, the assessment and curriculum and the learner itself.

Primarily, the context refers to the school environment and specifically to the "classroom, the teaching methods and the type of provision" (Reid, 2003,p.150). A dyslexic can be part of "one to one tuition, withdrawal or within - class support" (Reid, 2003, p.150) something indicating that not all the dyslexics learn in the same way, neither do everyone need the same amount of support. Therefore, a teacher needs to be familiarized with the number of teaching approaches that could be applied in different contexts.

In addition, the assessment and curriculum are important for determining the best teaching programme since the results of an assessment could give an overview concerning the "strengths, weaknesses, the preferable learning styles, the self concept and the inter motivation"(Reid, 2003,p.150) of a learner. Therefore, this information could give the necessary feedback to the educators in order to search for a programme that best fits these characteristics.

Also, the learner is probably the most important factor since it is the one which involves the individual itself. The teacher must have the ability to recognise the learning styles which an individual prefers, in order to keep the learners interest vivid through the learning process (Reid, 2003).

Furthermore Reid (2003), importantly pointed out that a teaching programme cannot be as effective as it could be, unless teachers gain knowledge around the strategies that could be used. The educators awareness of these strategies would enable them to "evaluate the learning process, the effectiveness of the programme and also to reinforce the programme"(Reid, 2003, p.151).

Moreover Townend (2000), suggested some principles that a teaching programme for dyslexics should include. Because of the severe impairments the dyslexics display, a "structured" programme with "small logical steps which are linked explicitly" (p.152), is probably a good starting point for the development and selection of a teaching approach.

Also, the programme has to "keep the learner active and interactive" (Townend, 2000,p.152) in order to make the learning enjoyable and efficient. Therefore, the multisensory element which enables all the senses, the visual, the auditory, the kinaesthetic and tactile has a crucial role.

In addition, in order to "access the words or skills automatically" (Townend, 2000, p.152) dyslexics have to develop automaticity, therefore reinforcement has an important role since through this process new information are "practised, learned and kept in long term memory" (p.152). The principle of Skill Teaching indicates that the main job of a teacher is not only to provide information but also to "transfer and access useful skills" (p.152). Finally, the Meta-cognitive Aspects principle works as the bridge between the "knowledge, the understanding and the skills" (p.152) of an individual. Hence, it enables the dyslexics to question themselves about how they have reached to a particular conclusion (Townend, 2000).

Being based on similar principles a number of programmes have been developed over the years in order to deal with all these issues emerging during a diagnosis. These programmes were divided into four main categories according to their underpinning principles.

The Individualised Programmes are identified by the fact that are usually "highly structured and free standing"(Reid, 2003,p.154). The Support approaches and strategies share the same principles as the individualised programmes, although these are more flexible programmes, hence enable the teacher to include them to the already existent activities (Reid, 2003). Also, the Assisted learning techniques is a combination of methods which are mainly focused on the participation and the idea of learning from others. Finally the Whole-school Approaches consider dyslexia as a general concern of the school rather than of teachers, therefore the "policy for consultancy, the whole-school screening and the monitoring of learners progress"(Reid, 2003, p.154) are the approaches which this method utilises.

Teaching Reading Through Spelling (TRTS) is an approach developed by the Kingston Reading Centre (Cowdery et al., 1984-88), on the basis of individualised programmes. This programme provides a "detailed and comprehensive analysis of the diagnosis of learning difficulties and also some remediation programmes"(Reid, 2003,p.169). It is based on the Orton-Gillingham programme, as a number of other individualised teaching approaches. It is a "structured, cumulative and phonically based programme"(Reid, 2003,p.169) as it follows the principles of the British Dyslexia Association. Also, the TRTS is a psycholinguistic programme since it "emphasises on articulation and speech training" beyond the phonic knowledge (Reid, 2003,p.169). It is also, unit structured with a variety of activities presented in every unit. Each unit is based on suggestions applied in special situations (e.g. pre-writing training programme).

The TRTS programme importantly points out that before the learning of the reading and spelling patterns, the knowledge of the alphabet is of crucial importance since it enables the student to use all the letters contained in the alphabet during an "orthographic writing procedure"(Cowdery,1984, p.7) and also to learn the names and sounds of letters which will be the basis of reading and spelling.

As far as it concerns reading, the alphabet gives the opportunity to the learner to recognize the "initial sound of a word" (Cowdery, 1984, p.7) and therefore proceed to some word guessing. Also, during "free writing" the student will have the ability to make spelling assumptions and write down words as if they were "phonically regular" (Cowdery, 1984, p.7). Particularly Treiman (1998), reported that a child's knowledge of the alphabet might be clearer in spelling than in reading since spellings are more "concrete and permanent" (p.21).

The learning of the alphabet progresses into two stages according to this approach. During the first step the pupil develops abilities in naming and sequencing. At this stage a diagnosis will reveal the impairment the learner displays and will enable the teacher to act respectively by giving to the student a starting point as in, by beginning the remediation process from the letter of the alphabet which the learner has difficulties with (Cowdery, 1984). It is important here that the educator will give the opportunity to the pupil to place down all the letters s/he already knows into sequence (Cowdery, 1984). This will give to the child some self confidence and also is a good starting point in the relationship developed with the teacher as well, since the learner will feel that s/he makes good impression and that s/he is not completely incompetent.

During this process the pupils are evaluated only in terms of naming and sequencing, therefore they have to name and not sound each letter. This programme also suggests that the learner should "see, feel and note the letters structure"(p.7) in order to describe it "verbally and visually"(Cowdery, 1984, p.7). This will give the opportunity to the child, to begin making connections between the structure and the sound of a letter. Additionally, the educator might ask the learner while moving the letters away to continue naming them (Cowdery, 1984). This is one of the many examples of repetition of this programme, which is considered important for the development of automaticity, which is one of the main goals of this approach. Therefore the child develops the ability to name, understand the shape and the relationship of a letter with all the others by using the verbal, the kinaesthetic and the visual ability (Cowdery, 1984). These are considered main elements of a multisensory programme as the TRTS is.

The next lesson commences by asking the student to name all the letters s/he has already learned through previous lessons. If the child makes any mistakes to the already thought acknowledged letters then the educator has to return to the previous learning patterns until all of the letters are fully learned (Cowdery, 1984). The TRTS importantly points out that some children might not seem benefited by this process for a long period of time, although this should not worry the educators (Cowdery, 1984). This is of great importance since the educators need to understand that learners learn in different ways and through different periods of time, therefore they should not be discouraged. Also, even if there is no progress, the TRTS approach suggests some other techniques in order to establish the sound-name relation (Cowdery, 1984).

At this stage, the programme suggests some activities which usually have the figure of a game, hence it enables the students to be part of an enjoyable process, which they might already be familiar with, such as "Alphabet Codes" (Cowdery, 1984, p.19). Here, the pupil is asked to write down the alphabet codes, meaning that for the letter A the alphabet code would be number 1, therefore which is the number that represents the letter E in the alphabet? During this process the child learns to place the letters and the numbers in a sequence. However, this procedure could be considered difficult since is a process which demands memorization which is one of the greater difficulties dyslexics confront and also it implies constantly repetition in order to reach a favourable stage.

The second step of the alphabet knowledge is the Four Quartiles-Basic Dictionary Work (Cowdery, 1984).The idea surrounding this part is that since a pupil has learned the alphabet, is time to benefit from it. Hence the authors considered as the best way, the dictionary work where all the letters are set into sequence and each letter has its own word 'treasure'.

During this stage the learners learn to use the dictionary efficiently in order to follow the instructions of the teacher and target the letters they are told to, in a limited number of moves (Cowdery, 1984). A method used by the TRTS in order to help the students memorize the quartiles and which letters each one includes, is by giving to the pupil the first letter of each quartile (Cowdery, 1984). Therefore, the student knows where each quartile finishes and by which letter the other one begins.

A number of activities are presented at this stage as well, such as "alphabet dominoes" (Cowdery, 1984, p.10). These activities are based on well known games something of great importance towards the rationale underpinning the TRTS approach since this familiar games could help avoid any symptoms of dullness on behalf of the learner. During the "alphabet dominoes" (Cowdery, 1984, p.10) a number of wooden letters is divided to the number of children participating. The child with the M places his letter in the middle and the others build forward and backwards the letters of the alphabet. The child who first places all his letters down is the winner. This is a game where the pupils are given the opportunity to work in small groups. During this game a learner has the opportunity to learn from his fellow players. However, this interaction and the fact that only one of the players is at the end the winner could cause some emotions of low self esteem to the other learners.

After the fully acknowledge of the alphabet the TRTS approach proceeds using a variety of strategies to the development of reading and spelling abilities. Basic element of this procedure is the development of a "secure relationship between the sound and symbol" (Prince, 1984, p.23) through multisensory elements.

This process is developed in small secure steps (e.g. single letters, consonant blends) in order to establish the best possible learning outcome. All the procedures are based on "multisensory methods and constant over learning"(Prince, 1984, p.23) in order to introduce to the learners the meaning of automaticity. All the sounds are introduced to the pupils using the visual, the auditory and the kinaesthetic senses in order to establish a "three way set of association" (Prince, 1984, p.23) in the memory. At this stage the authors give greater emphasis to the multisensory way of learning since this way enables the student to use all the senses during reading and spelling activities (Prince, 1984). Therefore the shape, the sound and the structure of a letter would be associated in memory and hence would allow the student to make the appropriate connections in order to read, spell or write as automatically as possible (Prince, 1984).

Each student has a Reading Pack which enables him/her to constantly repeat the letters learned and the teacher to review any progress made and re-teach any unlearned letters (Prince, 1984). This pack includes cards which are used by the teacher in order to monitor the success made in reading. In the front of the cards a letter is printed. During this process the pupil can see only the front of this card and must say the keywords and sounds of letters presented on the back of the card (Prince, 1984). Research has showed that reading isolated words is more effective than reading from a meaningful text as a way towards the development of spelling abilities (Treiman,1998), therefore the approach proposed here by the TRTS programme underlies some of its efficacy. On the back of the card the child has the opportunity to draw a picture related with the keyword in order to gain "visual reinforcement" (Prince, 1984, p.25). This is a great aid to a child with reading and spelling impairments who is also a good painter since is a technique useful for attaining information in memory (Prince, 1984) and also as a way of enhancing self esteem. It is also useful for the teacher since is a method which enables him/her to understand whether the child is familiarised with the keyword introduced.

The Spelling Pack works in a similar way as the Reading Pack although the former is being used to enable the student to respond to "auditory stimuli" (Prince, 1984, p.28) since the teacher introduces the sound of a letter aloud, and also to make the appropriate sound - symbol relations. The authors pointed out that the Spelling Pack is the "key of this programme" (Prince, 1984, p.28). The multisensory way of teaching is considered significant and during this process of spelling acquisition. "The child listens to a sound, repeats the sound heard and finally links the shape of the letter while writing it down, therefore succeeds an association between the kinaesthetic, the auditory and the visual sense" (Prince, 1984, p.28). The concept is quite the same as in the reading pack with the use of printed cards. At the front a letter is presented and on the back there is the same letter with its sound. The learner has to repeat the sound made by the teacher, name the letters that make that sound and write them in a book (Prince, 1984). During this process the teacher keeps record of the students answers in order to monitor the process. The importance in this part of learning is the fact that the student has to read what his has written and therefore could realize any possible mistakes made and correct them (Prince, 1984). Moreover, is a further step towards the development of the writing ability since the learners are often asked to trace over an already written letter for several times, in order to develop a visual image of its sound, repeat the letter indicated by the teacher and produce the letter on their owns (Prince, 1984).

The TRTS programme also suggests a Handwriting programme for students who haven't developed a well writing style. This multisensory technique focuses on the development of the "symbol-sound relations, on the efficient learning of the left to right movement and on the processes of a student to complete words without lifting the pen from the paper" (Morse, 1984,p.37). Also, suggests a "motor training programme for students with motor difficulties, emphasises on the speed of processing and finally helps students relate a spoken word with its written form for the first time" (Morse, 1984,p.37). In addition the TRTS also proposes strategies for the development of pre-writing skills for pupils with gross motor problems (Morse, 1984). These strategies are useful only for teachers who have to adjust their teaching to learners with motor and spatial difficulties. However, the fact that these sections are included in the TRTS approach is important since it gives the opportunity to the teacher to be prepared in case they confront similar situations.

A number of the ideas underpinning this approach have been examined over the years by other researchers. According to Frith (1980), the reading abilities of a child could be eventually improved even though its performance in a spelling test could be low, whereas if the spelling score was high this would automatically imply high reading abilities as well. Also, studies showed that dyslexic children with impairments in reading and spelling demonstrate a "persistence" only in their spelling problems (Frith, 1984, 1985; Nicolson and Fawcett, 1994; Thomson, 1984). All these findings have lead researchers to examine the actual relation between reading and spelling and therefore a number of debates were presented over the years whether reading benefits spelling or the opposite.

Some researchers influenced by the results emerging from spelling and reading tests, claimed that there seems to be an integration concerning which skill benefits the other (Malmquist, 1958 in Frith, 1980). These supporters emphasised the basic elements that co-exist in both skills. Moreover Ehri (1997, 2005) and Perfetti (1997), reported that reading and spelling share some "mental representations and knowledge sources" (p.870) hence what is learned assist both skills. Also Read (1981), clearly pointed out that spelling and reading need to be considered as symmetrical since often we can see examples of children writing their own stories with their own spelling creations which are able to read (see also Treiman,1993). Based on the same idea are the founding's from Ehri and Snowling (2004), which reported that the ability of a learner to read words automatically is based on s/he's abilities to respond to symbol-sound relations, therefore to spell. Moreover, Ehri (2000) supported that spelling and reading mostly "relies on the same underlying knowledge" (p.12) although a carefully designed instruction plan for spelling could benefit reading.

At the contrary other theorists (Bryant and Bradley, 1980; Frith and Frith,1980;) firmly supported that spelling and reading are actually separate mechanisms. Specifically, the TRTS approach reported that reading is considered a "recognition skill" therefore it is improved in a relatively short period of time than spelling which is a "recall skill" (Cowdery et al.,1984, p.2). Also Frith (1979), suggested that "reading occurs by eye and spelling by ear" (p.2), therefore spelling is a result of phonologically processing, whereas reading is not. Also, spelling could not be considered as a natural and automatic result of reading since needs to be taught in order to be recalled (Treiman,1998). Furthermore, children who are good readers are not always good spellers (Frith, 1980; Bruck and Waters, 1990). Also, studies showed that spelling seems to benefit reading, phonology and orthography as well. (Treiman,1998).

Furthermore, a study contacted by the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000) a few years ago, surprisingly excluded spelling from the list of necessary elements towards a comprehensive reading lesson since the authors reported that the development of the phonological awareness could benefit spelling in young children whereas phonic instructions improves spelling for primary students (Moats, 2005/06). Therefore, the Panel concluded that spelling instruction could only benefit learners only if it is related with the reading instruction.

In addition, the TRTS as a phonically based programme it gives emphasis to the spelling ability since studies (Read, 1971;1981;1986;) firmly suggested that phonology is the basis in which new spellers rely on in order to spell correctly. Also, theories of the spelling acquisition emphasised on the crucial role of phonology (Frith, 1980, 1985; Henderson and Beers, 1980; Marsh, Friedman, Welch, and Desberg, 1980; Read, 1986; Snowling, 1994). Specifically the Model of the Acquisition of Literacy proposed by Frith (1985) firmly suggested that there are three phases from which a child passes through -the "logographic", the "alphabetic" and the "orthographic" phase.

During the logographic phase children only recognize some words but are unable to decode any unknown ones due to lack of lexicon (Stackhouse and Wells, 1997). In terms of spelling the learners might have developed some techniques in order to recognize familiar words but the sound-symbol relation is not developed yet, therefore the spelling is not-phonemic (Stackhouse and Wells, 1997).

The alphabetic phase is closely linked with the spelling ability. The child can progress at this stage, when s/he has developed the ability to recognize the relations between the grapheme- phoneme correspondence. Hence, spelling becomes more phonetic since the child can recognise a word even if the spelling outcome is not correct something indicating towards the development of the phonological awareness (Stackhouse and Wells, 1997) a very crucial factor for the development of reading and spelling. The actual reason why the development of spelling implies the participation of phonology is based according to empirical evidence to the fact that phonological awareness and spelling are extremely related (van Bon and Duighuisen, 1995; Bruck and Treiman,1990; Duighuisen and van Bon, 1992;Hollligan and Johnston, 1991; Lundberg, Frost and Peterson, 1988; Marcel, 1980; Stuart and Masterson, 1992; uit de Haag, 1994) and secondly due to the fact that spelling errors are usually phonetically correct (Bosman and Van Orden, 1997). Hence, a large number of children use the alphabetic strategy in spelling than in reading since spelling does not implies huge amounts of memory demands (Treiman,1998). It is worth mentioning here that at this stage dyslexic learners demonstrate greater difficulties, since they find problems understanding the sound -symbol connections.

At the Orthographic phase, a connection between the abilities gained in the two previous phases is achieved. It is the stage where the child can make analogies with known words and identify the "rules" applied for reading and spelling (Stackhouse and Wells,1997).

Furthermore, studies showed that learners might confront greater difficulties learning some languages than others. For example English, might seem irregular since each sound might have different spellings however each word is spelled according to its phoneme and morpheme (Moats, 2005/06). Furthermore, Greek is a language with a very transparent orthography and hence the important for a young Greek learner is to focus on the grapheme-phoneme relations since any orthographic rhyming sequence would not lead to the development of any representation (Goswami, 1997). Hence the TRTS as a phonically approach would benefit a young Greek learner since it gives emphasis on the development of the grapheme-phoneme relations.

To sum up, the actual relation concerning both spelling and reading has lead to a number of debates whether are two separate mechanisms or if are compatible skills. Some researchers such as Bosman and van Orden (1997) supported that both skills rely on phonology and that each skill depends on the other, although spelling is not benefited by reading. Furthermore, spelling seems to benefit learners in a cognitive level since they learn to break down words into its sounds and to achieve sound-symbol connections (Treiman,1998). At the contrary some studies showed that the learning goes both ways although studies contacted by Conrad (2008) supported that the "transfer from spelling to reading was greater than from reading to spelling" (p.876) and also that a supportive spelling instruction in young children could promote their reading skills.

Phonic programmes as the TRTS, highlight the spelling ability as it is considered significant for the development of phonic skills through the segmentation of the words and the sound-symbol correlations developed (Treiman,1998). The TRTS approach is based on a number of important principles, which can make the teaching instruction as effective and sufficient as possible. However, as most of the programmes proposed over the years, this approach has some advantages and some disadvantages. For example, the fact that is a multisensory programme which enables the perceptual skills of a learner to be evaluated is of great importance. Also, regarding the impairment dyslexics seem to display with memorization, the authors emphasised on the repetition, a significant element towards the learning acquisition. Also, is a programme with a number of activities and proposed games which enable the teacher to adjust the programme according to the pupils learning profile. Moreover, regarding how reading, spelling and writing somehow integrate, the authors suggested a fulfilled approach towards all these skills in order to give the opportunity and the correct guidance to the teachers to act according to their students profile.

However, the programme demonstrates some limitations as well. Although it is useful that the method commences with the teaching of the alphabet since the alphabet is considered an important sub-skill towards spelling, however one would consider this method adjustable only to younger learners. Hence, is this programme applicable to older learners with similar learning problems? Also, what happens if a child does not seem to benefit from this programme? Even though the programme suggests that teachers should not to be discouraged if a child does not seem benefited from the programme, for how long the teacher must retain to the same inefficient approach? These are some issues that need to be considered by the educators in order to conclude to the best possible teaching approach.

Finally, although there seems to be a number of teaching methods proposed over the years, an educator must consider a number of factors before s/he conclude to a specific teaching method. The TRTS approach proposed here, seems to be an efficient way of teaching focusing especially on spelling, as the skill which will enable the student to adjust the rules and knowledge developed, into other skills. As most of the teaching approaches, thus and the TRTS seems to have some advantages and also some limitations. In general, the programme enables the teacher to evaluate the student and develop the necessary knowledge regarding the skills of reading, spelling and writing through interesting methods and approaches. Even though it might seem to have all the necessary elements of an excellent multisensory programme still it is important the teacher to primarily consider the strengths, weaknesses and abilities of his dyslexic learner in order to provide the best possible teaching approach that will best fit the learners profile.

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