Evaluating Phonological Development

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

For students to learn to read and write effectively, they have to have strong phonological awareness. This lesson discusses what goes into evaluating a child's phonological development and identifying needs for intervention.

What is Phonological Development?

Aisha is a kindergarten teacher in a school that has inclusive classrooms, where children with special needs learn alongside their typically developing peers.

One of the many things that Aisha takes responsibility for, therefore, is helping to identify children who might benefit from the many supports her school has to offer. At the kindergarten level, some developmental differences are really just starting to show.

One thing Aisha thinks about quite a bit is her students' phonological development. Aisha knows that phonological awareness is the understanding of how sounds work. She also knows that a child with strong phonological awareness is more likely to be successful learning to read and write.

When a child has delays or struggles with phonological development, it can make a big difference in their literacy development trajectory. Aisha knows, therefore, that identifying these differences early and securing helpful interventions can make a big educational difference to her students.

Screening Processes

The first step in evaluating a child's phonological development is screening. Screening, as Aisha knows, is generally oriented toward identifying which students might benefit from more comprehensive evaluation.

Screening for differences in phonological development can be conducted with all students in a class, or with any students who a teacher has specific concerns about.

Some of the screening processes Aisha has seen to be effective for evaluating phonological awareness and development include:

  • informal observation and documentation of students' oral language
  • informal assessment of students' ability to read letter sounds or simple words, or match words to images
  • more formal screening measures that are normed against others in the same age group
  • exams, conducted by doctors or nurses, of students' facial bones and structures, as well as oral motor functioning, or how a student can move his or her mouth muscles
  • hearing screens that evaluate hearing capacities and auditory processing, both of which can impact phonological development

Assessment Tools

Aisha knows that screening is not necessarily the endpoint when she has questions about a student's phonological development. Rather, it points her, and other service providers, toward which assessment tools and procedures it makes sense to follow next.

For instance, if a student does badly on a hearing screen, Aisha will follow up with the family so that they can pursue a full evaluation of the student's hearing. If a student seems to have a delay in matching letters to sounds, Aisha might recommend instituting intervention from a reading specialist, or she might have the family pursue evaluation to determine whether the child has a learning disability.

Some of the assessment tools that might be indicated after a screening process include:

  • a full medical exam of the student's hearing and oral mechanisms
  • testing of the student's receptive and expressive language overall
  • speech sound assessment, which looks at the severity of a speech delay, whether a student is intelligible, and how a student can perceive the speech of others
  • psychosocial history to evaluate circumstantial contributions and family incidence of disability
  • reading and writing assessments, normed for the age of the student being evaluated

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