Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
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.
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
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
Delays and Disorders
Testing can be a huge help in determining what is contributing to a student's differences in phonological development, and this, in turn, can help guide Aisha as she makes intervention plans.
For example, if a student does badly on the hearing assessment, hearing aids might be indicated, as might ongoing therapy with a speech pathologist.
If a student is diagnosed with dyslexia, a language-based learning disability, Aisha can set a plan in place for the student to work with a reading specialist to receive explicit instruction in phonology that will support their ability to learn to read and write.
If the testing is inconclusive, Aisha might decide to watch and wait; after all, some students are simply slower to acquire phonological skills. She gives the first-grade teacher a warning and the relevant documentation, so that the student will be watched closely and might be screened and assessed again in the future.
There are many different factors that contribute to a child's development of phonological awareness, and this development, in turn, can have a profound impact on the child's ability to learn to read and write.
If you are concerned about a child's phonological development, it is best to start with screening processes that will help direct you toward the right assessment path to follow. Next, you might pursue more formal and specialized assessments that will aid in identification.
Once you have identified the root of a child's phonological development differences, you will be better equipped to advocate for appropriate interventions and support.
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