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Promoting Literacy Learning in Speech Pathology

Promoting Literacy Learning in Speech Pathology
James Feeney
October 11, 2004


Over the past several years, much attention has been paid to the role of the speech-language pathologist (SLP) in planning and implementing meaningful programs to help children, adolescents and young adults with reading and writing (American Speech Language Hearing Association, 2001; Catts, 1991; Ehren & Ehren, 2001; Nelson, Van Meters, Chamberlain, & Bahr, 2001; Roth & Baden, 2001; Scott & Brown, 2001; Staskowski & Craighead, 2001).

While there are many resources available for professionals wishing to address literacy needs of individuals across service delivery settings, there is an ongoing need for clarification of specific interactive procedures that serve to support individuals with literacy-learning difficulties.

The primary purposes of this article are:

  1. Briefly discuss theoretical frameworks that underlie interactive procedures and activities for individuals experiencing reading and writing difficulties

  2. Discuss the collaboration between SLP's, reading specialists and other special education teachers (and their support staff) in designing and implementing literacy-learning activities for children, adults and adolescents.

  3. Present a case illustration of a collaborative approach used with a child experiencing significant literacy-learning difficulties.

Theories Underlying Interactive Competence in Literacy Instruction:

In her book Apprenticeship in Thinking: Cognitive Development in Social Context, Rogoff (1990) described a range of theoretical frameworks related to cognitive development. She suggested that literacy acquisition is a process connected to a variety of theoretical orientations. While she discussed a number of major learning theories including constructivism (Piaget, 1926, 1952, 1972), social constructivism (Bruner, 1958, 1983; Luria, 1976; Vygotsky, 1962, 1978) information processing (Mayer, 1996; Shuell, 1986) and social learning theory (Bandura, 1986), Rogoff emphasized the importance of social constructivism as represented in the work of Vygotsky, Bruner, and Luria. Her central theme was that learning occurs through interaction between a more experienced and competent individual (i.e., a master craftsperson) and a less competent individual (i.e., an apprentice). Simply stated, interaction is the conduit through which knowledge is constructed, to help the learner internalize specific language or literacy-related concepts through the process of externalizing thought processes.

Wilhelm, Baker, and Dube (2001) asserted that teachers, regardless of their awareness of theory, apply teaching strategies that can be traced to any number of learning theories. This approach has strong appeal and allows connections to be made between abstract theoretical constructs and real people.

In Piagetian models of learning, the learner is provided opportunities to integrate new knowledge or concepts into his/her existing knowledge base through assimilation or by creating new constructs or knowledge concepts to add to existing knowledge structures (i.e., through accommodation). For example, a teacher might bring a student to a point in an activity in which the student must then independently bridge the gap between existing knowledge and new knowledge, without additional interaction.

Information processing (Mayer, 1996; Shuell, 1986) is another theoretical framework within literacy acquisition. Central to this framework is that children, adolescents or adults learn through activation and use of a complex mass of internal cognitive processes. Crowder & Wagner (1992), and others (e.g., Adams, 1996; Stanovich, 2000) offered viewpoints related to internal processes in learning to read and write and made connections between internal processes and practical approaches to literacy instruction.

Cognitive processes, as described by Mayer (1996), Pressley (1995; 2001) and Schuell (1986) included; memory-related processes (e.g., endcoding, decoding, storage, retrieval, etc.), language-organizational processes (e.g., lexical organization, word-concept associations, word-sound associations, word-world associations, etc.) and executive system functioning (e.g., attention, problem solving, planning, goal setting, self-evaluation, self-monitoring, self-regulation, etc.). This list provides a glimpse into the levels of abstraction or domains within which researchers or educators might operate within an information processing framework.

Anyone wishing to understand the nature and acquisition of literacy across the lifespan must consider, at least on some level, cognition and its many processes. From a socio-cultural perspective, some researchers (e.g., Alvermann, Moon, & Hagood, 1999; Bell, 1997; Dyson, 2003) might disagree with the need to engage in examination of the cognitive processes associated with learning to read and write. Rather, they might suggest; discourse structures, social indexes, or other data that would yield greater understanding of the contexts in which literacy-learning takes place.

James Feeney

Related Courses

Facilitating First Verbs through Shared Book Reading
Presented by Susan Hendler Lederer, PhD, CCC-SLP
Course: #9735Level: Introductory1 Hour
This course discusses early verb acquisition, choosing first verb targets, and a variety of strategies to facilitate verb learning using children’s picture books as a therapy context.

Language Outcomes of Children with Trauma Histories: Understanding the Impact
Presented by Yvette D. Hyter, PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow
Course: #9737Level: Advanced1.5 Hours
This is Part 1 of a two-part series. This course is designed to explain the influences that various types of childhood experiences with trauma and maltreatment have on development. The focus is on language and social-pragmatic communication skills of children.

Children with Trauma Histories: Assessment, Intervention, and Advocacy
Presented by Yvette D. Hyter, PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow
Course: #9738Level: Advanced1.5 Hours
This is Part 2 of a two-part series. This course features assessment protocols for determining language abilities of children with trauma histories and evidence-based, trauma-informed intervention strategies. It discusses the responsibility of trauma-informed speech, language and hearing professionals to advocate for children who have experienced trauma.

Reading Comprehension and the SLP: Foundational Understanding
Presented by Angie Neal, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #10763Level: Intermediate1 Hour
This is Part 1 of a two-part series. This course provides SLPs with foundational knowledge needed to directly address and collaboratively support reading comprehension across all grade levels. Models of language and reading comprehension, comprehension processes vs. products, instruction in comprehension skills vs. strategies, factors in reading comprehension difficulties, and connections to general education are discussed.

Reading Comprehension and the SLP: Contributions of Language
Presented by Angie Neal, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #10764Level: Intermediate1 Hour
This is Part 2 of a two-part series. The connections between reading comprehension and areas of language such as vocabulary, morphosyntax and social communication are described in this course. Implications for intervention/instruction and collaboration with educators are also discussed.

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