A 2nd (and 3rd) Sense
See The Sound/Visual Phonics, by its very nature, provides a kinesthetic “bridge” between what we hope our students will understand as the result of detailed verbal explanations and/or modeling and the understanding (recognition) of the communication behavior we are targeting for change. In essence, it connects what we teach to their understanding. (Refer to FAQ under the Visual Phonics tab on this web site for more detailed information on Visual Phonics)
My first exposure to Visual Phonics, in 2001, resulted from having to share time and space with an Itinerant Teacher of the Hearing Impaired at a junior high school. We were both providing services to a deaf student and the student’s schedule and lack of office space in the building required us to have a common time for our services. It worked out quite well because I learned about Visual Phonics first hand. Following an inservice on Visual Phonics, I recognized that this method had enormous implications for speech and language therapy because I could show my students what they were saying and what I was trying to get them to say. They could actually see the sound as a result of the hand shapes!! Even before I was fully trained the following summer, I knew that Visual Phonics was a “game changer” – it changed the effectiveness of my speech and language therapy as well as the rate at which my students acquired their “new” skills. I knew it worked – I just wasn’t sure why. As I learned more about brains in recent years, some of my “why” and “how” questions have been answered.
In John Medina’s book, Brain Rules, there is mention of what brains do with contradictions . . . they make as much sense as possible, given the circumstances, and just make something up. Since the brain loves patterns, it does its level best to shape pieces of information that are incongruent into something that appears to be “approximated”, with the result that the perceptual “set” is sometimes distorted. A good example of distorted or disordered incongruencies would be phonological error patterns.
Speech & language therapy should not be “mono-sensory” for a number of reasons. First of all, according to Medina, “the sensory processes are wired to work together”. Medina goes on to say that “multiple senses affect our ability to detect stimuli” and that “learning is less effective in a unisensory environment.” Secondly, only 25% of all learners are primary auditory channel learners, yet so much of “therapy” is characterized by verbal instructions and verbal prompts. How can we expect a student or client to change their production of a specific sound by simply repeating the modeled sound several times, with a slight increase in volume and emphasis each time, or by adding more verbal instruction?
Will this “mono-sensory” attempt to establish discrimination or change perception work, and will “mono-sensory” therapy get the job done in the most efficient way? If we believe Medina’s statements that learning in a unisensory environment is less effective, and that multiple senses are linked to our ability to detect stimuli, then we would likely say that it won’t.
Consider the hypothetical case of a student with an early history of frequent ear infections . Alan is 4 years old and has been diagnosed with a phonological disorder. The list of phonological processes includes cluster reduction, final consonant deletion, assimilation, and stopping. The rating of speech intelligibility provided by Alan’s mother is 50% for herself, and less than 20% for unfamiliar listeners. Typical peers have 90% intelligibility on average.
Alan’s auditory perceptual system is not likely “aware” that the motor-speech pathway messages being sent do not result in speech productions it thinks are being made. Based upon a distorted/disordered recognition “radar”, the motor speech part of the brain keeps producing (or not producing) sounds that are noticeably different or even problematic to others, all the while thinking that everything is just fine. Without some way to finally realize that what is happening isn’t the same as same age peers are doing, or his parents/teachers are doing, Alan will continue to have disordered speech for quite some time. Just repeating words, saying them with more volume, or with more emphasis on particular sounds isn’t going to make much of a difference because behavior change usually doesn’t come without awareness of “difference”. In other words, mono-sensory therapy isn’t going to cut it or will take a long time because the attempts at behavior change (his speech patterns) are being attempted through the input channel that is his “weakest” link – auditory perception.
Returning to Medina’s statement that multiple senses are linked to our ability to detect stimuli, it is clear that the addition of a second and even third sense is needed for Alan to build awareness, recognition and discrimination of his own sound productions in contrast to typical peers and adults. How can we make sounds visible and also kinesthetic? Visual Phonics!
© 2011 Dave Krupke All Rights Reserved