top of page

Should Speech Pathologists be Advising Schools Regarding Teaching Reading and Spelling?
Or working in collaboration? ... 




In the UK Speech and Language Therapy is offered to children and young people when their speech, language or communication issues are preventing them from participating, interacting and engaging with others. Problems may arise when children don’t understand language, struggle to put words together or cannot be understood by other people. Some children and young people might also find it difficult to use language to communicate appropriately and interact effectively.

Speech and language therapy provides treatment, support and care for children and adults who have difficulties with communication, or with eating, drinking and swallowing.

Speech and language therapists (SLTs) are allied health professionals. They work with parents, carers and other professionals, such as teachers, nurses, occupational therapists and doctors.



 Speech-language pathologists help children with all types of language and communication issues. 
They are part of the special education team and may work with students one-on-one or in small groups, or they may even co-teach lessons with the classroom teacher.


Ideally, an approach that combines the skills of teachers, SLTs and parental insight and involvement should provide the best intervention for children with SLCN (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2008; Speech Pathology Australia, 2011). 
Factors that facilitate collaborative working practices include:
* increased time available for professionals to spend together, and closer professional interactions
(Wright and Kersner, 1999)
* a shared language and understanding of each other’s roles (Kersner, 1996; Law et al., 2000b)
* similar beliefs, an ability to adapt and increased communication between the two groups (Hartas, 2004);
* an understanding of individual responsibility and a willingness to contribute to a team (Hartas, 2004);
* a need for a good organizational structure which clearly defines roles and expectations (Hartas, 2004);
* the development and implementation of policies which encourage teamwork (Hartas, 2004).
Barriers to collaborative practice between teachers and SLTs include:
* lack of communication (Hartas, 2004)
* lack of time to engage in collaborative discussions (Hartas, 2004; Wright and Kersner, 1999, 2004).
* the employment of teachers and SLTs by different agencies, with significantly different frameworks and models of prioritization (Law et al., 2000b)
* differences between the required teaching content of teachers and SLTs and the different priorities of the two professional groups (Tollerfield, 2003)

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is still no consistent shared language or understanding of roles; numerous teachers in my support groups who are teaching in Australia report that their leaders are basing decisions regarding the teaching of early reading and spelling on advice from speech pathologists, with little consultation and decisions made regardless of their expertise. Not only is there little collaboration, the role of the speechie has been elevated ABOVE that of the teacher, with regards to teaching phonemic awareness and phonics.

Speech pathologists have become increasingly involved with assessing and creating individual learning plans for students with dyslexia, and offering advice as if experts.

Many years ago ABC was told about positive change within a school in South Australia. I wasn't aware of it until the story ran, and was not interviewed or consulted. The school leader had been given permission to talk about the changes, and especially with regards to their dyslexic students. Apparently 'dyslexia support' groups and a local speech pathologist, who had no involvement with the school, heard about the heart warming story. The reporter later told me what they said was unexpected, as the school community, including parents and students, were so enthusiastic about the changes. The reporter wasn't sure why these groups would object. Her editor ran the story as 'Controversial literacy program SSP tried by Adelaide Hills primary school, amid dyslexia group concerns'
The photo was of the children using decodable readers from Phonics Books UK (Dandelion readers)
I had introduced a systematic approach to teaching reading and spelling using a 'speech to print' approach and decodable readers were essential in order to practice blending the target graphemes. Phonemic awareness was a big focus for the teachers, which was new to them, and I had change the 'traditional' approach to teaching phonics they had been using. The program they were using was 'strongly teacher-centered and have curricula that are rigid, fixed, and lock-step, with the same skill-and-drill lesson given to every child in the same sequence. Such an approach to teaching beginning reading conflicts with the basic principles of differentiated instruction because it fails to recognize that the individual literary learning needs of children vary greatly depending on their specific levels of development across the set of reading component skills (source)
As with most phonics programs, like the one they were using prior to SSP, teachers had been taught to 'incorrectly assume that children can only acquire knowledge of letter-sound patterns through direct instruction in which the teaching of letter-sound correspondences is explicit and systematic. The difficulty with this assumption, however, is that there are
simply too many letter-sound relationships in English orthography for children to acquire by direct instruction, probably between 300 and 400 (Gough & Hillinger, 1980)
So they started to offer a differentiated teaching approach, exploring the 'non high frequency graphemes' by exploring the Spelling Clouds. Why this could be considered 'controversial' still baffles me.

Do speechies at your school make school policy decisions regarding the teaching of reading and spelling? Or just contribute with regards to helping children produce speech sounds and articulate words more clearly?

I developed a lot of my strategies for non verbal ASD kids. I teach these non verbal kids to read and spell easily - it’s the phonemic awareness that is the determining factor, regarding encoding and decoding (phonics skills) not their ability to speak. Now that we have the Speech Sound Pictographs even non verbal children can learn to read and spell alongside their peers. 

Having phonological awareness obviously helps - if you can’t hear it, it’s more difficult to produce it. But reading and spelling doesn’t require phonological awareness, it requires one subset called phonemic awareness. This is the ability to isolate, segment, blend and manipulate phonemes, to be able to map those units on paper - the written code. It’s 1 to 1 mapping - phonemes to graphemes.

However a non verbal child with good phonemic awareness won’t struggle to read and spell - just to let us know what they are hearing, as they can’t (or won’t) produce the associated speech sounds. That’s why I created the Speech Sound Monsters; they are not just an alternative to phonetic symbols but also to ‘cued articulation’.

‘Duck Hands’ not only bridge the gap between what they say, and how they write those ‘sound pics’ on paper but also enable us to see what they are processing, even if they are selective mute, or can’t physically produce/ say the sounds (speechie work) They aren’t to ‘count sounds’ they are to order the sounds from left to right and sweep (blend) which is what they will then do on paper! So Duck Hands are used as an assessment tool for adults observing the kids.

(Please don’t ask them to count sounds on fingers - will discuss this in another post.)

Duck Hands, Lines and Numbers were my greatest weapon against illiteracy before I improved it with the inclusion of the monsters! The IPA is invaluable - but not previously easily ‘user friendly’ or accessible (as an appropriate teaching tool) when working with young children. Those teaching English as a Second Language know how powerful, and speechies do too. Each monster is simply representing a phonetic symbol from the IPA, and makes it all fun and simple for all ages.

I cannot tell you the number of parents who were incorrectly told their child would struggle to read and spell because of speech production issues, by speech pathologists! No. What makes reading and spelling hardest of all is the inability to isolate, segment, blend and manipulate phonemes - the smallest sound units. I know how to ensure that every child starts school with the phonemic awareness needed to learn to read and spell. That’s what will give them the greatest chance of success. Not speech. (And no, I’m not saying speech isn’t incredibly important, across the board! Also understanding of words) Check decades of research if that’s not totally clear to you. Phonemic awareness is the ‘brain skill’ that is the most influential. But even that research/ info is outdated. I’m developing new theory regarding the bridge between phonemic awareness and phonics. I’m focussed on helping the highest number of learners more easily reach the stage often referred to as ‘orthographic mapping’, and sharing my strategies. But remember that OM is not something we TEACH, it’s something they REACH. And HOW they reach it is what I do best. I’m applying the neuroscience behind learning to read and spell (the processes that take place in the brain) and the science of learning. I couldn’t do any of it without my skills as a teacher, who connects with children emotionally. That part seems to get lost in the messaging. Knowledge is only part of this. The relationship with kids is also HUGE.

And as you know I don’t need to teach children to use syllables or onset and rime to teach kids to read and spell. I can (and do- I walk the walk) teach all to read and spell from the phoneme level. Sure, I explain different sound units to kids, and of course a child with good PA will pass any phonological awareness test, checking awareness of larger sound units. But they don’t need that to read and spell. Just have good phonemic awareness. And with just that most kids can learn to read and spell in spite of teaching methods - it just takes them longer. Like learning to ride a bike without a parent or any help. They’ll get there, but it could’ve been quicker with instruction. Kids with poor phonemic awareness (up to 35% of kids) are the ones who don’t stand a chance in most schools using traditional phonics programs, who word type programs, or a mixture of the two. The ‘reading war’ debate is not helplful - both traditional phonics and whole language fail those kids. At least with intentional and systematically taught phonics they may develop phonemic awareness as a lucky by-product. But neither of those methods is the most effective for the highest number of kids. They’re both limiting.

Within the I Can Read Without You (ICRWY) Early Year Project we focus on ensuring that every child develops phonemic awareness so that we are protecting them, as best we can, from the harm adults may unintentionally inflict when making decisions about teaching and learning. We are only focused on the smallest (speech) sound units, and how they map to 'speech sound pictures' (Sound Pics) We can offer so much more than synthetic phonics. We can teach in ways that include and excite ALL learners, and focus on earlier reading for pleasure! 

Welcome to Speech Sound Cloud Land, and the home of Code Mapping and Monster Mapping!
Speech Sound Pictographs are phonetic symbols for kids; a great addition to your toolkit when teaching early stage reading and spelling!

Miss Emma

Speech Sound Pictographs- Speech Therapy Tools
bottom of page