Monday, August 10, 2009

Emilee's Journey - Never Give Up Hope

[A letter from Emilee's parents and one that brought tears to our eyes!]

Through the years we have enjoyed reading the success stories of fellow CASANA families. At the risk of bragging (Why not? We’re proud parents. That’s our job!), we would like to share our own story about our daughter, Emilee…

In 1998 at age 3, Emilee was first diagnosed with Apraxia. In the fall of 2005 at age 11, we watched with great anxiety as Emilee descended into the jungle of the middle school. Her learning differences, the academics, social issues, and even being able to open her locker, were all things that kept us up at night wondering how she was ever going to survive the fall of 6th grade, let alone the whole middle school experience.

Well, through more hard work than we could have ever imagined, along with the help of some truly wonderful teachers, aids, her family, and a great (small) group of friends, not only did she survive, she THRIVED. At her 8th grade “graduation” last month, we learned that Emilee was one of only 15 students in a class of 168 to earn the President's Award for Educational Excellence for maintaining at least an “A-“ average in every subject for the entire 3 years of middle school. In addition, she was one of 4 girls nominated by her peers and teachers an award, which is given each year to the outstanding boy and girl in the 8th grade. While she was certainly not one of the more “popular” students, her peers and teachers really admired her incredible work ethic and kindness to others. Needless to say, we could not be more proud of her.

For ninth grade, Emilee will be headed to a small private school just outside of Boston. While they do not offer “services” per se, they specialize in a “multiple intelligences” approach to teaching with small class sizes and a learning center to help guide the students along. It looks like it is going to be a great fit and Emilee is very excited.

Our message to those just starting down the path with a child with CAS would be to never give up hope. While this difficult journey to “Holland” ( is far from over, there are wonderful stops to enjoy along the way. You just have to watch for them, because you never know when or where they will pop up. Emilee never ceases to amaze us: from speaking when it was unclear how well she would ever speak, to riding a bike when it looked like a lost cause, to thriving in middle school, when we were worried if she would ever survive it. We are looking forward to seeing what the next four years of the journey will bring.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Confusion with English Spelling of Vowels

Question:  My son has apraxia and memory issues. Is there a way of learning the differences between spelling for a sound like or, ore, oar, au, oar, and aw?   My son gets so confused and frustrated.  The other day he spelt 'caught' as 'cawght.'

No single approach works for all children, especially for spelling.  There are programs that address teacher training for high quality instruction and programs for student intervention from research-based models of
achievement.  Teachers must understand individual learners and differentiate instruction to target their identified needs.  Quality programs to teach beginning reading should also teach beginning writing with related spelling patterns (like those described in the question), and build upon the foundational belief about the connection to early literacy development.  In other words, achievement in reading, writing, and spelling is dependent upon high quality explicit instruction not only in reading and writing but also with attention to the underlying early literacy components of listening and speaking, including possible deficits during that stage of development.   Students who have experienced delay in or difficulty with sound play and oral language often require additional intervention with explicit instruction to learn the language arts in their written form.

LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) is based upon the textbook and related workbook, Speech to Print by Louisa Cook Moats from Sopris West Educational Services.  This professional
development program for teachers of reading, writing, speaking and listening is designed to teach teachers the elements of delivering successful instruction of English "language arts."  English is a "deep language" that spells both for meaning and phonics, so spelling can be a challenge for students.  Moats describes, "The teacher who understands language and how children are using it can give clear, accurate, and organized information about sounds, words, and sentences.  The teacher who knows language will understand why students say and write the puzzling things that they do and will be able to judge what a particular student knows and needs to know about the printed word.  Literacy is an achievement that rests on all levels of linguistic processing, from the elemental sounds to the most overarching structures of text."

SpellRead Phonological Auditory Training, acquired by Kaplan in 2006, and generally used with students in grades 2-12 who are still having difficulty with text is "an innovative method for helping struggling students master the critical skills of reading," (which includes spelling).  Instruction is delivered by a trained teacher to small groups during a one-hour pull-out across a set progression of lessons to an end point.  The largest emphasis for instruction in the program used with grade 3-5 students is on the word level for reading.  Smaller instructional sections are dedicated to comprehending text and writing. This "writing" piece focuses more on student writing production (including spelling) than on content.  A June 2006 press release describes the program like this:
       "The SpellRead program helps students to recognize and manipulate sounds in the English language, then to transfer those skills to reading text and eventually to writing. It is generally administered in schools in grades two through high school during a daily one-hour pull-out program led by a specially trained teacher."

According to a review from the Florida Center for Reading Research,
       "The SpellRead P.A.T. program, when implemented properly, can produce significant and substantial effects on reading skill for children ranging in age from grade one through grade six. Results from several clinical samples support the finding that the SpellRead program can provide instruction that is sufficiently powerful to normalize most of the reading skills of struggling readers older than 12 years of age." (FCRR report on SpellRead P.A.T., November 2003)

"The all new Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention (by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell) has been developed in response to the demands of teachers and administrators for a powerful, scientifically-based early intervention program that can prevent literacy difficulties before they turn into long-term challenges."  ([
It is a systematic supplementary program designed for small group instruction of young children from Pre-K to Grade 3 that includes close monitoring to work toward benchmark acceleration across prescribed beginning to end points.  Learning goals are achieved through high quality teaching with a solid foundation in alphabet knowledge, phonemic awareness, phonics, conventions of print, high frequency words, syntax, fluency, and comprehension, especially for children who are achieving below grade-level competency.  Logically found within such a program design, is a spelling-related goal described as follows from the LLI kindergarten level synopsis:   "Using letters and sounds to solve words.  As children learn letter-sound relationships, they begin to apply them to solve simple words.  LLI provides a great deal of systematic instruction to help children understand how words are constructed using letters and letter patterns. They read and write words that are in continuous text."

In the end, the Report of the National Reading Panel, p 2-99, may describe it best:
       "Learning to read is a complex task for beginners.  They must coordinate many cognitive processes to read accurately and fluently.  Readers must be able to apply their alphabetic knowledge to decode unfamiliar words and to remember how to read words they have read before.  When reading connected text, they must construct sentence meanings and retain them in memory as they move on to new sentences.  At the same time, they must monitor their word recognition to make sure that the words activated in their minds fit with the meaning of the context.  In addition, they must link new information to what they have already read, as well as to their background knowledge, and use this to anticipate forthcoming information.  When one stops to take stock of all the processes that readers perform when they read and comprehend text, one is reminded how amazing the act of reading is and how much there is for beginners to learn." — Including WRITING and SPELLING!!

Submitted by Kenda L. Hammer, M.Ed., 
Early Literacy Specialist
 Fox Chapel Area School District Family Literacy Center
July 24, 2009–Spelling Interventions Response for CASANA