We are delighted to announce that in January of 2018, with funding from the Fred J. Wellington Memorial Foundation for Child Development and the Burton Family Foundation. Wellington-Alexander Center launched a preschool program within the Kyrene School District. This program is aimed at identification and treatment for children who present early indicators of language-based learning disabilities. This project hopes to replicate the amazing results of a prior pilot project that took place in the Spring Semester of the 2015-2016 school year at a preschool in Phoenix, Arizona, which was also conducted by Wellington-Alexander Center.
There were eight students who performed poorly on those screening measures who were targeted for small group intervention. Additional baseline information was collected with respect to the students’ oral language skills. The participating students completed 40 hours of small group intervention that worked on the foundational oral-language skills to better prepare them for kindergarten.
Sessions targeted the development of phonemic representations. These features include auditory, visual, and tactile/kinesthetic (the way his or her mouth feels as it moves to make the sound). Learning comes about when sensory inputs occur simultaneously. When an individual hears a sound, sees another mouth make the sound, and feels the sound in his or her mouth, those inputs are firing together. If they are experienced repetitively, they wire together. A module is created for each sound.
We affectionately refer to this as turning “fuzzy” phonemes into clear, crisp phonemic representations. With a stronger sense of what makes the /f/ sound different than /th/, the students are now able to have a stronger capacity to acquire phonological awareness skills. Which is defined as the ability to appreciate and manipulate sounds within words.
These skills have been dubbed the “nonnegotiable” prerequisite skills for being able to effectively decode (i.e. sound out) words. In other words, if one is unable to blend the sounds /d – o – g/ to form the word “dog,” sounding out words is difficult. Fortunately, these processes are something that can be explicitly taught for children who do not acquire them innately. The intent of this intervention is to build the foundational “pre-reading” skills. That prepare the preschool students’ brains to be ready to receive instruction for the rules of phonics as a student.
Oral language is the pathway to literacy. Given this, it was exciting to find that the students made gains in the area of receptive and expressive language. These students were followed as kindergarten and first grade students, and anticipated their growth continues to be strong. This indicated that we can indeed catch them before they fall!
It will be exciting to see the progression that takes place for the preschool students in this project as well, and the hope is that the intervention will “wire” the children appropriately to be ready to learn to read as kindergarteners. We look forward to the results with optimistic anticipation.