Sunday, March 29, 2009

Auditory Games to Play with Your Family – Introduction

In this week’s blog entries, I will be outlining several games that will help with sound recognition as well as sound segmenting, blending and analysis.

Let’s start with some background information to understand the importance of these skills.

Studies show that about 20 percent of the population has difficulty reading and spelling. Of this group about 80% have difficulty discerning the individual sounds within the spoken word.

These small “bites” of sound are called phonemes. For example in the word “cat” there are three distinct sounds /c/ /a/ and /t/ and for the word “with” there are also three sounds /w/ /i/ and /th/.

Each sound in the English language is represented in writing by a grapheme, made up of one or more letters of the alphabet. For example the sound /a-e/ (often referred to as the “long a”) can be represented in a number of different ways including ‘a-e’ like in cake, ‘a’ like in baby, ‘ay’ like in jaybird, ‘ey’ like in bird of prey, ‘ei’ like in reindeer, ‘eigh’ like in eight, and ‘ea’ like in steak.

Below is an example of how the /a-e/ sound is represented in the Can Do Cubes Phonics Program.

If your brain cannot “hear” the sounds then it will be difficult at best to spell without totally relying on rote memorization techniques. Spelling requires that you hear a word, segment it into its smallest sounds (phonemes) and then write down the code for each sound one after the next.

Reading works the reverse way by recognizing the grapheme or code and determining which sound it represents. After identifying what sound a single letter or combination of letters makes, blend the small sound units together to form a solid sounding word. Rote memorization is a coping option for some, but the brain can only memorize and retain so many sight words. This also limits reading more complex material or information on topics not yet covered, and can be very exhausting.

Let’s see an example using the word “dog”. Start by recognizing that the ‘d’ is pronounced /d/ (like in dad making sure not to pronounce it as /duh/), the ‘o’ is vocalized as /o/ (like in octopus), and the ‘g’ like /g/ (as in get). Saying the sounds individually at first and then with increased speed and closeness, by sliding from one sound to the next, you can decode the written word through blending.

The hard part is when you have a child who just can’t hear these small units of speech. Can this be fixed? Also, what about little ones? Is there a way to make sure they can and do develop this skill? The answer is a resounding YES for both situations! This is where brain training comes into play. You can work these skills early to avoid problems by encouraging effective neurological auditory pathways from the start. The same activities can be used to help ‘rewire’ the brain to hear these little sounds. This week's blog will outline some activities that will help with auditory analysis skills, but for more comprehensive brain training, I recommend BrainSkills on-line.

If you are concerned your older student can’t hear, blend or segment sounds, you may want to perform a simple test called The Gibson Test of Brain Skills. This test will take about 40 minutes and can be done in your home on your computer. This test will cover the sound segmenting, blending and analysis skills as well as processing speed, working memory, long-term memory, visual processing, word attack, attention, and logic & reasoning skills for only $29.95. If interested in more information about this test go to The Gibson Test of Brain Skills.

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