Läsklar (meaning “ready to read” in Swedish) is a multi-sensory literacy program for students in kindergarten and first grade, developed by the third author, Anna Aldenius Isaksson. The program is aimed at students in kindergarten or first grade who, for various reasons, are at-risk of developing reading difficulties and have trouble learning to read during regular literacy instruction. For example, students with the following difficulties have previously received the program: mental impairment and other cognitive problems, hearing impairment, language impairment, dyslexia, concentration difficulties, and emotional problems. The method has also been used in the reading instruction for newly arrived immigrant children.
The program is usually implemented by special educators or teachers, and is administered either individually (one teacher and one student) or in small groups of 2-3 students. The intended frequency and duration of the program is 3-4 times a week for about 8-10 weeks, over a total of 30-35 sessions where each session lasts about 10-15 minutes.
There are three types of sessions, which are implemented in three steps. Step 1 uses the following materials:
- 25 clay figurines. The initial letters in the names of the figurines represents 25 of the Swedish language sounds. Figurines are not available for the letters c, x, w, and z. The reason is that it could confuse the students. For example, it would be logical to think that the Swedish words “citron” (lemon) and “zebra” (zebra) would begin with s as the initial sounds are the same.
- A box with 29 compartments – one compartment for each letter.
- A separate box where the figurines are initially stored.
- A laminated sheet with the fingerspelling alphabet.
During the first session, the teacher selects three figurines and the student’s task is to place the figurine in its designated compartment, or its “house”. For the figurine to be placed into its house, students should figure out a code. The first part of the code is the sound of the first letter in the figurine’s name. For example, “ss” in “sun”. When the student figures out that the word “sun” begins with an “ss” sound, they should make the sound for a while, while at the same time fingerspelling the letter. When this is accomplished, the figurine can move into its house. Once all three figurines have been placed into their homes, the session ends. Such a session usually takes about 10 minutes. During the next session, the student must first place the previously completed figurines into their homes and then continue with three new ones. It usually takes about a month before the student will have learned most of the letter sounds, after which Step 2 starts.
In Step 2, the student practices to make the sounds of short words represented by pictures. The images are pasted onto the back of a white card. The teacher acts as a secretary to the students: when students make the sounds that the word contains, the teacher writes them on the front of the card. When this is done, the newly created word card whose front is the written word and back is a picture that represents the word, is put into a binder. Using the binder the students can practice themselves, as they are able to verify if they have read the word correctly by turning the page. The binder is filled gradually until it contains about 25 words. If the students need more practice, the old words can be tied together into a book and afterwards the students begin with 25 new words.
When the students are reasonably confident in all of the letter sounds, Step 3 uses flashcards of syllables to practice speed. Students who manage to go through also this step before the end of the 8-10 weeks go on to read the usual reading books that are used in regular reading instruction.
The theory of action behind Läsklar is that by focusing on phonemic awareness and phonics students will be helped in understanding that the audio stream coming from speaking can be divided into a number of letter sounds, and learn how to differentiate them from one another. In the beginning it will be easier for the student to remember which house the figurine should be in than to recognize the letter’s visual representation – eventually the students will be able to connect the letter with the sound of the letter. The multi-sensory training aims to use as many senses as possible in order to strengthen memory capacity. When students help to place the figurines into their homes, the kinesthetic (motion) sense is activated. The game also creates a little storyline about the figurines moving into their home, which means that the visual and episodic memories are used. The students also get to touch the figurine, meaning that the tactile sense is activated. The method furthermore allows the student to listen to the sound based on the first letter of the figurine, thereby activating the auditory sense. Several senses are also activated through the consistent use of fingerspelling, and the students can use this tool as a memory aid when they proceed to regular text reading.
Working with figurines also seems to strengthen the students’ motivation. It is easier and more fun for students to figure out where the figurines are going to live and help them into their house, than to simply think about how the beginning of a word sounds. By intervening early, hopefully before students come to see themselves as “bad readers”, the program seeks to boost students’ reading motivation and self-efficacy also in the longer run.