The aim of the literacy program, Læseklar, is threefold: First, to make the students realize that words denote content (e.g. “lion” represents the animal) and has a form made up of a number of phonemes (distinct units of sound). Second, to help students grasp the connection between letters and sounds. Third, to show students how to decode simple words (i.e., to translate written words into sounds). Decoding skills are often thought to be a necessary step towards reading comprehension, and in the “simple view of reading”, efficient decoding is one of the two main determinants of reading comprehension (the other is language comprehension; e.g., Hoover & Tunmer, 2018).
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. Instruction is given by a tutor one-to-one (for the students with the greatest difficulties) or in small-groups of 2-3 students. We plan to use school personnel (teachers, special educators, pedagogues) as tutors. The experiment will use a waiting list control group design and the children assigned to the control condition will wait approximately 12-17 weeks before starting the program (8-10 weeks of training for the treatment group plus a few extra weeks due to testing and school holidays).
Læseklar contains three types of sessions. The first type is focused on phonemic awareness and phonics, and the second and third on decoding. In the first type of session, tutors use clay figurines representing 25 (originally) Danish Swedish language sounds and letters, a box with a compartment for each letter, and a laminated sheet with the fingerspelling alphabet. A session starts with the tutor selecting three figurines. The students’ task is to place the figurine in its designated compartment, or its “house”. For the figurine to be placed into its house, students need to 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”, and the second part consists of fingerspelling the letter. When the students have figured out that the word “sun” begins with an “ss” sound, they should make the sound for a while and at the same time fingerspelling the letter. When this combination is accomplished, the figurine can move into its house. Once all three figurines have moved into their houses, the session ends. During the next session, the students start with the previously “housed” figurines, and then continue with three new ones.
The second type of session starts after the students have learned around 15 of the letters and letter sounds, which typically takes less than a month. The tutor uses images representing short words glued to the pages of a booklet on a white card. The tutor acts as a secretary for the students when they sound out the phonemes in the word, by writing the word on the frontside of the page with the picture at the backsidecard. Each word-picture card is put into a binder. The booklet binder is gradually filled until it contains about 25 words. Using the bookletbinder, the students can also practice by themselves and at home, as they are able to verify whether they read the word correctly by turning the card to see the image. If a student needs more practice, the old words are tied together into a book and the student can begin filling athe new bookletinder with new words. If a student becomes a reasonably confident reader, he/she can go on to read short books used in regular reading instruction.
The third type of session aims to improve decoding speed and fluency by practicing the decoding of short syllables with the help of flashcards. It is therefore not used with students who have not yet reached the level where they are able to decode simple words. For the students that have reached this level, the task is to decode as many syllables as possible during one minute. The tutor registers the result on a chart and then the same syllables are repeated two more times in the same session. This procedure usually gives rise to a clear improvement, which students can follow on the chart. Making improvements visible for the students usually motivates them to practice more.
The theory of action behind Læseklar is that by focusing on phonemic awareness and phonics students will be helped in understanding that the audio stream from the spoken language can be divided into a number of letter-sounds and thereby learn how to differentiate them from one another. The small group instruction allows for an individualized pace and support, and frequent feedback from the tutor. The multi-sensory parts aim to involve as many senses as possible in order to activate the brain’s learning mechanisms and strengthen memory capacity and retrieval. Placing the figurines into their houses aims to activate the kinaesthetic, visual, tactile, and auditory senses, while at the same time creating a storyline about the figurines moving into their house that may activate the episodic memory (the memory of autobiographical events; e.g., Tulving, 2002). The consistent use of fingerspelling may also activate several senses, and the students can use this tool as a memory aid when they proceed to regular text reading. Working with figurines may also to strengthen the students’ motivation, as they may enjoy helping the figurines find their houses more than just thinking about how the beginning of a word sounds.
Hoover, W. A., & Tunmer, W. E. (2018). The simple view of reading: Three assessments of its adequacy. Remedial and Special Education, 39(5), 304–312.
Tulving, E. (2002). Episodic memory: From mind to brain. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 1-25.