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Why Literacy is Critical for Students Who Use AAC: Part 3 - Getting Started with Spelling

by Maureen Donnelly M.Ed February 03, 2020

Why Literacy is Critical for Students Who Use AAC: Part 3 - Getting Started with Spelling

Welcome to Part 3 in a 3-part series about why literacy is so critical for students who use AAC. To catch up go here: part 1 and part 2.

Now your student can demonstrate some knowledge of the alphabetic principle (rather than mastery!), and you've introduced writing as an element of instruction every day, what next?

It's time to think about spelling! Spelling is so important for AAC users because it is the only mechanism by which they can compose thoughts using words that they choose.

Without the ability to spell, AAC users have to rely on the words WE provide. And that is, by its very nature, limiting. Ultimately, it is knowledge of the alphabet that frees writers to say what they want, when they want, and to whom they want.

If we all agree, let's teach spelling today!

Consider these priorities for supporting beginning spelling:

  1. Think of spelling as a linguistic endeavor rather than a visual one. We get the best outcomes when we give students opportunities to explore and build knowledge of the language and sound structures that make up words. Memorizing words (by sight) is limiting because memory is limited.
  2. The goal of spelling instruction is not just to learn the words we target, but to use knowledge of known words to spell new or unknown words.
  3. Good spelling instruction provides opportunities for students of all abilities to manipulate letters to build real words using both a spelling and a keyword approach.

If you are ready to get started today, one easy resource is the book, Sequential Systematic Phonics They Use by Patricia Cunningham. This book gives day-to-day practical lessons for using a set of letters to build a series of words and then sort them according to the beginning sound, ending sound, and letter count. Be sure to make these lessons accessible because the more students can manipulate learning materials, the more lasting the learning will be.

Alternatively, you can find these same activities in an accessible format by accessing Avenue C in Reading Avenue. Reading Avenue comes with your subscription of Boardmaker Online and is our answer to providing accessible, comprehensive literacy instruction for all beginners.

You'll also find multiple activities across Avenues B and C that target the keyword approach in Reading Avenue. In this approach, students learn to identify personally relevant/meaningful words that represent the 37 most common word endings (rimes) in printed English.

This strategy provides beginning readers with a powerful shortcut: knowledge of these word endings helps students identify common patterns in written language. Then, they can apply this knowledge to read, spell, and use hundreds of useful words.

Did you know that nearly 50 percent of words are phonetically predictable enough (based on sound-letter correspondences) that we can teach them? Did you also know that another 34 percent of words are predictable except for one sound (e.g., knit, coat, and two)?

While each of these strategies is effective independently, it is when we teach them together that we get the best outcomes. Get started supporting your beginning spellers today. You can individualize these activities according to the access needs of your students, or you can find both strategies built right into the instructional routines of Reading Avenue.

#yougotthis! Teach spelling today!

Maureen Donnelly M.Ed
Maureen Donnelly M.Ed

Maureen Donnelly, M.Ed, is an early childhood educator who currently holds the position of Curriculum Manager at Tobii Dynavox. Before this, Maureen contributed to the creation of numerous products that support emergent readers of diverse abilities and ages. Maureen lives and works in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in an office stuffed with children’s books.



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