Redefining Word Play for Young Students
Preparation for success in school starts at the youngest ages. Good habits are developed early on, and teachers at Mary J. Tanner Elementary School are keenly aware of the impact they can have on the youngest population of students in the district. That’s why Julia Craine, one of the school’s speech pathologist, is bringing the Sound Walls program to all pre-K and kindergarten classrooms this year.
“At the pre-K level, it’s really about exposure,” said Mrs. Craine. “For most of our students, this is the first time they have talked about sounds in a structured way.”
The program was created by Tools4Reading, and was introduced to all seven pre-K and kindergarten classrooms in mid-October. Students receive a weekly push-in service that focuses on language development and speech sound production, including instruction on all 44 phonemes that make up the English language.
“A phoneme is the smallest unit of speech that can change a word’s meaning,” explained Craine. “The ability to say and hear every phoneme is a prerequisite to successful reading and writing.”
A key component of Mrs. Craine’s work is making sure students accurately make the mouth movement and the acoustic sound for each phoneme. That’s why she incorporates mirrors into the program, which gives students the opportunity to discuss what their tongues are doing when they make a certain sound, where their lips are, and if their voice is on or off.
While pre-K instruction is focused on introducing students to the basics of language, kindergarten classes receive additional articulation support and instruction. The 16-week program gives Mrs. Craine a chance to reassess a student’s progression and determine if there are articulation concerns that can be identified and addressed.
“This program also engages our students and gets them talking about the characteristics of sounds. Our students are developing their meta-linguistic awareness and don’t even realize it.”
Thanksgiving break will mark the six-week period for the program, which is new to the school this year. Teachers have already seen its impact making a difference for their students.
“I think it’s a huge benefit to be talking to the students about how to make the sounds and letting them explore this with mirrors,” said Kindergarten teacher Kristin Silverman. “I am seeing improvement already, and it’s another way to connect letters and sounds to the brain.”
“I think it’s helping reinforce letter sounds,” said Pre-K teacher Tamera LaPointe. “We talk about those sounds during Fundations and other parts of the day, but more exposure is certainly beneficial. It’s helpful for me as a teacher to learn different ways to present material.”
For Mrs. Craine, bringing this program into the classroom is another way to highlight her passion for education and for helping even the youngest students start their academic careers off on the right foot.
“I’m a speech nerd, so I love seeing students get excited about what is happening in their mouths when they make speech sounds. Producing the sounds correctly is the precursor to spelling them correctly and reading them correctly. And that’s the goal, right? Successful readers, writers, and communicators.”