Early Literacy and Language Identification and Intervention After reading several articles regarding the role of speech-language pathologists in literacy development, I decided to explore the idea of early intervention using a team approach. An early intervention program as a non-individual education program or special education process was the goal. The hope was that by providing intervention in ... Features
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Features  |   November 01, 2004
Early Literacy and Language Identification and Intervention
Author Notes
  • Pam Steckbeck, has worked as an SLP in the San Diego Unified School District for 20 years. She is the coordinator of the PALS-M program at McKinley Elementary. Her primary focus is to incorporate literature and literacy strategies in all speech treatment sessions. For more information on the PALS-M program, contact Steckbeck at McKinley Elementary at psteckbeck@mail.sandi.net.
    Pam Steckbeck, has worked as an SLP in the San Diego Unified School District for 20 years. She is the coordinator of the PALS-M program at McKinley Elementary. Her primary focus is to incorporate literature and literacy strategies in all speech treatment sessions. For more information on the PALS-M program, contact Steckbeck at McKinley Elementary at psteckbeck@mail.sandi.net.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Normal Language Processing / Features
Features   |   November 01, 2004
Early Literacy and Language Identification and Intervention
The ASHA Leader, November 2004, Vol. 9, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.09202004.6
The ASHA Leader, November 2004, Vol. 9, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.09202004.6
After reading several articles regarding the role of speech-language pathologists in literacy development, I decided to explore the idea of early intervention using a team approach. An early intervention program as a non-individual education program or special education process was the goal. The hope was that by providing intervention in kindergarten, it would be possible to eliminate special education referrals in later grades. After several meetings with the school principal, resource specialist, SLP, and kindergarten classroom teachers, we created a program to address the needs of kindergartners struggling with language and literacy development. An article written by Laura Justice in Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools (vol. 33, April 2002) describing the use of the Phonological Awareness and Literacy Screening (PALS) in the Virginia Curry School District prompted us to take a closer look at our kindergarten students.
McKinley Elementary is located in San Diego, CA and has approximately 60 kindergarten students of mixed ethnic and socioeconomic status. Of these students, 30% are English learners (EL) at various stages of English acquisition. The majority are Spanish-speaking.
Building a Team
The first step was to create a team that would be responsible for assessing and providing early intervention to kindergarten students in need of extra assistance. The team comprises the school SLP, resource specialist (RSP), and English learner assistant (ELA) and is called the PALS-McKinley Team (PALS-M). During the pilot year, the team met with kindergarten teachers in October to determine which students appeared to be in need of additional support. Twelve students were then evaluated using the PALS Pre-K assessment. Six students who scored 80 points or below on this screening instrument were selected to take part in an intervention program.
The Program
An intervention program was created that targeted areas of need determined by PALS results. The six students were seen five days a week for 45 minutes in a small group setting. Students saw the SLP on Monday, the ELA Tuesday through Thursday, and the RSP on Friday.
The SLP began each week targeting vocabulary and language related to a letter of the week. Units of study were developed for each book incorporating basic concepts, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and basic syntactic structures. For example, when the letter of the week was “P,” the book The Pigs’ Picnic by Helen Moore was selected. The unit targeted “P” vocabulary words from the story (pig, pickles, popcorn, plate, picnic, etc.) Story comprehension questions were discussed and answered and food items were categorized into fruits and vegetables. Children engaged in an experiential activity by taking part in a PALS picnic party. Food items consisted of popcorn, pickles, and pie served on a paper plate. Tuesday through Thursday, students reviewed the story, practiced identifying vocabulary beginning with the target sound, completed a “P” poem, and targeted rhyming words and other phonemic awareness activities. On Friday students read an appropriate level book, The Picnic created by the PALS-M team, illustrated their own version of the book, and reviewed the week’s activities.
During the pilot year, there was no parental involvement component other than letters sent each week requesting that parents review student work folders at home with their child. Parents were asked to contact PALS-M team members or classroom teachers if they had questions.
The PALS Pre-K assessment was re-administered at the end of an eight-week cycle. All students showed significant growth in areas targeted in PALS group sessions (Chart A [PDF]) shows student growth on each subtest of the assessment). At that time we decided to create a second group to act as a transition group back into the classroom. Students who scored above 90 points were moved into a second (transition) group, and new students who did not make the cut in October and were still struggling were added to form a second group. The transition group was no longer seen by the SLP or RSP but continued working with the ELA three days a week following previously established language and literacy strategies.
Teachers and the PALS-M team met regularly to discuss student achievement and ways in which both groups could support and reinforce language and literacy practices.
After completion of the first year of PALS assessment and intervention, significant documented progress was obvious. Teachers and team members agreed that this form of intervention was beneficial not only to our EL students but also to students who had entered kindergarten with no previous school experience as well as those from impoverished backgrounds.
We realized that information gained through the PALS assessment was valuable to the classroom teacher in establishing goals and targets for the entire class. It was decided that all kindergarten students would be evaluated in October by the classroom teachers and those students scoring significantly low on the PALS-K would be evaluated by a PALS-M team member using the PALS Pre-K instrument. Groups would then be formed based on these scores in conjunction with teacher recommendations.
We also realized that we needed to add a parent component to assist parents in working with their children at home. We decided that in order to expand and develop our program we would need more funding. As in many schools in our district and others, we have formed partnerships with businesses and private donors in the community. We decided to contact one of our community partners, Masood and Laurie Jabbar, to solicit their assistance. After collecting and presenting our measurable data to our partners, we were able to obtain funds to expand our program to include a parent involvement component and serve 15 students (three groups of five).
In this new era of No Child Left Behind, our appeal to our partners, the Jabbar family, to help all students achieve academic success was received and encouraged whole-heartedly. In this case, we took a chance and piloted our PALS-M program, saw that it was successful, presented our findings to our partners, and were extremely fortunate to receive the support and encouragement we needed to expand our program.
Parent Support and Participation
Parental involvement is a large component of the even greater success of this program during the current school year. At the beginning of the program in October 2003, parents of all students were invited to attend a meeting. We discussed the PALS-M program and explained language and literacy development strategies to the parents, and followed the session with questions and answers.
Through the generous donations of our sponsor, we were able to provide each parent and child with a “Parent Literacy Bag” containing items to promote reading and language interaction at home. The “Parent Literacy Bag” was sent home each week on Friday and was returned the following Wednesday. Each bag contained scissors, glue, crayons, flashcards (alphabet, vocabulary, or phonics), an activity to complete together supporting the letter(s) of the week, and two leveled books to be read aloud at home. The books and activities were changed weekly.
Using a team approach to address the needs of struggling kindergarteners has made a difference in their academic achievement. All students made significant growth (see chart B [PDF]). We have continued to monitor the progress of our first-grade students who were seen in the PALS-M program during kindergarten. We have also been able to identify those students who may need to be referred to the Student Study Team to address special education issues.
It is our hope that by providing early identification and intervention we will be able to identify students in need of special education, reduce the number of inappropriate special education referrals, and provide all students, including English learners, with fundamental principles of language and literacy development.
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November 2004
Volume 9, Issue 20