Literacy involves more than just recognising words on a page. To be truly literate; students need to be able to speak well, interpret what they’re hearing and transfer all of this information into written language. It’s this broad three skill focus that sets PLD’s resources apart. PLD is dedicated to ‘promoting literacy development’ through specifically targeting the areas of Literacy, Oral Language and Movement and Motor skills. This specialised approach is derived from the disciplines of speech pathology, occupational therapy and education. At PLD we are advocates for targeting each of these areas from the earliest years in education. It is only when skills in all three skill set areas have been sufficiently acquired, will a student’s literacy-learning based outcomes be maximised.
‘Word Attack’, spelling and decoding skills are derived from areas such as phonemic awareness and phonic knowledge. While these areas are important and are central to PLD’s evidence-based structured synthetic phonics program, the hallmark of literacy proficiency is comprehension and written expression ability and these areas are influenced by oral language and motor skills.
Oral language refers to the act of speaking and listening. The main components for the oral language skill set includes; word knowledge (vocabulary), sentence structure (grammar), language understanding (semantic and comprehension ability) and structured thinking (or the ability to elaborate, organise and sequence thoughts).
While poor oral language skills do not prevent children from reading, the long-term impact is concerning. By middle primary school, when both the curriculum and reading material increase in difficulty, a significant number of students will struggle to keep up with the demands of the curriculum if they have poorly developed language skills.
Motor and Movement
The way students organise their body and uses their muscles to respond to what they hear is a big part of literacy. Often a physical response is required. A classic example is the ability to follow instructions and compose a written response. A range of physical skill development supports the functioning within a classroom and includes skills such as pencil grip, cutting skills, letter formation and handwriting.
The three area approach to literacy
Sometimes the best way to explain a concept is to give examples. When the three skill areas are viewed in relationship with each other, the strategy becomes clear.
- A 5-year-old girl is happy to sit at a table and carefully colour-in (movement and motor). She is able to read (literacy) but she is shy, reluctant to speak up at school and has trouble following instructions. PREDICTION: Even though she read at an early age, this student will likely under-perform as she gets older unless her oral language skills are boosted. Without the attention to her oral language skills her reading comprehension will likely suffer and her written output may be average, at best.
- A 5-year-old boy speaks very well (oral language) but has poor motor skills (movement and motor). PREDICTION: He will have trouble sitting, listening, and with the fine motor demands of learning, particularly in the area of handwriting. Even though he is fully aware of what he would like to write, the motor skills weakness mean his ideas and thoughts will translate poorly into writing.
- A student in Year 1 can read (literacy) and speaks very well (oral language) but her letter formation is poor and laboured. She is unable to read back her own attempts at writing. PREDICTION:The student becomes frustrated, resists writing, and produces a reduced quantity of writing in comparison to her peers.
- An 8-year-old student has adequate handwriting (movement and motor) and is able to spell (literacy) but has poor language skills. PREDICTION: He is unable to independently follow instructions, participate in class discussions or organise his ideas for written tasks. The underdeveloped oral language skills result in overall reduced curriculum performance in most subjects.
Trying to develop literacy skills without the necessary oral language and motor skills will result in complications within schools. By adopting an integrated approach to each of these areas not only will the student achievement maximized but everyone involved will have a more positive and productive experience.