Developing Working Memory Skills for Children with Down Syndrome - pdf by Julie Hughes
Why learn whole words?
Children with Down syndrome can learn words by sight before they are able to recognise, learn or apply the rules of letter sounds, phonemes and graphemes. For them, and for many other children, whole word learning is a strength and will give them early reading success.
Editor's Note: Often children with Down Syndrome have difficulty with decoding because of conductive hearing problems as well as a difficulty in remembering and sequencing the individual phonemes in a word. For those children, the sight word approach is recommended.
- A visual image of a word is particularly helpful for children who are good visual learners, especially those who find it difficult to develop an auditory image or memory for sounds, words and sentences.
- Learning new word meanings by reading develops vocabulary knowledge and helps children learn about the world.
- Learning to read words that are already understood by children enables them to learn about how words work together, or how to understand and use language.
- Saying words, individually and in sentences, helps children to improve the clarity of their speech, so reading words also provides practice for learning to speak more clearly.
- Learning to read words in semantic categories, or associating words with similar or linked meanings, builds children's understanding of language in an organised, integrated way and may make it easier for them to use their language knowledge when communicating.
- Learning to read also helps children to improve their working memory function. Improved working memory enables children to process and remember information more easily and to choose the correct words to express their feelings or ideas more quickly and accurately.
How to choose words and teach them
The choice of words for any child will depend on the stage the child has reached in learning language, the child's age, cultural and family background, the child's interests and things he or she likes to communicate about, and the curriculum the child is learning from.
Select words for reading based on the child's vocabulary knowledge, vocabulary in school that links with school life (school vocabulary, routines, reading scheme vocabulary) as well as home life (family names, friends, routines and interests).
Begin with words that children understand
Children who have 50 to 100 single words in their expressive vocabularies and are developing two word comprehension should learn to read words that they understand and that can be used to teach them how to link words and ideas together. These are likely to be very young children with Down syndrome (aged 30 to 42 months) but some children will be school age when they reach a 100 word vocabulary stage and a two-word comprehension level.
Figure 2. Word matching using flashcards
Matching words to pictures enables children to demonstrate that they can read them with understanding as some of the successful readers will not yet be able say the words, although they may sign some of them.
Photograph toys, objects, people and activities that are important in children's daily routines to make individual materials. Introduce reading using matching, selecting and naming games, described below. Begin with picture matching and when the child can match and select pictures proceed to word matching (word to word without the picture) and to matching the word to the picture.
Introduce simple phrases and sentences that you want your child to generate in speech as early as possible during your teaching activities, for example, ''Look at Mummy/Daddy/Granny'', ''Mummy/Daddy/the cat/is sleeping/eating/washing'', ''A cup/bed/shoe''. Make simple books with short sentences, using the child's sight vocabulary.
Figure 3. Word and picture matching for reading comprehension using flashcards and picture cards
Remember to use the small words of speech, e.g., ''the'', ''at'', ''in'', ''is'', ''his/her'' and ''she/he'' in sentences.
Make books (photo album or scrap book) with words and pictures. Use these to teach words in categories, for example, the rooms of a house, animal words, garden words, transport words and action words (verbs). Use the children's interests as a guide.
How to teach matching, selecting and naming to children at any age or stage
Matching single words:
Recommended order for matching
- Picture to picture
- Word to word (matching, naming and selecting)
- Word to picture (comprehension game, adds interest, demonstrates reading ability and understanding)
- Make 2 identical flashcards for each of 4 words.
- Put one word in front of your child; give the duplicate word to the child and say: ''This says (cup/shoe...). Put it with the one that is the same''.
- Guide the child to complete the task successfully, e.g., physically guide his or her hands, prompt and praise.
- Match a photo to the word, or turn a word card over to show the corresponding picture, to aid understanding that the written word means the same as the spoken word illustrated by the photo.
- Matching games can include lotto, fishing, posting boxes, find the word in the room or on the picture (for younger children), and snap or other competitive board games for word matching (for older children) to add variety and maintain interest.
- Some children can remember words by being shown them and told them, especially as reading skills develop, and do not need to match all new words in this structured way.
- Matching encourages the child to look carefully at the word and to realise how it looks the same or different compared with other words. Children will learn more accurate discrimination through matching, and may need to go back to matching to emphasise and teach differences between words which look similar and/or have similar meanings (e.g. ''is'', ''in'', ''it'', ''the'', ''this'', ''that'', ''what'', ''when'', ''where'').
Matching, selecting and naming are steps in early word learning
- Children will be able to match written words before being able to select them
- Children will be able to select written words before being able to say them
- Children learn to read words faster if words are not attached to pictures
- Word to picture games should be a separate comprehension activity
Selecting: learning to associate the name with the word
- Use flashcards that the child has learned to match; lay 2 or 3 in front of the child and say: ''Give me (or show me) the word (cup/shoe...)''
- Guide the child through the correct response; when he or she can select 2 words, add a third - slowly build up the number of words to choose from.
- Children may name words using signs or spoken words.
- Articulation problems may mean that spoken words are not clear. Praise and encourage approximations to word-reading as practice helps children to make their speech clearer.
- Show the child the word and say: ''What is this? It's a (cup/shoe...) Can you say cup?''
- Encourage children to imitate words.
Figure 4. Days of the week word-cards
- Repeat words (or whole sentences) after they have signed or said them, to help pronunciation.
- Use errorless techniques by prompting children with the correct answer, until they can say the word, without hesitation.
Extending reading vocabulary
Vocabulary for language development
When children have begun to learn to read, new words can be introduced into their reading vocabulary that teach new word meanings, as well as continuing to learn to read words that are familiar to them. Different types of words should be introduced, to prevent a noun based vocabulary from developing to the exclusion of other words. Other types of words are needed to develop language skills, to speak in sentences and to build sentences. New vocabulary should be read in sentences as soon as possible (see below).
Vocabulary for school
In school, choose topic words, math words, names of key staff and their roles, days of the week (Figure 4) or words chosen from the curriculum, as well as the words of everyday language and the core vocabulary from children's school literacy schemes.
Common, high frequency words
As children's skills develop they will need to learn words that are common in written and spoken English. Many of these words can be taught as words or flashcards with matching games, or other teaching activities that offer frequent repetition.
High frequency words (the, here, etc.) may be better learned as part of a sentence, as well as an individual word, as on their own they may have little meaning. (Figure 5 and Figure 6). For this reason, teaching of high frequency words should be more carefully considered than teaching sight words for children who do not have language delays. Many children find learning function words (prepositions, pronouns, auxiliaries) difficult at first. Content words (nouns, verbs and adjectives), where meaning can be illustrated with a picture, symbol or more visual representation are likely to be learned more quickly.
Figure 5. High frequency words practiced daily in school, for a child aged 6 years, kept with the child in the classroom.
Figure 6. Selecting words by coloring over them (pupil aged 6 years)
Differentiation and vocabulary learning
Figure 7. Extending vocabulary (child aged 6 years)
Work is likely to be differentiated (simplified) for children with Down syndrome of all ages, to varying extents. Words can be chosen from across the curriculum to extend vocabulary knowledge and enable children to share in learning and understanding with their peers (Figure 7).
Schools and parents should work together
Parents can be included in planning for schemes of work so that vocabulary can be chosen with the children's interests and life experience in mind, and can also be reinforced by parents at home. Sharing in the whole class reading activities and schemes, with reinforcement throughout the school day of the characters and stories in the books, is usually motivating for all children in the early stages of reading.
Visually supported reading using pictures, symbols and objects
Most children with Down syndrome are able to learn to read using ordinary text from the beginning.
Picture symbols are all around us in the environment and they can enhance learning and support our understanding in many ways but using symbol systems as an aid to reading words and sentences may be confusing to the child and introduces another symbolic system he or she does not need.
However, for children who practice often but still seem to find it difficult to select or remember words, picture symbols and pictures can add to the fun and success of reading. These can be taught in the same way as teaching written words, with matching games initially, and combinations of words, symbols and pictures can be used together.
Figure 8. Creating sentences with words and pictures
Working with symbols is different from working with words. Symbols do not necessarily map on to all of the words in a sentence. For this reason, symbols do not easily support the learning of sentence grammar. Symbols can support understanding of ideas represented in words (for example, question words), text, locations, events, time, routines and sequences. Symbols can be added to pages or next to words and sentences, as can other visual aids and objects to help children understand and remember (Figure 8). As a general rule, introduction of picture symbols for children of school age is not necessary for learning to read written words, although use of pictures and symbols may make recorded work and activities more interesting and aid comprehension by illustrating concepts.
Reading lists, directions, sequences
As a result of auditory processing and auditory memory difficulties, children with Down syndrome are likely to have some difficulties in processing spoken language in the classroom, and may not remember new instructions.
Being able to read written instruction or follow lists helps children to work more effectively in the classroom. They can keep to their task for longer periods of time, feel more confident that they have not forgotten anything and check where they are.
For events and activities that happen regularly, they can use a variety of timetables, for parts of days, whole days, school weeks and calendars of events at home. Timetables are likely to use text and pictures to help children remember orders and sequences, focus on their immediate task and reflect on the past and the future (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Timetable for 6 year old pupil in an infant school
Whole words and sentences can be chosen to support the development of self-management and independence in the classroom and at home, for example, daily tasks at school, the order of activities at home before going to school and regular after school events (Figure 10).
Figure 10. Aid to remembering (pupil aged 6 years)
Any progress in learning to read should be valued and celebrated. All children should receive reading instruction and sufficient opportunities to learn to read, with materials chosen and made to link with their language and interest levels. Teachers and parents should convey to children that learning to read, at any level of proficiency, is valuable, whatever their rate of reading skill development.
There are many ways of making reading or 'visual language' fun and of encouraging children to want to learn to read. Children with low self-esteem, avoidance behaviours or experience of failure, like all other children, require praise and positive interaction. It is important that all of their achievements and positive behaviours are celebrated frequently, in the classroom and at home. Avoidance behaviours may indicate a lack of positive learning experiences and children should be taught the skills for learning, with praise and other rewards. Children who have developed a resistance to reading may have experienced failure, or felt under too much pressure to read. These children can be helped by making reading games errorless as far as possible so that children can see how to succeed, with easy matching games, modelling of correct answers and by not asking them to read aloud unless they want to. Do not leave children who lack confidence in their skills to fail - help them to complete the task successfully or change the task so that they can succeed on their own and praise them. Return to top
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Emergent Literacy in the Homes of Children with Down syndrome
Thomas L. Layton, Ph.D.
North Carolina Central University
Current thinking views literacy as an interaction between listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Each is an important function for the other. Listening, for instance, is an important part of comprehending the theme of a story; whereas learning to read can help to produce sounds correctly, or to develop vocabulary skills, as well as for expanding longer sentences. Writing teaches the child spelling, left to right orientation, correct production, and fine motor skills. Other concepts involved in emergent literacy include: learning to read from left to right, understanding print is related to speech, knowing letters must be learned, and organizing language through appropriate grammar (van Kleeck, 1990).
It has been documented that typical developing children are highly exposed to literacy before entering school. For example, children from literate homes usually have over 1,000 hours of informal reading and writing encounters before entering school.
In recent years, a few investigations have reported on book reading between parents and children with Down syndrome. The findings suggest that more and more parents are reading earlier and more often with their children. Furthermore, parents do expect their children to be able to read independently and for pleasure. The intent of this brief article is to introduce some of parent-child reading methods to help increase early reading for children with Down syndrome. Some parents may already apply these methods. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the suggestions will stimulate additional reading between parents and child.
In our clinic, we encourage parents to introduce reading in a naturalistic setting even before the child has learned to speak. For instance, environmental print can help the child develop initial symbol awareness. This can be done by cutting pictures and words from the child’s favorite food products, toys, games, etc. The parent can collect the pictures in a box for future use or laminate them and attach stick-on-magnets so they can be displayed on the refrigerator (or a magnetic black-board). We have even taken our camera and went around town snapping pictures of favorite places to visit, like McDonald’s, Winn Dixie, the library, Toys R Us, etc. We then laminate the pictures along with written words and place them on the refrigerator. The child can go to the refrigerator and select the picture when he/she wants to get something, or go somewhere. Parents can also select the pictures and talk about getting ready to go to the library and then put the Library picture in a special spot. When it is time to really go to the library, the child can go and get the picture and take it with him/her. (This type of activity helps the child to associate pictures with an activity, to talk about future events, and to anticipate what is going to happen.) Later on when dad arrives home from work, the child can go find the picture, show it to dad, and talk about where he/she went. Thus, the child is talking about past events.
Reading stories on a daily basis is important. There are several strategies that can help the child attain higher language skills, learn to express the meanings of stories, and help to acquire early word concepts. First, the child should pick out the story. Successful reading begins with an interest in the story. However, the books should contain a repeated line throughout the story. Some of our favorite books are "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?," "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," and "Tthe Napping House" for young beginners, age 14 to 30 months. For more advanced children, i.e., 3 to 5 years, parents might want to consider: "Stone Soup," "Are You My Mother?," and "Just Grandma and Me." This last one has a video interactive CD, produced by Broderbund Software, Inc.
Reading the story aloud is important. During the reading the parent should ask lots of questions. "What is this?" "What do you think is going to happen next?" "Where is he going?" Reading the same story over and over, on different days, also prepares the child to answer the questions. If your child answers the questions with only one-word utterances, expand them to two words. Or, if he/she answers with short phrases without auxiliaries (i.e., is, are, was) or with missing articles (i.e., a, an, the), insert these elements in the child’s phrases.
While reading the story stop and try to discuss the story applying it to some real life experience that your child had. Always, comment on your child’s contributions during the story (even if most of what your child is saying is unintelligible). You should point out words in the story, and see if your child can find the same word on the next page.
After you have read the story a few times, pause at important times during the story so the child can complete the sentence; for example, in the book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" the repeating line is the title of the book followed by, "I see a red bird looking at me." The parent could stop after the title line to see if the child can repeat the next line. If not, provide part of it, such as, "I see a red (pause)" and wait for the child to respond. The parent can also make purposeful errors for the child to correct; for example, for the previous line the parent could say, "duck" instead of "bird", i.e., "I see a red duck looking at me." This allows the child the opportunity to change the sentence by correcting the parent. This is a powerful language skill and tells the parent the child was listening.
The parent can introduce writing along with the story. You can begin simply with drawing a picture of the story, such as, drawing a red bird, yellow duck, white dog, etc. Have the child tell you what he/she is drawing and then label each picture. Then, the next time the story is read the child’s picture can be used to help find the pictures and words in the story.
The parent can also have the child simply copy meaningful words from the story. The parent simply writes the word on the paper and has the child copy it. Remember that initially the child’s copying may not look anything like the adult’s. Regardless, praise the child and show it off. It is the doing that is more important than the product. We have also found that writing and tracing daily improves hand strength, coordination, as well as, letter identification. Practicing drawing and writing is important.
We use felt-tip pens rather than pencils or colors because they require less motor strength to use. We even use a mirror rather than paper to help the child write initially. It requires less effort than paper, and it can easily be wiped clean with a squirt of water.
Another important strategy is to teach the child to write his/her name. This is most rewarding and is a good first word to learn: it teaches the child individual letters, form, and shape. Most children want to learn to write their name. The parent could begin with tracing and copying. You could use alphabet magnets to help the child learn to spell the name. Then leave the magnetic letters on the refrigerator for the child to see his/her name. You can take them down and mix them up. See if the child can put them back in the correct order. Later on you can use the same idea to teach other words.
Parent-child book reading and writing are excellent ways to help a child learn his/her sounds and to improve language skills. Not only that, it is fun. It is a easy and enjoyable method of teaching your child. So, go have fun and good luck in your book reading. return to top