B. Debner1, J. Anderson2

1Saint Mary's University of Minnesota (UNITED STATES)
2Initial Teaching Alphabet Foundation, Inc. (UNITED STATES)
Dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder rooted in the phonological processing system which impairs the ability to analyze spoken language by word, syllable, and sound boundaries. It is estimated that the incidence of dyslexia in transparent languages like Italian and German is half the incidence found in the United States due to the complexity of English orthography. The 44 sounds of English can be written in more than 1,100 ways using the 26 letters of the English alphabet. Young children who cannot segment and blend syllables and sounds are at risk of reading failure. While their normally-developing peers in kindergarten are writing words the way they sound, e.g., “sed” for “said,” children with phonological deficits fail to “crack the sound-symbol code” that leads to reading and spelling success.

A previous brain mapping study by the second author revealed that remediation of dyslexia using the initial teaching alphabet (i.t.a)., a phonemic alphabet which represents each of the 44 sounds of spoken English with a unique symbol, resulted in normalization of brain function during reading. However, it was not clear whether the reading or writing component of the study contributed to the normalization outcome. This study investigated the use of i.t.a. for remediation of phonological deficits using a researcher-developed writing process called “Slash and Dash.” Eight upper elementary Special Education students learned to segment spoken words by making a slash for each syllable heard in a polysyllabic word. Next, they made a dash for each sound within each syllable. They then used the i.t.a. symbol-picture chart to identify each sound in the dictated word. Last, they typed the word into an electronic dictionary, the Franklin Speaking Speller, to find the correct spelling of the word.

This process was repeated daily for 30 sessions, using words from the students’ content classes. Pre and post-tests of phonological processing included:
(1) the Auditory Analysis Test-Revised (AAT-R), which assesses the ability to delete syllables and sounds from spoken words; and
(2) three spelling tests with misspellings scored for Good Phonetic Equivalents, i.e., representation of each sound phonetically in dictated words--the Wide Range Achievement Test (42 words), the Words Their Way spelling test (42 words), and a researcher-developed spelling list consisting of polysyllabic words from the 6th grade reading curriculum (10 words).

Results were analyzed by:
(1) graphical presentation of each student’s pre and post-test scores; and
(2) statistical analysis of group results. Paired-sample t-tests indicated significant progress on each measure.

WRAT-4 pretest average of 14% Good Phonetic Equivalents rose to 47% on post-test (p.=.0002). On the Words Their Way spelling test, students gained an average of 33% more words written phonetically (p.=.03). On the 6th grade word list, students went from an average of 3% Good Phonetic Equivalents to 21% (p. =.0006).

The most striking result of this study was the students’ gain on the Auditory Analysis Test-Revised (AAT-R). Although this investigation did not directly work on the skills tested on the AAT-R, students went from a pretest average standard score of 81 to 103 on post-test (p.=.02). This suggested normalization of their underlying neurophysiological deficits in phonological processing, supporting the finding of normalization of brain function using electrophysiological brain mapping in our previous study.