Phonological Policies

By Pam Marshalla

Q: My school district has been suggesting that we work on stopping before s-clusters, and I thought that would be a mistake leading to lots of frustration for both the SLPs and the students. Do you have any comments?

I think that whenever we set policy –– “my district has been suggesting that we work on stopping before s-clusters” –– we are forgetting the individual child.

There is no hierarchy or policy that should “work.”  What “works” is what works for that individual child, not what “should work” for everyone.  For example ––

  • One child will learn clusters before singletons, and another will learn singletons before clusters.
  • One child will learn a postvocalic S before a prevocalic S, and another will do it in the reverse.
  • One child will learn all his [+Anterior] sounds first and have great difficulty with the [+Back] sounds, while another child will get all his [+Back] sounds right away yet have tremendous difficulty gaining the [+Anterior] sounds.

It is not a curriculum we are teaching.  We are designing individualized programs that work for individual children. What does the term “IEP” mean?  It means Individualized Educational Plan.

To set a policy for approaching phonological skills means to ignore the important concepts of stimulability, readiness, and trial-and-error.  It also means to ignore who we really are –– we are people who help others in the ways that they can be helped.  We are not people who shove pre-set curriculums down our students’ throats.

0 thoughts on “Phonological Policies”

  1. I so agree with you. And what about the fact that targeting s-blends is an excellent way to get to stridency? Many kids have a hard time producing s when it’s NOT part of a blend. I learned this at a talk by Barbara Hodson many years ago and have found it in my experience to be true.

  2. I just wrote a comment but have one other question — when working on producing back sounds and increasing airflow (particularly the ‘hissing” sounds), my focus should be on the airflow, not correct sound production (example – client doesn’t correctly say /ch/ but is able to get a lot of airflow on her attempt when probed — her utterance comes out as a /ts/) is this correct?

    1. My experience and research demonstrates that children learn MANNER before they learn PLACE features. Thus, stridency “comes in” before the client organizes all the strident sounds by place. In other words, the DISTINCTIVE FEATURE emerges before children learn to organize all the sounds that have that feature in the correct place. As such, many children learn to produce a number of strident sounds and they mix them all up for a while before they learn to use the right phoneme in the right place within the right word. For example, a child may produce “fishie” as “Shishie” or “Thishie” or “Fiffie” before they settle on “Fishie.” Whatever occurs in normal development is what I tend to do in therapy. So I help kids become aware of the ‘”hissing sound” and I help them use a wide variety of them months before I worry about whether they are putting them in the right place.

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