Kicking off the recent Schools 2001 conference with an opening session entitled “Literacy: SLPs Come Off the Bench,” presenters Barbara Ehren and Joseph Torgesen called all school-based speech-language pathologists to take action in the literacy arena.
Ehren, an SLP who is currently a research associate with the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, used a basketball analogy to describe the roles that SLPs can take in literacy. “Like basketball players on the bench who have the skills but haven’t necessarily been first string, SLPs are very well equipped to address literacy issues but aren’t necessarily stepping forward into the thick of things,” she said. “We need to come off the bench, become actively involved, share the responsibilities, and make a commitment to the team.”
SLPs should be playing both offense and defense, initiating action and being responsive to literacy initiatives in the schools. “Make yourself aware of what’s already going on in your district, but you must also take action and assert your credentials,” Ehren said. And, as in basketball, success in literacy requires teamwork, with multiple people playing different positions. “The most important person on the team in not always the one who scores the points,” she added.
“SLPs play a critical and direct role in literacy with kids who have communication disorders – kids who by and large are already on your caseload,” Ehren said. But while SLPs have an opportunity to use their language expertise to expand their roles in literacy, Ehren said there are barriers to overcome. She said SLPs often inhibit themselves due to traditional perceptions of their roles, lack of training, desire for autonomy, and fear of change. “A call to change is not an indictment of the past,” she said. “Of course it’s more comfortable to just do what you’ve been doing. But we have to seek out the skills and knowledge that we need to step into the literacy arena.”
Ehren recognized that others’ lack of knowledge about what SLPs do can also be an obstacle, as can issues such as caseload variables, school culture, funding, policies, and certification. Ehren encouraged SLPs to acknowledge and recognize these barriers and then take action to overcome them by:
- preparing yourself for assuming new or expanded roles
- seeking collaborative opportunities with teachers
- considering alternative service delivery models
- enlisting the support of others
- becoming involved in overall school reform efforts
Ehren listed the possible roles that SLPs might take in literacy-including prevention, identification, assessment, intervention, assistance, and leadership-and stressed that school-based clinicians should read ASHA’s policy documents on the “Roles and Responsibilities of Speech-Language Pathologists With Respect to Reading and Writing in Children and Adolescents.” She also provided tips on how SLPs can market, effectively communicate, and negotiate their roles in literacy development.
During his presentations, Torgesen, the Robert M. Gagne Professor of Psychology and Education in the psychology department at Florida State University, shared developments in literacy research. He said the amount of research being done on literacy has increased greatly over the past 15 years, providing the “clear potential to make us much more effective in teaching all children to read than ever before.” But current literacy levels still leave room for much improvement. According to Torgesen, about 20% of elementary students across the country have significant problems learning to read, and at least another 20% do not read fluently enough to enjoy or engage in independent reading.
For African American, Hispanic, limited-English-speaking, and poor children, the rate of reading failure ranges from 60%-70%. Torgesen also said that one-third of poor readers come from college-educated families, and that 25% of adults in this country lack the basic literacy skills required in a typical job.
“There is an enormous, accelerating demand for literacy in our society,” he said. “We cannot be content with the status quo. The goal is not to keep doing what we’re doing but to do better than we ever have before.”
Torgesen reviewed various approaches to reading instruction as well as research findings about how children learn to read. He also shared three basic requirements for preventing early reading difficulties in most children:
- consistent delivery of high quality reading instruction in kindergarten through second grade
- assessment procedures to identify children who are likely to have-or who are having-difficulties learning to read
- methods for delivering more intensive, more explicit, and more supportive instruction for children who are at risk or who are having difficulties learning to read
For more information about literacy research, Torgesen recommended reading “Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children,” a report of the National Research Council (available at www.nap.edu) and the National Reading Panel’s report, “Teaching Children to Read” (available at http://nationalreadingpanel.org).
By Mary M. Annett
Vol. 6 No. 16 September 2001
The ASHA Leader
Reprinted with permission.