Research Basis

Research Basis for Signs for Sounds

Signs for Sounds is a spelling program that provides systematic, explicit instruction based on spelling and instructional design research.

The National Reading Panel Report did not include spelling as one of the essential components of comprehensive literacy instruction. The report implied that phonemic awareness and phonics instruction had a positive effect on spelling in the primary grades and that spelling continues to develop in response to appropriate reading instruction (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). However, more recent research challenges at least part of the National Reading Panel's assumption. A group of researchers found that, although students' growth in passage comprehension remained close to average from first through fourth grade, their spelling scores dropped dramatically by third grade and continued to decline in fourth grade (Mehta, Foorman, Branum-Martin, & Taylor, 2005). Clearly, we should not assume that progress in reading will necessarily result in progress in spelling. Spelling instruction is necessary.

Spelling Instruction Research

Signs for Sounds was designed to incorporate the latest spelling research.

What the Research Indicates How the Research Is Applied in Signs for Sounds
Spelling Regular and Irregular Words 

Researchers have debated for decades about whether or not the brain uses a single route method for spelling all types of words. A study using neuroimaging of the brain during word spelling revealed a neural difference based on whether the word had regular or irregular sound-to-letter spelling patterns. Regular words were usually processed using sublexical letter-to-sound correspondences to encode and decode the words, while irregular words were stored and retrieved from lexical or word-specific memory (Norton, Kovelman, & Petitto, 2007).

Signs for Sounds uses a dual approach to learning to spell words. Words with regular spelling patterns are taught using a sound-out method, which is a rule-based approach that associates each sound of a word (phoneme) with the corresponding letter or letters that represent the sound (grapheme). Words with irregular spelling patterns are taught with whole-word instruction, using a spell-out method that incorporates memory and repeated practice.
Spelling Rule-Based Words
Researchers have estimated that the spellings of nearly 50 percent of words in English are predictable and are based on sound-letter correspondences that can be taught as phonics rules or generalizations. Another 34 percent of words are predictable except for one sound (e.g., knit, two). So, approximately 84 percent of English words have mostly predictable spelling patterns (Hanna, Hanna, Hodges, & Rudorf, 1966).
Research shows that ongoing spelling instruction based on the sounds of language is effective and produces good results. Researchers found that the most successful approaches were based on structured spelling instruction that explicitly teaches speech sounds that are represented by letters in printed words (Graham, 1999; Berninger et al., 2000).
Signs for Sounds is a structured, systematic program that explicitly teaches about 400 words in level 1 and between 1,000 and 1,200 words in level 2 by teaching rule-based, letter-sound correspondences. Students master the correspondence between sounds and letters and apply their skills to spell thousands of unfamiliar words with predictable spelling patterns.
Spelling High-Frequency Words
Only 100 words account for approximately 50 percent of the words in English print (Fry, Fountoukidis, & Polk, 1985). The first 25 of these words make up about one third of all words used in reading and writing. It makes sense that early reading and spelling instruction should focus on these frequently used words. Many of these words have irregular spelling patterns.
Signs for Sounds teaches the first 100 high-frequency words, one third of which have irregular spellings. Students are taught a system for remembering how to spell these irregular words. Teachers present the irregular words as spell-out words and emphasize the sequence of the letters by guiding students to pronounce and spell the words aloud while writing them. Then students commit the spellings of the irregular words to memory through repeated practice and self-correction

Instructional Design Research

Signs for Sounds was designed to include effective intervention methods and strategies that increase the achievement of students with diverse learning needs.

What the Research Indicates How the Research Is Applied in Signs for Sounds
Immediate Self-Correction
A strategy that has the most impact on improving spelling is immediate self-correction (Morton, Heward, & Alber, 1998). Students attempt to spell a word and then immediately correct their own work using a visual aid that displays the correct spelling (Darch, Kim, Johnson, & James, 2000).
In every Signs for Sounds lesson, the student immediately self-corrects both sound-out and spell-out words. In the teaching and dictation phases, the student is guided to check spelling immediately after writing each word by looking at the word letter by letter, circling each error, and writing word correctly.
By communicating goals and expectations, an instructor can increase students' academic achievement (Althoff, Linde, Mason, Nagel, & O'Reilly, 2007). In addition, providing students with feedback on their progress has been shown to increase student performance (Conte & Hintze, 2000).
The design of each Signs for Sounds lesson clearly communicates the element(s) to be mastered and the goal for the lesson. In Signs for Sounds, the student records the score for each lesson and graphs progress on a score sheet. The student also tracks progress in the testing and dictation phases. Awards are included to help celebrate student success.

Instructional Components

H. Lee Swanson, Maureen Hoskyn, and Carole Lee conducted an extensive meta-analysis of 180 intervention studies and identified a number of instructional components that demonstrated effectiveness with students (1999). The lessons in Signs for Sounds include many of these instructional components: segmentation, control of task difficulty, modeling, practice and repetition, and review.

What the Research Indicates How the Research Is Applied in Signs for Sounds
Segmentation is the act of breaking a targeted skill into small units and then synthesizing the units back into the targeted skill. Segmentation of skills improves student achievement (Swanson et al., 1999).
In Signs for Sounds, the student is taught to listen for the individual sounds in words and is taught the letter or letters that correspond to each sound. The student identifies the sounds in a sound-out word and constructs the word letter by letter.
Control of Task Difficulty
Controlling the difficulty of tasks, beginning with simple ones and then moving to more demanding ones, supports students during initial learning phases and promotes independence as students become more capable (Kame'enui, Carnine, Dixon, Simmons, & Coyne, 2002). The use of cues and prompts in diminishing frequency provides the support students need as they acquire difficult skills.
Signs for Sounds content follows a continuum of skills from least difficult to most difficult. Each lesson expands or reviews the skills taught before, adding just a few new elements at a time.
Signs for Sounds is designed with great attention to controlling difficulty. In the teaching phase, letter options are provided for each sound in the dictated word. In the testing phase, these cues are absent. In the dictation phase, cues structure the students to be successful in writing dictation sentences
Modeling and careful explanation of the required steps helps students correctly perform tasks. It also increases the likelihood that students will perform a task independently later (Swanson et al., 1999). When teaching students to spell, the steps for spelling must be made conspicuous by modeling the strategy before students practice.
In Signs for Sounds, the teacher carefully models the sound of the phonics element or syllable pattern, the corresponding letter(s), and sample words with the featured element.
Practice and Repetition
Research indicates that repeated practice is an effective and efficient way of achieving skills (Swanson et al., 1999).
In Signs for Sounds, the student practices spelling words until able to spell them correctly. The student must practice and master a skill before going on to the next lesson. The student also practices by writing dictated sentences that contain the words of the lesson.
Regularly reviewing skills is an effective instructional tool (Swanson et al., 1999). However, review should be more than just rote rehearsal. Designing reviews that combine newly acquired skills with skills taught less recently extends understanding (Kame'enui et al., 2002).
Signs for Sounds lessons provide word lists that include words with just the new element being taught and word lists that combine both the new and the earlier elements. Difficult words with irregular spelling patterns are included as review words until they are mastered.

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