December 16, 2013

Children’s production of polysyllables as a marker for phonological processing and emerging literacy skills

Today Sarah Masso presented her PhD proposal at Charles Sturt University during her endorsement for candidature session. Sarah is a PhD candidate and research officer on our Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP130102545) (2013-2015) titled A sound start: innovative technology to promote speech and pre-literacy skills in at-risk preschoolers. Her PhD is designed to answer (in part) the second aim of the Sound Start Study: Use psycholinguistic theory, to
a. determine the relationship between children’s speech errors (developmental versus disordered), emergent literacy, and phonological processing skills.
b. test whether promotion of input processing skills alone will enhance speech and emergent literacy skills.
In true CSU style, her presentation occurred in 4 cities via video conference: Sydney, Bathurst, Albury and Wagga Wagga. Her presentation was well received by the invited panel members and audience.
 Here is her abstract
Children who have difficulty talking and making speech sounds may constitute up to 20% of preschool children in Australia (McLeod, Harrison, McAllister, & McCormack, 2013; McLeod & Harrison, 2009). Preschool-age children who have speech sound disorders are at significant risk of literacy difficulties (Lewis, Freebairn, & Taylor, 2002). Anthony et al. (2011) found that between 30% and 77% of children who have an ongoing difficulty with speech sound production when they start school will have difficulties learning to read. Identification of those children who will go on to have literacy difficulties is fundamental to providing targeted, effective and efficient early intervention. Children’s ability to store phonological representations, access/process phonological information (known as phonological processing), and complete phonemic-level tasks may be key to understanding their risk of literacy difficulties (Anthony, 2010). It has been suggested that the specificity of children’s phonological representations may be inferred from children’s accuracy of polysyllable productions (James et al., 2008; James, 2006). However, recent studies into the capacity of children to change the accuracy of their polysyllables suggest that this may not be a simple, linear relationship (Gozzard, Baker, & McCabe, 2008; Masso, McCabe, et al., in press). Thus, the relationship between children’s ability to say polysyllables and process phonological information needs to be explored. It is also necessary to determine whether the accuracy of children’s polysyllable production correlates with their ability to complete emergent literacy tasks. The body of work presented in this research proposal is designed to close a number of key gaps in the current evidence regarding the relationships between polysyllable speech production, phonological processing, and emergent literacy skills in preschool children who have speech sound disorders. Further, this research proposal outlines a body of work which will provide practical, evidence-based solutions to change how speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals identify and engage preschool-age children at a high risk of literacy difficulties in the years prior to commencing formal literacy education.