Collaborative Efforts in Language and Literacy from the Perspective a Graduate Student with a Learning Disability

By Caitlin Callais, B.A., Communication Sciences and Disorders, Graduate Student Clinician


As a first-year graduate student, I am continuing to learn from professors and my hands-on clinical experiences about the important relationship between oral and written language. While I could sit here and pile loads of “fancy” information on you, I want you to take a step back and place yourself in this student’s shoes: Imagine you’re a third-grade student who is struggling to succeed academically. You’re aware of the high expectations placed on you by your teachers and parents but continue to struggle to keep up with your peers and develop low self-esteem and frustrations related to your language and literacy disorder. It seems like all the hours of hard work and studying continues to fail you and leave you disappointed in yourself. Even though you’re listening, taking notes, and asking questions in class, you feel like you’re missing information and struggling to comprehend and apply the new information you learned in class. You’re embarrassed to ask questions in class because you don’t want others to think your questions are “silly” or “stupid.” You really struggle with spelling and reading so you try to avoid these topics at all cost. 

Now let’s flip sides and talk about your role. Yes, YOU the one reading this! You play such an important role in providing support for your child, your client, and your students. After placing yourself in this student’s shoes, you can clearly see the amount of frustration and struggle she/he deals with every day. What if I told you that kid was me, and I was the one struggling all throughout elementary, middle school, and high school. Would you believe that as a student with dyslexia, I am currently striving to be an SLP and help kids with this very problem that I struggled with and honestly still struggle with today at times. But I’m here to tell you, there’s hope for these students who are struggling academically due to a language and/or literacy disorder because they have YOU—their motivating teacher, their hard working SLP, and their dedicated parents to help provide support and improve their literacy skills. 

BUT before you can put your hard hat on and gear up to help your kiddo, there’s a few things you should know. Oral and written language share a tight bond and relationship similar to peanut butter and jelly. In order to be successful readers and writers, it’s so important that children have a strong foundation and knowledge of both the spoken/oral and written word. The relationship between the two are so strong that children who typically have spoken language problems tend to have difficulty learning to read and write and vice versa (“Written Language Disorders: Overview”, 2019). While language includes a receptive (listening and reading) and expressive (speaking and writing) component, spoken and written language can be further divided into 5 individual language domains known as phonology (pattern of sounds), morphology (use of meaningful units), syntax (word order), semantics (word meaning), and pragmatics (use of language) (“Language In Brief”, 2019). The five parameters of language build on each other to form a strong foundation for a child’s spoken and written language leading to strong literacy skills later in life. However, if a child lacks this foundation, this can cause academic problems and lead to a domino effect of errors in the child’s ability to understand letter-sound associations, manipulate sounds for spelling and reading, create complex sentences using correct word order and grammar, and build a strong diverse vocabulary. All of these elements are important during spoken and written language, and it’s our job (YES YOU) to provide support for your child to break down any barriers and encourage them to build a strong foundation! 

Don’t think that I forgot about YOU and YOUR role because it’s time to put on your hard hat and finally get to work! As I stated early, I’ve learned a lot from my professors, my clinical experience, and my own personal experiences with my learning disability. I understand the struggle on a personal level, and I’ve seen my parents and teachers struggle to help me find what works best for me. I wish I could tell you that every child is the same and if you follow all the recommendations then everything will be fixed, but I would be lying and giving you false hope. However, I will tell you as the teacher, SLP, and/or parent, don’t give up on your child because they need YOU—your time, support, encouragement and patience. So take a deep breath, we got this! 

To the motivating teacher—You are appreciated more than you know! Your kind, giving, and very patient heart and hard work does not go unnoticed. Even though I’m not a teacher, I want to provide you with some ways to help your students improve their oral and written language within the classroom.

  • Encourage partner work—This is a great way for students who are shy or embarrassed to share their thoughts and ideas to open up to another classmate in a smaller setting while working on building their conversation skills and confidence. Partner activities can be as simple as:
    • Partner read alouds— give each pair a different reading passage and have each student take turns reading the short passage and explaining to their partner what the passage means—if your class really enjoys this, then take it another step and have each group write a few sentences summarizing their passage and present it to the class 
  • Encourage reading!! Be a good model by reading books to the class and asking questions before, during, and after. For example:
    • Before: complete compare/contrast charts about something related to the book OR discuss possible unfamiliar vocabulary words before reading
    • During: Ask questions pertaining to the story and questions related to real life 
    • After: Have your students draw their favorite scene from the book, write a paragraph explaining their drawing, then present it to the class or within their small group 
  • AR—Have each kid create their own AR chart to set goals and receive prizes as they reach each goal (kids love prizes)  
  • One-on-one reading time during center time—Set up different activity centers with one including a chance to read with their teacher for 7 minutes to receive that person one-on-one time and support for students who struggle to read, decode, or comprehend what they’re reading 
  • Daily vocabulary words— classroom discussions to expand the child’s knowledge by talking about word’s definition, synonyms/antonyms, use the word in a sentence, relate it to prior knowledge/real word experiences 
  • Daily Journals— Present the class with a writing prompt and have each student write about the topic then on Friday’s each student gets to pick one journal entry from the week and share with the class 

To the hard working SLP—YOU’RE A ROCKSTAR AND I CAN ONLY DREAM TO BE LIKE YOU ONE DAY! I know you’re exhausted and have SO many kids on your case load, but here are a few things I’ve learned from my course work, clinic rotation, and my learning disability: 

  • Educate, educate, educate!! Yes, we play a big role, but it’ s beneficial for your clients, teachers, and their parents to understand what’s going on in therapy. By educating teachers, this can help them grasp a better understand of how to apply these new skills within the classroom as they move through material (it can help your specific client and possible other students who are struggling but aren’t receiving services). By educating the parents, it helps with carryover and generalization of these new strategies and skills at home.
  • Advocate and fight for children to receive services if there’s a need for extra support
  • Make therapy fun! When I first started working with kids, I tried so hard to follow “my plan” but I quickly learned that you can use any activity to target your goals. Play games centered around language and literacy activities. You could read a book and work on expansion activities such as
    • Building vocabulary—use semantic word maps 
    • Creating complex sentences
    • Manipulating sentences by adding morphemes or replacing words with a synonym  
    • Phonological awareness activities—rhyming, phoneme deletion, syllable segmentation 
  • Use multisensory cues 
    • Provide visual supports—graphic organizers, charts, color coding
      • Use the Expanding Expressions Tool (EET)—this multisensory approach is the KEY to helping kids improve their oral and written language! 
    • • Auditory input—songs, rhymes, video modeling, auditory tapes for reading
    • Tactile—make adaptions to books, work on spelling words in sand or shaving cream 

To the dedicated parents—We appreciate your patience and the extra hours you work with your child on their homework after a long day of work. I can imagine it’s frustrating and difficult to see your child struggle, but everyone is on your team and ready to help support your child at school. Here are some tips to improve your child’s written and oral language at home: 

  • Read books or short passages with your child regularly at home
    • Ask WH-questions (who, what, when, where, why) about the story 
    • Relate the story elements to real life events and his prior knowledge of elements within the book 
    • Sequencing events in the story 
  • Play games that require your child to follow directions 
    • Games: iSpy, Simon Says, Category Game 
    • Take turns being the leader 
  • Ways to improve oral language at home
    • Ask your child about their day after school and to explain what they learned that day [be specific—what did you learn in math]
    • Ask questions that go beyond “yes” or “no” answers 
    • Expand your child’s speech by repeating their sentence and adding words
  • Ways to improve vocabulary at home
    • Work on synonyms and antonyms of words (hot-cold, old-young, day-night)
    • Play games to work on using descriptive words—Ex: Hedbanz 
    • Write sentences using the vocabulary words 
    • Word Webs: Example questions are:
      • What color is it?
      • Where do you find it?
      • What shape is it?
      • What size it is?

No matter who you are—teacher, SLP, or parents—YOU can help support your child. It may take time to see improvements, but keep fighting and pushing because when it clicks, the possibilities are endless. Moving to the next grade might present your child with more challenges, but if we all work together to provide MEANINGFUL experiences and to build a strong foundation, there is hope for positive outcomes. 


Works Cited

Language In Brief. (2019). Retrieved 14 November 2019, from https://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Clinical-Topics/Spoken-Language-Disorders/LanguageIn–Brief/

Written Language Disorders: Overview. (2019). Retrieved 14 November 2019, from https://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Clinical-Topics/Written-Language-Disorders/