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On the Road with Visual Phonics Trainers

Image: Chisholm and Waddy-Smith demonstrate the handshape for the /f/ sound, which is used regardless of the spelling (e.g., [f] as in “fish” or [ph] as in “photo”). Each sound has a written symbol that is a visual representation of the handshape.

Chisholm and Waddy-Smith demonstrate the handshape for the /f/ sound, which is used regardless of the spelling (e.g., [f] as in “fish” or [ph] as in “photo”). Each sound has a written symbol that is a visual representation of the handshape.

For more than 20 years the Clerc Center has been offering workshops on See-the-Sound Visual Phonics, which can serve as the foundation for literacy development. Participants in these workshops have included parents, teachers, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, sign language interpreters, and school administrators from as far away as Alaska, Brunei Darussalam, and Trinidad.

Clerc Center trainers Bettie Waddy-Smith, a speech-language pathologist, and Genie Chisholm, a speech-language pathologist and coordinator of support services, lead one- and two-day workshops using lectures, video clips, games, and other hands-on activities. In this academic year Waddy-Smith and Chisholm have already presented to school districts in Covington, Louisiana; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Sacramento, California. 

Bettie Waddy-Smith packing trunk

“The advantage of Visual Phonics is its flexibility,” said Waddy-Smith. “It can be used for enhancing speech skills, spelling, and reading skills with students who are deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing.” Developing phonological skills have in the past been thought of as an auditory task. However, See-the-Sound Visual Phonics makes phonological skill development a multisensory experience through the use of visual input, auditory input, tactile kinesthetic feedback, and experience in speechreading and oral motor feedback.

See-the-Sound Visual Phonics is a system of 45 handshapes and written symbols that help students make the connection between written and spoken language, with each handshape suggesting how a sound is made. The system was pioneered by the International Learning Institute in 1981. It helps individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, students who have intellectual disabilities, and students who have difficulty discriminating between sounds as a result of dialect differences or auditory processing issues. The system can be used as early as 18 months of age through the high school years.

“Traditionally, the Common Core Curriculum does not identify the development of phonological skills at the high school level. However, we have found that service providers have recognized the need in some students of that age to address those skills to support their reading, writing, and speech,” said Chisholm. “Our workshop gives them a way to address those skills.” On their workshop evaluation forms, participants have shared:

  • “I learned so much in such a short time.”
  • “This was a great way to learn a new skill.”
  • “This was one of the best workshops I have taken!”
  • “This is a tool I can immediately implement with my students.”
  • “I can use this strategy with my existing program.”
  • “An excellent workshop; presenters were very knowledgeable, personable, and fun to work with!”

For more information on Visual Phonics workshops or other Clerc Center training opportunities offered for educators and professionals working with deaf and hard of hearing students, e-mail Clerc Center Training or contact your Gallaudet University Regional Center .