Wednesday, November 1, 2017

To Symbolate … or Not? That is the Question!

Should you add symbols to printed text?


There appear to be many opposing views on this issue. There is now considerable evidence to suggest that adding symbols to text doesn’t necessarily promote the acquisition of literacy skills.  Information derived from the Center for Literacy & Disability Studies suggest that pairing words with pictures actually slowed down word reading (Pufpaff, Blischak, & Lloyd, 2000; Willows, 1978; Rose & Furr, 1984, Samuels, 1967). When comparing two conditions (learning to read with and without symbol support), students learned to read more effectively without pictures (Samuels et al., 1974; Singer et al., 1973; Singh & Soloman, 1990). In addition there is evidence to suggest that students with significant disabilities can learn to read and write using print, without pictures (Blischak, 1995; Erickson et. Al., 1997; Gipe, 1993; Hanser, 2007; Hedrick, Katims & Carr, 1999).

“To symbolate or not?”       My response to this question, … is another question ... 

“What is your goal?”

If you are using an Animated Step-by-Step resource (ASbyS) primarily to address a literacy agenda, then the symbols are superfluous and sometimes distracting.

If you are wanting to infuse more symbol use into your classroom curriculum, by all means symbolate. Symbolated text provides an easy forum for teachers to become comfortable with performing Aided Language Stimulation.

I primarily work in ‘mixed ability’ classrooms.  As differentiated instruction is paramount in 'mixed ability' classrooms, Animated Step-by-Steps® were designed to address both agendas. ASbySs attempt to address the ‘symbolating dilemma’ by adding symbol support only AFTER all the page animations are completed. This allows the teacher and students to concentrate on the text aspects of the resource without having to ‘work around’ symbols that may be ‘stealing’ attention from a ‘literacy first’ agenda. Once the text has been read, symbols are added as a group and are readily available to conduct Aided Language Stimulation thereby addressing an AAC agenda.

If AAC is your sole or primary agenda when using an ASbyS, you may wish to move the grouped symbols to the beginning of the animation sequence allowing them to appear as soon as the page opens. See  for further information on how to accomplish this goal. Please note this strategy would be implemented primarily when you are promoting an AAC agenda with children who are cognitively young.

If you do decide to symbolate, the next logical issue should be what words should be symbolated? Options range from symbolating only the key content words (omitting the small words like ‘to’, ‘the’, ‘and’ and 'a' … to symbolating all words in the text. Although I have ‘flipflopped’ on this issue for years, I have finally decided to symbolate ALL the words in my ASbyS resources and have decided to depict the common small words as print,  rather than the abstract symbols offered by the symbol set companies.

This Old Man Animated Step-by-Step Song

I’ve arrived at this decision for two reasons. 
  1. When ‘re-reading’ the page for song resources it is easier to sing along using the symbols when they are all in one continuous line rather than having to zig zag back and forth between the symbol line and the text line.
  2. It is also easier for colleagues to  ‘prune’ the symbol offerings to their liking, as opposed to trying to add symbols to accommodate their symbolating preferences.

To symbolize or not? ... It's not a black and white issue ... it really depends on your intended goals for your students!

…’til the next post …  

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©2017 Carol Goossens’, Ph.D.
Augmentative Communication Consultant
Speech-Language Pathologist
Special Educator