Planning a Communication, Language and Literacy program

A colleague asked me to send her my latest thinking regarding Blissymbolics as it is used for persons who require a substitute or supplement for speech due to a speech impairment.

The following article is based on my response.

I find myself thinking alot about Bliss as I work on my thesis. I see the value of Bliss more and more as a transition "language" between pictures and print, for all who can achieve literacy, and a longterm language for those who cannot become fluent in spelling. I am beginning to treat more seriously the distinction between spelling and reading, discovering that there are those who can use spelling very competently for communication, but who still have serious reading difficulties.

My ideal program for children who have severe speech difficulties would be an introduction to pictures at as young an age as possible, with ongoing evaluation as to when the child is ready to transfer to pictographic Blissymbols. Once the child is using some pictographic Blissymbols, I would begin adding ideographic Blissymbols to their display, and I would follow this with the teaching of letter strategies (beginning with the use of initial letters, then adding other letter strategies as the child becomes aware of their role in decoding. I would add whole words to the child's communication display whenever the word is known and can contribute to effective communication.

I would relax on whether the plural, past tense, possessive, etc., is symbolized by Bliss or by orthography - using whatever the child latches onto and uses. My goal would be emphasizing the structural aspects of Bliss in the INTRODUCTION of symbols and relating this to orthography whenever the child can grasp the concept. I would not worry if there was a mix of pictures, Bliss and print,, so long as the structural aspects of Bliss were consistently adhered to. It is the language structure and scaffolding that Bliss provides that I believe is its strength. This means that I would want the child to be aware of the past tense symbol even if he/she preferred to use "ed" after the symbol or work. The combine, opposite meaning, similar to, and sounds like, strategies would be high on my list of for mastery even while print was being worked on.

I believe we should concern ourselves with (1) the child's development of conceptual strategies to compensate for having to communicate in a cumbersome way (note having the system of choice -natural speech) and (2) the child's development of language in order to gain a metalanguage competency and a mastery of print in as many forms as possible - spelling, reading, writing. This means a strong emphasis on (1) cognitive skills and (2) phonological skills - always being aware that proficiency in the phonological domain is likely to be an area of difficulty. The development of both areas requires innovative teaching.

My desire to maintain an international standard for the system of Blissymbolics is as strong as ever, but I do not believe it should be our concern as we are working with children who are developing within an emerging literacy program! I believe Blissusers who progress to progress will appreciate the international capability of Bliss all the more after they have joined our literate community. They will have a real edge on the rest of the world as BlissNet becomes used between language groups and they can retun to their first language for interacting internationally.

So, what I am emphasizing is the needs of the learning child must come first. I firmly believe that Bliss has a strong contribution to make and that we should not be thinking of which system an individual should have, but rather, when should the three types of systems be provided to the child. Pictures, Bliss, orthography, each offer different strengths to the developing child when introduce aat the appropriate stage of development. All of them are important. Pictures offer immediate recognition and and reduced cognitive demands, freeing attention for communication - important when the child is just learning what communication is all about; Blissymbols offer an explicit language scaffolding, preparing the way for independent mastery or what will always be a challenge - trying to replicate the accomplishments of speech; orthography offers the ability to generate any utterance and to access all of the opportunities afforded by literacy.

Shirley McNaughton C.M., Ph.D.

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