Phonological awareness and Spoonerisms

26th February 2021

I am sitting here with a ‘Tot Hea’ thinking I would love to be with a ‘spucket and bade’ down by the beach. Lockdown hasn’t sent me mad I am speaking in Spoonerisms! Ever hear of them? If you have, you will be able to work out what I have said, if not, you will be able to by the end.

Over the years I have screened many children to obtain an overview of the individuals strengths and weakness, barriers to learning and possible interventions required. They are not a diagnosis but it gives an indication of any apparent dyslexic tendencies and also provides a detailed profile of the individual.

Within the screening process there are tasks to assess the child’s phonological awareness skills (To be able to identify and manipulate ‘sounds’ in language separate to their meanings). These skills come before a child learns to map a letter symbol to a sound.

pic –

The above building blocks show the skills required from simplest to most complex. Phonemic awareness being the most complex; blending/segmenting individual Phonemes and Phoneme deletion and manipulation.

onset and rime – the first consonant and the following rime. ‘c’ ‘at’, ‘b’ ‘oat’

RobinStyle photos

One of the tasks assesses onset and rime awareness together with phoneme manipulation and deletion and that is called a ‘Spoonerism‘ test.

Within ‘Dyslexia a practitioner’s handbook’ by Gavin Reed he states:

“A Spoonerisms test is also useful as it assesses a child’s ability to segment words and to synthesise the segments to produce a new word.”

This task always caused difficulty in my experience. Actually have a go yourself and you will see it’s not as easy as you may think. It’s where the instructor verbally gives you two words and asks you to mentally transpose the first consonant (onset) of each word and say the result. For example “car “park” would be “par” “cark”. It can be a tongue twister! Remember this is done without writing anything down.

Phonological Assessment Battery [PhAB] (1997) N. Frederickson, U. Frith and R. Reason. Windsor, Berks: NFER-Nelson. [Individually administered, standardised test of key aspects of phonological processing skill that are indicative of dyslexia, including rhyming, alliteration, spoonerisms, phoneme deletion, etc.]

The term ‘Spoonerism‘ was used in Oxford as early as 1885. It is named after Reverend William Spooner, a warden of New College Oxford. He was apparently known for saying such as this:

William Archibald Spooner quote: The Lord is a shoving leopard.

In the Cambridge English Dictionary the definition of a Spoonerism is:

‘A mistake made when speaking in which the first sounds of two words are exchanged with each other to provide a not intentional and usually funny meaning.’

So it seems this ‘accidental slip of the tongue’ has now become an intentional manipulation in order to assess Phonological awareness!

When assessing a child it is important to first of all have an overview and be aware of all the individual circumstances. Receiving details from parents/guardians, any other professionals involved, developmental milestones, any other medical or psychological issues.

Consider any possible hearing or auditory processing issues, attention difficulties, comprehension of language matters, articulation problems and memory abilities.

The above study of 9 year old children examined the following:

  • relationship between phonological awareness and ability to read in children with dyslexia and without.
  • to what extent working memory impacts ability to read words in dyslexic children via its effect on phonological awareness.

They found that when phonological awareness tasks were more demanding (such as spoonerisms) there was a difference between older primary school dyslexic children and their peers. Therefore phonological awareness remained a strong predictor of reading ability in young and older children when given age related tasks. They also noted that the level of reading ability in dyslexic children is associated with phonological awareness and working memory.

Working memory influences phonological awareness and therefore reading ability.

The study concludes by saying:

“The results support phonological awareness as a diagnostic measure even in older children, This implies that practitioners can use more cognitively demanding phonological awareness tasks for diagnostic purposes of older children.”

In further studies the Spoonerism sub test from the Phonological Assessment Battery (Frederickson 1997) is used for adult dyslexics.

PHAB is for 6 to 14 years old, assesses phonological processing. Designed by expert researchers and psychologists. The PHAB2 also includes test for phonological working memory, which as previously mentioned influences phonological awareness.

If the child has difficulties with spoonerisms and the manipulating of phonemes the following maybe helpful activities:

  • feely bag – Inside a bag place simple items and ask child to pick out two. If the child picks a hat and a pen for example, you would discuss the first sound of each item and ask them if they can change them around. This would be “pat” and “hen”
  • Think of words that often go together such as ‘light and ‘dark’, ‘fish and chips’ and ask them to mentally swap the first sounds. Make it fun!
  • Share with individual or class the ‘Runny Babbit’ by Shel Silverstein and the activities suggested on their website

Click to access Runny_Babbit.pdf

Runny Babbit | Shel Silverstein

So I will finish my hot tea and continue to dream that I am on the beach with my bucket and spade.

Be back next week,

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