Why does Isolator use a right hand for sound segmenting?




Consensus research tells us that speech sound awareness (aka, phonemic awareness) is a necessary underpinning for reading and spelling. To read and write fluently, the brain centers that process speech sounds must be functionally connected with the brain centers that process letter units and meaning. Brain imaging research shows that these functional connections are weak in most students with reading and spelling disorders.  But we know that repeated, structured practice can connect the brain centers. That's the job of Isolator!


Isolator for Phonemic Awareness

Lexercise uses Isolator as the basis for developing phonemic (speech sound) awareness. 

The onlineIsolator game uses a hologram-type picture of a right [1] hand to help the player create a spatial memory to speech sounds in memory. Spatial cues  (aka "memory pegs") have long been known to scaffold working memory.  The hand, with its five digits, allows scaffolding of words or syllables of up to five phonemes.  Since most players also have right hands with five digits, this routine can support the player in scaffold words off the computer.

Whether playing the Isolator game online or sounding out words offline, the Isolator task works the same way:

  • The player hears a spoken word and then one of the speech sounds (phonemes) in that word.
  • The player’s job is to indicate the relative position of that speech sound in the word with reference to the digits of the right hand. (NOTE: This right [1] hand sequencing of speech sounds will be used later in White Board Spelling .)


How to practice Isolator offline:

  • Using words from the student's current Word Bank say a word to the student and ask him to repeat it to be sure he is perceiving the word correctly.
  • Then ask the student to hold up his/her right hand, similar to the hologram hand in Isolator. Explain why he should use his right hand (i.e., to stimulate left brain processing). If you are sitting next to the student you can use your right hand, too. If you are sitting across a table or in a video-conference (teletherapy setting), use your left hand (as an aerobics instructor would).
  • Ask, "What are the speech sounds in the word___?"  The student should say each (isolated) speech sound while holding out a digit, beginning with the thumb and progressing sequentially: thumb, pointer finger, middle finger, etc. (There is no evidence that the exact finger movements matter: Hold out, wiggle and/or tap fingers...on the table, in the air, etc.)
  • Note that this version of Isolator is a little different from the online game.  In the online game, the player hears the word and then one of the speech sounds in the word and then clicks on the corresponding digit. That's a little more complex than the off-line version described above. So, if your student struggles with the online version practicing off-line may really help!



[1] Why the right hand as opposed to the left?


Parents sometimes ask, "Why the right hand as opposed to left hand? Does it really matter?” Published programs inspired by Orton-Gillingham (O-G) principles often differ in details like this. Do details like this really matter?  For example, manipulation of speech sounds in words is sometimes taught by pairing the auditory task with finger raising or tapping or wiggling, sometimes with the left hand and sometimes with the right hand. Some programs pair speech sound manipulation with object manipulation (e.g., moving colored blocks or tokens). There is no research to suggest that minor differences in multisensory movement routines make any significant difference--with one exception. It does appear that using the right hand as opposed to the left may facilitate speech sound processing. [Georgetown University Medical Ctr.] This is true even for those who are left-handed and appears to be related to the brain centers for motor control. We want the client to use the left-brain circuits that are specialized for reading and spelling, and using the right hand may facilitate this. Brain imaging studies have demonstrated that, before intervention, dyslexic children tend to use some right brain processing for reading and spelling, whereas normal readers don't.  Right brain processing for reading and spelling is not optimal and may disrupt fluent processing, so we want to do all we can to encourage the use of left-brain processing.


 Georgetown University Medical Center. "What you hear could depend on what your hands are doing." Science Daily, 14 October 2012.



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