Let’s see what this method of teaching literacy consists of.
Until relatively recently, the idea of people with Down syndrome and others with disorders linked to neurodevelopmental problems was that it was very difficult for them to acquire everyday skills such as reading and writing.
Fortunately, this idea ended up being denied with the emergence of a Troncoso method, especially focused on this group. Let’s see a bit its history, main objectives and characteristics.
What is the Troncoso method?
The Troncoso method is a methodology focused on the acquisition and improvement of reading and writing skills, especially aimed at people with Down syndrome.
Its main author is María Victoria Troncoso, and she places special emphasis on the potential of discrimination skills and visual memory, skills that tend to stand out in people with both Down syndrome and an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The Troncoso method has its origins in the 70s, being originally focused on children with intellectual disabilities or with specific difficulties in learning to read. However, it would be during the 1980s that this methodology would take more shape, being applied in students with Down syndrome who had been fortunate to have received, since their birth, Early Care programs.
The emergence of this method was revolutionary, as it helped dispel some of the myths about reading and writing skills and Down syndrome. In the days prior to the development of the Troncoso method, the idea was well established that people who had trisomy on chromosome 21, along with anyone with an IQ under 60 or mental age under 6 years, would hardly learn to read and, if they could, they would have no understanding of what they read.
Based on this thought, as there have been no efforts to teach the population with Down to read and write, teaching programs that are properly focused on this group have not been designed either. Fortunately, the Troncoso method helped to weaken these ideas as a way was found to make people with Down syndrome literate.
The current panorama is quite different. It has gone from having practically the entire population with Down syndrome illiterate to nearly 80% knowing how to read more or less comprehensively.
Before understanding in depth what is the fundamental approach of the Troncoso method, it is necessary to highlight what literacy is.
In essence, reading consists of accessing a written message, decoding the sounds represented in the symbols that we put on the paper and understanding both the individual meaning of the words and the idea that they give off together in a sentence, without having to say the words orally. words. On the other hand, writing involves expressing a message in written form, transforming ideas and concepts into something represented graphically and using a certain code.
Although both processes are closely related, writing and reading involve different actions, but together they involve understanding and recreating meanings through a written code.
Understanding all of this is very important when it comes to talking about people who have Down syndrome. These people have different physical, psychological, developmental characteristics and learning rhythm than those of people without intellectual disabilities. This is essential to take into account when teaching reading and writing, since it will not start from the same point from which it starts with students without the syndrome.
Troncoso discovered that a fundamental aspect in the acquisition of reading and writing skills in boys and girls with the syndrome was having received Early Care. In fact, based on this, they raised the idea that these children could be taught to read and write before they reached school age and thus help them to integrate into school more easily.
The objectives of the method are focused on ensuring that students, specifically those who suffer from Down syndrome, can acquire a reading and writing ability good enough to be able to have an independent life, being able to deal with their social and social environment in a functional and practical way. cultural.
The objectives set out below follow this same order, going from the most basic to more socially extrapolated levels.
The main objectives of the method focused on reading competence are, from less complexity to greater complexity:
- Simple daily actions: reading posters, menus, neighborhood notices …
- Being able to read at leisure: understanding video game dialogues, checking the billboard, reading current news …
- Provide them with the reading level to be able to study on their own, extracting the fundamental ideas from academic documents.
- Enjoy higher literature: poetry, classics, beautiful forms of literature …
- Be critical of what they read, relate, contrast and compare the information they receive from the medium.
Regarding the objectives to be achieved during the development of reading skills, we have the following, ordered from least to most complex:
- Be able to write your name, surname and sign.
- Write small lists: family names, shopping list …
- Write short dictations.
- Write letters or short summaries of your readings, films, experiences …
- Write essays, do short essays, write in the journal …
As surprising as the final goals to be achieved in reading and writing may seem, the truth is that a significant percentage of the current population with Down syndrome has achieved them.
Although they can also be extrapolated to the rest of children without intellectual disabilities, the fact that the method has been shown to be effective for a group that until recently was considered non-literate is very important.
Characteristics and application of the method
During the application of the method, the priority and fundamental thing is that the student understands what he reads, that he acquires fluency and is motivated both during initiation and learning and progress in the short, medium and long term. In order for the individual to gain fluency without diminishing motivation, the program is carried out taking into account the needs of each person, applying the Troncoso method individually and personally.
The educator in question, whether a teacher or a family member, works with a single student in each session, adapting the activities depending on how he is seeing that the literacy process is developing and providing the child with the materials that are necessary. The teacher chooses the objectives, selects the materials and executes the activities in a systematic and structured way, although, depending on how he considers it appropriate, he can allow some flexibility.
The Troncoso method, as it has been specially developed for people with intellectual disabilities, takes into account the need for each new learning to be consolidated. To achieve this objective, learning is repeated as many times as necessary so that the student has it so well established as to be able to transfer it and generalize it to other contexts beyond the classroom. This means that the method makes sure that the child can read and write outside of the session.
While it is not a problem that the child has not yet begun to speak, it is appropriate that he is familiar with the idea that people, animals, things and actions have names. To verify that this is so, you can say the name of something (eg, “ball”) and, even if you don’t repeat it, if you locate it and recall it, you will understand that it relates that word to the object in question.
This is a fundamental aspect, since the method consists of presenting a written word to the child and reading it several times during several sessions, also indicating what it refers to. The child, based on having been exposed to that visual information over and over again, will relate these symbols to an object, action or person and, consequently, will “read” the word from memory once he sees it. It is important that the written word is presented in something physical, such as a wooden card or cardboard, accompanied by a drawing of what it represents.
In short, the method can be described by passing the following stages:
The child will learn to discriminate and match objects or pictures that are the same. This is done by following the following progression:
Object-object Image-object Image-image Image with the word-image with the word Word-word
The child selects between several objects that meet the characteristics that are indicated.
The child establishes different categories for having a certain common quality, such as the same semantic field, same utility, relation of place, size, origin …
The child expressively describes an object, highlighting its properties and qualities or something that draws attention to it.
The child exports what he has learned to different areas of life and with situations of varied characteristics.
The advantage of teaching reading by this method, both with children with intellectual disabilities and those who do not present it, is that the information is presented in more than one way, facilitating learning. On the one hand, there is the fact that the information is received by visual means (word together with the image it represents) and by auditory route (the teacher reads the word). On the other hand, the fact that the word is written makes it stay longer in the individual’s consciousness, making it easier to leave it fixed in memory.
The words that are proposed to be read by the student are those that they know in real life, such as “dad”, “mom”, “ball”, “walk” … Once you have associated the written word with its graphic representation, the student will be able to form simple sentences using the cards where they are written. In some cases the child is able to “read” orally what is written on these cards, although, in the case of Down syndrome, it is foreseeable that there are some articulation problems.
One of the surprising characteristics of the method, it may even be thought that it is counterintuitive, is the fact that it begins with the student learning to read the word in its global sense and, later, knowing how to break the word into syllables . That is, it is not that she reads each letter of the word to form the word as a whole (e.g., house = / ka-sa / or / kasa /) but that, upon seeing the word, she immediately relates it to its concept. Thus , fluency is prioritized over phonological awareness.
The daily time dedicated to the teaching of reading and writing is not very long, usually between 5 and 10 minutes a day that can be easily incorporated into early attention sessions. Little by little the time is increased, emphasizing the phonological awareness with the intention that, in the future, he can read words that he has never seen.
- Troncoso MV, from Cerro M (1991). Reading and writing of children with Down syndrome. In: Flórez J, Troncoso MV, eds. Down Syndrome and Education. Masson SA and Fundación Síndrome de Down de Cantabria, Barcelona, pp. 89-122.
- Troncoso MV (1992). Learning to read and write: Past, present and future in Spain. Down Syndrome Magazine; 9: 8-12.
- Troncoso MV et al (1997). Foundation and results of a reading method for students with Down syndrome. In: Flórez J, Troncoso MV, Dierssen M, eds. Down Syndrome: Biology, Development, and Education. Masson SA, Cantabria Down Syndrome Foundation and Marcelino Botín Foundation, Barcelona.
- Troncoso MV, Del Cerro M (1998). Down Syndrome: Reading and Writing. Masson SA and Fundación Síndrome de Down de Cantabria, Barcelona.