AT Update Logo

ATU592 – Phonics Builders and Otter Reading with Meagan Beam

Play

AT Update Logo

Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guest: Meagan Beam – Founder – Otter Reading
https://otterreading.com

Stories:

Aesthetics of AT Story: https://bit.ly/3RhXxyC

If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email tech@eastersealscrossroads.orgCheck out our web site: http://www.eastersealstech.comFollow us on Twitter: @INDATAprojectLike us on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/INDATA

—– Transcript Starts Here ——

Meagan Beam:
Hi, this is Meagan Beam, and I’m the founder of OTTER Reading, and this is Your Assistive Technology Update.Josh Anderson:
Hello, and welcome to Your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.

Josh Anderson:
Welcome to episode 592 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on September 30th, 2022. On today’s show, we’re super excited to have Meagan Beam on. She’s from OTTER Reading and the maker of Phonics Builders, and she’s here to talk about reading, literacy, and some of the tools available to help students of all abilities increase their literacy and reading skills. We’ve got a story about the importance of aesthetics when considering assistive technology and creating it.

Josh Anderson:
Also, listeners, I have to let you know: We are finally upgrading some of our equipment here in the podcast studio. I took over the hosting duties of this wonderful show about four years ago and have been using the same old Mac ever since, and from all I can tell, that is the same Mac that came to the podcast when the podcast started, which was about 10, 11 years ago, I think coming up on 12. So it had began to have a few issues, as most of the stuff could not update any more. Some things were not really able to really work in the way that they’re supposed to, but as most people with technology seem to have just as many problems with it as anyone else. Anyway, we are moving to a new system.

Josh Anderson:
So today’s show was actually recorded on our old system but then moved over to the new one for editing. So for the next couple of weeks, just please be patient. Some of the sound may be off a little bit or other things like that, as I learn our new system and just make sure that all of the countless wires in this room have been connected to the correct places, because when you update one piece of equipment but are still using all the old ones, there’s a lot of adapters and other things needed, just to make everything work. So listeners, if you do hear some weird pops, some weird hisses, some weird sounds, an echo or anything like that, I really do apologize. And I promise I’m working on it, and hopefully, here within a few weeks, I’ll have learned how to use all these things and have them up and working wonderfully for you. But as always, thank you for listening.

Josh Anderson:
Now, let’s go ahead and get on with the show. If you love assistive technology and podcasts, then you should check out our sister shows: Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions and Accessibility Minute. Accessibility Minute is a one-minute-long podcast that just gives you a little bit of information about something AT-based. Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions or ATFAQ is a question-and-answer podcast that relies on your questions and your feedback to really actually make the show for our panel of AT professionals. So if you love AT and you love podcasts as much as I do, don’t forget to check out our sister shows: ATFAQ and Accessibility Minute. Available wherever you get your podcast.

Josh Anderson:
So listeners, our first story today actually comes to us from North Carolina State University, and it’s titled: Users Care About Assistive Devices’ Look, Feel, and Smell. It’s written by Kate Nartker and Laura Oleneacz. It talks about a research study that was done at North Carolina State University that found that people often consider the look, texture, and occasionally the smell of two different assistive devices: compression gloves and a knee brace. They consider these in the different online reviews of the products. Says here that the findings detail key aesthetic characteristics that users care about, as well as the language they’re used to describing them.

Josh Anderson:
Now, I’m going to admit: In the work I do and the work that I do with a lot of folks, we don’t really touch a lot on these kind of devices, on the knee braces or on the compression gloves and things like that. Not that a lot of consumers don’t use them; that’s just more of the OT or perhaps maybe the PT side of things. But it is very important to take in the aesthetics of a device whenever making assistive technology recommendations. Like we always say, “If they don’t like it, they’re not going to use it.” So it’s always something to definitely take into account.

Josh Anderson:
In this, it really talks more about that perhaps these are considerations that the manufacturers, those that make the assistive technology, should take into consideration whenever designing new things. Maybe make them in more colors, make them a little more aesthetically pleasing. I would say with some assistive technology, make it look like something everyone else uses, because then the stigma or being pointed out for being different, for using something that no one else uses, for raising that question of, “What is that, and why do you get to use it and why don’t I get to use it, as well?” can all be taken into account.

Josh Anderson:
So I think it’s very important, whenever we look at assistive technology, to not just think about the function but also the form. And for some folks, that’s also, “How does it fit into my hand? How does it fit into my life? How does it fit onto my wheelchair?” I’ve talked to folks before who found just amazing things that really help out that are fixed to their wheelchair, but they change the footprint of it. So next thing they know, those doors that were accessible aren’t, because I’ve got something sticking out the side that takes up too much space.

Josh Anderson:
So if you are someone out there, and we hope that you are, somebody that helps create assistive technology, that helps make these amazing tools and devices, all the folks that come on the show, all the folks that we’d love to have on the show, always remember that the worst thing you can possibly do is cause a new need while solving one. Essentially, make a problem while overcoming a barrier doesn’t really help out anyone. So I’ll put a link to this story over in the show notes. I just found it really interesting.

Josh Anderson:
It raised that point there, that we just have to remember that it’s not just what the assistive device does. It’s “How does it look? How does it feel?” And I guess, in a way, “How does it smell?” Although I’ve got to admit, I haven’t had too many people bring that one up to me, but especially in something you’re wearing on your body, I can see how that can be a major, major consideration. We’ll put a link to this story, which also has a link in it to the study itself. We’ll put a link to all that down in the show notes.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners, reading is a very important skill that doesn’t come easy to many individuals in this world. Not learning to effectively read can put students behind in school and really just later on, for the rest of their lives. Well, our guest today is Meagan Beam, and she’s here to talk about some different things associated with reading and literacy, including the Orton Gillingham approach, Phonics Builders, and OTTER Reading, and we’re really looking forward to the conversation. Meagan, welcome to the show.

Meagan Beam:
Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Josh Anderson:
And I am excited to learn some new things and learn about some new stuff from you. But before we get into that, could you start off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and your background?

Meagan Beam:
Absolutely. So I’ve always loved teaching. I knew that’s what I wanted to do at an early age. My parents were educators, and so I went to Clemson and majored in special education and then went on into teaching and discovered I have a love and passion for supporting students who are learning to read and teachers who are teaching reading in their classrooms. And that led me to get my Masters in Reading and Certifications in Orton Gillingham.

Josh Anderson:
Well, you led me right into my next question. So what exactly is the Orton Gillingham Approach?

Meagan Beam:
So the Orton Gillingham Approach is a multisensory approach to teaching students how to read, using an explicit, systematic, and sequential approach to teaching reading. And a lot of times, it’s called phonics.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool. And how does this assist, I guess? And that’s probably way too big of a question, or it might even be asking it wrong, but how does this assist individuals with learning how to read?

Meagan Beam:
So kids, especially early on, and a lot of people, will say, “Oh, they’re so hard to read. Our language is just so unpredictable.” But if you step back and look at the history of our language and understand how it all came together, there are patterns that we can use, and that’s what we use: those patterns to teach students how to read. So we use phonics. We begin with the short A or a short A and consonants and then move on through the rest of the short vowels.

Meagan Beam:
And we do it in a very systematic process and introduce one, usually. Especially if students are struggling readers, we’ll do one vowel at a time, to avoid confusing our students. And once they’ve mastered that one vowel, then we’ll teach another vowel in isolation, explicitly, and then so on and so forth. And that is very brain-friendly, because it allows them to really hone in and practice that, which is that’s what our brain needs and helps with our neurons firing.

Meagan Beam:
And then our brains are also pattern-seekers, and so teaching them those patterns of the phonic skills and the phonic sounds, it really supports our brains in that way.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. I’m sure that can work for learners of all different kinds of abilities, just because you really are focusing and honing on that one piece, before you move on to anything else.

Meagan Beam:
Absolutely, and all while you’re doing the systematic instruction and phonics, you are adding a multisensory piece into it. So whether you’re having them just simply write with a skill or you’re having them build a word or using a dry erase board or sky writing, anything that adds that extra little multisensory piece is basically what makes up the Orton Gillingham approach.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. Very, very cool. So I have to ask, and this is just for personal reasons. Good and food and all those other words that have the same letters, but they sound differently. How do you approach those with students?

Meagan Beam:
So I would separate them, and I would initially teach the O-O that occurs most often, and then I would also then talk about how sometimes on the back end, that there are times where it doesn’t always say what you’ve learned, so hence, how you get good and food and things like that, that don’t always have the same sound.

Meagan Beam:
And I am a huge proponent of something called heart words for those words that are rule-breakers. So for example, if you take the word said. If you tap out said, you get S-E-D. So the S and the D make their sounds, but the A-I does not. So the A-I is the part that you will have to learn by heart. And I love that, and that is actually from Really Great Reading, and they have some really cool videos on their website to support that, and I just love it. I think it’s a brilliant idea.

Josh Anderson:
I appreciate that, and I don’t even know if that has anything to do with the rest of our conversation, but that’s always bothered me, those words that look the exact same. And I can only imagine. I’m lucky in my role. I get to train individuals on technology one-on-one. I can’t imagine being in front of students or really teaching them something as important as literacy and reading. But I’ve always just wondered: How do you get past those weird words in English that look exactly alike and sound completely different? Or look very much alike, I guess, and sound very different?

Meagan Beam:
Absolutely, and something like the heart words is very much part of the Orton Gillingham approach, because there are some outliers, but they are very few and far between, and the majority of the word is still decodable, to some extent. And so it lets them just focus on the part that does not necessarily follow the rules, so to speak.

Meagan Beam:
And then also, this is a whole nother little rabbit trail, but the etymology of our language is so amazingly interesting, so if you’re looking and you’re like, “Why does this?” there are often times where you can link it back to the history of the word.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, very cool. Very, very cool, and we could probably fill a whole show with that and just nerd out on why the language is the way it is. But I won’t take up the listeners’ too much time in that.

Meagan Beam:
Oh, you’re talking to a word nerd. Here goes.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, I know, and we might be interested, while listeners may be snoring or something like that, but I’m sure there’s a few folks out there that at least would find it interesting. But going back to all the things that you talked about with this Orton Gillingham approach, you created a very cool device to really assist with literacy and help folks, too. Can you tell me about the Phonics Builders?

Meagan Beam:
Yes, I would love to. So the Phonics Builders came as a result of my Orton Gillingham instruction. I loved teaching in the classroom with the multisensory approach. I just felt like it’s engaging. It motivates students to stay on topic. And so I was teaching the Change the Y to I Rule, and so I was teaching my third graders, and I was like, “I really wish there was something out there where you could have a tool where the kids can literally take off the Y and add the I. And then the vowel suffix, because I just felt like that added multisensory piece would just have really solidified it for my students, and that came out of it.

Meagan Beam:
And so I started there, and then I began using it to teach all phonics skills when I was tutoring with Orton Gillingham. And so now, it’s more into a complete phonics-based program, where kids can build words like dog and cat and then move all the way into Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, suffixes.

Meagan Beam:
So it really is something that is a tool that they can start with when they’re learning to read, but then grow with them as they become master readers.

Josh Anderson:
Nice, nice, and with that multisensory, yeah, because they’re using their hands to put everything together. They can see it, and I’m sure there’s instruction, probably, or being able to hear the words at the same time. So that’s got to ingrain it a little bit more in the brains and the repetition. But that probably also really helps individuals that maybe have some learning difficulties?

Meagan Beam:
Absolutely, yes. So the more that our brains hear it, see it, touch it, the better. They’re able to hold onto it that much more, and those pathways in our brains are that much stronger. And it doesn’t have to be a production from the teacher, so the teachers can use the tool and tell the students, “Okay, build this word.” The teacher says the word, so that’s one sense. The teacher then has them echo the word, so then now, they’re saying it. That’s another one. And then they’re building it.

Meagan Beam:
So it’s definitely something that is very user-friendly for the student and the teacher or the parent or friend who’s using it with their kids.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool, and are there different packs of these available? I’m just thinking of all the words in the English language, and goodness gracious, I’m going to sit forever. But are there different packs available with maybe different suffixes, different learning levels, even?

Meagan Beam:
Absolutely. So I took the scope of all the phonics skills and put them into grade bands. And so we have the Kinder and First Grade, which includes digraphs, glued sounds like A-L-L, A-N, A-M. And the letters, so A to Z. Second and Third Grade set has the consonant blends, silent letters like M-B, K-N, W-R, vowel teams like A-I, O-W, E-E. Consonant L-E, like F-L-E, to build a word like ruffle, or C-L-E to build circle. And then syllable markers, so that students can practice the syllable division, and then also letters A to Z.

Meagan Beam:
And then the Fourth and Fifth Grade band has Greek, Latin, and the prefixes and the suffixes, and letters A to Z. And for the Greek-Latin roots, I chose the 25 of each that are seen the most in print, or that our kids will see the most in print. And the same for the prefixes and suffixes.

Meagan Beam:
So skills that they’ll be able to build a ton of words out of and use over and over again. And they’ll be able to build the word, read the word, and then they can write the word to spell the word, to use it and practice whatever skill the teacher is teaching them in their classroom.

Josh Anderson:
That’s awesome, and I like the way that it does get a little bit more advanced when you get into the older grades, because I know I was always taught, and I may have this wrong, but what is it? Up to Grade Three, you’re learning to read, and after that, you’re reading to learn or something?

Meagan Beam:
Yes, absolutely. I also have Braille Builders. I feel like it’s so valuable to be able to support all students in learning to read, and so I am using Braille to put on my builders, and it’ll encompass the same skills that I already have. It’ll just be in Braille, so that they are able to use that to learn how to read, as well.

Josh Anderson:
Meagan, that’s great. I can really see how those tools can really help folks of all reading levels and of all abilities just be able to learn, in maybe a little bit different way than just trying to listen to the teacher and look at the paper and free recall that stuff.

Josh Anderson:
Well, the other thing that I do want to talk about while we still have time is OTTER Reading. So tell me about OTTER Reading.

Meagan Beam:
So OTTER is an acronym, because I’m a really big nerd, and I’m well aware. OTTER stands for Optimizing Tactile Teaching to Engage Readers. It also came as a result of the sea otters. They have a favorite tool that they store in their pocket, because they use that tool to open their food, and so the OTTER came as a result, because I have a favorite tool that I love to share and use.

Meagan Beam:
I am so passionate about supporting students who are learning how to read, and even students who are still struggling to master it. There’s about 72% of our kids in fourth grade in the United States who are not proficient readers, and that just really stirs in me, because we know what that looks like for the rest of their lives. And I just really am passionate about making an indention in that and really wanting to support the students, but then also the teachers, so that they have an understanding of how to teach the students how to read.

Meagan Beam:
Especially in fourth grade, those teachers don’t often have a whole lot of background in teaching phonics, so if I can get a tool that is engaging for those students and also easy to implement for the teachers, it just is so encouraging for me to be able to help in that way.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely, because like you said, by fourth grade, you’re expecting the kids to read to learn, so I’m sure you probably don’t have as much training, or you’re just not as used to teaching that. Or I’m sure you recognize it, because you probably see the kids falling behind a little bit. But that’s great that they’ll have a little bit of a tool to assist them with what they need.

Meagan Beam:
Exactly, yes.

Josh Anderson:
Well, along those same lines, Meagan, can you tell me a story of how these tools and approaches have made a positive impact in someone’s literacy that you’ve worked with, you’ve seen, you’ve heard about, or something of that sort?

Meagan Beam:
So I used this during my practicum for my Orton Gillingham certification, and I worked with a student who was dyslexic. And there were many times during our instruction that she would just fight me in the beginning, when I wasn’t using the tools, because I hadn’t finished building them out. And she just was not a big fan of writing. We would do sometimes virtually, and she just wasn’t a big fan of even writing on her iPad.

Meagan Beam:
But once I had those, she just really came to life. She loved building them. She would go from just building the word that I asked and then all of a sudden she’s like, “Well, and then this word is this word.” So if we’re practicing C-L for the constant blend, I’d say, “Build clap,” and she’d build clap. And then she’d turn around and she’d build another word with the C-L blend, and she’d then read the word.

Meagan Beam:
So it was just really engaging for her and encouraging to give her the confidence that she can read and that she is a good reader and just really support her in that journey. And I just loved watching her come alive with it.

Josh Anderson:
Ah, that’s awesome, and yeah, you talk about you tell them to spell clap, and the next thing, they’re spelling something else. And it’s that great thing, where they almost don’t realize that they’ve learned it, but then when you point it out, they get that little bit of pride and “Oh, I can do this.” And it’s amazing how fast everything snowballs after you can just get to that point.

Meagan Beam:
Absolutely.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome, awesome story. Like I said, I don’t get to teach people literacy, but even in teaching them different technologies and things, I love that. I don’t know; I always call it the Aha Moment, when they just get it and then suddenly, everything just falls into place. It’s a great feeling and absolutely beautiful to get to see.

Josh Anderson:
Well if our listeners want to find out more about Phonics Builders, about the Orton Gillingham approach, about OTTER reading, what’s the best ways for them to do that?

Meagan Beam:
Yes, so I have a website, and it is otterreading.com, and I am currently putting my tools on Etsy. I was making my tool by hand, at my kitchen table, yes, yes. But now, it’s manufactured. I just got it not long ago, so I am working on updating it and getting it on to Etsy, and pretty soon I will be on Amazon, too, once that happens, because I know Amazon is often a little more convenient. And I’ll update my website once that happens.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. Well, we will put links to OTTER Reading down in the show notes, so that folks can get there and find out more about the different approaches, about the Phonics Builders and everything else.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Meagan Beam, thank you so much for coming on today and just really talking literacy and everything that goes into that, as well as some amazing tools that folks can use to really increase their kids’, family members’, or their own literacy.

Meagan Beam:
Absolutely. I love talking about it and sharing. So who knows? That can make that one difference for that one sweet kiddo who is just working so hard to master reading.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, yeah. And when you can find that right tool, especially when it’s been missing, it makes all the difference in the world.

Meagan Beam:
Yes, absolutely.

Josh Anderson:
Right. Thank you again.

Meagan Beam:
Thank you for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an assistive technology update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATA Project. Our captions in transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or INTRAC. You can find out more about INTRAC at relayindiana.com.

Josh Anderson:
A special thanks to Nicole Prietta for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fought over by yours truly.

Josh Anderson:
The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners, or this host.

Josh Anderson:
This was your Assistive Technology Update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.