Shawna Pope Jefferson: My journey as a speech-language pathologist and learning specialist! - True Literacy
True Literacy

Shawna Pope Jefferson: My journey as a speech-language pathologist and learning specialist!

Please join me in welcoming Shawna Pope Jefferson, MS/CCC/SLP as my guest blogger this week.  Shawna is the founder of Language and Literacy Solutions http://www.languageandliteracysolutions.com/; shawna@llslearning.com

In her blog piece for True Literacy she tells the story of her journey as a learning specialist and the powerful intervention she relies on called Structured Word Inquiry (SWI).  This is a very important issue in the US that I think those of you in India should learn about it now. The SWI method is quite different from some of the current approaches used with dyslexic students and the early research indicates that SWI is going to be a major addition to our intervention tools. 

Stayed tuned for her webinar and other products on SWI coming to True Literacy very soon.


As a speech-language pathologist of twenty-two years I have acquired many skills while practicing in many different settings. After working in the Chicagoland area for almost six years with every population from early intervention to geriatrics I found my way back home to Southern Illinois. After working with adolescents who suffered a traumatic brain injury for two years I began as a clinical supervisor and instructor at Southern Illinois University in the very program I graduated from in 1998. After five years I moved into a senior lecturer position there. It was during this last position that I began to delve into literacy to find out why there were so many students who graduated high school without learning to read, spell, and write. For nine years I combed through research articles, books, and attended continuing education seminars to try to understand what was happening and why literacy was so nebulous to me as someone who had studied language and provided language intervention my entire career. I became concerned as the years went by and my understanding grew very little if at all. I learned what dyslexia was and that there were differences in the areas that “lit up” in the brains of dyslexic students versus natural readers as they read but very little about what to do about it. Every direction I went there was another opinion or another program being suggested. I followed a few of these suggested paths and attended continuing education on the programs. After seven years of traveling the literacy maze I was left dissatisfied with many outstanding questions.

When my position at the university ended I set my sights on starting a private practice and specializing in literacy. I wanted to make a real difference in the lives of children who were not being well served. During one of my searching sessions on the internet I found something I hadn’t seen before. Although I didn’t understand what I was seeing, I knew I had to learn more. It was definitely something I wanted to understand. It was a method called Structured Word Inquiry. I jumped in with both feet as it was something that answered some of my questions immediately and I wanted to learn all I could so I could call myself a literacy specialist and mean it. I was able to apply what I was learning right away with my first few clients I started out with, we were learning together really and I am forever grateful for them. They asked questions that pushed my understanding and guided me more deeply into study.  It took me two years to become comfortable with accepting more clients and after three years I am comfortably managing a full caseload of students. I am still sometimes faced with a challenging question about a word or word family and I love that this is a life long learning process that will always present new questions for me and my clients. Plus, my clients love it when I don’t immediately know an answer! I love it too because it give me the opportunity to model my thinking process to them as we problem solve our way through the possibilities.

My mentors that have taught and guided me on my journey have given me the greatest gift I received in my professional life, the understanding of how the English writing system works. They have cleared the cobwebs that prevented me from explaining the sense and meaning of our spelling system that surfaced as I navigated all of the programs and curriculums out there trying to find one that didn’t have rules with all sorts of exceptions. I never have to ask my students to memorize anything but instead can teach all words from a perspective of meaning. I have learned that an understanding of the structure of our language is necessary for many students to learn to read and spell and for others who learned easily it is key to learning new words as they encounter them. At this point in my journey I welcome the opportunity to share what I have learned with others so together we may bring the gift of literacy in English to even more deserving students.

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