Reading and writing are skills that involve processing across many areas of language. Likewise, when working with a child with dyslexia or dysgraphia, we must practice skills across each language area, which all serve to strengthen the output skill of reading and writing.
Both reading and writing cannot be isolated as single skills. They are complex processes which require multi-modal practice from many different areas of language.
Maryanne Wolf first proposed the acronym, POSSUM, to help us understand these areas. We have adapted this acronym to POSSUM, to include another very important component (and to make it easier to remember)!
When reading or writing, the typical brain processes meaning across multiple linguistic channels:
Phonology: The sounds that make up the word. For example, bag has three sounds, /b/ /a/ /g/, and bath has three sounds, /b/ /a/ /th/, but brag has four sounds, /b/ /r/ /a/ /g/.
Orthography: The letters that represent the sounds in the word, how to spell it. This is often more simply referred to as spelling.
Syntax: Best known as grammar. This includes knowledge of the grammatical function of a word, and how to use it in a sentence.
Semantics: Best known as vocabulary. Knowledge of word meaning, and meaning as a function of context, also conveyed through a definition.
Understanding: Deep comprehension of text's content and context. Engaging with meaning beyond what is directly written on the page. Extra-textual thoughts and connections.
Morphology: The internal structure of words, including knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, base words, and roots. This also includes exploration of word history.
POSSUM helps parents better understand all the areas of language we strive to practice and consolidate when working with children. Specific practice across all areas of language is needed to achieve automaticity of reading and writing skills.
Rita's maxim is to "study the trees to learn the forest." When we practice POSSUM for a single word or passage, we are consolidating deeply across all areas of language (trees), to strengthen broad reading and writing skills (the forest).