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How and When to Teach Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words, coupled with the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp 1992). A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language that represents meaning. Most all words in English and other languages are made up of a number of phonemes blended together. Most reading specialists and speech therapists identify 43 basic phonemes. For example, the word “mall”. It is made up of three phonemes: /m/ /aw/ /l/.

Although often used interchangeably, phonemic awareness is actually a set of subskills of the broader language skill called phonological awareness. Phonological awareness describes the ability to hear, identify, replicate, and manipulate the distinct “chunked” sounds and their sequences in a word, such as syllables or rhymes; whereas phonemic awareness deals with the discrete phonemes.

We usually refer to the two terms as phonemic awareness because the phonemes are most closely related to our teaching of phonics. Phonics is the secret code which connects the phonemes (speech sounds) and print letters (the alphabet). When someone learns this secret code and can put together (blend) each part of a word from text, we call this decoding. The prefix “de” means from or out of. When someone uses the code to to spell a word in writing, we call this encoding. The prefix “en” means in or into.”

Why is phonemic awareness important?

Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill. If children cannot hear and manipulate the sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, they will have a very difficult time in learning how to attach these sounds to letters and letter combinations.  The lack of phonemic awareness is the most important causal factor contributing to children with reading disabilities (Adams, 1990).

Phomemic awareness is the most powerful predictor of reading success.  It is more highly correlated with reading success than socio-economic status, general intelligence, or listening comprehension (Stanovich, 1986, 1994; Goldstein, 1976; Zifcak, 1977).

How is phonemic awareness related to learning to read, and can it be taught with measurable success?

Phoneme awareness is related to reading in two ways: (1) phonemic awareness is a prerequisite of learning to read (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Yopp, 1985), and (2) phonemic awareness is a consequence of learning to read (Ehri, 1979; Read, Yun-Fei, Hong-Yin, & Bao-Qing, 1986). Shaywitz (2003) puts it this way: “Reading and phonemic awareness are mutually reinforcing: Phonemic awareness is necessary for reading, and reading, in turn, improves phonemic awareness still further.”

Several studies have demonstrated that children can be successfully trained in phonemic awareness (Cunningham, 1990; Ball & Blachman, 1991; Yopp & Troyer, 1992; Smith, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 1998).

Phonemic awareness training was shown to positively affect both reading and spelling achievement in kindergarten and first grade children (Lundberg, 1988; Bradley & Bryant, 1983).

Who needs phonemic awareness training?

Percentages of children requiring specific training in phonemic awareness vary slightly according to different research studies, but the amount is still a significant percentage of early readers.  Ehri (1984) found 20% lacked requisite phonological awareness, Lyon (1996) cited a figure of 17%, and Adams (1990) concluded that 25% of middle class kindergartners lacked this ability.

Fletcher et al., (1994) found that poor readers most always had poor phonemic awareness.  The National Institute of Child, Health, and Human Development (NICHD) longitudinal studies support this conclusion, stating that the major problem predisposing children to having reading disabilities is lack of phonological processing ability (Lyon, 1997).

When should phonemic awareness training take place, and how should it be introduced?

Children should be diagnosed by mid-kindergarten to see if they are able to identify and manipulate phonemes.  If early learners do not have this ability, they should be given more intensive phonemic awareness training (Ehri, 1984)

Research shows that if schools delay intervention until age seven for children experiencing reading difficulty, 75% will continue having difficulties.  If caught in first or second grade, reading difficulties may be remediated 82% of the time.  Those caught in third to fifth grades may be improved 46% of the time, while those identified later may only be treated successfully 10-15% of the time. (Foorman, 1996)

There appears to be a consensus in the research that a specific sequence of instruction in phonemic awareness is most effective for early learners.  Treiman (1992) found that children learned to be consciously aware of and were able to manipulate onsets and rimes more easily than individual phonemes.

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The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards and speech articulation songs. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Assessment-based Instruction provides diagnostically-based “second chance” instructional resources. The program includes 13 comprehensive assessments and matching instructional resources to fill in the yet-to-be-mastered gaps in phonemic awareness, alphabetic awareness, phonics, fluency (with YouTube modeled readings), Heart Words and Phonics Games, spelling patterns, grammar, usage, and mechanics, syllabication and morphology, executive function shills. Second Half of the Year Program (25 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

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SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

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