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Should We Teach Phonemic Awareness to Remedial Readers?

Individualized Assessment-based Instruction

Assessment-based Instruction

The question of teaching phonemic awareness to remedial readers has often been framed as a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” question. Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986 as well as Yopp, 1985 concluded that phonemic awareness is a prerequisite of learning to read, while Ehri, 1979; Read, Yun-Fei, Hong-Yin, & Bao-Qing, 1986 found that phonemic awareness is a consequence of learning to read. The question is relevant, because if reading brings about phonemic awareness, then remedial reading programs should focus on listening comprehension and fluency practice rather than upon explicit phonics and phonemic awareness instruction.

What it is… Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds called phonemes. There are about 43 common phonemes in English.

What it is not…Phonemic awareness is not exactly phonological awareness (a broader term). It is not simply auditory discrimination, which differentiates between sounds. It is not phonics because it is not applied to letters.

Why don’t some students learn this skill in their early years?

Somewhere between 20 and 40% of the population does not naturally develop phonemic awareness. Research seems to indicate that there are medical and genetic factors that contribute to this inability (Grossen, 1997).

Can remedial readers learn phonemic awareness?

If no explicit instructional strategies could be found to help students learn phonemic awareness, the implicit “teach reading first” approach would be warranted. However, an important study by Bhat, Griffin, and Sindelar (2003) found that middle school remedial readers do benefit from phonemic awareness training, although not as much as do younger learners. The implication of this important research is that if this skill can be learned through explicit instruction, then it would make sense to teach it in remedial reading instruction.

Additionally, because speech sounds differ among languages, phonemic awareness and phonics acquisition are more challenging for English-language Learners (ELLs) and English Language Development (ELD) students.* However, research has shown that these students are able to transfer phonological awareness skills from their primary language to English, and positively benefit from phonemic awareness training (Quiroga, Lernos-Britton, Mostafapour, Abbot, and Berninger, 2002). Depending upon the primary language, many phonemes may match those in English. For example, Spanish and English share more phonemes than not.

So, should we teach phonemic awareness to remedial readers? Absolutely.

Are there reliable and valid phonemic assessments?

Get the Phonemic Awareness Assessments FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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