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Teaching Phonemic Awareness, Letter Knowledge, and Concepts of Print

By: Learning First Alliance
Early skills in alphabetics serve as strong predictors of reading success, while later deficits in alphabetics is the main source of reading difficulties. This article argues the importance of developing shills in alphabetics, including phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, and concepts of print.

Phoneme awareness and letter-sound knowledge account for more of the variation in early reading and spelling success than general intelligence, overall maturity level, or listening comprehension. They are the basis for learning an alphabetic writing system.

Children who have poorly developed phonemic awareness at the end of kindergarten are likely to become poor readers. Explicit instruction in sound identification, matching, segmentation, and blending, when linked appropriately to sound-symbol association, reduces the risk of reading failure and accelerates early reading and spelling acquisition for all children.

Teaching these skills well, however, is not as easy as it might seem. Teachers must themselves be aware of speech sounds and how they differ from letters in order to help students acquire awareness of phonemes and the symbols that represent them. There is growing evidence that many adults need explicit instruction about language before they themselves demonstrate the level of sound and spelling awareness needed to teach it well.

In addition, teachers need to understand the developmental progression from spoken word and syllable identification to blending and segmenting all the phonemes in simple words.

Finally, instruction in this domain begins with auditory-verbal exercises to direct children's attention to sound, but phonemes should be linked with letters once children understand that letters represent segments of their own speech. At that point, phoneme awareness becomes part of a well-designed reading or spelling lesson.

Endnotes

Endnotes

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  1. National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

    Snow, C., Burns, S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

  2. Moats, L. C. (1995). The missing foundation in teacher education. American Educator, 19(2), 9, 43-51.

    National Reading Panel. Report of the National Reading Panel.

    Scarborough, H., Ehri, L., Olson, R., & Fowler, A. (1998). The fate of phonemic awareness beyond the early school years. Scientific Studies of Reading, 2, 115-142.

  3. Adams, M., Treiman, R., & Pressley, M. (1998). Reading, writing and literacy. In I. E. Siegal and K. A. Renniger (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Child psychology in practice (5th ed., Vol. 4, pp. 275-355). New York: Wiley.

  4. National Reading Panel. (2000). Fluency. Chap. 3 in Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: Reports of the subgroups (pp. 3-1-3-43). Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Beck, I. L., McCaslin, E. C., & McKeown, M. G. (1980). The rationale and design of a program to teach vocabulary to fourth-grade students. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Learning Research and Development Center.

    National Reading Panel. (2000). Vocabulary instruction. Part 1 of Chap. 4 in Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: Reports of the subgroups (pp. 4-15-4-38). Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

  7. Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (1991). Conditions of vocabulary acquisition. In P. D. Pearson (Ed.), The Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 2, pp. 789-814). New York: Longman Press.

  8. Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., & Omanson, R. C. (1984). The fertility of some types of vocabulary instruction. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.

  9. Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., Hamilton, R. L., & Kucan, L. Getting at the meaning: How to help students unpack difficult text. American Educator, 22, 66-71, 85.

    Learning First Alliance (1998). Every child reading: An action plan. Washington, DC: Author.

    Pressley, M. (1998). Reading instruction that works: The case for balanced teaching. New York: Guilford Press.

  10. Snow, C., Burns, S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children (pp. 80-83). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

  11. National Reading Panel. (2000). Text comprehension. Part 2 of Chap. 4 in Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: Reports of the subgroups (pp. 4-39-4-118). Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

  12. Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., Hamilton, R. L., & Kucan, L. Getting at the meaning.

  13. Durkin, D. (1993). Teaching them to read (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

  14. Berninger, V., Vaughan, K., Abbott, R., Abbott, S., Brooks, A., Rogan, L., Reed, E., & Graham, S. (1997). Treatment of handwriting fluency problems in beginning writing: Transfer from handwriting to composition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 652-666.

    Berninger, V., Vaughan, K., Abbott, R., Brooks, A., Abbott, S., Reed, E., Rogan, L., & Graham, S. (1998). Early intervention for spelling problems: Teaching spelling units of varying size within a multiple connections framework. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 587-605.

    Graham, S., Berninger, V., Abbott, R., Abbott, S., & Whitaker, D. (1997). The role of mechanics in composing of elementary school students: A new methodological approach. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 170-182.

  15. Bear, D. Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (1996). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

    Ehri, L., & Soffer, A. (1999). Graphophonemic awareness: Development in elementary students. Scientific Studies of Reading, 3, 1-30.

    Treiman, R. (1993). Beginning to spell. New York: Oxford University Press.

  16. Fletcher, J. M., & Lyon, G. R. (1998). Reading: A research-based approach. In W. Evers (Ed.), What's gone wrong in America's classrooms (pp. 49-90). Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

' In addition to their mention in Every Child Reading: An Action Plan, these components are commonly delineated in documents such as research reviews, state standards on instruction, the Reading Excellence Act funding criteria, curriculum guidelines, and teacher instructional manuals.

* Of course, as the National Reading Panel notes, "phonics teaching is a means to an end. . . . In implementing systematic phonics instruction, educators must keep the end in mind and ensure that children understand the purpose of learning letter sounds and that they are able to apply these skills accurately and fluently in their daily reading and writing activities" (Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Health, 2000, p. 10). The panel's report also states that, notwithstanding the fact that explicit, systematic, synthetic phonics is the most effective approach, there remain unanswered questions on how to make this instruction as effective as possible. For example, the panel notes that more research is needed on questions such as how long single instruction sessions should last, how many letter-sound relations should be taught, and how many months or years a phonics program should continue. Moreover, some children will learn and appropriately apply phonics skills quickly and effortlessly, while others must be taught slowly, step by step. The individual variation in any group remains a continual challenge to teacher judgment, resourcefulness, and program management skill.

* In the standardization of the Texas Primary Reading Inventory, these subtests combined predict the likelihood of success or failure with about 90 percent accuracy.

* The readability of text, as reflected in sentence complexity and frequency of vocabulary, can now be assessed with software. Readability formulas tend to have more validity for children who have attained a reading level above 2nd grade than they do for those who are just beginning to read, and readability does not reflect the extent to which a text is decodable on the basis of what a child has been taught.

Excerpted from: The Content of Professional Development. (November, 2000). Every Child Reading: A Professional Development Guide. Learning First Alliance. Reprinted with permission.

Copyright © 2000 by the Learning First Alliance. Learning First Alliance member organizations include: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Council of Chief State School Officers, Education Commission of the States, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Education Association, National Parent Teacher Association, National School Boards Association. For more information, see www.learningfirst.org

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Comments

Since phonemic awareness and letter-sound are essentials to becoming good readers, it would make sense to sing songs to small children using their names and the sounds of letters in their names to capitalize on the tons of synapses they have.

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