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