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Research Report

They Say You Can Do Phonemic Awareness Instruction “In the Dark”, But Should You? A Critical Evaluation of the Trend Toward Advanced Phonemic Awareness Training

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A trend has emerged across schools in the U.S. in which phonemic awareness is viewed as much more than a component of beginning reading instruction. This perspective argues that “phonemic proficiency”, evidenced by mastery with advanced tasks such as phoneme elision or substitution, is an important target for assessment and instruction well beyond initial grades. Daily phonemic awareness instruction outside of print are hallmarks of the perspective, which has influenced state policies on reading instruction. This paper evaluated the empirical and theoretical basis for advanced phonemic awareness training. Although promoted as evidence-based, proficiency on so-called advanced phonemic tasks is not more strongly related to reading or more discriminative of difficulties than other phoneme-level skills, not necessary for skilled reading, and is more likely a product of learning to read and spell than a cause. Additionally, reading outcomes are stronger when phonemic awareness is taught with print, there is no evidence that advanced phonemic awareness training benefits reading instruction or intervention, and prominent theories of reading development do not align with the claims. We conclude with implications for policy-makers and educators, and discuss how experimental research could address open questions about phonemic awareness instruction.


Clemens, N., Solari, E., Kearns, D. M., Fien, H., Nelson, N. J., Stelega, M., Burns, M., St. Martin, K. & Hoeft, F. (2021, December 14). PsyArXiv