Phonemic awareness (PA) is the ability to identify and manipulate or “play with” speech sounds. Phonemic awareness activities can be thought of as “sound training” that is linked to phonics.
The benefits of phonemic awareness activities are undeniable. Students that receive “sound training” show tremendous gains in reading and even show some surprising benefits, like increased verbal memory.
PHONEMIC AWARENESS IMPROVES ACCURACY
Countless studies show that the benefits of phonemic awareness activities are profound. Reading researcher Rollanda O’Connor (1995) found that children who did phonemic awareness activities read more accurately and made “more substantial” progress in reading.
ACCURACY IMPROVES COMPREHENSION
If accuracy is improved, so too is reading comprehension. “The civil war divided the nation” makes a lot more sense than “The circus war division the notion.” Accuracy is the foundation of reading comprehension. Inaccurate readers simply cannot comprehend texts.
Bradley and Bryant (1983) found students that did phonemic awareness activities in Kindergarten were the most successful readers in second grade. They were also the most accurate readers. In a follow-up study, they found the phonemically aware students had the highest levels of reading comprehension.
PHONEMIC AWARENESS AND READING NEW WORDS
Another reading researcher Joseph Torgesen (1992) provided Kindergarten students with seven weeks of phonemic awareness training. Some children had explicit “sound training,” while others just “heard stories.” The children that received explicit phonemic awareness activities performed significantly better in reading. These PA trained students showed a remarkable ability to read new words. They could read words they’d never read before.
And isn’t this the whole point of reading instruction? If a student can read new words, he can then read independently. That’s reading progress! Don’t we all imagine our children curled on a chair under the light of a lamp, thumbing through a chapter book—reading on their own?
PHONEMIC AWARENESS ACTIVITIES
Why do reading students need “sound training?” After all, we all can hear. What’s the deal?
Beginning readers need “sound training” because they read slowly, often starting at just 5-8 correct words per minute—this is really, really slow! Sure, some students can progress quickly, but not that quickly. Readers will not be able to read faster than they speak until middle school (and that’s if everything in reading instruction goes right). Even now, you, an expert reader, slow down when you come across an uncommon word, like “spasmodic.” When we read slowly, we have to string sounds back together. We have to ask, “What do all these sounds [sss-p-aaa-sss/mmm-o/d-iii-c] say in order?”
BEGINNING READERS READ SLOWLY AND PAUSE A LOT
Beginning readers not only read slowly, they pause in between words and in between sounds. A single utterance like “split” is sliced into five sounds: ssss-p-llll-iiii-t. This slowness contrasts with speech wherein we don’t pause at all (not even in-between words!). Beginning readers pause in between words and sounds.
All this slowness and pausing means it can be difficult for beginning readers to “hear” the correct word. “Sssss-p-lll-iii-t” might sound like “spit” or “pit.” Alas, these are common error types for beginning readers. K-2 students often chop off entire sound units when reading. Phonemic awareness activities minimize these errors, and allows students to come to the correct pronunciation: “split!”
Furthermore, PA training can increase verbal memory. This is a pretty remarkable benefit. How is this even possible?
When we speak, we don’t think about sounds. We think more about content: what do I want to say to so-and-so? But in reading, the focus on sounds is intense. Vowel sounds are elongated. Continuous sounds are “stretched out.” Beginning readers are left wondering, “What word is: h-aaaa-t? Is it had?” Even an expert reader gets tripped up on sounds when reading uncommon words, like “blatherskite.” All this focus on sound, means our brains get better at sound, all things sound, including learning new words!
BENEFITS OF PHONEMIC AWARENESS ACTIVITIES
-improved accuracy in reading
-improved reading comprehension
-ability to read new words, including words a student might never have seen in print or heard in speech
-increased verbal memory
PHONEMIC AWARENESS IS THE STRONGEST PREDICTOR OF SUCCESS IN EARLY READING –MARYLYN ADAMS
IF YOU FOUND THIS POST HELPFUL, CHECK OUT What is Phonemic Awareness?
Leave a Reply