Phonemic awareness can be taught to and learnt by children who do not have an instinctive understanding. This can be done through a variety of methods including phoneme isolation, phoneme identity, phoneme categorisation, phoneme blending, phoneme segmentation, phoneme deletion, phoneme addition and phoneme substitution – all methods which involve the child addressing the logistics of phonemic awareness in a practical way.
Phonemic awareness instruction can help a child to read through improving their ability to recognise and comprehend words and their meanings. It is recognised that for children who are learning to read, fluency is often a difficult skill to learn and phonemic awareness instruction can help to improve that to ensure that children grow into quick, fluent readers.
It can also help children to learn how to spell – by breaking the phonemes down; phonemic awareness encourages children to relate sounds to letters and thus teaches them to independently break down words that they have not encountered before to accurately guess their spelling.
However, phonemic awareness instruction is received to its optimum level when the child is taught to use letters as well as phonemes. Teaching children to associated sounds with the letters of the alphabet enables them to relate their phonemic awareness to their literacy skills. In short, learning the skills that allows children to blend phonemes with letters helps them to read whereas being able to blend letters with phonemes helps them to spell.
In teaching phoneme manipulation, it is important that the child is only taught one or two types at a time as evidence shows that any more than that and the child can become confused about when to apply which type. Other explanations for this show that if faced with too much at once, children can fail to learn these skills to the inherent level that is required.
It has been shown that children’s growth in reading ability is notably improved by receiving instruction that uses explicit and systematic phonics, as opposed to non-systematic or no phonics instruction. This is because of the strong relationship which must be built between letters and sounds.
Systematic phonics instruction has the greatest impact upon the child’s ability to read and write when it is implemented from as young as kindergarten age. It has been proven that children, who receive systematic phonics instruction at kindergarten and first grade, are superior readers and spellers.
It has also been proven that systematic phonics instruction produces children who display a stronger level of reading comprehension too. This is due to their increased ability to read words quickly and fluently.
Regardless of the child’s socioeconomic status, systematic phonics instruction is beneficial to all children meaning that it helps children of all backgrounds to learn to read, spell and comprehend words better than other non-systematic phonic instructions.
This is also the case for children who are classed as being ‘at-risk students’: systematic phonic awareness has demonstrably improved these children’s reading, spelling and comprehension skills regardless of their other problems.
As previously discussed, phonemic instruction is most effective when it is implemented at as young an age as possible: preferably kindergarten or first grade. However, it is important to note that when teaching children of this age, it must be carefully taught in a way which appeals and engages the child and should include the teaching of letter shapes and names, phonemic awareness and all major letter-sound relationships. Children should be encouraged to apply these skills as the instruction progresses.
Phonics instruction should not be taught exclusively but rather it must be carried out alongside other activities that include phonemic awareness, knowledge of the alphabet, and listening to stories and informative texts that are read out loud to them. Equally, the child must be encouraged to read on their own (out loud and silently) as well as engaging in a number of basic writing exercises.
Balances Reading Program
Phonemic awareness and phonics instruction programs cannot exist mutually exclusive of one another or even from other reading and literacy exercises. A balanced reading plan must include the above two qualities as well as encouraging independent literacy skills in the child whilst also incorporating “both explicit direct instruction and student-cantered instruction” (Au et al, 2008, p12). A balanced reading plan must see the child being encouraged to link sounds and letters whilst improving their fluency and comprehension of words and also expanding their vocabulary. Phonemic awareness encourages the child to do this by asking them to explore the sounds and their relationship to the various letters and vice versa – enhancing their ability to read and write independently through increased spelling, comprehension and fluency capability. Phonics instruction also does this through increasing the speed and accuracy of the child to recognise phonemes and associate them with particular letters and therefore, words. When teaching a child to read, it is important that the teacher recognise that all of these things must be included and implemented at a level which the child can understand whilst offering support when and where it is needed.
Au, K.H. et al. (2008). Literacy: helping students construct meaning. Connecticut: Cengage Learning.
National Institute for Literacy. (n.d.). Put Reading First: kindergarten through grade 3. Washington, DC: US. Government Printing Office.