Reading and Phonemic Awareness

I have been struggling over the last few years, trying to figure out what works and doesn’t work when teaching beginning reading to kindergarten children. It’s compounded by the fact that they come to school with such a diverse background. Everything from kids who know all of the letters of the alphabet, sounds, and some words; to kids who can’t tell a letter from a number, everything is just marks on paper, with no meaning. It’s an indicator that they are beginning to get it when they make marks on paper and ask you what the marks say……

One of the things I like so much about kindergarten is watching and participating in this discovery. Words and letters, letters and words, learning that letters make sounds and that putting the letters together, stringing the sounds together, makes words. Interestingly, the fact that a group of letters is a word or even where one word leaves off and the next one starts is not always readily apparent to beginning readers.

*Phonological awareness* is the ability to segment language aurally (hearing the segments within the word).
The most well known example of this would be onset-rime segmentation.
The ability to show awareness of rime has been shown in the research
to be a key skill requirement for successful reading. As another
example: I was working in a class where the children were asked to
begin a story “Once upon a time” and only a few of them were
successfully able to do this. Their attempts showed that most of them
were not segmenting these four words correctly at the phonological
level. There were all sorts of variations:
One supona time
Once up onatime, etc

This example is what I’m talking about, hearing where one word ends and the next one begins is fundamental to hearing sounds inside words as well. Adults who have difficulty reading often have poor phonemic awareness. There is a strong correlation between phonemic awareness and success in reading. So there is no surprise that our latest adopted reading program at our school is big on phonemic awareness.

There are a number of published definitions of what Phonemic Awareness is. Here is another definition:

Phonemic Awareness – Phonemic Awareness (P.A.) is the ability to recognize that a spoken word is composed of a sequence of individual sounds (phonemes). Children who are unaware that words consist of individual sounds will have difficulty in decoding. Cunningham (2000) defines P.A. as the ability to examine language independently of meaning and to manipulate its component sounds. P.A. enables children to use letter-sound correspondences to read and spell words.

Next to knowledge of letters, phonemic awareness is a good predictor of children’s’ first-year reading achievement. Both knowledge of letters, and P.A., have been found to bear a strong and direct relationship to success and ease of reading acquisition. This awareness is acquired gradually through experiences with spoken and written language.

This year I’ve moved beyond just the alphabet and sounds, we have worked with words using some of the rules like, “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking” and “a silent e at the end makes the other vowel say it’s name (long sound)” and we have done a lot with blends and digraphs. I’m going to start using Soundabets as well. Soundabets is one of the most logical presentations I’ve seen of how letter combinations give sounds (and what they are) other than the normal sounds associated with the letters individually.

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