Phonemic Awareness: Yea, nay?

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Anne Glennie
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Phonemic Awareness: Yea, nay?

Postby Anne Glennie » Sun May 24, 2015 12:30 pm ... ss-yea-nay

This is a fantastically detailed article by Kerry Hempenstall. It explores the current research with regards to reading and phonemic awareness and includes practical advice that teachers can apply directly to their classroom situation. Includes extensive references, ideal for those who wish to explore the topic further.
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Re: Phonemic Awareness: Yea, nay?

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Fri Jun 07, 2019 9:31 pm

I started a thread on this topic some time ago via my Phonics International message forum here:

Phonological awareness versus teaching letter/s-sound links ... .php?t=605
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Re: Phonemic Awareness: Yea, nay?

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Fri Jun 07, 2019 9:52 pm

Stephen Parker shared this information with the DDOLL network and is happy for me to add it here:

Stephen wrote:

For those who have not had the time to read the US National Reading Panel (NRP) report on the topic of phonemic awareness (pages 2-9 through 2-52 in the final document), I have prepared this summary of what I believe are some of the key points.

I believe this review of what the NRP actually says is important because there is no agreement, even among reading reformers, as to what phonemic awareness (PA) should entail.

Should it be done with or without the use of letters? Are “phonological” awareness exercises (rhyming, onset-rime separation, clapping out syllables) recommended as a pre-requisite before dealing with phonemic awareness? Is there a hard and fast boundary between phonics and PA (e.g. PA exercises must be doable with eyes closed)? Is PA a “new” discovery or has it been around for as long as teachers have been teaching children how to read – provided teachers do so correctly? Should multiple PA exercises be drilled (including such exercises as oral-only deletion, substitution, reversal) or is it better for the teacher to focus on only 1 or 2 key PA exercises?

It turns out the NRP answers these questions in a rather unambiguous manner. What follows are some of the key relevant quotes.

The NRP identified (page 2-10) these 6 types of Phonemic Awareness activities:

· phoneme isolation

· phoneme identity

· phoneme categorization

· phoneme blending

· phoneme segmenting

· phoneme deletion

“Some forms of PA training in the data set qualified as phonics instruction, which involves teaching students how to use grapheme-phoneme correspondences to decode or spell words. For example, Williams’ (1980) ABD program taught students to use graphemes and phonemes to blend words—which is decoding. Ehri and Wilce (1987b) taught students to use graphemes and phonemes to segment words—which is spelling.” (2-11)

“Research on word reading processes has distinguished several ways to read words (Ehri, 1991, 1994). The process of decoding words never read before involves transforming graphemes into phonemes and then blending the phonemes to form words with recognizable meanings. The PA skill centrally involved in decoding is blending.” (2-11)

“Another way to read words is from memory, sometimes called sight word reading. This requires prior experience reading the words and retaining information about them in memory. In order for individual words to be represented in memory, beginning readers are thought to form connections between graphemes and phonemes in the word. These connections bond spellings to their pronunciations in memory (Ehri, 1992; Ehri & Wilce, 1987a; Rack, Hulme, Snowberg, & Wightman, 1994; Reitsma, 1983). The PA skill thought to be important for developing word memory is being able to segment pronunciations into phonemes that link to graphemes.” (2-12)

“The processes involved in writing words, either by generating approximate spellings of the words or by retrieving correct spellings from memory, require phonemic segmentation skill (Griffith, 1991). Phonemic segmentation is required for spellers to select letters to represent the phonemes. Phonemic segmentation is required to help children retain correct spellings in memory by connecting graphemes to phonemes.” (2-12)

“Teaching two PA skills to children has greater long-term benefit for reading than teaching only one PA skill or teaching a global array of skills. In fact, effects for the one-skill condition (d = 0.74) and the two-skill condition (d = 0.87) were over three times as large as the effect size for the multiple condition (d = 0.23). These findings suggest that focused PA instruction may benefit spelling more than multiple skill instruction does.” (2-21)

“Various types of phoneme manipulations might be taught. However, two types, blending and segmenting, are thought to be directly involved in reading and spelling processes. Blending phonemes helps children to decode unfamiliar words. Segmenting words into phonemes helps children to spell unfamiliar words and also to retain spellings in memory. A number of studies examined PA training that taught children to blend and segment phonemes. To assess its value, the Panel compared the effect size for this treatment to the effect size for the multiple (3 or more skills) treatment. As evident in Table 3 for reading outcomes, teaching students to blend and segment benefited their reading much more (d = 0.67) than did a multiple-skills approach (d = 27). From these findings, the Panel concludes that blend-and-segment training benefited children’s reading more than multiple skills training did.” (2-21)

“Studies in the database differed in whether or not children were taught to manipulate phonemes using letters during training…From these findings, the Panel concludes that teaching PA with letters is more effective in helping readers acquire phonemic awareness than teaching PA without letters. It was expected that teaching PA with letters would facilitate greater transfer to reading and spelling than teaching PA without letters. This is because reading and spelling processes require knowing how phonemes are linked to letters. From reading outcomes in Table 3, it can be seen that teaching children to manipulate phonemes with letters created effect sizes almost twice as large as teaching children without letters (d = 0.67 vs. 0.38).” (2-21)

“Likewise, letters benefited spelling more than no letters, with the effect size almost twice as great (d = 0.61 vs. 0.34). These findings reveal that PA training makes a stronger contribution to reading and spelling performance when the training includes teaching children to manipulate phonemes with letters than when training is limited to speech.” (2-22)

“PA training is more effective when it is taught by having children manipulate letters than when manipulation is limited to speech.” (2-26)

“Programs that focused on teaching one or two PA skills yielded larger effects on PA learning than programs teaching three or more of these manipulations. Instruction that taught phoneme manipulation with letters helped children acquire PA skills better than instruction without letters.” (2-28)

“Teaching children to manipulate phonemes using letters produced bigger effects than teaching without letters. Blending and segmenting instruction showed a much larger effect size on reading than multiple-skill instruction did.” (2-29)

“Children who were taught to manipulate phonemes with letters benefited more in their spelling than children whose manipulations were limited to speech.” (2-29)

“According to NRP findings, children who received training that focused on one or two PA skills exhibited stronger PA and stronger transfer to reading than children who were taught three or more PA skills.” (2-30)

“Phoneme identity is needed to attach phonemes to letters for reading and spelling words. The skill of blending is needed to decode unfamiliar words. Phonemic segmentation helps children remember how to read and spell words because it helps them distinguish the phonemes that are bonded to graphemes when a word’s written form is retained in memory.” (2-32)

“It is important to note that acquiring phonemic awareness is a means rather than an end. PA is not acquired for its own sake but rather for its value in helping children understand and use the alphabetic system to read and write. This is why including letters in the process of teaching children to manipulate phonemes is important. PA training with letters helps learners determine how phonemes match up to graphemes within words and thus facilitates transfer to reading and spelling.” (2-33)

“Among readers in 1st and 2nd grades, there may be variation in how well children can perform more advanced forms of PA, that is, manipulations involving segmenting and blending with letters. In the rush to teach phonemic awareness, it is important not to overlook the need to teach letters as well. The NRP analysis showed that PA instruction was more effective when it was taught with letters. Using letters to manipulate phonemes helps children make the transfer to reading and writing.” (2-33)

“To ensure that instruction in phonemic awareness is effective, it needs to include instruction in graphemes as well as instruction in the connections between graphemes and phonemes to read and spell words.” (2-33)

“In a study by Cunningham (1990), who did examine application effects, students in one group not only were taught to segment and blend but also were shown how to apply these skills in reading words. Another group received the same PA training but not the application training. Effect sizes on reading outcomes were much larger when 1st graders received the application instruction than when they did not. This suggests that results of the NRP meta-analysis actually underestimate the magnitude of effects that would result if children received explicit instruction and practice in applying PA skills in their reading and writing.” (2-33)

“It is important to note that when PA is taught with letters, it qualifies as phonics instruction. When PA training involves teaching students to pronounce the sounds associated with letters and to blend the sounds to form words, it qualifies as synthetic phonics. When PA training involves teaching students to segment words into phonemes and to select letters for those phonemes, it is the equivalent of teaching students to spell words phonemically, which is another form of phonics instruction. These methods of teaching phonics existed long before they became identified as forms of phonemic awareness training (Balmuth, 1982; Chall, 1967). Although teaching children to manipulate sounds in spoken words may be new, phonemic awareness training that involves segmenting and blending with letters is not. Only the label is new. Explicit instruction in the alphabetic principle necessarily includes attention to phonemes because these are the phonological units that match up to letters. According to NRP findings, it is likely that the inclusion of phonemic awareness training in phonics instruction is a key component contributing to its effectiveness in teaching children to read.” (2-34)

“This suggests that concentrating instructional time on segmenting and blending may contribute more to reading skill than diverting attention to many PA activities. These findings are consistent with those in the NRP meta-analysis indicating the greater impact of segmenting and blending than multi-skill instruction on reading outcomes.” (2-38)

“Teaching students to segment and blend benefits reading more than a multiskilled approach. Teaching students to manipulate phonemes with letters yields larger effects than teaching students without letters, not surprisingly because letters help children make the connection between PA and its application to reading. Teaching children to blend the phonemes represented by letters is the equivalent of decoding instruction.” (2-41)

“It is essential to teach letters as well as phonemic awareness to beginners. PA training is more effective when children are taught to use letters to manipulate phonemes. This is because knowledge of letters is essential for transfer to reading and spelling. Learning all the letters of the alphabet is not easy, particularly for children who come to school knowing few of them. Shapes, names, and sounds need to be overlearned so that children can work with them automatically to read and spell words. Thus, if children do not know letters, this needs to be taught along with PA.” (2-41)

“It is important to include letters when teaching children to manipulate phonemes and it is important to be explicit about how children are to use the PA skills in reading and writing tasks.” (2-43)

Note: England’s Rose Report highlights two forms of phonemic awareness training (with letters) as well – and includes them among the 4 elements that constitute “high quality phonic work.” Here are those 4 elements in the Rose Report’s call for synthetic phonics:

· Knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences

· Blending (synthesizing) phonemes, in order, all through a word to read it

· Segmenting words into their constituent phonemes to spell them

· Blending and segmenting are reversible

Researcher David Share names only 2 co-requisites for reading acquisition, calling these two skills the sine qua non for learning how to read. They are:

· knowledge of grapheme/phoneme correspondences

· the PA skill of blending an unknown word’s phonemes in order to recognize the word

“In summary, there is strong evidence for a causal role of phoneme synthesis as a twin co-requisite (alongside symbol-sound knowledge) for successful reading acquisition. This conclusion is supported by both laboratory and field studies. Additional support comes from research comparing initial programs of reading instruction. Phonics programs which explicitly teach blending produce superior results compared to "analytic" programs which generally do not include a blending component.” (from Phonological Recoding and Self-Teaching: Sine Qua Non of Reading Acquisition, page 194)

Researcher Linnea Ehri points to the same PA skill of blending (with letters) as the PA skill which allows a “full-phase” reader to begin the process of what is now called “orthographic mapping.”

“During the full alphabetic phase, beginners remember how to read sight words by forming complete connections between letters seen in the written forms of words and phonemes detected in their pronunciations. This is possible because these readers understand how most graphemes symbolize phonemes in the conventional spelling system… A characteristic distinguishing full phase readers is the ability to decode words never read before, by blending letters into a pronunciation. This knowledge enables full-phase readers to form fully-connected sight words in memory.” (from Grapheme-Phoneme Knowledge is Essential for Learning to Read Words in English,” p21)

Stephen concludes:

My (admittedly biased) conclusion: Forget all types of phonics other than synthetic phonics. Forget all types of PA training except blending (with letters) and segmenting (with letters). If a teacher does this, phonics and phonemic awareness become inseparable. If a teacher does this, most of his or her children will learn to read and spell within a year or two. An additional advantage: synthetic phonics makes learning to read logical rather than a matter of sight word memorization and word-guessing.

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