I remember when I first learned to read, and indeed it was an ongoing process of pronouncing words and learning to comprehend. My teachers and my parents worked with me and I am proud to say that today I am 23 years old and a fluent reader. After coming to college and pursuing my teaching career I really owe thanks to phonemics. I remember when I was younger how important it was to learn those vowels and consonants and being able to differentiate the two terms. Learning those skills are a part of phonemics. This paper will examine what are phonemics, why is it so important, and ways we can utilize this skill to produce better readers.
What is Phonemics?
To get a better understanding of what phonemics are we must first analyze the root, which is phonics. Phonics involves teaching how to sounds of spoken English and is also the teaching of learners to read and write based on letter-sound relationship. According to J. Beam (2009), the phrase phonemic awareness is typically used to describe the ability to distinguish the sounds, or phonemes, in spoken language as they relate to written language. That is also why sometimes phonics and phonemics are used interchangeably. Phonemic awareness is the foundation for learning and understanding phonics. Adams (1990) describes five levels of phonemic awareness in terms of abilities and they are: the ability to hear rhymes and alliteration as measure by knowledge of nursery rhymes, the ability to do oddity tasks, the ability to blend and split syllables, the ability to perform phonemic segmentation, and the ability to perform phonemic manipulation tasks. This is phonemic awareness
Why is It So Important?
According to Elizabeth Winstrom on Brighthub.com teaching phonemic awareness is an important component to beginning literacy. Educators and future educators are always looking for valid and reliable predictors of educational achievement. Stanovich, 1993-94, states that one reason why educators are so interested in phonemic awareness is because research states that phonemic awareness is the best predictor of the ease of early reading acquisition, better than IQ, vocabulary and listening comprehension.
Phonological awareness is not only correlated with learning to read, but research indicates a stronger statement is true: phonological awareness appears to play a causal role in reading acquisition. Phonological awareness is a foundational ability underlying the learning of spelling-sound correspondences (Stanovich, 1993-94). Although phonological awareness appears to be a necessary condition for learning to read (children who do not develop phonological awareness do not go on to learn how to read), it is not a sufficient condition. Adams (1990) reviews the research that suggests that it is critical for children to be able to link phoneme awareness to knowledge of letters.
Research shows that once beginning readers have some awareness of phonemes and their corresponding graphic representations, research has indicated that further reading instruction heightens their awareness of language, assisting then in developing the later stages of phonemic awareness mentioned above. Phonemic awareness is both a prerequisite for and a consequence of learning to read (Yopp, 1992).
Instruments to test for a child's phonemic awareness tend to be short, easy to administer, reliable, and valid. Stanovich also provides a quick (7-minute) and easy-to-administer phonological awareness test in an article in which he discusses his career as a researcher. Yopp (1995) presents a similarly brief assessment instrument and offers detailed evidence for its validity and reliability.
What Can Educators Do?
Research indicates that phonological awareness can be taught and that students who increased their awareness of phonemes facilitated their subsequent reading acquisition (Lundberg et al, 1988). Teachers need to be aware of instructional activities that can help their students become aware of phonemes before they receive formal reading instruction, and they need to realize that phonemic awareness will become more sophisticated as students' reading skills develop.
The following recommendations for instruction in phonemic awareness are derived from Spector (1995):
(1) At the preschool level, engage children in activities that direct their attention to the sounds in words, such as rhyming and alliteration games.
(2) Teach students to segment and blend.
(3) Combine training in segmentation and blending with instruction in letter-sound relationships.
(4) Teach segmentation and blending as complementary processes.
(5) Systematically sequence examples when teaching segmentation and blending.
(6) Teach for transfer to novel tasks and contexts.
Yopp (1992) offers the following general recommendations for phonemic awareness activities:
(a) Keep a sense of playfulness and fun, avoid drill and rote memorization.
(b) Use group settings that encourage interaction among children.
(c) Encourage children's curiosity about language and their experimentation with it.
(d) Allow for and be prepared for individual differences.
(e) Make sure the tone of the activity is not evaluative but rather fun and informal.
However, According to Reading.org, the best approach is one which is designed to "consciously and purposefully attend to the development of phonemic awareness as part of a broad instructional program in reading and writing"(E.Winstrom). However, teaching phonemic awareness in Kindergarten and Preschool should not occur to the detriment of other balanced literary components. Edwin Ellis, in his article How Now Brown Cow: Phoneme Awareness Activities (1997), identifies some basic guidelines which should be followed when planning phonemic awareness lessons for the classroom.
Instructional Guidelines for Teaching Phonemic Awareness in Kindergarten and Preschool - Planning Phoneme Awareness Activities (Ellis, 1997):
â€¢Identify the precise phoneme awareness task on which you wish to focus and select developmentally appropriate activities for engaging children in the task. Activities should be fun and exciting - "play" with sounds, don't "drill" them.
â€¢Be sure to use phoneme sounds (represented by / /) and not letter names when doing the activities. Likewise, remember that one sound may be represented by two or more letters. There are only three sounds in the word cheese: /ch/-/ee/-/z/. You may want to target specific sounds/words at first and "practice" beforehand until you are comfortable making them.
â€¢Continuant sounds (e.g., /m/, /s/, /i/) are easier to manipulate and hear than stop consonants (e.g., /t/, /q/, /p/). When introducing continuant sounds, exaggerate by holding on to them: rrrrrring; for stop consonants, use iteration (rapid repetition): k-k-k-k-katie.
â€¢When identifying sounds in different positions, the initial position is easiest, followed by the final position, with the medial position being most difficult (e.g., top, pot, setter). When identifying or combining sound sequences, a CV pattern should be used before a VC pattern, followed by a CVC pattern (e.g., pie, egg, red).
In conclusion, spending a few minutes daily engaging preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade children in oral activities that emphasize the sounds of language may go a long way in helping them become successful readers and learners.