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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.
Phonemic awareness is not only connected with learning to read, but research
Phonological awareness is not only correlated with learning to read, but research indicates a stronger statement is trues: phonemic awareness appears to play a casual role in reading acquisition. Stanovich 1993-94, explains that phonemic awareness is a foundational ability underlying the learning of spelling correspondences. In my opinion, phonemic awareness seems to be a necessary condition for learning to read, however children who do not acquire these skills sometimes do not go on to learn to read. Adams (1990) reviews the research that suggests that it is critical for children to be able to link phonemic awareness to the knowledge of letters. That is why in most preschools and kindergartens instructors start teaching students how to sound their letters and as the grade level increases, how to sound their words. Research shows that once beginning readers have some clue of phonics and their corresponding graphic representations, further reading instruction heightens their awareness of language. This assists in developing the later stages of phonemic awareness mentioned above. Yopp (1992), mentions that phonemic awareness is both a prerequisite for and a consequence of learning to read and I am in favor of that statement.
Instruments to test for a child’s phonemic awareness tend to be short, easy to administer, reliable, and valid. Stanovich also provides a quick and easy to administer phonological awareness test in an article 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 commendations for teaching 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) lists the following general recommendations for phonemic awareness activities:
Keep a sense of playfulness and fun, avoid drill and remote memorization
Use group setting that encourage interaction among children.
Encourage childrenâ€™s curiosity about language and their experimentation with it.
Allow for and be prepared for individual differences.
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 a part of a broad instructional program in reading and writing. Also, teaching phonemic awareness in Kindergarten and preschool should not occur to the disadvantage 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 in the classroom. These are the instructional guidelines for teaching phonemic awareness activities (Ellis, 1997):
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, donâ€™t drill them.
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. For example, there are only three sounds in the word cheese: /ch/-/ee/-/z/. You may want to target specific sounds/ words at first and practice before hand until you are comfortable making them.
Continuant sounds (e.g., /m/, /s/, /i/) are easier to handle and hear than stop consonants (e.g,/t/,/q/,/p/). When presenting continuant sounds, embellish by holding on to them (example: rrrrrring); for stop consonants, use recapitulation (rapid repition) : example- k-k-k-katie
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 sounds and 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 students in oral activities that emphasize the sounds of language may go a long way in helping them become successful readers and learners.
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