This blog post is from excerpts written by Cathy Puett Miller, the Literacy Ambassador, writer, and consultant.
What is phonological awareness anyway? Let’s look at the three terms that are sometimes mistakenly interchanged:
Phonological Awareness: the understanding that speech and the sounds of language can be broken into smaller units (words, syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes).
Phonemic Awareness: the understanding that oral language can be divided into smaller components and manipulated.
Phonics: the understanding of how letters or spelling patterns represent speech sounds.
When it comes phonological awareness -- understanding that speech and the sounds of language can be broken into smaller units (words, syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes) -- as the starting point. Phonemic awareness (understanding that oral language can be divided into smaller components and manipulated) and phonics (the understanding of how letters or spelling patterns represent speech sounds) branch from there.
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a Yale neuroscientist and a specialist in dyslexia, states in "Learning About Learning to Read" that 90 percent of struggling readers have phonological weakness. With such prevalence, every classroom must address it.
Recently, Dr. Cindy Cupp, a veteran teacher, former director of Georgia's state Reading and Curriculum Division, discussed this important concept with me in the following conversation.
Q: Is phonological awareness essential for all children to become strong readers?
A: In 35 years of experience teaching, I find that 80-90 percent of children do better with a strong phonological awareness base including phonics instruction. With such high numbers, it makes sense to teach those skills in every class. If you find students who don't need it, differentiate their instruction.
Q: How can we help a child with weak phonological skills?
A: In Kindergarten reading curriculums and first grade reading curriculums, phonological awareness is all about sound and auditory skills. Tapping into the sound delineation is the best place to start. You also can begin working on a separate track with sounds and letters alongside the auditory. Children at this age need a daily dose. When they learn to blend sounds, the two tracks come together.
For second grade and up, it's no different. Think about learning to play the piano; whether we learn at five or fifty-five, we still need the foundation. It's the same with reading.
For any age, games and word play are important. The teacher's goal is to move them to a level of automaticity, not just a skeletal grasp of skills. Pace your teaching to that level of learning using a systematic, sequential approach, and give students enough exposure to acquire that solid base.
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