A trend has emerged across schools in the U.S. in which phonemic awareness is viewed as much more than a component of beginning reading instruction. This perspective argues that “phonemic proficiency”, evidenced by mastery with advanced tasks such as phoneme elision or substitution, is an important target for assessment and instruction well beyond initial grades. Daily phonemic awareness instruction outside of print are hallmarks of the perspective, which has influenced state policies on reading instruction. This paper evaluated the empirical and theoretical basis for advanced phonemic awareness training. Although promoted as evidence-based, proficiency on so-called advanced phonemic tasks is not more strongly related to reading or more discriminative of difficulties than other phoneme-level skills, not necessary for skilled reading, and is more likely a product of learning to read and spell than a cause. Additionally, reading outcomes are stronger when phonemic awareness is taught with print, there is no evidence that advanced phonemic awareness training benefits reading instruction or intervention, and prominent theories of reading development do not align with the claims. We conclude with implications for policy-makers and educators, and discuss how experimental research could address open questions about phonemic awareness instruction.
They Say You Can Do Phonemic Awareness Instruction “In the Dark”, But Should You? A Critical Evaluation of the Trend Toward Advanced Phonemic Awareness Training
Clemens, N., Solari, E., Kearns, D. M., Fien, H., Nelson, N. J., Stelega, M., Burns, M., St. Martin, K. & Hoeft, F. (2021, December 14). PsyArXiv
Connected Phonation is More Effective than Segmented Phonation for Teaching Beginning Readers to Decode Unfamiliar Words
Selenid M. Gonzalez-Frey & Linnea C. Ehri (June 2020) Connected Phonation is More Effective than Segmented Phonation for Teaching Beginning Readers to Decode Unfamiliar Words, Scientific Studies of Reading. DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2020.1776290
Two methods of decoding instruction were compared. Participants were kindergartners who knew letter sounds but could not decode nonwords. The segmented phonation treatment taught students to convert graphemes to phonemes by breaking the speech stream (“sss – aaa – nnn”) before blending. The connected phonation treatment taught students to pronounce phonemes without breaking the speech stream (“sssaaannn”) before blending. The CVC nonwords contained continuant consonants that could be stretched and connected. Following learning to criterion, students completed a transfer task to decode CVCs with stop consonants that are harder to blend because of intrusion from schwa vowels. Results showed that connected phonation training facilitated learning to decode as well as reading nonwords accurately on the transfer task compared to segmented phonation training. An error analysis suggested that breaking between phonemes caused students to forget initial phonemes during blending. Findings suggest how to teach decoding more effectively.
Structured Literacy and Typical Literacy Practices: Understanding Differences to Create Instructional Opportunities
Swerling, Louise Spear. Structured Literacy and Typical Literacy Practices: Understanding Differences to Create Instructional Opportunities (January 23, 2018). Teaching Exceptional Children: Volume: 51 issue: 3, page(s): 201-211. https://doi.org/10.1177/0040059917750160
A key feature of structured literacy (SL) includes, “explicit, systematic, and sequential teaching of literacy at multiple levels — phonemes, letter–sound relationships, syllable patterns, morphemes, vocabulary, sentence structure, paragraph structure, and text structure. SL is especially well suited to students with dyslexia because it directly addresses their core weaknesses in phonological skills, decoding, and spelling. If implemented in Tier 1 instruction and tiered interventions, SL practices may also prevent or ameliorate a wide range of other reading difficulties.
Invented spelling in kindergarten as a predictor of reading and spelling in Grade 1
This study evaluated whether the sophistication of children’s invented spellings in kindergarten was predictive of subsequent reading and spelling in Grade 1, while also considering the influence of well-known precursors. Children in their first year of schooling were assessed on measures of oral vocabulary, alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness, word reading, and invented spelling; approximately one year later they were assessed on multiple measures of reading and spelling. The researchers found a direct line from invented spelling leading to improved reading scores at the end of first grade. The study suggests that invented spelling integrates phonological and orthographic growth and is a unique predictor of growth in early reading skills, over and above children’s alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness.
The Impact of Transitional Kindergarten on California Students
Karen Manship et al. The Impact of Transitional Kindergarten on California Students: Final Report from the Study of California's Transitional Kindergarten Program (June 2017). Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.
This study revealed that California students who attended transitional kindergarten were more engaged in the learning process and better prepared for math and reading when they entered kindergarten than children who did not. Transitional kindergarten helps to improve the language development of English Learners and math skills for low-income students, which includes problem solving and symbol recognition.Transitional kindergarten students recognized more letters and words and had a better understanding of phonetic sounds and vocabulary when entering kindergarten.
Auditory Processing in Noise: A Preschool Biomarker for Literacy
White-Schwoch T, Woodruff Carr K, Thompson EC, Anderson S, Nicol T, Bradlow AR, et al. (2015) Auditory Processing in Noise: A Preschool Biomarker for Literacy. PLoS Biol 13(7): e1002196.
This study suggests that the neural processing of consonants in noise plays a fundamental role in language development. Children who struggle to listen in noisy environments may struggle to make meaning of the language they hear on a daily basis, which can in turn set them at risk for literacy challenges. Evaluating the neural coding of speech in noise may provide an objective neurophysiological marker for these at-risk children, opening a door to early and specific interventions that may stave off a life spent struggling to read.
Human Voice Recognition Depends on Language Ability
Perrachione, T., Stephanie Del Tufo, S., Gabrieli, J. Human Voice Recognition Depends on Language Ability. Science 29 July 2011: 595.
The ability to recognize people by their voice is an important social behavior. Individuals differ in how they pronounce words, and listeners may take advantage of language-specific knowledge of speech phonology to facilitate recognizing voices. Impaired phonological processing is characteristic of dyslexia and thought to be a basis for difficulty in learning to read. The researchers tested voice-recognition abilities of dyslexic and control listeners for voices speaking listeners’ native language or an unfamiliar language. Individuals with dyslexia exhibited impaired voice-recognition abilities compared with controls only for voices speaking their native language. These results demonstrate the importance of linguistic representations for voice recognition. Humans appear to identify voices by making comparisons between talkers' pronunciations of words and listeners' stored abstract representations of the sounds in those words. Related article: Study Sheds Light on Auditory Role in Dyslexia.
Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel
National Center for Family Literacy. (2009). Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.
The National Early Literacy Panel looked at published research concerning children's early literacy skills and reports on which early skills or abilities could properly be said to be the precursors of later literacy achievement.
Effects of Preschool Curriculum Programs on School Readiness
Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research Consortium (2008). Effects of Preschool Curriculum Programs on School Readiness (NCER 2008-2009). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
The Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research initiative studied the impact of the 14 preschool curricula on five student-level outcomes (reading, phonological awareness, language, mathematics, and behavior) and six classroom-level outcomes (classroom quality, teacher-child interaction, and four types of instruction).
Musical Training Helps Language Processing, Studies Show
Trei, L. Musical Training Helps Language Processing, Studies Show. Stanford Report, 15 November 2005.
In what will be music to the ears of arts advocates, researchers for the first time have shown that mastering a musical instrument improves the way the human brain processes parts of spoken language. The findings could bolster efforts to make music as much a part of elementary school education as reading and mathematics.
Developmental Steps in Learning to Read: A Longitudinal Study in Kindergarten and First Grade
Morris, D., Bloodgood, J.W., Lomax, R.G., & Perney, J. (2003). Developmental steps in learning to read: A longitudinal study in kindergarten and first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 38, 302-328.
This study tested a hypothesis about the growth of word knowledge in kindergarten/first-grade readers. It was predicted that (a) phoneme awareness develops in phases and (b) concept of word in text (ability to finger-point read) interacts with phoneme awareness in the development of early reading skill. Structural equation modeling showed that the longitudinal data fit the hypothesized model. The data also conformed to the predicted developmental sequence in a descriptive analysis of median performance change over time. The demonstrated relationship between phoneme awareness and concept of word in text, for its pedagogical implications alone, warrants further study.
Research to Practice: Phonemic Awareness in Kindergarten and First Grade
Abbott, M., Walton, C., & Greenwood, C. R. (2002). Research to practice: Phonemic awareness in kindergarten and first grade. Teaching Exceptional Children, 34 (4), 20-26.
Teachers attend a workshop and learn about a research-based practice. A consultant works with the teachers for a while to set up the program and maybe even conduct an evaluation and follow-up instruction. The consultant leaves; the teachers are on their own. A couple of years later, nobody can find evidence the program ever existed. Does this sound familiar? Why does this occur? What happens to make teachers drop programs that may even be excellent? The secret may lie in what does not happen. We set out to discover the secret to successful research-based practices as teachers use them in real life. The example we chose was a phonemic awareness program; this article describes how phonemic awareness research and intervention knowledge was successfully translated for teacher implementation over 3 years.
Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read
Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read (April 2000). National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and U.S. Department of Education.
In 1997, Congress asked NICHD, through its Child Development and Behavior Branch, to work with the U.S. Department of Education in establishing a National Reading Panel that would evaluate existing research and evidence to find the best ways of teaching children to read. The 14-member panel included members from different backgrounds, including school administrators, working teachers, and scientists involved in reading research. The report summarized research in eight areas relating to literacy instruction: phonemic awareness instruction, phonics instruction, fluency instruction, vocabulary instruction, text comprehension instruction, independent reading, computer assisted instruction, and teacher professional development. The National Reading Panel's analysis made it clear that the best approach to reading instruction is one that incorporates: explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, systematic phonics instruction, methods to improve fluency, and ways to enhance comprehension.
Progress in Understanding Reading: Scientific Foundations and New Frontiers
Stanovich, Keith E. (2000). Progress in understanding reading: Scientific foundations and new frontiers. New York: Guilford Press.
From a nationally known expert, this volume summarizes the gains that have been made in key areas of reading research and provides authoritative insights on current controversies and debates. Each section begins with up-to-date findings followed by one or more classic papers from the author's research program. Significant issues covered include phonological processes and context effects in reading, the "reading wars" and how they should be resolved, the meaning of the term "dyslexia," and the cognitive effects and benefits of reading.
Developing Phonological Awareness and Word Recognition Skills: A Two-year Intervention with Low-income, Inner-city Children
Blachman, B. A., Tangel, D. M., Ball, E.W., Black, R. S., & McGraw, C. K. (1999). Developing phonological awareness and word recognition skills: A two-year intervention with low-income, inner-city children. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 11, 239-273.
Low-income, inner-city children were involved in a two-year intervention delivered in the regular classroom by regular classroom teachers to develop phonological awareness and word recognition skills. For the treatment children, an 11-week phoneme awareness program in kindergarten was followed by a first grade reading program (extended to grade 2 for some children) that emphasized explicit, systematic instruction in the alphabetic code. Control children participated in the school district’s regular basal reading program. Both groups participated in a phonetically-based spelling program mandated by the district.
At the end of grade 1, treatment children (n = 66) significantly outperformed control children (n = 62) on measures of phonological awareness, letter name and letter sound knowledge, and three measures of word recognition, and reached marginal significance (0.056) on a fourth. They also significantly outperformed the control children on two measures of spelling. One year later, at the end of grade 2, the treatment children (n = 58) significantly outperformed the control children (n = 48) on all four measures of word recognition.
For the groups as a whole, there were no differences on the one measure of spelling re-administered at the end of grade 2. However, there were significant differences in spelling between the treatment (n = 16) and control children (n = 13) who remained in the bottom quartile of spellers at the end of grade 2 when partial credit was given for phonetically correct spelling, and significant differences in reading favoring these treatment children on all four measures of word recognition.
Getting Ready for Reading: Early Phoneme Awareness and Phonics Teaching Improves Reading and Spelling in Inner-city Second Language Learners
Stuart, M. (1999). Getting ready for reading: early phoneme awareness and phonics teaching improves reading and spelling in inner–city second language learners. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, 587-605.
Previous studies demonstrate that phoneme awareness training, particularly when combined with letter–sound teaching, results in improved reading and spelling development. This study builds upon those findings by including children learning English as a second language, who have typically been excluded from previous studies.
Phonological Awareness Intervention Research: A Critical Review of the Experimental Methodology
Troia, G. (1999). Phonological awareness intervention research: A critical review of the experimental methodology. Reading Research Quarterly, 34, 28-53.
The methodological rigor of 39 studies of phonological awareness intervention was evaluated based on internal and external validity criteria. The internal validity criteria encompassed general design characteristics, measurement, and statistical treatment, while the external validity criteria included research hypotheses, participant selection and description, and generalization and maintenance measures. The most serious methodological flaws observed in many of the studies were (a) nonrandom assignment of participants to conditions; (b) failure to control for Hawthorne effects by providing alternate interventions to control groups; (c) insufficient or nonexistent assurance of fidelity of treatment; (d) poor measurement sensitivity; and (e) inadequately described samples. Only seven studies met two thirds or more of all the evaluative criteria, although all of these investigations demonstrated at least one fatal flaw. The reported findings are compared with those of two similar methodological reviews. Suggestions for improvement of future intervention research are provided.
Preventing Reading Failure in Young Children with Phonological Processing Disabilities: Group and Individual Responses to Instruction
Torgesen, Joseph K., Wagner, Richard K., Rashotte, Carol A., Rose, E., Lindamood, P., Conway, T., Garvan, C. (1999). Preventing reading failure in young children with phonological processing disabilities: Group and individual responses to instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 579-593.
The relative effectiveness of three instructional approaches for the prevention of reading disabilities in young children with weak phonological skills was examined. Two programs varying in the intensity of instruction in phonemic decoding were contrasted with each other and with a third approach that supported the children's regular classroom reading program. The children were provided with 88 hr of one-to-one instruction beginning the second semester of kindergarten and extending through 2nd grade. The most phonemically explicit condition produced the strongest growth in word level reading skills, but there were no differences between groups in reading comprehension. Word level skills of children in the strongest group were in the middle of the average range. Growth curve analyses showed that beginning phonological skills, home background, and ratings of classroom behavior all predicted unique variance in growth of word level skills.
Training Phonological Awareness With and Without Attention to Articulation
Wise, B.W., Ring, J., & Olson, R.K. (1999). Training phonological awareness with and without attention to articulation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 72, 271-304.
One hundred twenty-two second- to fifth-grade (7- to 11-year-old) children with reading difficulties studied phonological awareness with or without explicit attention to articulation and with or without manipulation of sounds. They all studied identical phonics and read stories on the computer with speech and decoding support for difficult words. Regular-instruction controls received regularly scheduled language-arts or reading activities. After 40 hours of training, children in all three trained conditions outperformed controls on all tests except math. Conditions that manipulated sounds showed advantages over the condition without explicit practice manipulating sounds, but only on the two measures of phonological awareness. Articulatory awareness training yielded no unique benefits during this training period. Individual differences in response to treatment related to initial levels of phonological awareness, naming speed, IQ, and grade. The similar outcomes of the three conditions suggest that specific variations in good phonological training may be less important than once thought for most children with reading difficulties.
Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process
Lyon, G. (1998, March). Why reading is not a natural process. Educational Leadership, 55(6), 14-18.
Nearly four decades of scientific research on how children learn to read supports an emphasis on phonemic awareness and phonics in a literature-rich environment. These findings challenge the belief that children learn to read naturally.
Defining Phonological Awareness and its Relationship to Early Reading
Stahl, S., & Murray, B. A. (1994). Defining phonological awareness and its relationship to early reading. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 221-234.
Phonological awareness (PA) has been operationally defined by many different tasks, and task comparisons have been confounded by differing levels of linguistic complexity among items. A sample of 113 kindergartners and first graders completed PA tasks designed to separate task difficulty from linguistic complexity. These measures were, in turn, compared with measures of early literacy. Results indicated that the measures loaded on a single factor and that PA measured by differences in linguistic complexity, rather than by task differences, seemed to be more closely related to the factor. A logical analysis suggested that alphabet knowledge is necessary for children to separate onsets from rimes and that awareness of onsets and rimes is necessary both for word reading and for more complex levels of phonemic analysis.
Developing Phonemic Awareness in Young Children
Yopp, H. (1992). Developing phonemic awareness in young children. The Reading Teacher, 45, 696-703.
Describes the concept of phonemic awareness and offers suggestions to classroom teachers on how to enhance phonemic awareness in their students.
Does Phoneme Awareness Training in Kindergarten Make a Difference in Early Word Recognition and Developmental Spelling?
Ball, E. W., & Blachman, B. (1991). Does phoneme awareness training in kindergarten make a difference in early word recognition and developmental spelling? Reading Research Quarterly, 26, 49-66.
The goal of this project was to evaluate the effects of training in phonemic segmentation and of instruction in letter names and letter sounds on kindergarten children's reading and spelling skills. Ninety students from three urban public schools in the U.S. were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group received training in segmenting words into phonemes, as well as training in correspondences between letter names and letter sounds (phoneme awareness group). The second group received only the training in letter names and letter sounds (language activities group). The third group received no intervention (control group). Results indicated that phoneme awareness instruction, combined with instruction connecting the phonemic segments to alphabet letters, significantly improved the early reading and spelling skills of the children in the phoneme awareness group. However, instruction in letter names and letter sounds alone did not significantly improve the segmentation skills, the early reading skills, or the spelling skills of the kindergarten children who participated in the language activities group, as compared with the control group.
Learning to Read and Write: A Longitudinal Study of 54 Children From First Through Fourth Grades
Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 243-255.
In this study, of particular concern were these questions: Do the same children remain poor readers year after year? Do the same children remain poor writers year after year? What skills do the poor readers lack? What skills do the poor writers lack? What factors seem to keep poor readers from improving? What factors seem to keep poor writers from improving? The probability that a child would remain a poor reader at the end of 4th grade if the child was a poor reader at the end of 1st grade was 0.88. Early writing skill did not predict later writing skill as well as early reading ability predicted later reading ability. Children who become poor readers entered 1st grade with little phonemic awareness. By the end of 4th grade, the poor readers had still not achieved the level of decoding skill that the good readers had achieved at the beginning of 2nd grade. Good readers read considerably more than the poor readers both in and out of school, which appeared to contribute to the good readers' growth in some reading and writing skills. Poor readers tended to become poor writers.
Effects of an Extensive Program for Stimulating Phonological Awareness in Preschool Children
Lundberg, I., Frost, J., & Petersen, O. (1988). Effects of an extensive program for stimulating phonological awareness in preschool children. Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 263-285.
A training program consisting of metalinguistic games and exercises was developed with the aim of stimulating preschool children to discover and attend to the phonological structure of language. The program was evaluated in a longitudinal study in which 235 Danish preschool children in intact classes had daily training sessions over a period of 8 months. The children received no reading instruction prior to or during training. Pre- and posttest measures were also taken from a comparison group of 155 children. Subsequently, the authors assessed long-term effects of the training on the children's progress in reading and spelling in first and second grades. The design of the study permitted the authors to assess the specificity of the training effects.
The program had no significant effect on functional linguistic skills, such as comprehension of oral instructions, or vocabulary. It did not affect the informal learning of letter names. But it did affect metalinguistic skills: Small but significant effects were observed on rhyming tasks and on tasks involving word and syllable manipulation. And on tasks requiring phoneme segmentation, the effect was dramatic. Apparently, phonemic awareness can be developed among preschool children outside the context of the acquisition of an alphabetic writing system. However, explicit instruction seems to be required. It was also demonstrated that preschool training in phonological awareness can have a facilitating effect on subsequent reading and spelling acquisition. The positive effect persisted until Grade 2.
The Validity and Reliability of Phonemic Awareness Tests
Phonological Coding, Phonological Awareness and Reading Ability: Evidence From a Longitudinal and Experimental Study
Vellutino, F.R., & Scanlon, D.M. (1987). Phonological coding, phonological awareness and reading ability: Evidence from a longitudinal and experimental study. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 33, 261-279.
Two studies that provide correlational and experimental evidence for causal relationships between linguistic coding deficits and reading disability. Concludes that phonological coding deficits constitute a major source of reading difficulty in beginning readers, although there was suggestive evidence that semantic and syntactic deficits also may cause such difficulty.
Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy
Stanovich, Keith E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 360-407.
The Matthew Effects are not only about the progressive decline of slow starters, but also about the widening gap between slow starters and fast starters. In reading, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This report presents a framework for conceptualizing development of individual differences in reading ability that emphasizes the effects of reading on cognitive development and on "bootstrapping" relationships involving reading. It uses the framework to explain some persisting problems in the literature on reading disability and to conceptualize remediation efforts in reading.
Children's Use of Analogy in Learning to Read: A Developmental Study
Goswami, U. (1986). Children's use of analogy in learning to read: A developmental study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 42, 73-83.
If children are able to make analogies between the spelling patterns in words, this would have important consequences for theories of reading development, as a child who knew a word like beak could use analogy to read new words like peak and bean. A study is reported which compared the ability of children at three different reading levels to use analogy in reading both real and nonsense words. The results showed that even very young children can successfully use analogy to decode new words. This finding suggests that analogy has a role to play in the initial stages of reading acquisition.
Categorizing Sounds and Learning to Read: A Causal Connection
Bradley, L., & Bryant, P.E. (1983, February 3). Categorizing sounds and learning to read: A causal connection. Nature, p. 419.
Children who are backward in reading are strikingly insensitive to rhyme and alliteration1. They are at a disadvantage when categorizing words on the basis of common sounds even in comparison with younger children who read no better than they do. Categorizing words in this way involves attending to their constituent sounds, and so does learning to use the alphabet in reading and spelling. Thus the experiences which a child has with rhyme before he goes to school might have a considerable effect on his success later on in learning to read and to write. We now report the results of a large scale project which support this hypothesis.