Every point in a child’s development of word-level reading is substantially affected by phonological awareness skills, from learning letter names all the way up to efficiently adding new, multisyllabic words to the sight vocabulary.
The National Reading Panel found that phonemic awareness instruction helped children of all levels improve their reading, including normally developing readers, children at risk for future reading problems, disabled readers, preschoolers, kindergartners, 1st graders, children in 2nd through 6th grades (most of whom were disabled readers), children across various SES levels, and children learning to read in English as well as other languages.
Studies have shown that phonemic awareness is a foundational skill that is essential for learning to read. As students learn to identify sounds through oral and auditory activities, they become phonemically aware. Engaging in phonemic awareness instruction develops students’ understanding of sounds, and that knowledge is directly reflected in their spelling and writing.
Phonemic awareness research and findings
Learn findings from phonemic awareness research, National Reading Panel findings and research on English language learners
Education experts research in phonemic awareness:
Phonemic awareness has been shown to be a very powerful predictor of later reading achievement. In fact, it [phonemic awareness] is a better predictor than more global measures such as IQ or general language proficiency. (Griffith and Olson, 1992)
The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness. (Adams, 1990)
Major points from the report of the National Reading Panel:
Teaching Children to Read An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction, 2000
Phonemic awareness instruction is effective in teaching children to attend to and manipulate speech sounds in words. Phonemic awareness can be taught and is effective under a variety of teaching conditions with a variety of learners.
English Language Learners:
Research and readings regarding implications for practice in developing phonological and phonemic awareness in Spanish (L1) instruction:
Current research supports the notion that identifying initial sounds, final sounds, and rhyme seem to relate to reading fluency in Spanish, and that these skills transfer to reading fluency in English. Hence, some phonological and phonemic awareness tasks can transfer between Spanish and English, indicating that knowledge in Spanish is useful in acquiring English reading skills. (Brice and Brice, 2007)
All versions of the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness curricula are based on the curriculum that Dr. Heggerty originally developed for his own classroom. The daily lessons in the three English versions contain the same eight phonemic awareness skills: Rhyming, Onset Fluency, Blending, Identifying Final or Medial Sounds, Segmenting, Adding Phonemes, Deleting Phonemes, and Substituting Phonemes. Daily opportunities for working with letter names and sounds are included within a Letter Naming activity and students work with repeating sentences and nursery rhymes during the Language Awareness activities. 4 out of 6 variables representing early literacy skills that had medium to large predictive relationships with later measures of literacy development, are included in the daily phonemic awareness lessons. These 4 variables include: Alphabet knowledge, Phonological awareness, Rapid automatic naming (RAN) of letters and Phonological memory.
Phonemic Awareness Research
The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness.(Adams, 1990)
Phonemic awareness is central in learning to read and spell.(Ehri, 1984)
The probability of remaining a poor reader at the end of fourth grade, given a child was a poor reader at the end of first grade, was .88… the probability of remaining an average reader in fourth grade, given an average reading ability in first grade, was .87.(Juel, 1988)
The lack of phonemic awareness is the most powerful determinant of the likelihood of failure to read.(Adams, 1990)
Phonemic awareness is the most important core and causal factor in separating normal and disabled readers.(Adams, 1990)
Phonemic awareness has been shown to be a very powerful predictor of later reading achievement. In fact, it [phonemic awareness] is a better predictor than more global measures such as IQ or general language proficiency.(Griffith and Olson, 1992)
Phonemic awareness is the most potent predictor of success in learning to read. It is more highly related to reading than tests of general intelligence, reading readiness, and listening comprehension.(Stanovich, 1986, 1994)
Yes, there really is a difference in brain activation patterns between good and poor readers. We see the difference when people carry out phonologically based tasks. And that tells us that the area of difficulty - the functional disruption - in poor readers relates to phonological analysis. This suggests that we focus on phonological awareness when trying to prevent or remediate the difficulty in poor reading.(Shaywitz, 1999)
The most comprehensive reading program EXPLICITLY [sic] teaches about the sounds of language. It teaches children that words can be broken up into these smaller units of language, that the letters represent this unit of language - phonics.(Shaywitz, 1999)
ALL [sic] children can benefit from being taught directly how to break up spoken words into smaller units and how letters represent sounds.(Shaywitz, 1999)
National Reading Panel Findings
Major points from the report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction, 2000
Phonemic awareness (PA) refers to the ability to focus on and manipulate phonemes in spoken words… To be clear, phonemic awareness instruction is not synonymous with phonics instruction that entails teaching students how to use grapheme-phoneme correspondences to decode or spell words.
Phonemic awareness instruction is effective in teaching children to attend to and manipulate speech sounds in words. PA can be taught and is effective under a variety of teaching conditions with a variety of learners.
Findings show that teaching children to manipulate the sounds in language helps them learn to read.
PA instruction produced positive effects on both word reading and pseudoword reading, indicating that it helps children decode novel words as well as remember how to read familiar words.
PA instruction helped all types of children improve their reading, including normally developing readers, children at risk for future reading problems, disabled readers, preschoolers, kindergartners, 1st graders, children in 2nd through 6th grades (most of whom were disabled readers), children across various SES levels, and children learning to read in English as well as other languages.
PA was found to help most children learn to spell, and its effect lasted well beyond the training. However, PA was not effective for improving spelling in disabled readers. This is consistent with other research indicating that disabled readers have a difficult time learning to spell.
PA instruction may be [sic] most effective when children are taught to manipulate with letters, when instruction is explicitly focused on one or two types of phoneme manipulations rather than multiple types, and when children are taught in small groups.
PA instruction is more effective when it makes explicit how children are to apply PA skills in reading and writing.
PA instruction does not need to consume long periods of time. Acquiring PA skills is a means rather than an end.
English Language Learners
Research and readings regarding implications for practice in developing phonological/phonemic awareness in Spanish (L1) instruction:
Several investigators have found Spanish phonological awareness to be a strong predictor of reading (Bravo-Valdivieso, 1995; Carrillo, 1994; Durgunoglu et al., 1993).(Dickinson, McCabe, Clark-Chiarello and Wolf, 2004)
Because of its salience in Spanish, the syllable appears to be a significant unit of processing for Spanish speakers. For instance, there is evidence that Spanish-speaking adults compute syllables while processing written words (Jimenez and Garcia, 1995). Children learning to write in Spanish tend to write one letter per syllable during early stages of writing development (Ferreiro and Teberosky, 1982).(Gorman and Gillam, 2003)
Spanish-speaking children can identify syllables prior to identifying phonemes.(Deton, Hashbrouck, Weaver, and Riccio, 2000)
The syllable forms the cornerstone in teaching children to begin to de-code words in Spanish.(Ferreiro, Pellicer, Rodríguez, Silva, and Vernon, 1994)
Research in the teaching of reading in Mexico, Escamilla, 1999; Ferreiro, Pellicer, Rodríguez, Silva, and Vernon, 1994) also suggests that vowels are best taught before consonants in beginning reading programs.(Escamilla, 2000)
Research on Spanish-speaking children (Escamilla, Andrade, Basurto and Ruiz, 1996; Escamilla and Coady, 2000) indicates that Spanish-speaking children also use patterns as they develop as readers and writers.(Escamilla, 2000)
This is not to dismiss the importance of breaking up speech into its minimal elements (phonemes) in Spanish. As a matter of fact, phonemic awareness in Spanish is a predictor of the mastery of the alphabetic coding. It is not a matter of teaching children to make a distinction, but of making them conscious of a distinction they already know. The natural developmental process in Spanish begins with sensitivity to syllables, then the onset and rime within a syllable, and finally to individual phonemes. It is important to understand that we must introduce both frameworks for bilingual students. However, the issue is not whether to teach students onset and rime – they have to master both frameworks. The issue is knowing when to introduce the second (L2) framework.(quoted from page 3, Lectura en Español y Estrategias con Recursos, Materiales, Apoyo y Sugerencias: An Extension of the Texas Teacher Reading Academy for the Bilingual Classroom, Texas Education Agency, 2006)
For alphabetical languages such as English and Spanish, the ability to manipulate individual sound units occurs at the lexical and sub-lexical level. Children who have phonological skills are able to segment words into syllables, onset-rimes, and phonemes.(Pang and Kamil, 2004)
As in English, Spanish speakers with reading disabilities consistenlty display poorer phonological awareness skills and use a phonological strategy (sounding out) less often than their non-disabled peers.(Jimenez, 1997)
Children in a sequential bilingual context, who have already learned the cue system of their first language (L1), may apply those cues to their second language (L2), in a process known as forward transfer. Based upon this concept, we might also expect sequential bilingual children to transfer their phonological awareness skills from L1 to L2. This is exactly what several studies have indicated (Cisero and Royer, 1995; Durgunoglu et al., 1993; Gottardo, 2002; Quiroga, Lemos-Britton, Mostafapour, Abbott, and Berninger, 2002). In fact, Durgunoglu and colleagues (1993) found that the best predictors of literacy development in both Spanish and English for native Spanish-speaking children were their phonological awareness and their word recognition skills in Spanish. As a result, the investigators suggested that building children’s phonological awareness in L1 would transfer and help improve their reading in English.(Gorman and Gillam, 2003)
Rhyming was correlated with reading level in Kindergarten, but not in first grade.(Carillo, 1994)
Several studies have indicated that initial phoneme matching is indicative of Spanish reading ability for a wide age range (Carillo, 1994; Cisero and Royer, 1995; Durgunoglu et al., 1993).(Gorman and Gillam, 2003)
- [From findings on the Transfer of Skills from Spanish to English: A Study of Young Learners, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, D.C.]
The results indicated that Spanish phonemic awareness, Spanish letter identification, and Spanish word reading were reliable predictors of performance on parallel tasks in English at the end of third and fourth grades. The effect of Spanish phonemic awareness on English phonemic awareness emerged for all students.(August, Calderón and Carlo, 2002).
Studies found evidence of cross-linguistic transfer of phonological awareness skills among kindergarten and first-grade English- and Spanish-speaking students. Data indicated a developmental progression from simpler to more complex skills – that is, from syllable awareness to onset-rime awareness to phonemic awareness.(Cisero and Royer, 1995)
Rhyming among Spanish speakers seems to develop prior to literacy acquisition in phonological and phonemic awareness. However, conscious manipulation of syllables appears to be difficult for non-readers. Spanish-speaking students develop sensitivity to a) syllables, b) onset, c) rhymes, and finally, d) individual phonemes.(Brice and Brice, 2007)
Native-language and English phonemic awareness skills contribute to English reading comprehension.(Carlisle, Beeman, Davis, and Spharim, 1999)
Current research supports the notion that identifying initial sounds, final sounds, and rhyme seem to relate to reading fluency in Spanish, and that these skills transfer to reading fluency in English. Hence, some phonological and phonemic awareness tasks can transfer between Spanish and English, indicating that knowledge in Spanish is useful in acquiring English reading skills.(Brice and Brice, 2007)
Literacy in a child’s native language establishes a knowledge, concept and skills base that transfers from native language reading to reading in a second language (Collier and Thomas, 1992; Cummins, 1989; Excamilla, 1987; Modiano, 1968; Rodriguez, 1988). Moreover, it has been established that, for Spanish-speaking children, there is a high and positive correlation between learning to read in Spanish and subsequent reading achievement in English (Collier and Thomas, 1995; Greene, 1998; Krashen and Biber, 1987; Lesher-Madrid and Garcia, 1985; Ramirez, Yuen and Ramy, 1991).(Escamilla, 2000)