Do you have students who can tap out each sound in a word but cannot put it all together to make a word?
Do you have students who sound out words when writing but miss sounds and put the sounds in the wrong order?
What about children who only hear the beginning and final sound?
Every year I am surprised by how many first graders are not yet able to do these things. I have more than a handful that cannot rhyme as well. Some can hear rhymes but cannot produce them and others just cannot rhyme.
Will this effect their reading and writing? Absolutely.
These students are lacking phonemic awareness.
Before children learn to read print, they need to become aware of how the sounds in words work. In the same way we have students orally rehearse their stories before writing children need to work with phonemes, or sounds, before attaching letters to them. This is phonemic awareness.
Phonemic awareness is essential for beginning readers and must be systematically taught. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate individual phonemes, or sounds. All this work can be done in the dark – with no letters attached. Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes no sense. Phonemic awareness is an excellent predictor of reading success and it must be explicitly taught.
"One of the most compelling and well-established findings in the research on beginning reading is the important relationship between phonemic awareness and reading acquisition." (Kame'enui, et. al., 1997)
"The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units (phonemic awareness)." (Lyon, 1995).
The skills required for phonemic awareness are:
- Identifying sounds - Although there are 26 letters in the English language, there are approximately 40 phonemes, or sounds, in the English language. Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings, for example, /f/ could be ph, f, gh, or ff.
-Rhyming - Students need to identify if words rhyme or not. They should be able to produce a rhyming word from any given word. (The latter is typically the more difficult task.)
- Syllable awareness - Being able to count how many syllables are in a word and manipulating one of the syllables (e.g.: "Say insect without sect. In.")
- Compound Word - Building of and deleting one of the words that creates the compound word. Building: Teacher says, "Butter" and pauses, then says, "Fly". Students say, "Butterfly."
Deleting: Teacher says, "Say skateboard without skate." Students say, "Board."
-Onset/rime manipulation - The onset is the part of the word before the vowel, however, not all words have onsets. The rime is the part of the word including the vowel and what follows it.
Teacher says, "Rab" and pauses. Then says, "Bit". Students say, "Rabbit."
Teacher says, "Say dentist without den." Students say, "Tist."
-Beginning, final and medial sound isolation - Singular phonemes and digraphs
Children can first isolate an initial sound, followed by the final sound. Isolating the medial sound usually comes last. Isolating digraphs is an easier skill than isolating blends.
-Blending and segmenting phonemes- Blending means putting the sounds together. (Ex.: /c/ /a/ /t/, cat)
Segmenting is the act of isolating each phoneme in a word.
-Manipulating phonemes by adding, substituting, or deleting sounds - The most challenging of the phonemic awareness task is the ability to manipulate or work with individual sounds in spoken words. Children who can think about and manipulate phonemes become better readers and spellers. They distinguish and remember words that are similar such as spray and may and spring. Manipulation tasks include addition, substitution, and deletion.
Performance on manipulation tasks such as substitution "have yielded strong predictions of, or correlations with, reading achievement." (Lundberg, Olofsson, and Wall, 1980; Mann, 1984; Rosner and Simon, 1971)
Do you teach this important skill? If not, that is probably what is missing for your at-risk readers. As a reading specialist who worked with 3rd-5th graders who were below grade level, 80% of them did not have phonemic awareness. It makes sense that they could be close to or even on grade level in the primary grades but once words got larger with more irregularities, they had no clue how to attack these words. Even though they were taught phonics, they did not have the foundation for it - phonemic awareness.
When I returned to the classroom eleven years ago, I made sure that I spent ten minutes a day teaching phonemic awareness. That short amount of time has been worth it, for sure. Over this time I have created a phonemic awareness curriculum. It has been modified and adjusted until now. I am slowly publishing it on TPT. The first month is up individually and bundled. The bundle is only 5.99 right now but will eventually be $30.00. I will add each month to the bundle as it is published, which will be by December 2015. Snatch it now for this super deep discounted price.