Emergent literacy development is an issue that has received a lot of attention in the literature of education in general and particulary in the literacy development researches. Scholars have investigated the factors that contribute to the development of emergent literacy and many of them agree that preschool experiences and certain areas that are directly related to literacy such as phonological awareness, print awareness and oral language development have a significant effect on emergent literacy development (Peck et al, 2004; Pullen & Justice, 2003; Allor & McCathren, 2003).
It is agreed that emergent literacy development is enhanced with preschool children who have the opportunities of having access to language related activities such as listening to stories, examining printed material (Peck et al, 2004). It has also been pointed out that phonemic awareness is a powerful predicter of reading fluency. Phonemic awareness simply explained is the ability of being consciously aware of the sounds in spoken words. But the following quote gives a precise explanation for phonemic awareness:
“A second area of emergent literacy is phonological awareness, the understanding that oral language is made up of sounds or groups of sounds. The process of developing phonological awareness begins when a child recognizes that speech is composed of words (Pikulski, 1989). This understanding is then extended until a child is able to recognize that words are composed of sounds, or phonemes, and he or she is able to manipulate those phonemes to accomplish various tasks. One of the early phonological awareness tasks is to learn to recognize and generate rhyming words. Another more difficult task is to say words with phonemes deleted (e.g., Say meat without the /m/ sound).” (Allor & McCathren, 2003)
In this paper I am going to review two articles emphasising the relevance of phonemic awareness to emergent literacy development. This will be discussed under two parts: a- Review of articles b- How the theoretical findings can be applied.
A- Review of Articles
Phonemic Awareness: An Important Early Step in Learning To Read By Roger Sensenbaugh
This article mainly investigates the significance of phonemic awareness in developing reading skills and also in enhancing other skills. Like most of writers who address phonemic awareness he tried to illustrate the concept with evidence from the literature and thus furnished a basic point of reference for further discussions to be built on. It was impressive for as an educator that he cited Adams’ (1990) five levels of abilities for phonemic awareness.
In the next section of the article he addressed the question: why is phonemic awareness important. Although he starts with commonly accepted notion that phonemic awareness is one of the predictors for the early reading acquisition, he later subscribes to the assertion of (Stanovich, 1993-94) “…phonological awareness appears to play a causal role in reading acquisition. Phonological awareness is a foundational ability underlying the learning of spelling-sound correspondences.” Yet in his later attempts to cover most of the literature he tends to agree with other researchers who regard phonemic awareness as a necessary condition but not sufficient; and cites Adams (1990) who points out the necessity of linking phonemic awareness to kowledge of print for achieving reading ability. Later in further attempts to cover the literature he emphasises the role of phonemic awareness as prime one whether it is adopted by whole language advocates or other debaters who emphasise phonemic awareness as a priority. It is clear that the author covered the literature and clearly indicated the necessity of employing phonemic awareness along with other predictors and factors.
In the last section he addressed the practical recommendations under the title “Teaching methods” and continues to review the literature and all the recommendations and suggestions for practical applications of phonemic awareness are from the literature. When he tries to suggest classroom activities for teaching phonemes or employing it in teaching reading, he again relies on the literature and cites the recommendations of Spector (1995) & Yopp (1992). In other words, the only original contribution of the author, which can be taken as his conclusion, is the following in his own words: “Spending a few minutes daily engaging preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade children in oral activities that emphasize the sounds of language may go a long way in helping them become successful readers and learners.”
Although the article is a valuable summary of the literature on the topic of phonemic awareness, it offers very little of the ideas of the author and his contribution as a researcher. When literature is reviewed it is not expected to be a chrongical picture of what has been done so far, but a critical review that may point out gaps in research and recommend further study areas. An article that addresses a certain topic is different to annotated bibliography about the topic. Literature review should be the basis for discussing the issue in hand in order to suggest practical solutions for using the findings of research or refine research findings in order to justify further research.
However, the design of the article under the subheadings: what is phonological/phoneme awareness; why is it so important; relation to the “great reading wars”; and teaching methods, was the appropriate approach to inform the reader of the literature and what has been achieved as far as the theoretical part of phenemic awareness is concerned. The article can serve as an important reference for those who investigate the term ‘phonemic awareness.
2. Phonemic awareness and young children; by Wasik, Barbara A
The author identifies her audience (young children teachers) by justifying a gap in the literature of ‘phonemic awareness’ for the purposes of this category of audience. Thus she designs her approach to dealing with her title with the teachers of young children in mind and theefore her subheadings are: what is phonemic awareness; what research says about phonemic awareness; the development of phonemic awareness; Creating a Classroom Environment That Supports Young Children’s Phonemic Awareness and conclusions. I liked her approach in developing the article as this made it an invaluable document for all young children teachers who are interested in finding out the role of phonemic awareness in teaching reading to young children.
When explaining the term ‘phonemic awareness’ although he relied on reviewing the literature, different to others her explanations were detailed and more vivid for her audience. For example she quotes the definition of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC): “typically described as an insight about oral language and in particular about segmentation of sounds that are used in speech communication” (NAEYC/ IRA, 1998). It is apparent that this explanation is more relevant to the teachers of young children than the relatively complicated ones that deal with contrasts between phonic and phonemic terms.
Even in her section on ‘what research says about phonemic awareness’ she focused on the relevant aspects in the literature. It is reported in the literature that phonemic awareness of 1st and 2nd grade learners is directly related to their subsequent achievement in reading. She also brings in evident that teaching the meaning of phonemic awareness and the practice of identifying sounds brings in effective results in teaching reading to young learners. The following quote from her article illustrates: “Cunningham (1990) demonstrated that children who are provided with an explanation of the underlying purpose and meaning of the phonemic awareness activities outperformed children who were not given an explanation for the skills being taught.”
The article later develops into practical suggestions when dealing development of phonemic awareness and creating classroom environments that supports young children’s phonemic awareness. The author illustrates how to develop awareness and with evidence from the literature proves that phonemic awareness progresses from simple recognition of rhyming words into more complex tasks of discriminating words with similar beginnings and isolating initial letter sounds. Then she provides valuable practical suggestions for incorporating phonemic awareness tasks in classroom activities.
I find it necessary to quote the author’s conclusion in this article:
“Phonemic awareness activities can be woven into an early childhood classroom curriculum to create a seamless connection between regular classroom activities and those that emphasize sounds in words. Research suggests that children who have adva.”nced phonemic awareness are more ready to learn to read and are more successful at it. Learning to read is a complex process that begins longbefore 1st grade. The foundation is laid when the child begins to learn language and understand speech (Wells, 1986). Teachers of young children can facilitate the reading readiness process in a developmentally appropriate fashion by providing opportunities for children to comprehend the relationship between sounds and words, as opposed to presenting concepts in isolation. In achieving phonemic awareness, young children can develop a foundation for understanding sounds in words in an appropriate context and through appropriate methods. Children need to learn phonemic awareness by engaging in fun and motivating activities that promote the recognition and manipulation of sounds in words”
These are invaluable words for any teacher engaged in teaching reading to young children and consulting the literature to learn about phonemic awareness relevance to teaching reading and how to incorporate tasks or games that develop phonemic awareness in his classroom activities.
This article is a piece of writing that has achieved all the objectives the author set in her introduction. As a reader I would not ask for more except that I would have found specific practical tasks or games suggested in this article more than helpful in initiating phonemic awareness tasks in my classroom. This of course is not a weakness in the article but rather some sort of asking for more.
B- How the theoretical findings can be applied
Any practicing teacher who reads these two articles will definitely be convinced that phonemic awareness is only one of the predictors for developing reading abilities but the most important factor that should be thoroughly investigated and understood and be applied in classroom environments. The first thing one would appreciate from the literature review in these two articles is that phonemic awareness is not phonic and that it is, contrary to the normal belief among teachers, developmentally appropriate to young children. When the concept or the term ‘phonemic awareness is clear in the mind of the teacher ne can confidentally deal with teaching his young learners to become aware of phonemes. The first step here is to differenciate between sounds associated to the alphabet and the phonemes.
Of course applying the theoretical findings in classroom cannot be attempting to explain the rationals in the theory. Not at all. Learners need to develop the ability, skill or habit, whatever we call it, to isolate phonemic sounds and relate such knowledge in discriminating pronunciation and spelling of words. Another important finding of the theory is that learners should not be engaged in drills of repeating sounds or memorizing. The findings clearly indicate that playing with the language and designing rhymes and games that help the learners to develop phonemic awareness is the right approach to teaching phonemic awareness. In fact, as I see it, at this level of teaching, i.e, kindergarten or 1st and 2nd grades, it is imperative to make classroom activities fun rather than problem solving or labelling the results of activities as wrong and right.
Therefore, it is vital that the teacher is well informed theoretically in order to be able to deal with the critical stage of developing basic skills for the ‘human resources’ of tomorrow. Teaching young children, which in some developing countries regarded as the easiest type of teaching, is a very demanding task and the outcome of this level of teaching affects all aspects of a nation’s future, i.e. economical, social, political, academical etc. Accordingly the qualifying of teachers of this level and carefully designing in-service training for me should prioritize as one of the national objectives.
What I would take from such theoretical knowledge to my classroom is an endless list of activities. Already teachers are familiar with the rhymes and the simple vowel sound drills in our schools. But this theoretical background can enable young children teachers to be creative and design a number of games and activities. It is essential for the young learners to develop the phonemic awareness related to vowel sounds and combined vowel sounds (dipthongs) e.g /?/ as in rat, or /??/ ratio. However, these should be introduced carefully and progress gradually from simple to complex.
A game I would introduce for beginning young learners is a game of vowel sounds:
– First introduce, for example, the vowel sound /ae/ by a set of simple words e.g.: man, pan, tan, ran etc. Then give some pictures to a group of students and on the board or screen there will be -a-, which means that there are two letters missing. When the picture is shown in a short time of 40 seconds the learners who will be in two groups should form the word (examples of pictures; rat, cat, hat, man, fan, etc..) at the end of five minutes the scores of groups will be announced.
– Another game can be the deletion of the first letter sound and pronouncing the new word. For example: meat becomes eat, treat becomes eat, slip becomes lip, flip becomes lip etc..
Precisely, teachers who have the opportunity being exposed to such literature and the opportunity of in-service training will definitely engage in creatively designing hundreds of games and other classroom activities.
1. Wasik, Barbara A. “Phonemic awareness and young children.” Childhood Education. 01 Apr 2001. 128. eLibrary. Proquest CSA. TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY. 14 Oct 2008. ;http://elibrary.bigchalk.com.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/canada;.
2. Sensenbaugh, Roger (2000) “Phonemic awareness: an important early step in learning to read” Kids Source Online accessed at http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content2/phoemic.p.k12.4.html on 14th October 2008
3. Peck, Alec; Scarpati, Stan. “Literacy Instruction and Research.” Teaching Exceptional Children. 6 2004. 7. eLibrary. Proquest CSA. TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY. 11 Oct 2008. ;http://elibrary.bigchalk.com.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/canada;.
4. Pullen, Paige C ; Justice, Laura M. (2003) “Enhancilng Phonologilcal Awareness, Print Awareness, and Oral Language Skillls in Preschool Children” Intervention in School and Clinic Vol. 39 No. 2
5. Allor, J. and McCathren (2003). “Developing emergent literacy skills through storybook reading” Intervention in School and Clinic, 39, 2, 72-79.