Phonemic Awareness Definition
Phonemic awareness refers to the conscious awareness and knowledge that words are composed of separate sounds or phonemes and the ability to manipulate sounds in words (Smith, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 1995). Research of more than two decades has affirmed the importance of phonemic awareness and its relation to reading acquisition. Thus, reviews of the literature (Hurford, Darrow, Edwards, Howerton, Mote, Schauf, & Coffey, 1993; Mann, 1993; National Reading Panel, 2000) indicated that the presence of phonemic awareness is a hallmark characteristic of good readers while its absence is a consistent characteristic of poor readers.
Findings from a large body of research converge to suggest that students who enter first grade with little phonemic awareness experience less success in reading than peers who enter school with a conscious awareness of the sound structure of words and the ability to manipulate sounds in words (Adams, 1990; Liberman & Shankweiler, 1985; Mann & Brady, 1988; Spector, 1995; Stanovich, 1985, 1986, 1988; Wagner, 1988; National Reading Panel, 2000). The most encouraging lines of research give strong evidence that significant gains in phonemic awareness can be achieved with teaching and that the gains in phonemic awareness directly affect the ease of reading acquisition. In addition, a review of the research indicates that phonemic awareness is relatively independent of overall intelligence, a finding of particular importance for diverse learners (Torgesen, 1985; Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987; National Reading Panel, 2000).
Phonemic awareness has been heavily researched because of its direct relation with the ability to read unfamiliar words independently and with ease (Cornwall, 1992; Lenchner, Gerber, & Routh, 1990; Mann & Brady, 1988; Rack et al., 1992; Snowling, 1991; Stanovich, 1985, 1986; Torgesen, 1985; Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987, 1987a; Wagner, 1988; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987; National Reading Panel, 2000). In addition, the ability to hear and consciously use sounds in language can be manifested in many processes fundamental to reading.
There has been growing support for a causal relation between phonemic awareness and reading acquisition. A number of reviews specifically concluded that converging evidence is sufficiently strong to establish a causal relationship (Mann & Brady, 1988; Wagner, 1988; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987; National Reading Panel, 2000). Phonemic awareness reliably predicted reading achievement across the age levels of participants from preschool through sixth grade (Cornwall, 1992; Hurford et al., 1993; Mann, 1993). Alone, the predictive evidence does not establish causal relations, however, powerful evidence for a causal relation results when predictive findings with high validity are combined with highly significant effects of beginning reading measures in intervention studies prior to formal reading instruction (Wagner, 1988; National Reading Panel, 2000).
The practical importance of this reciprocal relation between reading and phonemic awareness development has been argued extensively and passionately by several authors (e.g., Adams, 1990; Stanovich, 1985; Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987a; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). The literature includes consistent recommendations for early identification of students at-risk for reading failure (e.g., low ability in phonemic awareness) and early explicit instruction in phonemic awareness prior to and in tandem with beginning reading instruction (e.g., Ball & Blachman, 1991; Cunningham, 1990; O'Connor et al., 1993).
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