Within the last decade, a great deal of research has demonstrated that students with learning disabilities have difficulties in detecting and manipulating phonemes (Bender & Larkin, 2003; National Reading Panel, 2001). In some ways, this line of research may ultimately prove to be the driving force behind research on learning disabilities, because researchers have suggested that difficulties in phoneme awareness and phoneme manipulation skills may be the foundational cause of almost all subsequent learning disabilities (Bender & Larkin, 2003; Chard & Dickson, 1999; Kame'enui, Carnine, Dixon, Simmons, & Coyne, 2002; Lyon & Moats, 1997). Research has shown that many children with reading disabilities do demonstrate significant deficits in their ability to detect and manipulate phonemes (National Reading Panel, 2001; Sousa, 2005). Clearly, if a child with a learning disability cannot detect differences in speech sounds, and manipulate these differences in sounds, that child will experience a significant deficit when trying to detect different sounds that are represented by different letters. Difficulty in such letter interpretation can result in significant subsequent reading disabilities.
Researchers in learning disabilities have used the terms phonemic awareness or phonemic manipulation to represent this ability to detect and manipulate discrete speech sounds, independent of manipulation of letters. Although different researchers identify slightly different types of phonemic manipulation skills, Bender and Larkin (2003) specified 10 skills that serve as the basis for phonemic manipulation:
- Detecting rhyming sounds
- Recognizing the same initial sound in words
- Isolating initial sounds
- Categorizing onsets and rimes (An onset is the first sound in a word, and a rime is the rhyming sound that forms the end of the syllable.)
- Isolating middle/ending sounds
- Blending sounds into words
- Segmenting or dividing sounds within words
- Phoneme addition
- Phoneme deletion
- Phoneme substitution
Many research efforts have investigated phonemic problems as the primary basis for learning disabilities. The research on phonemic instruction has been summarized by Kame'enui and others (2002). There is a strong emphasis on the converging consensus that phoneme-based instruction is an essential skill in reading and a major problem for many students with learning disabilities.
Based on this growing consensus, researchers have offered various instructional strategies to strengthen phonemic skills (Bos, Mather, Silver-Pacuilla, & Narr, 2000; Chard & Dickson, 1999; Chard & Osborn, 1999; National Reading Panel, 2001).
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