Key Phonics and Phonemic Awareness Studies in the NRP Report (page 3)
As stated explicitly in the NRP report, phonological and phonemic awareness can be taught and coordinated with systematic phonics instruction that is explicit and synthetic.
Several comprehensive studies were highlighted in the NRP report as examples of what can be accomplished when early phonemic awareness instruction is coordinated with continuing phonics instruction that is systematic, explicit, and synthetic.
Blachman, Tangel, Ball, Black, and McGraw (1999) conducted a study with low SES, inner-city children in which instruction began in kindergarten and continued through second grade. Kindergarten teachers delivered eleven weeks of instruction that was focused on phonemic awareness training. This was followed by explicit, systematic instruction in the alphabetic code in first grade. This phonics instruction continued in second grade for children who did not complete the program in first grade. The explicit systematic phonics instruction included: teaching sound-symbol relationships explicitly, teaching phoneme analysis and blending, reading words on flashcards to promote automatic word recognition, reading text containing phonetically controlled words, and writing words and sentences from dictation. Children in a control group received instruction in the school's regular basal reading program that included a phonics workbook that children used independently. Although children in the control group engaged in letter-learning and phonemic awareness activities, they were not explicitly taught to use these skills to read and write. The findings showed that the children who received explicit systematic instruction in phonics (preceded by eleven weeks of instruction in phonemic awareness) made greater progress in reading than the children who received the less explicit and systematic basal instruction.
In another comprehensive study, Torgesen, Wagner, Rashotte, Rose, Lindamood, Conway, and Garvan (1999) compared two forms of phonics instruction throughout the primary grades. One form provided very explicit and intensive instruction in phonological awareness plus synthetic phonics; the other provided less explicit instruction in phonemic decoding and more instruction in text comprehension. The latter form of instruction was called embedded phonics; instruction began by teaching children to recognize whole words. Both forms of instruction were provided by tutors rather than classroom teachers. Comparisons of the two groups revealed superior performance by the explicit and intensive phonics group on measures of phonological awareness, phonemic decoding accuracy and efficiency, and word reading accuracy. Thus, intensive training in synthetic phonics produced word reading performance that was superior to that produced by embedded phonics training.
Another important study (O'Connor, Jenkins, & Slocum, 1995) examined the effectiveness of focused rather than broad phonological awareness training. In the broad treatment, children performed a variety of sound manipulation activities that included isolating, segmenting, blending, and deleting phonemes; segmenting and blending syllables and onset-rime units; and working with rhyming words. The focused treatment was focused on the segmenting and blending of onsets, rimes, and phonemes. A control group received only letter-sound instruction. Comparisons showed that the focused and broad training were equally effective in teaching phonemic awareness; however, the focused training contributed more to the reading of words. The findings of this study are consistent with the NRP's conclusion that segmenting and blending have a greater impact on reading outcomes than does multiskill phonemic awareness instruction.
Castle, Riach, and Nicholson (1994) examined the effects of adding phonemic awareness training to whole language instruction for kindergarteners with low phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness training consisted of segmentation, blending, substitution, deletion, and letters during the latter part of the training. The results showed that adding phonemic awareness instruction to the whole language program enhanced students' decoding of pseudowords and spelling skills but not their other reading skills. These findings, when considered in concert with the highly positive findings of the two comprehensive studies by Blachman et al. (1999) and Torgesen et al. (1999) that were described above, suggest that add-on phonemic awareness instruction is of limited benefit unless it is added to systematic and explicit phonics instruction.
Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Scharschneider and Mehta (1998) reported a dramatic reduction in overall failure rate of children based on the percentage of children remaining below the 30th percentile for children taught direct instruction in phonemic awareness and letter-sound correspondences practiced in controlled vocabulary text.
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