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Importance of teaching phonemic awareness

Good readers are good at phonemic awareness – poor readers are not

Date: 13/3/2019
Author: Sue

At the school where I was teaching, we were asked to take part in a research project. The philosophy of the researcher, Dr Douglas Pidgeon, was that the children should be taught to hear the sounds in words before being taught to read and write.

Although the project was very impractical, and had to be abandoned after three months, it did show us that it was important to teach the children to hear the sounds in words. We noticed that some children could hear the sounds easily, even without any teaching, and others found it difficult and definitely needed to be taught. In hindsight, I look back and wonder why we had not realised this before. The English writing system is based on the sounds in words. If the sounds cannot be heard, then it is impossible to make that link between the letters and the sounds and crack the alphabetic code.

In the end, we simplified the way we taught the children to hear the sounds in words. We would call out a few simple words every day and, altogether, say the sounds in the words, holding up a finger for each sound: for example, cat /c-a-t/ and pot /p-o-t/, as explained in Step 1- Part 3 on my website . The children who were poor at this were given some extra individual practice. By ensuring that all the children were able to identify the sounds in words, before being expected to read books or write independently, we noticed huge improvements in reading and writing. On standardised testing our below average children moved up to being average or above average.

Frequently I have read material/research/blogs attributing children’s reading and writing problems to their poor phonemic awareness. No doubt their thinking was based on accurate observations. However, I rarely see the phonemic awareness problems being attributed to the fact that the children have not been taught to hear the sounds in words. I would urge researchers, educationalists, lecturers, teachers and parents to follow the understanding we gained from Dr Pidgeon’s research and ensure that all the children, from the beginning, are taught the skill of hearing all the sounds in words, from the beginning to the end of each word. It is relatively easy to develop this type of phonemic awareness in all children.

    This website provides teachers, parents and interested adults with an understanding of synthetic phonics.
    A summary is provided of the skills needed for learning to read and write, as well as details of the essential phonic knowledge.
    Young children benefit from learning to form the letters correctly. It prevents bad formation habits developing.
    Initially children need plenty of words for blending practice.Once a word has been blended a few times it becomes known and then it can be read without blending.
  • This is where
    This is where I provide a summary of the skills that are needed for learning.
    Start here
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