09 April, 2017

Why is Phonemic Awareness an important step in a language program and a foundation to the Spalding approach?

Many people, including academics and literacy programs, confuse the terms phonological awareness, phonemic awareness and phonics. As such, they are often treated as synonymous or so confused that the instruction in the three different areas is left wanting.

Any sound literacy program begins with instruction in phonological awareness. This is an encompassing term which refers to the individual’s ability to focus on the sounds of speech, to hear its intonation or rhythm, that certain words rhyme and that there are separate and distinct sounds in the English language. Phonological Awareness is predominately aural. How speech is constructed is not necessarily obvious to listeners, especially those from non-English speaking backgrounds or those with compromised hearing or auditory processing/memory issues.

Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness and is crucial in the development of reading and writing. It is the most difficult aspect of phonological awareness. Phonemes are the smallest units of sound in words and are each distinct and will change the meaning of words. Phonemic Awareness is the ability of the individual to focus on the separate, individual sounds in words and to be able to manipulate these sounds. Strong phonemic awareness skills greatly assists students to learn the alphabetic code necessary in being able to read and write. If they cannot hear the separate sounds in words, they will not be able to relate these sounds to the letters of the alphabet. Hence, they will have difficulty  in using decoding skills and analysing unknown words in either their writing or reading.

Phonics refers to the relationship between the individual sounds (phonemes) and the letters that represent these sounds (graphemes) This is where we require the student to begin to match the written symbol (visual) with the aural. These sounds may be represented by a single letter or a combination of letters and the same letter/s may represent more than one sound. It is the letter/sound relationship.

When learning using the Spalding Approach each area of phonological awareness is clearly understood and taught. There is a hierarchical order to the development of skills associated with each area and these are all explicitly taught to the students in a systematic manner. While the sequence of development is not necessarily fixed, all the skills need to be taught and acquired. Spalding understands that a weakness or lack of knowledge in any of these skills will lead to difficulties in the acquisition of both reading and writing.

The Spalding approach has developed an explicit and systematic type of instruction that follows a carefully planned scope and sequence to help students master these skills. This logical sequence of instruction for teachers to use with the students ensures that strong phonological awareness skills are developed. There is considerable and strong research evidence which shows that students who have strong phonological awareness are more likely to read with relative ease compared to those with poor phonological awareness (Catts 1993, Snow, Burn & Griffin, 1998, Vandervelden & Siegel, 1995 as citied in Iacono & Cupples 2004, pg 438) Good phonemic awareness instruction provides the foundation upon which independent reading, writing and spelling instruction can be built.

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Spalding Education Australia
Spalding Education Australia

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