ERIC Identifier: ED392197
Publication Date: 1995-12-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and
Gifted Education Reston VA.
Beginning Reading and Phonological Awareness for Students with
Learning Disabilities. ERIC Digest #E540.
Learning to read begins well before the first day of school. When Ron and
Donna tell nursery rhymes to their baby, Mia, they are beginning to teach Mia to
read. They are helping her to hear the similarities and differences in the
sounds of words. She will begin to manipulate and understand sounds in spoken
language, and she will practice this understanding by making up rhymes and new
words of her own. She will learn the names of the letters and she will learn the
different sounds each letter represents. As she gets a little older, Ron and
Donna will teach her to write letters and numbers that she will already
recognize by their shapes. Finally, she will associate the letters of the
alphabet with the sounds of the words she uses when she speaks. At this point,
she is on her way to learning to read!
When she tries to read books with her parents, at school, and on her own, Mia
will learn how to learn new words by sounding them out. With more practice, she
will begin to recognize familiar words easily and quickly, and she will know the
patterns of spelling that appear in words and the patterns of words as they
appear in sentences. She will be able to pay attention not just to the letters
and words, but to the meanings they represent. Ultimately, Mia will be able to
think about the meaning of the text as she reads.
WHERE DOES PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS FIT INTO THIS PROCESS?
Key to the process of learning to read is Mia's ability to
identify the different sounds that make words and to associate these sounds with
written words. In order to learn thread, Mia must be aware of phonemes. A
phoneme is the smallest functional unit of sound. For example, the word "cat" contains three distinctly different sounds. There are 44 phonemes in the English
language, including letter combinations such as /th/.
In addition to identifying these sounds, Mia must also be able to manipulate
them. Word play involving segmenting words into their constituent sounds,
rhyming words, and blending sounds to make words is also essential to the
reading process. The ability to identify and manipulate the sounds of language
is called phonological awareness. Adams (1990) described five levels of
phonological awareness ranging from an awareness of rhyme to being able to
switch or substitute the components in a word. While phonological awareness
affects early reading ability, the ability to read also increases phonological
awareness (Smith, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995).
Many children with learning disabilities have deficiencies in their ability
to process phonological information. Thus, they do not readily learn how to
relate letters of the alphabet to the sounds of language (Lyon, 1995). For all
students, the processes of phonological awareness, including phonemic awareness,
must be explicitly taught.
Children from culturally diverse backgrounds may have particular difficulties
with phonological awareness. Exposure to language at home, exposure to reading
at an early age, and dialect all affect the ability of children to understand
the phonological distinctions on which the English language is built. Teachers
must apply sensitive effort and use a variety of techniques to help children
learn these skills when standard English is not spoken at home (Lyon, 1994).
HOW IS PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS TAUGHT?
To teach phonological
awareness, begin by demonstrating the relationships of parts to wholes. Then
model and demonstrate how to segment short sentences into individual words,
showing how the sentence is made up of words. Use chips or other manipulatives
to represent the number of words in the sentence. Once the students understand
part-whole relationships at the sentence level, move on to the word level,
introducing multisyllable words for segmentation into syllables. Finally, move
to phoneme tasks by modeling a specific sound and asking the students to produce
that sound both in isolation and in a variety of words and syllables.
It is best to begin with easier words and then move on to more difficult
ones. Five characteristics make a word easier or more difficult (Kameenui,
1. The size of the phonological unit (e.g., it is easier to break sentences
into words and words into syllables than to break syllables into phonemes).
2. The number of phonemes in the word (e.g., it is easier to break
phonemically short words such as no, see and cap than snort, sleep or scrap).
3. Phoneme position in words (e.g., initial consonants are easier than final
consonants and middle consonants are most difficult).
4. Phonological properties of words (e.g., continuant such as /s/ and /m/ are
easier than very brief sounds such as /t/).
5. Phonological awareness challenges. (e.g., rhyming and initial phoneme
identification are easier than blending and segmenting.)
Examples of phonological awareness tasks include phoneme deletion ("What word
would be left if the /k/ sound were taken away from cat?"); word to word
matching ("Do pen and pipe begin with the same sound?"); blending ("What word
would we have if we blended these sounds together: /m/ /o/ /p/?"); phoneme
segmentation ("What sounds do you hear in the word hot?"); phoneme counting
("How many sounds do you hear in the word cake?"); and rhyming ("Tell me all of
the words that you know that rhyme with the word cat?") (Stanovich, 1994).
Beginning readers require more direct instructional support from teachers in
the early stages of teaching. This is illustrated in the following example: The
teacher models the sound or the strategy for making the sound, and has the
children use the strategy to produce the sound. It is very important that the
teacher model the correct sounds. This is done using several examples for each
dimension and level of difficulty. The children are prompted to use the strategy
during guided practice and more difficult examples are introduced. A sequence
and schedule of opportunities for children to apply and develop facility with
sounds should be tailored to each child's needs, and should be given top
priority. Opportunities to engage in phonological awareness activities should be
plentiful, frequent, and fun (Kameenui, 1995).
Adams, M.J. (1990) Beginning to read: Thinking
and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Kameenui, E.J. (Winter,
1996). Shakespeare and beginning reading: The readiness is all. TEACHING
Exceptional Children, 27 (2).
Lyon, G. R. (1995). Toward a definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 45,
Lyon, G.R. (1994). Research In Learning Disabilities at the NICHD. Technical
document. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development, National Institutes of Health.
Smith, S.B., Simmons, D.C., & Kameenui, E.J. (February, 1995). Synthesis
of research on phonological awareness: Principles and implications for reading
acquisition. (Technical Report no. 21, National Center to Improve the Tools of
Education). Eugene: University of Oregon.
Stanovich, K.E. (1994). Romance and reality. The Reading Teacher, 47,