Archives for April 2014

PHONEMIC AWARENESS – THE MOST IMPORTANT PRE-READING SKILL

There is SO much research showing that having strong phonemic awareness skills predicts future reading success.  Want an analogy?  Phonemic awareness is the foundation of reading success.  Just like a house cannot be built on a weak foundation, a strong reader rarely develops without phonemic awareness.

What is phonemic awareness?

Phonemic awareness is the ability to analyze and manipulate individual sounds in words.  It is the ability to count the number of sounds; identify the beginning, middle and ending sounds; and segment, blend, add and delete sounds in words.  It is a more advanced sub-category of phonological awareness, which includes the skills of rhyming and syllabication.

phonemic awareness picture sort

A picture sort, examining the beginning sounds b, m, r and s. Notice there are no letters/words involved. This is an exceptional activity to develop phonemic awareness in pre-emergent and emergent readers.

The facts regarding phonemic awareness and reading success are cut and dry so it feels right to share them in list form.

1.  Development of phonemic awareness leads to improved reading ability.

2.  Poor readers at all ages are less phonemically aware than same-age good readers (Shaywitz, 1996).

3.  Children with poor phonemic awareness have trouble learning letter-sound relationships (aka alphabetic knowledge) and how to spell (Griffin, 1991; Juel, Griffith & Gough, 1986).

4.  Children who have poor phonemic awareness (and are consequently poor readers) in first grade typically remain poor readers in fourth grade (Juel, 1988).

5.  The more advanced forms of phonemic awareness (e.g. segmenting sounds) are more predictive of reading ability than simpler forms of phonological awareness, such as rhyming (Nation & Hulme, 1997).

6.  Instruction in reading is essential for the most advanced forms of phonemic awareness to develop.  In other words, knowing the letters and their sounds, make learning how to segment and blend sounds in words easier.

7.  In studies, phonemic awareness training in kindergarten and first-grade produces better readers and spellers, both at the completion the training period, as well as years down the road (Lungberg, Frost & Peterson, 1988).

8.  Phonemic awareness training with a component of discussion as to the importance of phonemic awareness and its application in reading is more effective than simply a “skill and drill” approach (Cunningham, 1990).

9.  Reading increases phonemic awareness, but reading is unlikely without a degree of phonemic awareness (Goswami & Bryant, 1990).  So the ideal instructional path is to develop some phonemic awareness, use it to develop reading skills, and then in turn develop even stronger phonemic awareness skills.

10.  When parents teach their children letters and their sounds (alphabetic knowledge), the children’s phonemic awareness improves (Crain-Thoreson & Dale, 1992).

Parents: For activity suggestions to develop phonemic awareness, check out my post, Activities to Build Phonemic Awareness.

Parents, what activities and strategies do you use at home to help your child develop phonemic awareness?  What has resulted in the most positive growth?  Please share your story.

References

Crain-Thoreson, C., & Dale, P. S.  (1992).  Do early talkers become early readers? Linguistic precocity, preschool language and emergent literacy.  Developmental Psychology, 28, 421-429.

Cunningham, A. E.  (1990).  Explicit versus implicit instruction in phonemic awareness.  Journal of Experimental Psychology50, 429-444.

Goswami, U., & Bryant, P. E.  (1990).  Phonological skills and learning to read.  Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Griffith, P. L.  (1991).  Phonemic awareness helps first graders invent spellings and third graders remember correct spellings.  Journal of Reading Behavior, 23, 215-233.

Juel, C.  (1988).  Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 417-447.

Juel, C., Griffith, P. L., & Gough, P. B.  (1986).  Acquisition of literacy: A longitudinal study of children in first and second grade.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 78, 243-255.

Lundberg, I., Frost, J., & Peterson, O.  (1988).  Effects of an extensive program for stimulating phonological awareness in preschool children.  Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 263-284.

Nation, K., & Hulme, C.  (1997).  Phonemic segmentation, not onset-rime segmentation, predicts early reading and spelling skills.  Reading Research Quarterly, 32, 154-167.

Shaywitz, S. E.  (1996).  Dyslexia.  Scientific American, 275(5), 98-104.

 

 

 

WHAT ARE LEVELED READERS?

Children’s reading abilities advance most when they are reading appropriately leveled readers, or books.  Publishing houses that create literacy materials level their books according to the books’ difficulty level.  A book’s difficulty level is determined by a number of factors such as sentence length and complexity, word choice, vocabulary, content, repetition and predictability, length of the book, number of words/sentences on each page and complexity of content.

leveled readers

A variety of leveled readers, ranging in level from Kindergarten to second grade

One complicated thing about leveled readers is that different publishing companies use different systems.  Two of the most reputed leveling systems are Fountas-Pinnell and Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA).  The first system levels their books from A-Z; the second system levels their books from 1-44.

example of a leveled reader K

Publishing companies who produce literacy curriculum typically list the book’s level on the back cover of the book. This publishing company uses the Fountas-Pinnell leveling system. This book’s level is K, which is the equivalent of a second grade reading level.

A great tool to have on hand is the Reading Level Correlation Chart.  It shows how some of the best known leveling systems correlate to one another.

Another excellent resource is Scholastic’s Book Wizard.

  • You can type in a title of a book and find out its level.
  • You can type in a book’s title and find similarly leveled readers, or books.
  • You can search for titles at a specific reading level.

For a easy-to-understand guide to what different levels of leveled readers look like, check out Sachem, New York school district’s language arts department’s, Text Level Indicators page.  They use the Guided Reading (A-Z) leveling system.

Do you want to find out at what level your child is reading?

  • Ask your child’s teacher.
  • If your child brings home leveled readers, enter the title on Scholastic’s Book Wizard.
  • Find a book that your child reads easily, at his independent level, and enter the title on Scholastic’s Book Wizard.
  • Find a book that your child reads with minimum assistance, at his instructional level, and enter the title on Scholastic’s Book Wizard.  Compare the reading level of this book with the level of the easily read book.

To determine your child’s reading level with an easy-to-use home assessment, check out my post, “How Can I Figure Out My Child’s Reading Level?”  This link also defines independent and instructional reading levels.

SCAFFOLDING: IT’S WHAT GOOD TEACHERS DO

But what is (instructional) scaffolding?  Your child is interested in learning a new skill.  Or you want to teach your child a new skill.  It doesn’t matter what the skill is: learning how to ride a bike, how to use visual cues to read accurately or how to rhyme.  You provide support (aka scaffolding) because it speeds up the learning curve and promotes independence.  Scaffolding support comes in four forms: resources/materials, tasks, modeling and coaching/giving advice.

Let’s examine Scaffolding in the context of Teaching your Child to Ride a Bike
Learning to Ride a Bike

Strider Bike – Independent
Pedal Bike – Needs a lot of Scaffolding

Resources/materials

  1. You provide a Strider (pedal-less) bike or a a bike with training wheels.
  2. When progressing from a Strider bike to a pedal bike, you hold onto the child’s seat, providing additional, physical support.

Tasks

  1. Practice bike riding in a fun, exciting environment.  This may mean a bike ride to park or a play date with friends who are more proficient bike riders.
  2. You have your child practice walking on balance beam like structures to promote the development of balance (the perimeter of the park is often lined with balance beam-like wooden beams).

Modeling

  1. You also hop on your bike (hopefully, not a Strider!) for the ride to the park.
  2. You show your child how pedals are maneuvered (push the left foot forward, push the right foot forward, repeat).
  3. You teach your child how to “bicycle” his legs in the air while lying on his back, thus, ingraining the cycling motion.

Coaching/Giving advice

  1. “Look where you want to go.  If you look at that rock, you will likely hit it.”
  2. “If you cannot use the brakes, remember you can always slow down like you did on the Strider, by dragging your feet.”

Scaffolding is an instructional technique in which the teacher diminishes support in a graceful, observant way so that the student can grow more independent and own his learning process.  

In the academic realm, scaffolding is second nature to top-notch teachers.  First, the teacher must be observant and be capable of identifying where the student stands in the developmental spectrum.  There are three stages for any task or concept: Independent, Instructional and Frustration.

Independent pretty much speaks for itself.  The student can do the task or understand the concept independently.

Instructional means that the student needs support to successfully complete the task or understand.  This is where scaffolding is necessary.

Frustration means that the student cannot successfully complete a task or understand a concept, even with scaffolding.

The goal of scaffolding is that tasks and concepts that were once instructional become independent. 

As a literacy tutor to your child, it is essential that you understand where he stands along the developmental spectrum of a given skill set.  You will have to find the resources and create the tasks to meet him at his instructional level.  (I can help you with that!)  Through modeling and coaching, you can show him how a more advanced learner would approach the task or concept.  (I can help you with that, too!)  Once the process or information becomes more familiar to him, you will be able to withdraw your support and allow him to blossom to independence.

Then, of course, you find the next instructional task and begin the process of scaffolding all over again.

When have you used scaffolding to promote your child’s learning?  What worked?  What didn’t?  Were there any a-ha moments for either you or him/her?  Please share!

 

 

 

ACTIVITIES TO BUILD SYLLABICATION SKILLS

Below I suggest some activities to build syllabication skills at home.  Syllabication skills are a component of phonological awareness.

The examples and activities I present are geared for children in pre-K to first grade.  While these activities can be used with beginning readers, they are really designed for pre-emergent and emergent readers who are not reading at all or reading only a few words.

Key piece of information: When letters are placed within the symbol /   /, it indicates the spoken form of the word.  Since the goal is to build phonological awareness, we are only working with the spoken word.

Examples of Syllabication Skills

1.  What is the first syllable in the word baseball?  base

What is the second syllable in the word baseball?  ball

What is the first syllable in the word opposite? /op/

What is the second syllable in the word opposite? /po/

What is the third syllable in the word opposite? /zit/

2.  How many syllables does the word rich have? 1

How many syllables does the word ocean have? 2

How many syllables does the word mistaken have? 3

3.  The starting word is cupcake.  If I take away the syllable /cup/, what syllable am I left with? /cake/

The starting word is cupcake.  If I take away the syllable /cake/, what syllable am I left with? /cup/

Activities to Build Syllabication Skills

1.  There are 2 ways to teach your child to understand, see and feel a syllable.  Practice saying individual words in front of the mirror.  Speak slowly and exaggerate the syllables.  Each time your mouth opens, it is syllable.  The second way is to touch the underside of your chin.  Each time your chin drops down, it is a syllable.

2.  Play what I call the “Syllabication Name Game.”  Place 5 or more photos of family members or friends on the table.  The number of syllables in the people’s names should be varied.  Ask you child to tell you all of the people’s names (simply to make sure he knows them readily).  There are many variations of this game:

a)  Clap out, jump out or drum out (whatever kinesthetic activity engages your child) the syllables of each person’s name.

b)  Have a handful of “markers” on hand.  These could be coins, cheerios, stickers, anything to count with.  On a piece of paper or a white board, make four horizontally-connected boxes.  One by one, go through the people’s names and place a marker in each box from left to right as you hear each syllable in the name.  For example: Debbie, 2 syllables and therefore 2 markers; Mark, 1 syllable and 1 marker; Violet, 3 syllables and 3 markers; Penelope, 4 syllables and 4 markers.

c)  Sort people’s names according to how many syllables are in their names.  Have a pile of 1 syllable names, 2 syllable names, and so forth.

d)  Provide only the first syllable of people’s names and have your child guess the full name.  You could also provide only the last syllable and have your child guess the full name, which would be more difficult.

** You can do this game with words, other than names.  If your child is really interested in baseball, the words could be pitcher, baseball, strike, catch and overhand.

** All variations of this game are meant to be done with the spoken word.  There is no need for print.  However, if your child finds the game too easy and is a beginning reader, you may use the written words.

3.  Label post-it notes with the numbers 1, 2 or 3.  The 1, 2 or 3 stand for the number of syllables within a word.  Have your child stick the correctly numbered post-it note on objects within your home.  For example, bed, chair and book would get 1s, printer, bathtub and flashlight would get 2s, computer, bicycle and camera would get 3s.

4.  Try clapping or stomping or jumping or banging out every syllable in common songs, such as Mary Had a Little Lamb or Twinkle, Twinkle.  Both of these songs have a balanced mixture of syllables.

 

ACTIVITIES TO BUILD RHYMING SKILLS

Below I suggest some activities to build rhyming skills at home.  Rhyming skills are a component of phonological awareness.

Examples of Rhyming Skills

  1. Do the following pairs of words rhyme?  ratmat (yes), jumpybumpy (yes), lovelion (no)
  2. Give me a word that rhymes with car? vetbake?  Nonsense words as answers are acceptable.

The second example of rhyming is harder than the first because the child has to come up with the rhyming word.

Activities to Build Rhyming Skills

  1. Use Rhyming Picture cards.  Start with only eight cards (four matching pairs) showing.  First, have the child name all the pictures.  If he does not know a name, provide it.  Next, pick up a card and have the child name it, stick.  If he does not know which picture card rhyme with it, test out a few pairs for him.  Say, “stickfrog, stickchick, stickskunk.  Which pair rhymes?”  You can extend the activity by asking/telling the onset (the rhyming part): -ick.  You can also ask for additional rhyming words, such as lick, Rick, and quick.  As your child becomes more proficient, you can increase the number of rhyming picture cards.  It is your job as the parent to figure out your child’s current skill level and build from there using scaffolding techniques.
  2. Read books that feature rhyming extensively.  Read them over and over and over.  Eventually, your child will start supplying the missing rhyming words.  Some of my favorites are Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney (and the entire Llama Llama series), Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. (and the related Bill Martin Jr. books), My Truck is Stuck! by Kevin Lewis and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.  Ask your local librarian for more ideas.
  3. Look at objects around you (in your home, at the park, passing by in the car) and start the game, “I see a book.  Do you see a _______?”  (Supply a rhyming word.  It does not need to be a real word.)  Your child and you can take turns making the “I see a ______.  Do you see a _______?” statement.  Other examples: I see fish. Do you see a dish/pish?  I see a tree.  Do you see a key/fee?  I see a sign.  Do you line/jine?  My examples are meant to illustrate acceptable rhymes that are real words and ones that are nonsense.  You can control this activity in the beginning by making sure objects that are single syllable and have common rhymes are present.  Such objects would include a dog, fish, can, boy, book, pot, cat, doll, mug and chair.

It is your job as the parent to figure out your child’s current skill level and build from there using scaffolding techniques.

The website, PhonologicalAwareness.org has an extensive list of quality activities.

WHY IS PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS IMPORTANT?

NEWS ALERT!!

Phonological awareness does not involve the written word.  Phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate parts of SPOKEN words.  (This is the hardest aspect to understand.  Take a minute to wrap your head around it.)

If you need a little more context to make sense of it …

Imagine a pre-K class in which the teacher, Ms. Teacher, asks her class a series of questions.  Furthermore, Ms. Teacher and her class are walking outside on their way to the playground.  Key piece of information: When letters are placed within the symbol /   /, it indicates the spoken form of the word.  Since we are discussing phonological awareness, we are only working with the spoken word.

Ms. Teacher: How many syllables are in the word cupcake?  Harry: 2

Ms. Teacher: What is the first syllable in the word fortunate?  Galen: /for/

Ms. Teacher: What is a word that rhymes with sweet?  Nina: feet

Ms. Teacher: Do face and race rhyme?  Kim: Yes

Ms. Teacher: Do boy and blag rhyme? (Note: it is fine to work with nonsense words like blag.)  Tony: No

Ms. Teacher:  What word is formed when I put together the parts /b/ and /ug/?  Isla: bug

Ms. Teacher: The word skimp has two parts.  What is the ending part or rime? Giacomo: /imp/

Ms. Teacher: What is the onset or beginning part of skimp? Lucia: /sk/

Ms. Teacher and her students practiced phonological awareness skills while walking.  They were simply talking.  NO WRITTEN WORDS.

Given that the students are in a pre-K classroom and likely ages 4-5, most of them are likely still pre-emergent or emergent readers.  A few are beginning readers.  See Developmental Stages of Literacy for more information.  That means that the majority of the students are only reading a few words.  All of the students are better speakers than readers.  The students practice analyzing the architecture of the spoken word without ever needing to see anything in print.

The phonological awareness skills that Ms. Teacher’s students practiced dealt with rhyming, syllabication and onset-rime.  Onset-rime is more difficult than rhyming and syllabication.

Why Phonological Awareness Skills are Important

Phonemic awareness is a part of phonological awareness.  It is a more advanced form of phonological awareness.  It again deals with the spoken word, but analyzes and manipulates the smallest unit of spoken sound called a phoneme.  Phonemic awareness, along with an understanding of letter-sound relationships, is necessary for developing proficient beginning reading skills (Ehri et al., 2001; National Reading Panel, 2000).  The phonological awareness skills that Ms. Teacher’s students practiced are a precursor to the more advanced phonemic awareness skills that contribute greatly to beginning reading skills.

Parents:  Like Ms. Teacher, you can help your child to develop better phonological awareness in your home, on a walk, in the car, etc.  Click here to learn more about Rhyming, Syllabication and Onset-Rime and recommended activities to promote phonological awareness.

Resources

Ehri, L.C., Nunes, S.R., Willows, D.M., Shuster, B.V., Yaghoub-Zadeh, Z., & Shanahan, T. (2001).  Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s meta-analysis.  Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 250-287.

National Reading Panel. (2000).  Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.