Teaching Phonemic Awareness

Some parents today are concerned about the method that is being used to teach their children how to read, and rightfully so. The “whole language” method is more of a method of “word memorization”, where children are taught to look at printed words as whole configurations, much like looking at Chinese characters.

On the other hand, teaching “phonemic awareness” skills involve the break down of words into individual sounds (phonemes), and then joining the parts to form or sound out the words.

By contrast, whole language learning stresses the flow and meaning of the text, where “sounding out” words are not used, the words are decoded through its larger context, and word memorization plays a key role. What would you rather do, memorize hundreds or even thousands of words based on shapes, or learn a systematic way of reading?

English is not meant to be memorized as shapes and sight objects. It becomes very difficult to learn to read by memorizing and recognizing shapes. Phonics and teaching phonemic awareness skills requires you to memorize the letters and the sounds they represent, and with this method, children as young as two years old can learn to read successfully and comprehend what they are reading. Try teaching a young child with the whole language learning method, see how successful he or she will be at memorizing shapes. Teaching by using phonics will routinely produce successful readers.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that phonics is clearly a superior method of teaching children how to read. In the USA, over 30 million adults (14%) are considered functionally illiterate and are unable to perform simple everyday literacy activities. [1] This, however, should not be surprising since over one-third of all children cannot even achieve basic reading competency by the time they are in grade four. This is a finding from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Are these children failing at literacy because they are dumb? I hardly think so, but perhaps it is a result of the poor reading instructions they receive.

It has been proven time and again, that teaching phonemic awareness skill produces superior reading and spelling abilities than whole language teaching methods. Thousands of studies have confirmed this, and the National Reading Panel has also made a clear statement about this.

While most teachers will probably say that they teach using some phonics, the truth is that many teachers are not knowledgeable in the basic concepts of the English language. No, I’m not making a random statement. In a recent study, the researchers stated: “many in-service teachers are not knowledgeable in the basic concepts of the English language”. Their study found that even though the teachers may be well versed in children’s literature, but they do not know how to address the basic building blocks of language and reading. In their survey of instructors conducted, the researchers found that the teachers performed poorly on the concepts relating to morphemes and phonemes. In another second study, over 80% of the interviewed instructors agreed that phonics is a desirable method to use for beginning reading instructions. [2]

Some argue that a child will acquire a knowledge of phonics on his or her own after learning to read using whole language methods. While this may be true for some children, it is hardly the case for the other children with reading difficulties. When a child is taught to read using a whole word approach, they develop a habit of looking at all the words by their whole configurations, and this prevents the child from seeing the phonetic structure of the words. Real readers who learned to read by learning phonemic awareness skills do not need clues or cues to help them recognize shapes – they develop an automatic ability to decode the letters and words.

Ultimately, it is up to the parents to decide the path for which to teach their children to read. They can either simply leave it up to the education system, and hope that their child does not end up being one of the 38% grade four students which do not develop even basic reading achievement, or they can take the initiative and make the decision to help their children develop phonemic awareness skills early on before even starting kindergarten. Research on phonemic awareness has shown time after time that phonemic awareness skills predicted reading and spelling success of children in school.

Don’t leave your children’s reading success up to chance.

Teaching Children to Read and Write

Most parents, at one point or another, frets over the education and the development of their children. Many concerned parents research and seek information on the topic of teaching children to read and write. It is really awesome when parents want to get an early start for their children in reading and writing because those that do this are probably aware that developing these abilities early on before entering school provides numerous benefits and advantages the child experiences as he or she progresses through school.

Something that is kind of worrisome is the fact that over one third, 38% to be exact, of all grade 4 students cannot even achieve a basic level of reading ability according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This statistic should speak for itself as an alarming one.

Congrats on reading this, your child will most likely not become one of the 38% who cannot reach basic reading achievement by grade 4 because you are taking action now! For most children, this poor ability to read can be easily prevented with early phonemic awareness teaching.

Reading must begin early in the life of a child, whether it is just an alphabet letter, a word, a sentence, a paragraph, or a story. Teaching children how to read must begin early on, and children should be exposed to books, stories, rhymes, and be read to on a daily basis. You have heard me say this before but I like to say it over and over again in most of these posts, just in case it is the first post someone has read, and that is that children as young as 2 years old can start to learn to read if you teach them to read with the proper instructions. I share a particular video as an example via my emails so be sure to signup if you’d like that link. There is a signup at the bottom of this page or you can head over to my facebook page, follow and signup there.

As Lida Williams said, almost 100 years ago:

Phonics is not a method of teaching reading, but it is a necessary part of every good, modern method. It is the key to word mastery, and word mastery is one of the first essentials in learning to read. A knowledge of the sounds of letters, and of the effect of the position of the letter upon its sound, is an essential means of mastering the mechanics of reading, and of enabling children to become independent readers.

100 years later, this still holds true. There has been a great debate on what method of teaching is best to teach children how to read: whether phonics or the whole language method is better. The whole language learning to read method is more of a “word memorization” plan, where a young child is supposed to memorize the “shape” of the word and say it.

It is important to distinguish the difference between phonological awareness and phonemic awareness. Phonological awareness is very broad and includes phonemic awareness as a subcategory. Phonemic awareness is very narrow, and it is only focused on the phonemes, which are the individual sounds of letters. There is no shortage of studies which have repeatedly found and concluded that teaching phonemic awareness to young children produces exceptional reading and spelling abilities. You can read more about research on phonemic awareness by reading my post on that subject.

The whole language method simply expects a child to “read” when presented reading material, and by memorizing sight words. The phonics method is a bottom up approach where you teach children to read in a logical and sequential order. You first teach children the alphabet letters and the sounds they represent; then you teach children to combine (or blend) various letter sounds together to form words; which is then followed by reading sentences and simple stories. This is a logical progression for children learning to read, where they develop accuracy in decoding words and pronouncing words. This method of teaching also helps the child to spell correctly.

There’s no doubt that phonics and phonemic awareness instruction is the superior method to teach children how to read. There is someone that has a program that has successfully used phonemic awareness instructions to teach their children at age 2 to read words, sentences, paragraphs, and simple story books. It is recorded in the same video I provide a link to via my emails, so signup on my email to get that.

How to Teach Your Baby to Read

Teaching your baby to read could or is becoming more and more of a high priority for parents now as it becomes clear that learning to read at a young age offers numerous advantages for the child once he or she begins school. Studies have consistently found that teaching a baby to read and helping children develop phonemic awareness well before entering school can significantly improve their development in reading and spelling. However, when it comes to teaching babies to read, there are two main teaching methods.

These two main methods of teaching a baby or child to read are the whole language method, and the phonics and phonemic awareness method (the phonetic approach), which should be the preferred teaching method in helping children learn to read. Some prefer the whole language method, while others use the phonics approach, and there is also the educator that use a mix of different approaches. With the Look-say approach of whole language learning, a child begins with memorizing sight words and then taught various strategies for figuring out the text from various clues.

The whole language method produces inaccurate and poor readers compared to students of the phonetic approach. Using the whole word approach, English is being taught as an ideographic language such as Chinese. One of the biggest arguments from whole-language advocates is that teaching a baby to read using phonics breaks up the words into letters and syllables, which have no actual meaning, yet they fail to acknowledge the fact that once the child is able to decode the word, they are able to actually READ that entire word, pronounce it, and understand its meaning. So in practicality, it’s a very weak argument. English is an alphabetic system, and unlike Chinese, it is not an ideograph like Chinese characters, and should not be taught using an idiographic approach.

I always say that if your baby can speak, then you can begin to teach your baby to read. I won’t mention any names here, but I think most parents are probably aware of one very popular “reading” program, which is a whole word approach. Using this method, your baby simply learns to memorize the words without actually reading the words. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that teaching your baby to read using the whole word approach is an effective method. In fact, there are large numbers of studies which have consistently stated that teaching children to read using phonemic awareness is a highly effective method.

Teaching phonemic awareness to children significantly improves their reading more than instruction that lacks any attention to phonemic awareness. – a statement made by the National Reading Panel [1]

I do think that the debate on the effectiveness of teaching a baby to read using either the whole language or phonics method is solved via the statements made by the National Reading Panel. They reviewed over 1,960 different studies to make their conclusions.

In fact, someone I heard about, while his wife was pregnant with their first child, the father began doing extensive research on the subject on how to teach his baby to read – after birth, of course. Like most parents, he also came across the popular whole word teaching approach being heavily marketed. Seeing the infomercials got him quite excited actually, seeing the babies on TV “reading”. But after trying it out, it occurred to him that their baby wasn’t actually “reading”, but actually “memorizing”, and he thought to myself, how are my children supposed to read newer, and more complicated words as they grow older without an appropriate method of decoding those words? This is where his long and extensive research into phonics and phonemic awareness began.

After many hours of research and learning as much as he could, he felt comfortable enough with their simple phonemic awareness teaching method, that his wife and himself began giving brief 3 to 5-minute lessons to their daughter, aged 2 years and 8 months. Within just a few short weeks, their daughters reading ability (and I mean actual reading ability, not memorization) was astounding, even for the father as the parent who gave the reading instructions. Friends and family alike were simply flabbergasted at what their daughter was capable of reading at just 2 years and 11 months. There is a video that was recorded, if you haven’t already seen it, I’ll provide you a link to it via my emails (newsletter) I send out. So, signup now via my Facebook page!

I simply can’t imagine this kind of progress possible with the whole word approach – just think of the tens and hundreds of words a young child would have to memorize!

In the same video, you’ll learn more about their simple, effective, step-by-step program. So, please signup for my newsletter/emails. You’ll also get additional content not included on my blog.