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Why start with phonemic awareness as the 'pre-phonics phase?   

Reading Rockets has stated that by focusing on phonemic awareness, the most advanced and crucial skill under the umbrella of phonological awareness, children are better prepared to understand the relationship between sounds and their corresponding letters, which is essential for reading and spelling (Reading Rockets, 2023).


While traditional phonological awareness activities like rhyming and syllable segmentation have their place, current research advocates for a more direct focus on phonemic awareness to effectively prepare children for phonics and reading success. This is likely why the DfE removed 'Phase 1' of the Letters and Sound programme. Unfortunately they did not replace it with a 'Phonemic Awareness Mastery' element as a more evidence-based pre-phonics phase. At least 1 in 4 children start KS1 without phonemic awareness, and this needs to change. Our proposed Phonemic Awareness Discovery Screener will not only address this but also create data sets. Our team will be conducting longitudinal studies and publishing useful research relating to the impact of 'discovery screening' sessions with 3-year-olds and follow up screenng at 4 - before the children start primary school.      

The National Reading Panel  (2000) has extensively studied the components of effective reading instruction, with phonemic awareness being a key focus. The NRP found that explicit instruction in phonemic awareness significantly improves children's reading and spelling abilities. This is because phonemic awareness involves teaching children to identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, which is crucial for developing reading skills.

According to the NRP, phonemic awareness and phonics should be a central part of reading instruction, starting as early as preschool and kindergarten. The panel emphasised that teaching children to manipulate phonemes directly impacts their ability to read and spell, and this form of instruction should be systematic and explicit. The panel's meta-analysis of 52 studies showed strong evidence that phonemic awareness training is highly effective under various teaching conditions and with different learner groups. This suggests that focusing on phonemic awareness rather than other phonological skills like syllable segmentation or onset-rime awareness is more beneficial for early reading development.

The NRP report states that the best predictors of how well children will learn to read in the first two years of instruction centres around phonemic awareness. Therefore, it is crucial to integrate these skills early on rather than progressing through a sequence of broader phonological skills before addressing phonemic awareness.

Dr. Susan Brady, in her work discussed by The Reading League, argues that lower levels of phonological awareness, such as syllable and onset-rime awareness, do not necessarily lead to phonemic awareness. She emphasises that phonemic awareness is crucial for reading success and should be the focus of instruction, particularly for young children, and is essential if children are to learn phonics. Her  recommendation is based on her extensive research in reading development and cognitive psychology.

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