A Lack of Phonemic Awareness Skills Can Drastically Impact Older Readers

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Phonemic Awareness skills play a critical role in reading success regardless of the student's age.

Phonemic Awareness refers to the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds (or phonemes) in words. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. For example, the spoken word dog can be broken down into three separate and distinct phonemes or sounds; /d/ /o/ /g/

Developing phonemic awareness is important because it is the foundation for spelling and word recognition skills. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction. Students at risk for reading difficulty often have lower levels of phonemic awareness than their peers.

Difficulties with phonemic awareness skills such as having a hard time hearing or making rhymes, challenges substituting the first letter in a word with another letter, or not being able to break a word into syllables can all be indicators of an underlying disability such as dyslexia.

The good news is that phonemic awareness and phonological awareness can be developed through a number of activities.

One of the most important factors to consider when analyzing a student’s grasp of phonemic awareness skills is to never assume theses skills are intact just because of a student’s age. A number of assessments (such as the iReady) don’t even test a student on phonemic awareness skills past grade 3 because it is assumed that they are already in tact due to the students’ grade level or age.

This can be detrimental for a student who may have an underlying disability or undiagnosed issue such as dyslexia. If you are working with a struggling reader who is older, it is important to assess their phonemic awareness skills. We know that one of the core deficits of dyslexia is a lack of sensitivity to phonemes thus making phonemic skills very difficult to master.

Some easy “spot-checks” that you can do with your older student is to ask them to rhyme with you. Give them a word that is age appropriate (don’t use words like cat, pig, house, etc. as many students have these rhymes memorized). Use unique words and ask the student to produce rhymes for that word.

You can also ask them to manipulate phonemes such as “think of the word pitch, now replace the /p/ in pitch with /h/. What word do you have?” Difficulty with either one of these tasks is a sure sign that you need to devote some time to helping your older student strengthen their phonemic awareness skills. This is at the core of decoding and may need explicit instruction in order to be successful.

This Friday, we will be sharing an excellent phonemic awareness tool for our Freebie Friday! Be sure to keep an eye out – you won’t want to miss it!