Phonics recognition Ask the Experts

September 16, 1998

Susan Rapp of the Village Reading Center in Columbia answers a question in response to The Sun's series of stories on "Reading by 9."

Question: Some of the articles in The Sun dealing with learning disabilities have mentioned "phonological awareness," and I also heard this term brought up at my child's school. I am not sure what this means and I would like to know how to tell if my child is learning this properly. Will you define the term for me and tell me what signs to look for. My daughter is in the first grade.

Answer: The terms phoneme, phonological and phonemic awareness are buzz words in education today and they are synonymous. Phonemes are sounds that correspond to letters of an alphabetical writing system. Basically, children who are aware of the phonemes in words are able to easily move into reading and invented spelling. Those children who are not aware of the phonemes in words they see and hear may have difficulty learning to read.

Awareness that language is composed of these small units is called phoneme awareness. Infants and children become attuned to the phonemes in their native language almost subconsciously. However, some developing readers need direct instruction. They must learn to separate the sounds and to categorize them in a way that permits understanding of how words are formed and are spelled. For example, in the words write and ride, the /t/ and /d/ sounds are distinct. But when we add -er, as in writer and rider, the /t/ and /d/ are reduced to a common phoneme.

Activities involving phonological awareness ask children to listen the sameness, difference, number and order of the speech sounds. The activities are fun and are being built into most reading curricula today, especially with the growing re-entry of phonics instruction. However, if your child struggles with early reading instruction, ask the teacher how he compares to the rest of the children in that grade, and find out how much phonics is being applied. Some children may require more individualized instruction. For information, contact the International Dyslexia JTC Association at 410-296-0232 and request the brochure entitled Phonological Awareness: A Critical Factor in Dyslexia.

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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