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Phonemic and Phonological Awareness
Definitions:
Phonemic awareness and phonological awareness both involve the ability to focus on the sounds of spoken words rather than their meanings. While some interchange the terms, others make a distinction.
  • Phonemic awareness is the ability to consciously analyze spoken words into phonemes. Phonemes are the smallest unit of spoken language that makes a difference in the meaning of a word. For example, the words pin and chin are each composed of three phonemes: /p/, /i/, & /n/ and /ch/, /i/, & /n/.

  • Phonological awareness is the ability to consciously analyze spoken words into syllables, onsets and rimes, or phonemes. Onsets are any consonant sounds before the vowel in spoken syllables, such as the /p/ in pin, the /ch/ in chin, and the /p/ and /s/ in pencil. Rimes are the vowel sounds and any consonants that follow it in spoken syllables, such as the /in/ in pin and chin and the /en/ and /il/ in pencil.
Phonemic and phonological awareness are not phonics: phonics involves both letters and sounds.
Phonemic awareness
Seminal research:
Bruce found that five- and six-year old children are not able to consciously identify phonemes in spoken words. He gave children spoken words and asked them to make other words by deleting phonemes. For example, he said fork and asked the children to say it without the /k/; he said snail and asked the children to say it without the /n/.

Bruce found none of the five- and six-year-old children were able to do the task with any of the 30 words Bruce gave them. The seven-year-olds averaged only two correct answers. The eight-year-olds averaged about 50% of the words right. Only the nine-year-olds (equivalent to fourth graders in the U.S.) got almost all the words right.

    Bruce, D.J. (1964). The analysis of word sounds. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 34, 158-170.
Replication research:
  • Liberman, Shankweiler, Fischer, and Carter had similar findings. They simplified the children's task by asking them to tap out the number of phonemes in a spoken word.

    Liberman and her associates found that 83% of the kindergarten children they tested could not analyze spoken words into phonemes most of the time. That is, they could not abstract spoken sounds into units represented by single letters and digraphs before being taught to read. They also found that 30% of the children they tested at the end of first grade could not analyze spoken words into phonemes most of the time.

      Liberman, I., Shankweiler, D., Fischer, F.W., & Carter, B. (1974). Explicit syllable and phoneme segmentation in the young child. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 18, 201-212.

  • Scholes found that literate adults use their knowledge of spelling to help them do phonemic awareness tasks. He asked 70 university students questions such as "What word do you get when you delete the second sound in frame?" where the test word had common letter-sound correspondences and "What word do you get when you delete the fourth sound in faxed?" where the test word had less common letter-sound correspondences.

    When asked "What word do you get when you delete the fourth sound in faxed?", only 6% of the subjects correctly responded fact. (The x in faxed is pronounced /ks/. Thus, the fourth phoneme in faxed is /s/.) When asked "What word do you get when you delete the third sound in liked?", only 19% correctly responded light. (The letter d in liked is pronounced /t/.) Forty-three percent of the subjects incorrectly responded lied. Their responses demonstrated that they were using the spellings of faxed and liked rather than their pronunciations to respond.

Phonemic awareness training
Seminal research:
Rosner replicated Bruce's work with kindergarten children (described above) but added instruction. He taught the phoneme deletion task to kindergarten children for a whole school year and had similar findings to those of Bruce.
    Rosner, J. (1974). Auditory analysis training with pre-readers. The Reading Teacher 27, 379-384.
Replication research:
  • Treiman found that, even with training, eight-year-olds as well as adults have difficulty splitting spoken syllables anywhere but between their onsets and rimes.
    • Treiman, R. (1983). The structure of spoken syllables: Evidence from novel word games. Cognition, 15, 49-74.
      Treiman, R. (1985). Onsets and rimes as units of spoken syllables: Evidence from children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 39, 161-181.
      Treiman, R. (1986). The division between onsets and rimes in English syllables. Journal of Memory and Language, 25, 476-491.

Research review:
  • Troia reviewed the methodological rigor of 39 published studies on phonemic awareness training. All the studies demonstrated at least one fatal flaw and only seven met two-thirds or more of the evaluative criteria. Of these seven best studies, none investigated the effectiveness of phonemic or phonological awareness training in classrooms (p. 49).
    • Troia, G.A. (1999). Phonological awareness intervention research: A critical review of the experimental methodology. Reading Research Quarterly, 34, 1, 28-52.

Definitions:
Effect size is the difference between the average of the treatment group and the average of the comparison (control) group. An effect size of 0 indicates that the treatment had no effect; an effect size of .20 is considered small; an effect size of .50 is considered moderate; and an effect size of .80 or above is considered large.
Research review:
  • Bus and van Ijzendoorn reviewed the findings of 32 published studies on phonological awareness training. They found:
    • the studies varied widely in their findings, from a large effect size (r =.97) to no effect size (r = -.06) for phonological awareness training on reading (p. 406).
    • the combined effect size of phonological training on reading of all the studies in the review was small (r =.21) (p. 406).
    • among the four studies that reported the long-term effects of phonological training on reading, the combined effect size was not significant (r =.08, p<.06) (p. 406).
    • phonological training that was not combined with reading or letters had less effect on reading (combined d =0.18) than phonological training that included reading (combined d =.88) or letters (combined d =.66) (p. 407).
      • Bus, A.G., & van Ijzendoorn, M.H. (1999). Phonological awareness and early reading: A meta-analysis of experimental training studies. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 3, 403-414.

  • The National Reading Panel reviewed the findings of 52 published studies on phonemic awareness training. They found:
    • teaching children phonemic awareness with letters had more effect on reading (r =.67) than teaching children phonemic awareness without letters (r =.38) (pp. 2-21 & 2-22 & Table 3).
    • long-term phonemic awareness training programs had a significantly smaller effect size on reading than short-term training programs: training programs that lasted 1 to 4.5 hours had a moderate effect size (r =.61); training programs from 10 to 18 hours had a large effect size (r =.86); training programs that lasted 20 to 75 hours had a small effect size (r =.31) (p. 2-22 & Table 3).
    • phonemic awareness training had a significantly smaller effect size on reading when the training was conducted by teachers (r =.41 on immediate posttests; r =.32 on follow-up posttests) than by researchers (r =.64 on immediate posttests; r =.63 on follow-up posttests) (pp. 2-22 & 2-23 & Table 2).
Phonological awareness
Seminal research:
Treiman found that developmentally children first learn to analyze spoken syllables into onsets and rimes and later learn to analyze onsets and rimes into their constituent phonemes. She played word games with eight-year-old children and with adults.

Treiman found the children were able to split syllables into onsets and rimes. She also found that, even with training, eight-year-olds as well as adults have difficulty splitting spoken syllables anywhere but between their onsets and rimes.

    Treiman, R. (1983). The structure of spoken syllables: Evidence from novel word games. Cognition, 15, 49-74.
    Treiman, R. (1985). Onsets and rimes as units of spoken syllables: Evidence from children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 39, 161-181.
    Treiman, R. (1986). The division between onsets and rimes in English syllables. Journal of Memory and Language, 25, 476-491.
Replication research:
  • Calfee found that five- and six-year-old children are able to manipulate onsets and rimes in spoken words without being taught to do so. Although his focus was on giving clear directions, he, in effect, asked the children to delete the onsets of spoken words and give him back the rimes with directions such as "When I say greet, you say eat; when I say ties, you say eyes". The children performed the task correctly in 90% of the practice tries.
    • Calfee, R. (1977). Assessment of individual reading skills: Basic research and practical applications. In Toward a Psychology of Reading. Eds. A.S. Rebuer and D.L. Scarborough. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.

(See also Phonics)
 
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