Research on Phonemic Awareness Training
California State University Los Angeles
Children who have not yet learned to read have difficulty consciously analyzing spoken words into their constituent phonemes. For example, children who have not yet learned to read hear the phonemes /p/ and /l/ in the word play as a single sound /pl/ (Bruce, 1964; Ehri & Wilce, 1980; Liberman, Shankweiler, Fischer, and Carter, 1974; Mann, 1986; Rosner, 1974; Treiman, 1983, 1985, 1986; Treiman and Baron, 1981; Tunmer & Nesdale, 1985).
Some (e.g., Adams, 1990; Lyon, 1997; Stanovich, 1986) would address this difficulty by teaching phonemic awareness, that is, teaching children to perceive the sound /pl/ as /p/ and /l/. Once children can analyze spoken language into phonemes, they would then teach them letter-phoneme correspondences, e.g., the letter p represents the sound /p/, the letter l represents the sound /l/ and the letters ay represent the sound /a/. They point to a large body of research which shows a strong correlation between children’s ability to read and their ability to consciously analyze spoken words into phonemes. They say phonemic awareness predicts reading ability.
The problem is, correlation does not establish causation. There is a strong correlation between, for example, being in a hospital bed and being sick, but being in a hospital bed doesn’t cause sickness, at least not the sickness that brought about the initial hospitalization. The word predicts is a statistical term which means there is a very strong correlation between two phenomena. Prediction does not mean causation.
Research does not support phonemic awareness training. Bus & van Ijzendoorn (1999) found that phonemic awareness in kindergarten accounts for 0.6 % of the total variance in reading achievement in the later primary years. Troia (1999) reviewed 39 phonemic awareness training studies and found no evidence to support phonemic awareness training in classroom instruction. Krashen (1990a, 1999b) conducted similar reviews and had similar findings. Taylor (1998) points out that phonemic awareness research is based on the false assumption that children’s early cognitive functions work from abstract exercises to meaningful activity, rather than vice-versa, as in other learning.
In fact, rather than phonemic awareness being a pre-requisite to literacy, literacy contributes to phonemic awareness (Scholes, 1998; Treiman, 1983, 1985). We use our knowledge of how words are spelled to figure out how many phonemes are in a word. We are less competent in analyzing spoken words into phonemes when individual phonemes do not have a one-to-one correspondence with letters. For example, most literate adults do not realize that there are four phonemes—not three—in the word box. Phonemic awareness training is a cart-before-the-horse approach to teaching reading.
Adams, M. (1999). Beginning to Read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bruce, D.J. (1964). The analysis of word sounds. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 34, 158-170.
Bus, A. C. and 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.
Ehri, L.C. and Wilce, L.S. (1980). The influence of orthograph on readers’ conceptualization of the phonemic structure of words. Applied Psycholinguistics, 1, 371-385.
Foorman, B.R., Francis, D.J., Fletcher, J.M., Schatschneider, C.S., and Mehta, P. (1998). The role of instruction in learning to read: Preventing reading failure in at-risk children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(1), 37-55.
Goswami, U. (1986). Children’s use of analogy in learning to read: A developmental study. Journal of Experimental Child Psycholgoy, 42, 73-83.
Goswami, U. (1988). Orthographic analogies and reading development. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 40A, 239-268.
Goswami, U. and Bryant, P. (1990). Phonological Skills and Learning to Read. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Goswami, U. and Mead, F. (1992). Onset and rime awareness and analogies in reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 17, 150-162.
Krashen, S. (1999a). Effects of phonemic awareness training on delayed tests of reading. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 89, 79-82.
_________ (1999b). Training in phonemic awareness. Greater on test of phonemic awareness. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 89, 412-416.
Liberman, I., Shankweiler, D., Fischer, F.W. and Carter, B. (1974). Explicit syllable and phoneme segmentation in the young child. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 18, 201-212.
Lyon, R., (July 10, 1997). Testimony before the Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C..
Lyon, R. (October 27, 1997). in Newsweek, p. 60.
Moustafa, M. (1995). Children’s productive phonological recoding, Reading Research Quarterly, 30(3), 464-476.
Moustafa, M. (1997). Beyond Traditional Phonics: Research discoveries and reading instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Rosner, J.(1974). Auditory analysis training with prereaders. The Reading Teacher, 27, 379-384.
Scholes, Robert J. (1998). The case against phonemic awareness. Journal of Research in Reading, 21(3), 177-189.
Stanovich, K. E. (1991). Word recognition: Changing perspectives. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Ed.), Handbook of Reading Research. Hills dale, NJ: Erlbaum, Vol. 2, 418-452.
Stanovich, K. E. (1994). Romance and reality. The Reading Teacher, 47, 280‑291.
Stanovich, K. (1986). Mathew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21(4), 360-406.
Taylor, D. (1998). Beginning to Read and the Spin Doctors of Science: The political campaign to change American’s mind about how children learn to read. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
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.
Treiman, R. and Baron, J. (1981). Segmental analysis: Development and relation to reading ability. In Reading Research: Advances in Theory and Practice, G.C. MacKinnon and T.G. Waller (Eds.), New York: Academic Press, Vol. III.
Troia, G.A. (1999). Phonological awareness intervention research: A critical review of the experimental methodology. Reading Research Quarterly, 34 (1), 28-52.
Tunmer, W. E. & Nesdale, A. R. (1985). Phonemic segmentation skill and beginning reading. Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 417‑427.