Why is Phonemic Awareness Important for Learning?
It is still happening everywhere. Colleges are still teaching it to teachers. Public and private schools don’t always preach it, but it is evident that many still believe it. What is it? It is the old time myth that there are some students who just can’t learn phonics.
Consider these examples:
- Ryan is a 2nd grader, diagnosed developmentally delayed; not reading.
- Paul is a brilliant surgeon.
- Jenny is a gifted 6th grader; the fastest problem solver in the class, but failing.
- Jim is a talented stunt man. He wants to act but leaves any audition that requires reading.
What do these people have in common? They all have phonemic awareness deficit that is keeping them from using phonics for reading and spelling. For Ryan and Jim, this deficit has left them non-readers. For Paul and Jenny, it has caused them terrible struggles throughout school. Years ago, the common belief was that there are simply people who can’t ever learn phonics. Now, because of ongoing research in the field of reading and phonemic awareness, we have yet to find students who can’t learn phonics.
How Does Phonemic Awareness Affect Reading?
Phonemic awareness is a person’s ability to think about the number, order, and identity of individual sounds within words. It is the underlying thinking process that allows a person to make sense out of phonics, the sound system of our language. In a nutshell, the reading basic process is made up of three parts: Visual (Sight Word Recognition), Auditory (Phonics), and Language (Vocabulary and Content Cues).
In order to be able to read the words and sentences on the page comfortably and easily, all three processes need to be working efficiently together.
Research has shown that even with excellent teaching programs, 30% of any given population cannot learn or use phonics easily and because of a weakness in phonemic awareness. It is often said of children in this 30%, “He/She just can’t learn phonics. He/She will just have be to taught by sight.”
Unfortunately, these well-meaning statements doom students to be crippled readers and spellers. At best they will come away with 2/3 of the reading process and 1/2 the spelling process to work with. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Auditory conceptual function can be taught! Through careful, sequential training that activates the auditory, visual, language, and feeling (tactile/kinesthetic) parts of the brain, children and adults can learn to think about sounds. This opens a whole new world to a person who previously could not read. As one adult student said, “You can’t even imagine what it’s like to be able to open a simple book and be able to read it yourself. You just have to experience it.”
As a result of auditory judgment training:
- Ryan, once thought to be developmentally delayed, has been dismissed from Special Education and is functioning at the top of his regular 3rd grade class.
- Paul, still a practicing physician, has found that reading and spelling have a system that make sense, that they no longer require a tremendous amount of time and energy.
- Jenny’s written work is much more accurate and much less stressful. Her grades reflect the change!
- Jim, previously unable to read at all now reads for parts and has been seen in popular T.V. shows…with speaking parts.
Phonemic awareness deficit has been found to be a key and often crippling factor in reading and spelling disorders. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Phonemic awareness can be trained. Reading and spelling disorders can be corrected.