Phonemic Awareness In Reading Instruction

Why Use Phonemic Awareness for Reading Instruction?

girl pointing to alphabet for phonics instructionsOne of my first experiences with phonemic awareness reading instruction was about 10 years ago when I tutored a kindergarten student who was not making adequate progress in reading at the end of the second quarter. When I began tutoring her in January of her kindergarten year, I realized that she did not know all of the alphabet, let alone the sounds that they make. But by the end of May, using phonemic awareness, she went from not knowing all of the alphabet to reading at a level 3! 

The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) has determined that all reading instruction should include 5 components – phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and reading comprehension.  We started Gift of Knowledge Academy because we wanted to start early (grades K-2) and give our students a firm foundation in literacy and math, so they don’t get behind in the first place. We incorporate these 5 components as well as writing, spelling, sight words, all while implementing a multisensory approach to learning. Not all students need this method, meaning, they would learn to read without it, but they do learn to read with this method and learn decoding skills that help them read larger words with multiple syllables. 

Students who struggle with reading, usually receive phonemic awareness and phonics instruction to improve their reading skills. We want to eliminate the frustration and low self-esteem kids feel when they struggle with reading and fall behind in school. We believe in the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Pathway for Phonemic Awareness

colorful letters lined up for reading instructionFor the first quarter and a half, we teach our kindergarten students the letter, keyword, and sound of each letter of the alphabet. As they are learning the letter, keyword, and sound, we also teach them the proper way to write each letter. Although we have drills each day on alphabetical order, we do not teach them the letters in that order.  I like to teach the letters that are formed similarly together. For example, the letters a, c, d, g, and q are formed by starting on the same line (the dotted line) and going in a circular motion to the left.

During this time, we gradually introduce sight words based on the letters they have learned.  For example, we will introduce the sight words – at, is, it, am, after they have learned to write the letters a, m, i, s, and t. We teach them to read simple sentences using mostly the sight words that they have learned. For example, if they know the sight words – I, am, is, and a, we may have them read the sentences –

“I am a boy.”

“I am a girl.”

“Sara is a girl.”

During the second quarter, we teach them how to decode consonant-vowel-consonant (cvc) words because they have a short vowel sound. We also start teaching word families and continue to add sight words. By the end of the year, they will have learned about digraphs, blends, closed syllables, V-C-e syllables, and several spelling rules and exceptions.

Reading Instruction Success

We are in our 6th school year. All of our kindergarten students, not some or most, but all of them have been reading in 5 months. Many of them only knew or recognized less than half of the alphabet when they started.  All of our graduates were at or above grade level in reading and math. Half of our graduates were actually reading on a 4th-grade level based on the End of the Year (EOY) mClass/Dibels assessment. Last year, North Carolina announced plans to implement the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021 to improve childhood literacy across North Carolina using evidence-based reading instruction based on the “Science of Reading.” We have been using a similar methodology since we started in 2016 with great results. I am hoping to see similar results across North Carolina as this program gets rolled out.

Teachers – what works for you? Where do you see the most student success in reading instruction? Let us know in the comments! 

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