What’s New in Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is one of the best researched topics in reading. 

So, what's new? 

After all this time, there are still some insights released by researchers about phonological awareness. For example, a while back a study was released that showed a link between the size of a child’s oral vocabulary and her phonological awareness. The more words a child knows, the more sensitive she is to the sounds (phonemes) in words. Another example can be found in an article Marilyn Adams wrote a couple of years ago about the role of the phonological processor in activating not only the parts of the brain involved in pronouncing the word, but also in generating the word’s meaning.

What is New in Phonological Awareness

So is this what’s new about phonological awareness? Are these research findings the big deal? I don’t think so. While these research findings are certainly interesting, I think there’s a bigger story. 

What’s Missing?

What’s really amazing is the number of teachers who have not been provided professional development to develop knowledge about the basics of phonological awareness. How do I know this? I cannot tell you how many times over the past few years I’ve been in front of an audience of kindergarten or first grade teachers who believe that phonological awareness instruction includes letters. Many times in the past year I’ve heard 95 Percent Group consultants report that too few teachers can correctly articulate the difference between phonological awareness and phonemic awareness. And when I forwarded this blog to one of our trainers for comments, she said that recently in a large district located in the SW teachers emphatically told her that phonics and phonological awareness are the same thing.

Am I blaming teachers? No way. It’s not the teacher’s fault. Things are better. But it’s not good enough yet.

What Teachers Need to Know About Phonological Awareness

Teachers need to be provided with effective professional development that enables them to develop an understanding of the terms and concepts about phonological awareness. For starters, here’s what they need to know:

  • The definitions of all the terms in phonological awareness
  • The order of acquisition of skills (syllables before phonemes, for example)
  • Which phonological awareness skills are precursors to others (segmentation and blending before substitution)
  • How phonological awareness skills are measured
  • That activities readily available on the internet are great for practice but often don’t provide explicit enough instruction in the skill

Until teachers are given professional development that provides this foundational knowledge, why are we worried about what’s new this year? What’s new is that in too many schools the enduring understandings that are “old” aren’t understood.

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