What’s the Current View of Phonological Awareness?

Phonological Awareness (PA) is one of the literacy components that we know best, but why? There’s no question that PA is important. After all, phonological awareness is one of the two most significant skills (along with letter naming) for predicting which students will learn to read more easily. When a student’s PA skills are strong, it’s likely that the child will learn to read and spell more easily. Let’s explore the reasons that educators know so much about PA.
What’s the Current View of Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness was THE “hot” topic between 1990 and 2005. Many graduate students and professors came up with research questions and sought funding to better understand phonological awareness. The federal government provided a sizable budget to the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study reading development because reading difficulties were viewed as a national health issue. 

PA was so heavily researched that there were 1,962 citations for PA studies that the National Reading Panel reviewed in 2000 to see if they met the criteria for scientific research. Yet there was a lot of research on PA before 2000. Many of the studies discussed by Gail Gillon in her 2004 book Phonological Awareness: From Research to Practice date before the big burst in federal funding for reading research. By 2004 we understood that PA skills develop in a progression and younger students are aware of syllables before smaller units such as onsets, rimes, and phonemes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that we have this incredibly helpful and extensive research to inform our practices. Because of it there are countless students who have benefitted from their teachers’ understanding of this construct. Phonological awareness is embraced by everyone and never suffered from controversy like phonics did.  But what about vocabulary and comprehension? Why did PA (along with phonics) get such a disproportionate share of funds? Did it help that PA was “safe” and fun? 

Maybe researchers found it easier to define an interesting research project that could be conducted with fewer funds and over shorter periods of time. Vocabulary and Comprehension are complex constructs that require students to have adequate skills in language development and word recognition. Let’s face it – Phonological Awareness had the advantage of being fun to think about, it was a “hot” topic, and it was not as controversial as other components of reading.

What's the difference between Phonological Awareness and Phonemic Awareness?  Learn more by downloading our complimentary resource.

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