Phonological and phonemic awareness are crucial literacy development skills that form the foundation for later success in reading and writing. Teachers and caretakers must understand what phonological and phonemic awareness is, how to use tools such as the (TOWRE-2) Test of Word Reading Efficiency assessment to diagnose deficiencies in the children they interact with, and how to support kids who struggle with it.
A Definition of Phonological and Phonemic Awareness
These terms are often confused or used interchangeably. It is important to grasp their distinct meanings as children may have difficulty with one but not the other.
The National Center on Improving Literacy defines phonological awareness as, “The ability to recognize that spoken words are made up of individual sound parts.” Phonological awareness encompasses the ability to break a word into syllables, recognize onset rhyme, and manipulate phonemes.
Phonemic awareness exists under the umbrella of phonological awareness. It is the specific ability to understand that words are made up of separate and distinct sounds. For example, understanding that the word “dog” is made up of three sounds; the “d”, the “o”, and the “g” which, when combined in sequence, form the full word.
This is a foundational skill when a child is learning to sound out words for reading. Without phonemic awareness, every word becomes a sight word that must be memorized instead of a series of sounds that can be decoded in the same way and applied to multiple words.
Factors that Contribute to a Lack of Phonological Awareness
Struggling with phonological awareness can occur for many reasons, some avoidable and others developmental or physiological. Common factors of causation include:
- Language Environment: When children grow up in an environment that exposes them to a rich variety of language, they are more likely to avoid issues with phonological awareness.
- Developmental Variance: While there are common developmental markers, children develop at their own pace. Developmental delays do not always signify future issues.
- Speech, Language, and Hearing Impairment: Children who have difficulty articulating certain sounds or hearing audible clues will understandably struggle with phonological and phonemic awareness. There are effective early interventions to help these kids avoid educational delays.
- Dyslexia: Challenges with phonological awareness are often the first indicator of this learning disability. Children with dyslexia have difficulty connecting written letters with their sounds.
Strategies To Support the Development of Phonological and Phonemic Awareness
The groundwork for phonological awareness should begin in infancy. There are many ways that parents, caregivers, and early education professionals can build this foundation.
Tips for Parents
To facilitate phonological awareness, parents can engage in behaviors such as these:
- Speak and sing to your child frequently.
- Read children’s books to your child aloud. Choose books with rich language, pictures and descriptions.
- As soon as your child can speak, introduce alphabet books and puzzles and ask for their verbal participation in rhyming games.
Expectations for Educators
Many parents send their children to preschool in preparation for kindergarten. A quality preschool should include overt instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness. Children should learn about rhyme, alliteration, and syllables.
Professional Evaluation Through WPS
Early identification of challenges with phonological and phonemic awareness is essential for a child’s success. WPS has been providing assessment materials since 1948. Learn more about how WPS can help children with professional reading assessment tools today.