The Building Blocks of Literacy
Phonemic Awareness → Phonics → Fluency → Vocabulary → Comprehension
Automatic word identification skills are generally dependent upon the ability to rapidly identify and name the sounds associated with the printed letters (phonics). Students must also have the ability to visually discriminate among, perceive, and identify letter shapes and patterns of several letters in sequence (orthographic awareness). Finally, in order to learn letter sound associations and continue building phonics skills, students must have developed strong phonological, and more specifically, phonemic awareness skills.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to auditorily perceive, blend, segment, and manipulate the individual speech sounds, or phonemes, in spoken words. Reaching the goal of effective reading comprehension depends on the success in each of these skill areas.
Three Critical Components – Phonemic Awareness, Orthographic Awareness, Rapid Naming
The auditory skills of blending, segmenting (breaking words into individual sounds), and manipulating sounds, as well as perceiving the number and order of sounds within spoken words, are important phonemic awareness skills that are necessary for the development of phonics skills. Phonemic awareness is a skill that typically emerges along with the development of phonics skills. Unlike phonemic awareness, phonics involves print, and assumes the understanding that printed letters systematically represent sounds. We cannot link sounds to letters if we have trouble perceiving these individual sounds in spoken words, which is why phonemic awareness is essential for developing strong phonics skills.
Transposing, omitting, adding, and substituting sounds while reading and speaking (and letters while spelling) can signify weak phonemic awareness skills. Although phonemic awareness is an auditory based skill, research has consistently shown that the most effective phonemic awareness intervention programs include letter sound instruction and use of letters in phonemic awareness activities. It has been shown that assessment of phonemic awareness predicts third grade reading failure with 92 % accuracy.
Orthographic awareness, the ability to visually perceive the sequences and patterns of printed letters within words, is also essential for success in the alphabetic word attack strategies needed for reading and spelling. A student having difficulty distinguishing between two letters (“b” and “d,” for example), or perceiving and recalling the correct sequence within letter patterns in a printed word, is likely to have great difficulty when trying to read or spell words. This becomes especially apparent when students spell by sight memorization words with infrequent or irregular letter patterns, such as “right,” and “thought.” Individuals with weaknesses in this area also have particular difficulty remembering which letter patterns to use when spelling homophones, or words that are pronounced the same, but spelled differently, such as “sale” and “sail.”
Another area found to be critical to the reading process is the ability to rapidly name visual symbols. Difficulties in this area can be tested and documented as a weakness. One must be able to apply the sound and letter knowledge at a quick rate, rapidly articulating sounds and sound patterns while decoding printed words. Tests that target this area typically require students to name as quickly as they can visual symbols, such as pictures, colors, shapes, numbers, and letters. Students having extreme difficulty learning letter names and letter sounds may have weaknesses in this area.