Letters in Phonemic Awareness and the Reciprocal Nature of Learning to Read

Letters in Phonemic Awareness and the Reciprocal Nature of Learning to Read

Tim Shanahan

Teachers’ question:

I’m confused. I’ve heard you say that we should teach phonemic awareness and letters simultaneously. Other “experts” say that phonemic awareness is strictly an auditory skill and that including letters slows children’s learning. Help!

I have some children who, no matter what, don’t seem to be making any progress with phonemic awareness. These three are the only ones who have not progressed to phonics instruction. What should I do?

Shanahan’s response:

This is one of those, “Do we follow theory or data” questions. I’m a data man, myself.

Many educators tout the idea that phonemic awareness (PA) is an auditory skill and that it, therefore, must be learned auditorilly. And, indeed, there are many people who see learning to read as a rigidly sequential exercise… progressing unerringly from phonemic awareness to decoding to text reading fluency to reading comprehension to writing – accomplish one and then you’re prepared to take on the next.

All that makes sense.

Or, it does, at least, until you start teaching 5- and 6-year-old children...

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