Reading instruction doesn’t often grab headlines in mainstream media. More and more news outlets across the country, though, report on a growing shift in reading instruction in early education. That’s good news. Even better is the welcome return of phonemic awareness and phonics, key building blocks of good, effective reading instruction. Good for students AND good for educators.
The not so good news, which isn’t really news to many of us here in the US, is that reading proficiency scores have been abysmal for decades.
The National Reading Panel’s report in 2000 aimed to change that for the better, and yet, the report went largely ignored. (Find key takeaways from that report in Phonemes vs Phonemic Awareness vs Phonological Awareness, and Why it Matters to You.)
Reading Instruction That Works
I’m not going to step into the political hornet’s nest to discuss WHY reading instruction continues to fail many of our young learners to this day. This failure, by the way, persists even AFTER the report in 2000 identified what does and does not help students learn to read. It persists even AFTER many states passed laws to ensure that reading instruction be effective, that it include what actually works.
Instead of finger-pointing, I’ll simply rejoice in the fact that in some parts of the country, in some school districts, reading instruction in the classroom is shifting back toward what’s effective for the majority of students, even students who learn differently. Teachers are embracing a higher emphasis on phonics and phonemic awareness instruction.
Phonemic Awareness, The Unsung Hero of Effective Reading Instruction
As I’ve mentioned many times before, phonemic awareness must come first. Without it, phonics instruction will leave you spinning in circles, scratching your head, wondering why some students are unable to decode or encode even the simplest of words.
Without strong phonemic awareness, students struggle with reading and spelling for years. Even for students with dyslexia, I believe this is entirely avoidable! The question remains, will phonemic awareness make a comeback in classrooms across America?
I’m a little worried that, despite the very welcome reporting, phonemic awareness doesn’t receive as much attention as phonics instruction does. Perhaps phonemic awareness appears lost in the shuffle because the term itself sounds confusing, especially to a mainstream audience.
So, let’s be crystal clear about phonemic awareness, and how important it is. Children need to know (and must be taught explicitly) that words are made up of individual sounds. When we move those sounds around, we create different words. Only AFTER students recognize the individual SOUNDS in words do we teach them what letters LOOK like (phonics). Skip this crucial step and you may inadvertently wind up with a classroom full of non-readers.
Learn more about the difference between these terms, plus how to teach this critical reading skill, in a phonemic awareness video available for purchase.
Once phonemic awareness is strong, this complete bundle of multisensory phonics materials teaches learners how to connect the sounds of letters to their written symbols. While targeted to struggling readers specifically, all activities inside the bundle make great additions to your general education phonics instruction and practice.