The question of the effectiveness of the educational strategy used in instructing children is of great concern to all players. Research in this area has led to reading instruction suggestions. The elements of reading instructions entail phonic instruction, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, text comprehension and fluency. Here we examine phonemic awareness and phonics instruction (Ambruster & Osborn, 2006, p. 8).
Phonemic Awareness Definition
Phonemic awareness refers to the grasping, internalizing and ease of use of the sounds in spoken words. The phonemic awareness of children can be improved by employing the following instruction guidelines: the isolation of sounds in a given word. For instance, a drill with different words can be administered to the child to help the child recognize the first sound in each of them. Helping children identify same sounds in different words, categorizing words by the sounds in their pronunciation, helping children to learn to combine sounds to make a word, teaching them to break a word into its constituent sounds, helping them form different words by removing some sounds from some specific words e.g. deleting /s/ from smile to form mile. Phonemic awareness can also be taught by teaching children addition of sounds to words to form different words and substitution of sounds in a word to form a different word (Ambruster & Osborn, 2006, pp. 14-15).
The benefit of phonemic awareness instruction in children is pretty obvious. It, undoubtedly, improves their reading skills and also improves their ability to comprehend written words which is, of course, aided by the vocabulary and experiences of the child. It also helps children to learn how to spell words. This is particularly true if the instruction has helped the child learn how to separate phonemes from a word (Ambruster & Osborn, 2006, p. 15).
For phonemic awareness instruction to be substantially effective, a number of strategies have to be employed. It is most effective if it is taught along with letters of alphabet. The joining of sounds with letters helps children to learn how to read and the breaking down of words to their constituent phonemes helps them to learn the spelling of words. The most effective way of imparting instructions on phonemic awareness to children is by ensuring that children are only taught about one form of phoneme manipulation, before moving on to the next. Teaching more than two types of phoneme manipulation leaves the children confused and not knowing when to use which kind of manipulation. It also becomes hard to limit the types of phoneme manipulation to those that are easy for the children to understand (Ambruster & Osborn, 2006, pp. 15-16).
Instructions in phonics are meant to instill graphonemic relationships in children, that is, relationship between the letters that form written language- graphemes and the sounds that form spoken language- phonemes. This relationship helps children to learn how to read and write (Ambruster & Osborn, 2006, p. 21).
Systematic phonics instruction- the teaching of spelling/sound relationships in a given order or sequence has proved to be a major contribution to phonics instruction. It provides children with a progressive way of learning spellings and pronunciations. It improves the word recognition and spelling abilities of children in kindergarten and first grade. It has been proved that children in kindergarten and first grade who receive systematic phonics instruction are better in spelling and reading than their colleagues who receive non-systematic instruction. Systematic phonics instruction also contributes to the comprehension ability of the children. Children who receive systematic phonics instruction are able to comprehend what they read more than those who receive non-systematic phonic instruction or no phonics instruction since they are able to spell and read words accurately. Children from different socioeconomic backgrounds benefit greatly from systematic phonic instruction as compared to non-systematic phonic instruction or no phonic instruction at all. For children who have special reading and pronunciation problems, systematic phonics instruction is particularly more helpful than non-systematic phonic instruction or no phonic instruction at all. The effectiveness of systematic phonics instruction is determined by the stage at which it is introduced. The earlier the stage the more effective the instruction is. Thus, children should start systematic phonics instruction in kindergarten or first grade. In addition to phonics instruction, children should perfect their reading skills writing skills and social skills while at the same time building their phonemic skills. (Ambruster & Osborn, 2006, pp. 21-24).
Phonemic awareness and phonics instruction contribute commendably to fluency, mastery of vocabulary and text comprehension, which are the parts of a balanced reading program. Phonemic awareness builds the familiarity of children with words such that during reading, they easily recognize and pronounce them hence they focus their attention to comprehending what they read. This contributes to their reading fluency and text comprehension. When a child develops reading fluency, fluency in speech follows. Phonics instruction is a major contributor to fluency in speech. Through phonics instruction, children learn to pronounce words accurately improving their fluency in speech. This is also a major contributor to text comprehension since by accurately pronouncing words, children learn their spelling and thus they are able to recognize them in print and know their meaning. Phonemic awareness instruction is also a useful tool in helping children build their vocabulary. Through the combining of phonemes to form words, children find themselves learning new words. Graphophonemic relationships, phonic instruction, help children to figure out meanings of new words and also master the spelling of new vocabulary.
Ambruster, B and Osborn, J (2006), Put Reading First.