Teaching letter sounds to children
In this post on child reading, we will discuss how to teach letter sounds to preschoolers. The foundation in your child learning to read lies in the following FIVE basic skills. These are essentially skills related to phonics and phonemic awareness. Therefore, in order to master abc letter sounds, your child MUST be able to:
1. know at least some of the letters in the alphabet.
2. know the letter names and the sounds that they represent.
2. recognize the letters.
4. know the sound of the letters.
5. be able to recognize the letters quickly and say the sound without hesitation.
Is it better to teach letter sounds using whole language programs or through phonemic awareness?
Debate abounds on whether or not it is better to teach children using whole language programs or via methods which incorporate phonics and phonemic awareness. “Whole language” is a method in which children learn to to read by recognizing words as whole pieces of language. In contrast, phonics refers to the study of sound. Phonemic awareness refers to the child’s ability to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes or the perceptually distinct units of sound in a specified language.
In my humble opinion, being no expert, teaching a child via the whole language approach might be the same as putting a pilot in the cockpit before he has learnt the fundamental aspects of flying. This can apply to any other learning skill. The whole language approach defies the principle that learning should progress from simple to complex.
In fact, I do not believe that a whole language approach can be a rationale way to teach reading. This is because it does not match language and speech developmental milestones in early childhood. In fact, learning letter sounds should be able to benefit other age groups.
In fact, babies’ first distinguishable sound is “da da.” This is a consonant and a phenome. Is it possible for babies to be taught phenomes at that age? I wonder!
Research which supports teaching letter sounds via phonics and phonemic awareness
The National Reading Panel was convened in the United States on the request of the US Congress. The purpose, as mandated, was to review the available research on child reading. Their literature search revealed that an estimated 100,000 research studies on reading had been conducted since 1966. More astonishingly, 15,000 research studies on reading had been published before 1966. After deciding on the method of conducting the study, the Panel began to work.
The subgroups of the National Reading Panel asked the following questions:
1. Does instruction in phonemic awareness improve reading? If so, how is this instruction best provided?
2. Does phonics instruction improve reading achievement? If so, how is this instruction best
3. Does guided repeated oral reading instruction improve fluency and reading comprehension? If so, how is this instruction best provided?
4. Does vocabulary instruction improve reading achievement? If so, how is this instruction best
5. Does comprehension strategy instruction improve reading? If so, how is this instruction best provided?
6. Do programs that increase the amount of children’s independent reading improve reading achievement and motivation? If so, how is this instruction best provided?
Highlights of the findings on child reading
The National Reading Panel made the following discoveries in the literature:
Teaching children to manipulate phonemes in words was highly effective across all the literacy domains and outcomes.
Shanahan (2005), expresses the findings :
Focusing only on hearing the sounds can be too abstract for young children. The use of physical representations of sounds can help them understand this concept. For example, many teachers use objects or counters the children can move as they hear each sound. The studies reviewed by the National Reading Panel found that when letter cards were used as counters—giving children a type of combined phonemic awareness and phonics activity—the children progressed fastest.
The panel concluded that the best learning results were obtained when letter instruction was combined with phonemic awareness instruction. Beginning readers benefit from instruction that teaches them to hear the sounds within words (phonemic awareness).
This instruction prepares them for making the link between letters and sounds and should be kept simple, brief, and enjoyable. Phonemic awareness is taught through language songs and games
and other activities that encourage students to listen for the sounds within words.
Students will have successfully accomplished learning phonemic awareness when they can fully segment words with ease; for most children, this can be accomplished during kindergarten or first grade.
However, parents must first master the correct pronunciation of the letter in order to teach it to their children.
Recent studies confirm the outstanding effectiveness of phonemic awareness or letter sounds in reading effectiveness
More recent research has been conducted in phonemic awareness. One of these is an outstanding and rather astonishing study which showed that phonemic awareness (recognition of individual letter sounds) improved brain function in poor readers. This study was conducted by a composite research team from Yale University, (New Haven, Connecticut); Syracuse University (Syracuse, New York); Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee). Funding was provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
The study explored the effect of phonemic awareness on brain function. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a sophisticated brain imaging technology, to observe the brain function of poor readers as they read.
The study consisted of a population of 77 children aged 6 to 9 years old. Forty nine had difficulty reading, and 29 children were good readers. The 49 poor readers were divided into two groups. Twelve of these poor readers were given standard reading instruction that was available through their school systems. The remaining 37 were enrolled in an intensive reading program based on instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics.
The study results showed that the 37 poor readers in the intensive reading program outpaced the 12 poor readers in the standard instruction groups. Those 37 children made strong gains in reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension. These gains were still apparent when the children were tested again a year later.
The researchers also obtained fMRI scans of the childrens’ brains as they read. The sans showed that the brains of the 37 formerly poor readers began functioning like the brains of good readers. Their brains showed increased activity in the area that instantly recognizes words. They did not need to have to decipher the words.
My view is that these results speak about the importance of using phonemic awareness to trigger corresponding rapid brain activity in translating words into meanings.
Stanford University researchers also studied Reading: Brain waves study shows how different teaching methods affect reading development. The researchers found that beginning readers increase activity in the reading area of the brain when they focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, instead of trying to learn whole words.
In this rather complex study, the researchers mapped brain activity when phonemes were used in reading in contrast to whole language reading. To test their question, the researchers devised a new written language and taught children using both using phonics and the whole language approach.
After teaching the new words, they were given to the children in reading lists. The brain waves were simultaneously monitored while the children read these words. The researchers found that there were very rapid brain responses to the newly learned words. However, these responses were influenced by the technique in which the words were learnt.
The brain wave results showed that:
– the left side of the brain became active when the children read Words using the letter-sound instruction approach. The left side of the brain encompasses visual and language regions.
– In contrast, the right side of the brain became active when the children read words learned via whole-word association
Researchers noted that left side brain activity during reading is a hallmark of skilled readers. Left side activity during reading is absent in children and adults who are struggling with reading.
Phonemic awareness also helped the children in other ways. Phonemic awareness subsequently helped the study participants read new words they had never seen before. This applied as long as they followed the same letter-sound patterns they were taught during the study.
This Stanford University study further confirms the absolute necessity of teaching letter sound recognition as a foundation of reading
The Archangels express appreciation to all researchers everywhere who study the amazing capacity of the human brain
Alphabet letter associations
NIH/National Institute Of Child Health And Human Development. (2004, April 20). Imaging Study Reveals Brain Function Of Poor Readers Can Improve. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 17, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/04/040420011157.htm
National Reading Panel. (2000(. Teaching children to read: an evidence based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf
Science Daily. (2019). Child reading. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/search/?keyword=child+reading#gsc.tab=0&gsc.q=child%20reading&gsc.page=1
Science Daily. (2019). Phonemic awareness. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/search/?keyword=phonemic+awareness#gsc.tab=0&gsc.q=phonemic%20awareness&gsc.page=1
Shanahan, T. (2005). The National Reading Panel Approach: Practical Advice For Teachers. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED489535.pdf
Stanford University. (2015, June 1). Reading: Brain waves study shows how different teaching methods affect reading development. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 11, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150601092204.htm