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Children need phonological awareness in order to learn to read. Children with phonological awareness have the ability to break oral language down into smaller units and to manipulate sounds. For example, sentences can be broken down into words, words can be broken down into syllables and syllables can be broken down into phonemes or individual sounds. Manipulating sounds involves substituting one sound for another, deleting sounds and adding sounds. Phonological awareness begins with rhyming and progresses through increasingly difficult tasks such as segmenting sentences, segmenting syllables, blending sounds, identifying the onset and rime in words and segmenting and blending phonemes to create words.
Phonological awareness precedes phonemic awareness, which is the awareness that phonemes are used to create words and can be changed to create new words. Phonological awareness and phonemic awareness is not the same thing as phonics. Phonics involves teaching students the correspondence between spoken sounds and written symbols.
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Phonological awareness assessments are used to identify children who may experience difficulty learning to read and to assess the progress of children receiving phonological awareness interventions. Assessments typically require children to rapidly name letters, segment words into onset and rhymes, segment words into individual sounds and blend sounds into words. Many schools routinely assess all students in lower elementary school grades in order to identify children who may need explicit instruction in phonological awareness. Some children naturally acquire phonological awareness, but many others need to teach phonological awareness skills through direct instruction in skills such as rhyming and dividing spoken words into syllables and individual sounds.
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According to LDonline, the most common tests of phonological awareness include:
- Test of Phonological Awareness - Kindergarten (TOPA-K) by Torgesen and Davis
- Nonword Spelling Measure by Torgesen and Davis
- Dynamic Indicators of Early Literacy by Kaminski and Good
- Yopp-SingerTest of Phoneme Segmentation
- Bruce Test of Phoneme Deletion
- Auditory Analysis Test
- DIBELS by Kaminski and Good
Teachers who want to conduct an informal assessment of their student's phonological awareness may want to consider forms available at ReadingA-Z.com.
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Teachers should use the results of phonological awareness assessments to plan targeted instruction for their students. Analysis of assessment results should indicate where weaknesses exist so that teachers can plan instructional interventions to teach missing skills. Students who do not master phonological awareness will continue to struggle with more complex reading skills for years to come. Many instructional interventions involve word play and require minimal preparation and materials. However, phonological awareness interventions do require instructional time each day and interventions should be presented systematically beginning with the least complex to the most complex phonological tasks. For example, rhyming should be taught and mastered well before attempting to segment phonemes. Skipping steps along the phonological awareness continuum will result in an incomplete understanding of phonological awareness skills needed to learn to read successfully.