Volume 14, Number 6
Learning to Listen May Help Children Learn to Read
Researchers examine whether lessons in "phonemic awareness" can prevent reading problems
In the early 1990s, language arts coordinator Marguerite Held was put in charge of working with students who, for some reason, were not reading at all by January of their 1st-grade year. The school was in a suburban district outside Houston, TX. The students were largely middle-class, with parents who had read to them at home. Their teachers had introduced them to phonics as part of the district's literature-based program, yet some students were still unable to read.This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.
Held, a teacher for 17 years, had a hunch what was wrong. "They all had a similar problem, and that was that they could identify the individual sounds [of the alphabet], but they couldn't blend them. They couldn't take the word mat and make it into cat, bat, or rat without really thinking about it." In other words, these students didn't understand that the "m" of "mat" was separable from the "at," that the letter "m" represented that particular sound, and that putting the sounds (represented by other letters) into the same slot in the word would generate different words. This understanding constitutes "phonemic awareness." In short, their prognosis for becoming "real readers," Held realized, was poor.