Saturday, February 14, 2015

Rethinking Phonological Awareness

For most of my teaching career I focused primarily on phonics instruction to teach reading with a little bit of phonological awareness mixed in. I recently realized this was the exact opposite of what I should have been doing.

While I new what phonological awareness was and how to teach the different aspects of it, I spent more time pushing letter and individual sound recognition and less time counting words in a sentence, segmenting and blending syllables, onset-rime, alliteration, and rhyming. Do not misunderstand me. I did all of these things with my students. We read books with word play, counted words in sentences and in the titles of books, we played rhyming and alliteration games, and worked with word families. However, in hindsight I should have spent more time on these skills and less time drilling the letters and sounds. 

If you are like me, then you have listened to sessions and read books and articles about phonological awareness for years and you know it represents a critical step in helping young children understand that letters or groups of letters can represent phonemes or sounds, but have you really thought about what that means? I realized recently that I missed the boat entirely and have spent most of my time teaching in reverse. 

This version of the phonological awareness continuum comes from the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, but you can search phonological awareness continuum on the internet and find all sorts of variations on it. While the other versions may vary slightly, one component consistently remains the same throughout them all... hearing individual phonemes in words is always at the top of the structure and it is always the smallest component on the continuum. This was a bit of an aw-haw moment for me so I thought I would share it with everyone just in case you were like me and you were seeing things backwards.

With this continuum in mind, I reflected back on my literacy instruction and what I would need to change in it. I needed less time drilling letters and sounds- even if all of my students were actively engaged in the games, activities, and songs I was using to teach the letters, I realized I needed to have less of a focus on individual sounds and more of the same types of activities related to rhyming, alliteration, onset- rime, segmenting and blending chunks, and sentence segmenting. Then as my students developed in these skills, I could then move up the pyramid and spend more time on individual phoneme segmenting, blending, and manipulation. 

If your students are well developed in phonological skills then they will have a head start in making sense of how letters and sounds operate in print. The ability to segment sentences and syllables, blend syllables, identify beginning sounds, rhyme, segment and blend onset rimes is important for using letter sound knowledge effectively in reading and writing. A student's level of phonological awareness at the end of kindergarten is one of the strongest predictors of future reading success.  

Phonological awareness also interacts with and facilitates the development of vocabulary and word consciousness. This point is made far less often than others. Phonological awareness and memory are involved in several activities connected to word learning. They are attending to unfamiliar words and comparing them with known words, repeating and pronouncing words correctly, remembering and encoding words accurately so that they can be retrieved and used, and differentiating words that sound similar so their meanings can be contrasted. 

So... my lesson learned was spend more time on rhyming, alliteration, and segmenting and blending bigger chunks of letters and sounds and gradually work up to spending more time on individual letters and sounds as students are developed in the other areas. It's not an all or none type of relationship, but rather it is spending more time at the bottom of the pyramid in the beginning, touching on all areas all of the time, and gradually spending more time at the top of the pyramid as students are ready. 

Here are a few phonological awareness activities I found that I thought kids would really enjoy playing and that would target all of the areas on the pyramid. 

Sentence Segmenting Activities

This is one of my department's model teachers. She uses small wooden blocks to segment the sentences in their morning message each day. For morning message, she models touching and counting the blocks while the students count with her. 

Have students add small balls or counters to a cup as they say the sentence out loud. 

Syllable Segmenting/Blending/Rhyming

Use LEGO blocks for counting syllables in a word. Picture cards are great for the little ones. This idea came from This Reading Mama

Teach syllables using photos of your students. These syllable counting ideas came from Karen Cox at Prekinders. These syllable counting ideas came from Karen Cox at Prekinders. Karen also has a great syllable counting unit on TPT. You can click here to check the unit out.

Use musical instruments to beat or tap out the syllables in words. This idea came from JDaniel4's Mom

My students always loved these dabber units. Working with a dabber always made learning more fun for them. This unit contains a variety of great literacy activities and small group instruction. Check out the unit by the Printable Princess here

Have students throw a snowball in the air. Then pick up a snowball and find their rhyming partner. This idea came from Kindergarten Rocks!

Pick an object and say its name out loud. Then look for another object in the basket that rhymes with the first object. Read more about this activity from the Imagination Tree here

I love this simple yes/no version of rhyming bingo. You can download a free copy  here from Heidi's website Heidi Songs. Check out all of Heidi's great songs that teach and free downloads on her home page

Onset Rime Segmenting and Blending/Alliteration

Rather than having students only identify the beginning sound of a single word, have them sort words by their beginning sound so that they have the opportunity to make some comparisons and listen for similarities and differences. 

Phoneme Segmenting/Blending/and Manipulation

Hop out the sounds in words- from Mrs. Ricca's Kindergarten 

Segment phonemes using a variety of manipulatives- from Make, Take & Teach