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Myth #7 -- Phoneme awareness isa consequence (not a cause) of reading acquisition

The evidence showing the importanceof phoneme awareness to literacy acquisition is overwhelming.  Still,there are some that argue that teaching children to develop phoneme awarenessis not necessary or even beneficial.  It is often argued that childrendevelop phoneme awareness as they learn to read, but phoneme awarenessis nothing more than a byproduct of reading acquisition.  Some holdthe view that phoneme awareness instruction is "inauthentic" and "unnatural,"and that it is completely unnecessary because phoneme awareness arisesas a result of learning to decode words -- not the other way around.

The research evidence, however,does not support this view.  It is quite clear that phoneme awarenessis a necessary pre-requisite for developing decoding skills in an alphabeticwriting system such as English. Phoneme awareness in the early grades isone of the best predictors of future reading success.  All successfulreaders have phoneme awareness.  People who do not have phoneme awarenessare always poor readers, and poor readers almost never have phoneme awareness(almost never -- phoneme awareness is necessary but not sufficient forreading success).  However, the most compelling evidence for the importanceof phoneme awareness stems from the research that has shown that when childrenare taught to develop phoneme awareness, they are more likely to developgood word decoding skills, and they develop those skills faster and earlierthan children who are not taught to be aware of phonemes in spoken words.

Given the importance of findingdevelopmentally appropriate ways of helping children to develop foundationalreading skills as early as possible (see the Matthew Effect discussionin Myth #2), assessment of phoneme awareness should begin early, and gamesand lessons that help children to develop an awareness of phonemes in speechshould be used to help those that need it.


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Last Updated 8-7-03