Throwback (2013): Phonological awareness: A little goes a long way!

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The authors of this study found that a short and intensive phonological awareness (PA) intervention increased the literacy outcomes of young children with and without language disorder.

The study included a large group of 5-year-olds, some of whom received PA intervention from their teachers, while the rest got “business as usual” reading instruction, which included phonics but not PA. The PA intervention was a classroom-adapted version of the Phonological Awareness Training Program (PAT; Gillon, 2000, 2005), which lasted 10 weeks, with teachers providing four 30-minute sessions per week on the following skills: rhyming, initial phoneme identification, final phoneme identification, phoneme blending, phoneme segmentation, and sound manipulation.

After the 10 weeks, the children who received the intervention improved more in phoneme awareness, reading, and spelling measures, compared to those receiving their typical reading curriculum. These children also maintained their advantage until the end of the school year (3-6 months later), with higher scores in word decoding and comprehension.

The 7 children with LD in the intervention group showed greater improvements compared to the business-as-usual group, however their improvements differed from their peers without LD who also received the PA intervention. The LD children made larger improvements in early PA skills such as initial phoneme identification, while the non-LD children made larger improvements in reading and spelling measures. The authors make sense of this by stating that children with LD most likely “had more scope for growth in these early PA skills”, however “were less able to transfer their enhanced PA knowledge” compared to children with stronger language abilities.

If working with young students in the early stages of literacy, delivering a shorter period of intensive PA instruction may be the way to go. Let’s be honest—the school days are already jam-packed and we need something manageable to integrate into our day. This study showed that a relatively quick and intensive, teacher-delivered intervention in phonological awareness can have a positive and lasting impact.

Carson, K. L., Gillon, G. T., & Boustead, T. M. (2013). Classroom phonological awareness instruction and literacy outcomes in the first year of school. Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 44, 147. doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2012/11-0061)