Monday, August 1, 2016

Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Principle: Both Are Important

Many times people confuse the terms phonemic awareness and alphabetic principle. Both of these are important for our young learners. Be sure you know the difference so you can help children be school-ready. 

Phonemic awareness is the ability to manipulate the sounds of the language. This means children should be able to take off the first sound of words like mat, /m/, to say the remaining word is at. Additionally children should be able to say the three sounds (phonemes) in the word, mat - /m/, /a/, /t/. This should also be done in reverse. Can children say the word mat if you say the three phonemes, /m/, /a/, /t/? 

The key is that practice in phonemic awareness is all done orally! There are no letters involved. Sound "play" is key. And the results of a child having strong awareness of language sounds are compelling. The National Reading Panel (2000) cites the link between strong phonemic awareness and later abilities in phonics.

If phonemic awareness is all oral, then what do we call it when letters are involved? This is alphabetic principle. This is often confused with phonemic awareness and the result is that children do not get enough exploration with only sounds. 

When children are taught that this is an m, that is part of alphabetic principle. A child who can point to letters in his or her name, is exhibiting alphabetic principle. When a child points to m and tells you it says /m/, this is alphabetic principle.

Obviously alphabetic principle is important, but we can't forget about phonemic awareness. There is such a strong research-based correlation between phonemic awareness and later reading abilities, that we need to be sure we are allowing for this all oral language "play."  

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.E.06 & 2.E.07.
Head Start - VII. B & C.

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