Integration of Letter-Sound Correspondences and Phonological Awareness Skills of Blending and Segmenting: A Pilot Study Examining the Effects of Instructional Sequence on Word Reading for Kindergarten Children with Low Phonological Awareness

Article excerpt

Abstract. Research evidence indicates that integration of letter sounds with phonological blending and segmenting is critical for acquisition of beginning word reading skills. Yet, a review of kindergarten intervention studies revealed that the optimal sequence for integrating these two component skills has not been investigated empirically. In this pilot study, two sequences for integrating and teaching letter-sound correspondences and phonological blending and segmenting were compared to determine which sequence resulted in higher word reading and phonological awareness performance and higher rates of growth for kindergarten children with low phonemic segmentation skills. Fifty-five children, 36 with phonemic segmentation deficits, were randomly assigned to two instructional conditions: (a) parallel, integrated (PI), or (b) parallel, non-integrated (PN-I) sequence. At posttest, initial segmentation skills explained only 7% of the variance for the PI group and 36% of the variance for the PN-I group on segmentation fluency measures. The PI sequence "closed the gap" in phonemic segmentation between children with low segmentation skills and children with adequate skills by posttest. Children in the PI sequence also performed reliably higher on word reading generalization at posttest and maintenance, and the rate of change in the growth trajectory for letter-sound fluency was greater for the PI sequence.

Recent promulgation and implementation of the "Early Reading First" and the "Reading First" initiatives as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 represents a nationwide effort to help all students become readers by grade three (No Child Left Behind Act, 2001). These initiatives focus on early identification, intervention and prevention of reading failure for all children, but especially young children at risk of future reading disabilities.

Prior to these initiatives, more than two decades of research have investigated questions related to phonological and alphabetic awareness and successful acquisition of beginning reading skills (e.g., Adams, 1990; Ball & Blachman, 1988, 1991; Lewkowicz, 1980; Liberman & Shankweiler, 1985; National Reading Panel, 2000; Stanovich, 1986; Torgesen & Davis, 1996; Wagner, 1988; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). Several "big ideas" (Kameenui & Carnine, 1998) have emerged from this research base.

First, in beginning reading, phonological awareness is critical, especially in kindergarten, because it forms the foundation for developing alphabetic understanding, a skill that requires children to map the individual sounds in words onto the letters of the alphabet in order to be able to read words (e.g., Adams, 1990; Ball & Blachman, 1991; Footman, Francis, Beeler, Winikates, & Fletcher, 1997; National Reading Panel, 2000; Smith, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1998).

Second, converging evidence suggests that specific phonological tasks, especially phonemic segmentation, are strong predictors of beginning reading ability (Muter, Hulme, Snowling, & Taylor, 1997; Kaminski & Good, 1996; O'Connor & Jenkins, 1999; Snider, 1997; Spector, 1992; Wagner, Torgesen, Rashotte, Hecht, Barker, et al., 1997; Yopp, 1988), and that the phonological awareness skills of phonemic segmentation and phonemic blending are necessary prerequisites for success in learning to read (Ball & Blachman, 1988, 1991; Davidson & Jenkins, 1994; Fox & Routh, 1984; O'Connor, Jenkins, & Slocum, 1995; Torgesen, Morgan, & Davis, 1992).

Third, phonological awareness skills are teachable (e.g., Adams, 1990; Ball & Blachman, 1988, 1991; Brady, Fowler, Stone, & Winbury, 1994; Cunningham, 1990; O'Connor et al., 1995; National Reading Panel, 2000; Smith et al., 1998). Thus, instruction often results in significant gains in phonological awareness skills for most children. Those who received phonological awareness instruction and subsequently demonstrated increases in these skills had higher scores on measures of reading achievement than children who did not receive phonological awareness instruction (Ball & Blachman, 1991; Cunningham, 1990; Fox & Routh, 1984; Davidson & Jenkins, 1994; O'Connor et al. …