Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

An Alternative Approach to the Measurement of Phoneme Discrimination and Segmentation in Young Children

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

An Alternative Approach to the Measurement of Phoneme Discrimination and Segmentation in Young Children

Article excerpt

Proficient reading depends upon efficient, effortless, and automatic word recognition. The foundation for word recognition and reading development in general is based on knowledge of orthographic symbols (letters of the alphabet) and a conscious understanding that spoken words are made up of smaller units of sound (Adams, 1990, 2002; Gillon, 2004; Juel, 1988; Lundberg, Olofsson, & Wall, 1980; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; Share, Jorm, Maclean, & Matthews, 1984; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Stanovich, 2000; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer, 1984; Torgesen & Wagner, 1998). The conscious understanding of the sound structure of oral language is referred to as phonological awareness (1) and may be considered a fundamental component of emergent reading ability especially pertinent to the development of literacy in young children.

Since phonological awareness at entry to school is correlated with future reading success, it would be useful to have a practical screening test or early identification measure to gauge children's skills and identify children who might need alternative instruction in order to attain literacy. Current assessments of phonological awareness often are deemed impractical and inappropriate for children as young as four and five years old, in part, because they tend not to be engaging and motivating for young children (Heath & Hogben, 2004; National Reading Panel, 2000; Share, Jorm, Maclean, & Matthews, 1984). Further, the experimental procedures used in numerous studies of phonological awareness often lack a contextual experience. In a 1974 study conducted by Liberman, Shankweiler, Fischer, and Carter, the researchers required children to engage in a tapping task involving isolated words, whereby children would tap a wooden dowel on a table in order to represent the sound segments in the words. Similarly, the study conducted by Lundberg, Olofsson, and Wall (1980) required children to place a peg in a board in order to represent each syllable in a given word presented in isolation. An additional component of this study required children to listen to isolated syllables and then identify and produce a multisyllabic word. While the research methodologies of these studies have provided insight into children's phonological awareness, the experimental procedures do not intrinsically engage children's interest, nor do they contain adequate motivational mechanisms for young children.

The importance of identifying children who might require alternative instruction to attain adequate literacy skills is particularly relevant in early childhood education. Research has indicated that children who have language deficits, particularly in the phonological domain (e.g. the ability to make distinctions between sounds in oral language), experience the greatest difficulty in mastering the alphabetic code (Gillon, 2004; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading panel, 2000; Vellutino & Scanlon, 2002). Further, research has indicated that poor readers and children with specific reading impairments or dyslexia demonstrate significantly lower phonological awareness ability than their peers. In short, numerous studies have shown that reading impairments are associated with a core deficit in the area of phonological knowledge (Adams, 1990; Gillon, 2004; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; Vellutino & Scanlon, 2002). Early identification of deficits in the area of phonological processing can influence emergent literacy instruction for monolingual English speaking students and for those who are learning English as a second language and may avert the need for more intensive special education programming and interventions in the later school years (Linklater, O'Connor & Palardy, 2009).

In order to ensure all children are provided with the requisite skills necessary to attain adequate reading competence, it is incumbent upon educators to utilise valid and reliable assessment instruments with young children upon school entry. …

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