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Phonemic Awareness Studies 1980's

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 5 months ago


Vanessa Avis

Kathi Crittenden

Sara Mcginnis




Strong Correlations

Moderate Correlations

Weak Correlations





Currently the topic of Phonemic Awareness and its use as a predictor of future reading achievement for beginning readers is under much scrutiny and a source of great debate. Many researchers are opposed to the current reading legislation based on the National Reading Panel’s report. This is a new revelation since the 1980’s. Many of the studies that took place in the 1980’s proved that phonemic awareness is a great predictor for later reading achievement. Many studies have shown that teaching phonemic awareness to those who don’t have it can significantly improve their subsequent reading achievement (Bradley & Bryant, 1983).


Phonemic awareness was believed to be taught only in elementary grades and only taught if the child did not have knowledge of the meaning of words or did not attend to them when asked about a word (Gough, Larson, & Yopp, 1989). The definition of phonemic awareness has changed over the years. Phonemic awareness is now defined as the awareness that words are composed of separable sounds that are blended to produce words (Pressley, 2006).


Strong Correlations


Studies on the reading process in the 1980’s were aimed at determining which skills students needed to acquire, and in which order, for successful reading achievement to occur. It was agreed that mastery and automaticity of lower level skills were critical in order to achieve higher cognitive processes (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986). One prominent longitudinal study from Great Britain claimed that phonemic awareness had a causal relationship to early reading (Bradley, & Bryant, 1983). While most studies did not support such a vigorous claim, it became widely accepted that a minimal level of phonemic awareness is required for successful reading and writing development to progress with ease, and in its absence students have a more difficult time breaking the alphabetic code, which is a precursor to early literacy (Juel et al., 1986; Ehri, 1987; Stanovich, 1986). Phonemic awareness was thought of as the necessary link that enabled children to move from oral language to printed text.



The research of the 1980’s began to establish a sequence of phonemic awareness skills beginning with an awareness of rhyme, to differentiating initial and final consonant sounds, and culminating with the more difficult tasks of blending and segmenting sounds within words. Knowledge that the spoken word can be broken down into smaller units is a powerful determinant of reading acquisition (Juel et al.,1986). By the end of the 1980’s the research focused on the more advanced forms of phonemic awareness tasks, such as segmentation, and repeatedly proved to be highly predictive of future reading success in grades one and two(Ehri, 1987; Juel et al.; 1986, Stanovich, 1986). Researchers of this era concluded that in order for the most advanced levels of phonemic awareness to develop, the skills must be explicitly taught and that while phonemic awareness may not have a causal effect on reading, instruction of these skills has a positive long term affect.



Moderate Correlations

In a study done by Hallie Yopp, the validity and reliability of phonemic awareness tests could not be determined because the wide variety of phonemic tasks made it difficult to evaluate and compare the research. Eleven phonemic awareness tests were evaluated. These tests used blending and segmenting phonemes and syllables both orally and concretely. The children also had to identify a specific sound in a word, rhyme, and rhyme production. The tests were highly interrelated. In the phonemic awareness tests that were analyzed only three had the reliability coefficients of .90 which Jensen (1980) suggests as the accepted standard. Most of the tests of phonemic awareness were positively and highly correlated. For a test to have good predictive value of phonemic awareness, it should contain a combination of two tests: Simple phonemic awareness and compound phonemic awareness. This combination has a greater predictive validity than other tests given independently.


In an experiment by Beech and Harding(1984), Phonemic processing and the poor reader from a developmental lag viewpoint, poor readers were compared to younger readers and to normal readers as the same age of the poor readers. The tests given included rhyme production, odd-word-out, rhyme recognition, and segmentation. The results concluded the phonemic skills of poor readers equal that of the younger readers. The normal readers (the same age chronologically as the poor readers) scored higher than the poor readers in all tests involving phonemic processing did.Some questions raised by this experiment are if poor readers were at the same level in phonemic processing at a younger age and their development was delayed. Or did they start their reading development at a lower stage and were simply improving at a slower pace than their peers?


The article, Young children’s concepts about print and reading: Toward a model of word reading acquisition, research was conducted to study children’s knowledge in reading and writing prior to entering school. Little had been done in studying the relationship between print knowledge and reading ability. Lomax and Mcgee (1987) tested 81 children ranging from three years to first grade using the Clymer-Barrett Readiness Test 3 and 4 and Diagnostic Reading Scales. The results show that young children show a great deal of knowledge about written language and the reading process. Young children can discriminate between letters and some words and displayed knowledge of the alphabet. One issue with the validity of the study is all the children who were tested were in a pre-school or elementary school setting and had some instruction in reading and written language. The testing did not include children from day care or other settings where the children had not been exposed to reading activities.



Weak Correlations

This study entitled, Phonemic Awareness Training: What to teach and how to teach it, explores the different ways that were thought to improve phonemic awareness. The study discusses several different tasks including sound-to-sound matching, word-to-word matching, recognition of rhyme, isolation, phonemic segmentation, counting phonemes, blending, deletion, and substitution. The results from the study turned out not to be very strong. The researchers had no data to compare their finding to and there were no strong correlations to be found. There was not enough of a variance between the groups with specific tasks and the groups with regular instruction.








The importance of phonemic awareness as a foundation for basic reading skill development has been demonstrated in past and present studies (Ehri, 1986). These studies have also proven the importance of phonemic awareness assessment and remedial instruction for students who are not phonemically aware. Phonemic awareness is one of the hottest topics when it comes to government reports and reviews from the National Reading Panel. The education community is just beginning to understand that phonemic awareness is a very important predictor and that it must have their attention. We now know that phonemic awareness is one of the greatest predictors for students achievement on the third grade standardized test. As educators, we need to make sure that we do everything possible to assess and remediate students that lack the phonemic knowledge necessary to meet the required achievement levels.




Beech, J.R., & Harding, L.M. (1984). Phonemic processing and the poor reader from a developmental lag viewpoint. Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 357-366.


Bear, D., & Barone, D. (1989). Using children’s spellings to group for word study and directed reading in primary classroom. Reading Psychology, 10, 275-292.


Bradley, L., & Bryant, P. E. (1983). Categorizing sounds and learning to read-a causal connection. Nature, 301, 419-421.


Ehri, L. C. (1987). Learning to Read and Spell words. Journal of Reading Behavior, 19, 5-31.


Ehri, L. C., & Wilce, L. S. (1987). Does learning to spell help beginners learn to read words. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 47- 65.


Gough, P. B., Larson, K. C., & Yopp, H. (1989). The Structure of Phonemic Awareness.


Juel, C., Griffith, P., & Gough, P. (1986). Acquisition of literacy: A longitudinal study of children in first and second grade. Journal of Educational Psychology, 78,243-255.


Lewkowicz, N. A. (1980). Phonemic awareness training: what to teach and how to teach it. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72 686-700.


Lomax, R. G., & Mcgree, L. M. (1987) Young children’s concepts about print and reading: Toward a model of reading acquisition. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 237-256.


Pressley, M. (2006). Reading instruction that works: The case for balanced literacy. (pp. 96-143). New York: Guilford Press.


Share, D. L. Jorm, A. F., Maclean, R., & Matthews, R, (1984). Sources of individual differences in reading acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 1309-1324.


Stanovich, K. E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 360-407.


Stanovich, K. E., Cunningham, A. E., & Feeman, D. J. (1984). Intelligence, cognitive skills, and early reading progress. Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 278- 303.


Wagner, R. K., & Torgesen, J. K. (1987). The nature of phonological processing and its causal role in the acquisition of reading skills. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 192-212.


Yopp, H. K. (1988). The validity and reliability of phonemic awareness tests. Reading Research Quarterly, 23. 159-177.


External Links:


International Reading Association


What about reading? What about Phonics?


What research says about Phonemic Awareness




Phonemic Awareness



Commentary by Paul Stewart

This commentary is specifically for Vanessa Avis (15). However, since it is a group project, it also includes Kathi Crittenden and Sara Mcginnis. I think your group did a great job of reviewing PA in the 1980’s. I have a couple of suggestions, the first one is you might consider adding the following to your introduction, “Over the years an enormous amount of research effort has gone into evaluating whether instruction in specific letter-sound correspondences was important for reading acquisition. The two famous reading research reviews by the Commission on Reading (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985) and Adams (1988) both concluded that the research supported an explicit phonics approach. Similar conclusions were drawn from a meta-analysis conducted by Pflaum, Walberg, Karagianes, and Rasher (1980), and in a longitudinal study on reading comprehension acquisition (Meyer, Hastings, Wardrop, & Linn, 1988)”.


Adams, M. (1988). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Anderson, R., Hiebert, E., Scott, J., & Wilkinson, I. (1985). Becoming a nation of readers: The report of the commission on reading. Washington DC: National Institute of Education.

Meyer, L. A., Hastings, C. N., Wardrop, J. L., & Linn, R. L. (1988). How entering ability and instructional settings, not the length of the school day, mediates kindergartners' reading performance. Final report submitted to the OREI.

Pflaum, S., Walberg, H. J., Karigianes, M. L., & Rasher, S. P. (1980). Reading instruction: A quantitative analysis. Educational Researcher, 12-18.


The second one is to italicize Young children’s concepts about print and reading: Toward a model of word reading acquisition in the third paragraph of Moderate Correlations.

End of commentary by Paul Stewart


Comments by Clark Barrow to Phonemic Awareness Studies 1980s


Hi guys,

I really like the way you start the first paragraph. It builds interest because you tell how some researchers believe phonemic awareness is a predictor and some believe it is not. My only suggestion here is that after the second sentence, you might cite a couple of research studies from the 1980s that oppose phonemic awareness as a predictor. I think a citation would also enhance your third sentence. I also like how you define phonemic awareness in your second paragraph.


Your third paragraph is very exciting. My suggestion here is that your citation “ (Juel, et al. 1986, Ehri, 1987, Stanovich, 1986)” should read (Juel et al., 1986; Erin, 1987; Stanovich, 1986). See APA code 3.99.

In para. 4, “(Juel, et al. 1986)” should read (Juel et al., 1986). I don’t believe we put a comma behind the author’s name and before et al. unless there are more than one author. See 3.95 of APA, also shown on pg. 307 of the APA manual. Same para., ” (Ehri, 1987, Juel, et al. 1986, Stanovich, 1986)” should be (Ehri, 1987; Juel et al., 1986; Stanovich, 1986).

In para. 5, “In a study done by Hallie Yopp, the …” needs the year after Yopp. Many of my teachers have told me not to use the first names of researchers because it could introduce biases because of the researcher’s sex. So, it could read, “In a study done by Yopp (1988)” However, I think this is a matter of the writer’s opinion – maybe.

Para. 6: “In an experiment by Beech and Harding,” –> “In an experiment by Beech and Harding (1984)”

I like the way you present the question of validity in the Lomax and Mcgee (1987) study.

You have a very good and extensive use of references.

I think your article flows very well and I like the way you divided it into strong, moderate, and weak correlation studies.


End of comments by Clark Barrow


Commentary by Christy Nobles

Hello ladies - I think that the guys above covered it all pretty well and I think that your Wiki is very infromative and very interesting. I do feel that you throughly covered the topic clearly and directly without any unnecessary information. One could spend an unreasonable amount of time adding information to a Wiki and making it so informational that there would be no need to look any further. The purpose of this Wiki is to be informative and concise in your findings. I feel that you completely accomplished this task. I think that this was a very well done page!



Commentary by Stacee Jennings


Hello girls. Excellent job! I especially liked how you structured your report according to strength of correlations. I understand how difficult it is to get so much information into 2 pages, but I thought you all did a fantastic job. I just have a few suggestions. Here they are:


1. In the last paragraph of the "Strong Correlations" section, you need to move the period to after the citation. It's in the sentence that reads, "By the end of the 1980’s the research focused on the more advanced forms of phonemic awareness tasks, such as segmentation, and repeatedly proved to be highly predictive of future reading success in grades one and two. (Ehri, 1987, Juel, et al. 1986, Stanovich, 1986)"


2. In the sentence that reads, "Or did they start their reading development at a lower stage and was simply improving at a slower pace than their peers?," (second paragraph of "moderate correlations") you should change "was" to "were" to match the plural tense of "they."


3. Lastly, I think it would be helpful if you included an external link to the National Reading Panel website since you refer to it throughout the report. The website is National Reading Panel. We have two links that take you to that website!


Again, excellent job!


End of comments by Stacee Jennings

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