Over the years, strategies for teaching reading to children have varied from phonics to whole language, and back again. Before learning to read and spell, children must firmly grasp that sounds are like building blocks. They must be able to break apart (segment) and put together (blend) sounds in order to read and spell efficiently.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. By providing children with solid phonemic awareness skills, we can equip them with the foundation needed to become good readers and spellers. Research in the areas of literacy and reading instruction has found that a student’s phonemic awareness skills upon entering school, are a strong predictor for later success in reading and that developing solid phonemic awareness via direct instruction, increases the rate of progress in the areas of reading and writing.
For the child with hearing loss, these phonemic awareness skills may not be developed. Many factors influence the phonemic awareness skills of a child with hearing loss. When a child is appropriately amplified early and placed in therapy, where an auditory verbal approach is used, it is likely that phonemic awareness skills will develop within a range of normal. However, for children who are amplified later, not achieving optimal speech perception with amplification, or not using an auditory verbal approach, these skills may need to be taught explicitly. Phonemic awareness requires an “auditory brain”. This is not to say that children that use a more total communication approach can not learn to read. It is just likely that they will need to learn to read via a memorization route.
The key to phonemic awareness is in listening and attending to sounds. In today’s world, children are constantly being bombarded with visuals, from Smartboards, iPads, computers, and T.V. While these forms of technology are excellent for promoting learning, children have fewer opportunities where they are truly required to attend to what they hear. By participating in activities that develop active listening, increase auditory memory, and work on sound discrimination, children can develop stronger phonemic awareness and become better able to manipulate sounds for reading and spelling success.
Use of a multi-sensory approach, such as Sounds In Motion ©, can be especially helpful for developing these skills in young children (preschool and early kindergarten) or children who are having difficulty with letter sound association. Sounds In Motion © uses whole body movements combined with each letter/sound to teach the ability to blend and segment words. I have had a tremendous amount of success using this approach with both students with hearing loss and those with typical hearing who are struggling to learn to read and spell.
In addition to a strong reading program that incorporates phonemic awareness, there are activities that parents can do at home with their children to further develop these crucial listening skills. Ideas include playing with rhyming, reading books without showing the pictures, playing listening games such as “telephone” and “going on a picnic”, and practicing blending and segmenting the sounds in words (without focusing on the alphabet letters).