“The future can be bright; dyslexics do and can succeed.”
-Margaret Byrd Rawson
· Agatha Christie, English mystery writer
· Tom Cruise, actor
· Whoopi Goldberg, actress
· Walt Disney, founder of Disneyland, cartoonist
· Charles Schwab, founder of the investment brokerage firm
· Thomas Edison, inventor
· Winston Churchill, former prime minister of Britain
· Leonardo Da Vinci, Renaissance artist
· Harrison Ford, actor
· Jay Leno, comedian
· Robin Williams, actor and comedian
· Albert Einstein, scientist
· Nolan Ryan, athlete
· Harry Belafonte, singer, entertainer
· Cher, entertainer, actress
· Danny Glover, actor
· Gustave Flaubert, writer
· William Hewlett, co-founder, Hewlett-Packard
· Andy Warhol, artist
· John Lennon, musician
· Ted Turner, media mogul, philanthropist
· George Burns, actor, comedian
· Alexander Graham Bell, inventor
· Bruce Jenner, Olympian athlete
· George Patton, U.S. general
· Tom Smothers, comedian
· Henry Winkler, actor
· Billy Bob Thornton, actor
· Nelson Rockefeller, former governor of New York
· Woodrow Wilson, former U.S. president
· William Yeats, poet
· Hans Christian Anderson, author
To begin, many believe that phonological (phonemic) awareness and phonics are the same thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Phonemic awareness is the awareness that words are composed of sequences or strings of individual sounds called phonemes. Phonemes are the smallest parts of sound in a spoken word. For example, the word, “at,” has two sounds or phonemes, / ă / / t /. The word, “dog,” has three phonemes, / d / / ŏ / / g /. Even though the word, “box,” has three letters, it has four phonemes, / b / / ŏ / / k / / s /. As evidenced by the word, “box,” phonemes are completely separate entities from the symbols that we call letters of the alphabet, or graphemes. A grapheme is the smallest part of written language that represents a phoneme in the spelling of a word. A grapheme may be just one letter, such as “t” or “d” or several letters, such as “aw” or “eigh”. Graphemes represent the phonemes in written language.
Students must have the ability to identify and visually image the number, order, and identity of sounds and letters within words. These abilities underlie accurate word attack, word recognition, reading fluency, and spelling. Children who have phonemic awareness skills are likely to have an easier time learning to read and spell than children who have few or none of these skills. Weakness in these functions causes individuals to add, omit, substitute, and reverse sounds and letters within words while reading and spelling.
The five key skills that serve as the foundation of phonemic awareness are:
- Phoneme Replication – the ability to repeat a sound that they hear
- Blending – the ability to join a string of phonemes together to create a word
- Segmenting – the ability to break a word into its individual phonemes
- Substitution/Deletion – the ability to replace a phoneme with a new phoneme, creating a new word
- Rhyming – the ability to find words with the same rhyme
Phonics is the study of the predictable relationship between the phonemes or sounds in our language and the graphemes or letters that we use to represent these sounds. The purpose of phonics instruction is to teach children the sound-symbol relationships and how to use those relationships to read words. To achieve this, phonics instruction must be explicit and systematic. It is explicit in that sound-symbol relationships are directly taught. Students are told, for example, that the letter, “s,” stands for the / s / sound; however, when the letter, “s,” sits between two vowels or follows a voiced sound, the letter, “s,” says / z /. It is systematic in that it follows a scope and sequence that allows children to form and read words early on. The skills taught are constantly reviewed and applied to real reading.
 The onset is the beginning of the word, usually consisting of consonants. The rhyme (rime) is the rest of the word without the initial consonant structure (single consonant, consonant digraph, or consonant blend). For example, in the word, “rest,” the consonant “r” is the onset. The remaining letters in the word, “est,” is the rhyme. Words that end with the phonemes / ĕ / /s/ /t/ rhyme with “rest” (e.g., test, guest, blessed, etc.).
Many proponents of ‘whole language’ feel that, since humans learn to speak their native language through immersion, the act of reading follows a similar pattern and exposure to the printed word leads to the development of reading skills. This reasoning bears a false truth value. A great deal of care and attention to detail must accompany reading instruction because reading is quite different from speech.
In speech, the listener is provided with many clues as to the meaning of the words presented by the speaker. Intonation, pitch, cadence, and body language all provide context clues that assist in the comprehension of auditory signals. Further, according to the Innateness Hypothesis, children are equipped with a blueprint for the innate principles and properties that pertain to the grammars of all spoken human language called universal grammar. Barring neurologically-based developmental delays, children do not require explicit instruction to master the spoken language. Universal Grammar aids the child in the task of constructing the “spoken language”. Structure dependency of the native language and coordinate structure constraint are inherent. Additionally, through stages in oral communication, a speaker learns from the surrounding linguistic environment the proper cadence, pitch, and intonation associated with the successful display of language ability, as well as, the rules of grammar that are language specific. This presents speech as a natural process.
Reading involves a quite different presentation for a couple of reasons. First, written language is a relatively recent human construct. In the evolution of writing, we have designated symbols to represent the sounds of spoken language. We have, in essence, created our own code. The sound-symbol correspondence that has been developed for the English language is called “the English code”. Students absolutely must understand the sounds of our language and the symbols that represent them. Our spoken language has a code. Written language, as a representation of spoken language, therefore must have a code. The code for written language is more complex because most visual and auditory cues must be inferred based upon two-dimensional symbolic representations called punctuation. While Universal Grammar was specified for spoken language, written language is of a different construct. Education, based upon its modern manifestation, is founded upon mastery of the written language (expressive/receptive). As children learned the rules for spoken language, they must learn the rules for written language. In order to read, a student must be able to translate the written symbol to the corresponding sound that it represents. To spell, students must be able to translate the sound to the appropriate written symbol that represents it. This knowledge is called sound-symbol correspondence. The ability to make this translation is called phonemic awareness. Reading, or decoding, involves sound-symbol correspondence and phonemic awareness, neither of which is a naturally occurring process. Further, students should be taught not only the phonemes and graphemes associated with the language, but also the myriad of spelling rules governing usage and application. For example, the choice between using “ai” and “ay,” among other options, for graphically representing the / ā / phoneme within a spoken word depends upon the location of the long vowel phoneme within the word. If the long vowel phoneme, / ā /, appears in the middle of the word, use “ai” (e.g., rain, chain, pail). If, however, the long vowel phoneme, / ā /, appears at the end of the pronounced word, use “ay” (e.g., day, pay, stay).
Second, the two key components of reading, which do not manifest themselves in speech, are word identification and concept imagery. Word identification involves recognizing that words are a systematic string of individual graphemes (letters). Each individual sequential combination represents a different word. Students must be able to string together the individual phonemes (sounds) to produce these words. This is the essence of decoding. The other half of the reading puzzle involves comprehension of the meanings behind the sequential combinations of letters (words). Concept imagery allows students to visualize the item or process represented by the words. Students who have weak word attack skills (word identification) will stumble and stammer as they attempt to read the printed language. Those weak in concept imagery (comprehension) may read with prosody but will not understand what was read.