There are so many terms that are used in education, it can definitely be overwhelming! A lot of times they are used interchangeably (incorrectly so), and that adds to the confusion. We hear the words phonics, phonemic awareness and phonological awareness thrown out there, but what do they mean? Let’s dive in!
What is Phonological Awareness?
Phonological awareness is like an umbrella term that covers the others. It is all about the sounds of the spoken language. We must be sure that we don’t confuse that with the word auditory. When we talk about the word auditory, that means all of the sounds that are heard. Phonological means only the sounds of the spoken language.
When students have phonological awareness, that means that not only can they recognize different sounds of spoken words, but they can also manipulate the sound parts of spoken words. This includes phonemes (the individual sounds in a language), rhyming parts, alliteration, initial, medial, final sounds as well as syllables, etc.
What is Phonemic Awareness?
Phonemic awareness is a type of phonological awareness. Phonemes are the smallest unit of sound in spoken words. They are the smallest parts of oral words. When a child shows phonemic awareness, they are able to not only recognize but manipulate all of the individual phonemes in a word. It is important to remember that this has nothing to do with letters, not directly at least.
Phonemic awareness is something that you can do with your eyes closed.
Students must have a very strong understanding of the spoken language before they will ever understand the written language. Before they can identify the letter that makes a sound, they have to first hear the sound. It is only when they hear the sound, that they’ll be able to reproduce the sounds that they hear, know the positions of the sounds, and then manipulate the sounds.
What is Phonics?
Phonics is all about the printed language. This is when letters are introduced, and the sounds that are represented by those letters are discussed. It is during this time that students are introduced to the alphabetic principle. They learn that the letters stand for sounds, and they begin to recognize letters in all of the different forms (capital, lowercase, different fonts, etc.). They also begin to visually discriminate between letters that look similar.
Phonics is a skill that is done with your eyes open because it deals with visual input. Phonics instruction helps students to be able to decode (read) words. This is important for encoding (spelling) later on. As students begin to grow in their understanding of phonics, they will need to use it along with phonological awareness.
Research has shown that a child’s level of phonological awareness when they reach the end of kindergarten is a strong predictor of their future success in reading. When they are phonologically aware, they are positioned to become great readers. When there is a focus on phonological awareness, we can directly prevent reading problems. If a student comes to us with a phonological deficit, then we can definitely address it!
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