Of the many amazing and complex human abilities, the phenomenon known as language – along with all of its subtle ambiguities – tops the list. Though it is true that all animals communicate to an extent, the human capacity to communicate within the obscure and symbolic realms of thought seems to extend far beyond that of any animal. Yet, where does this ability develop? How do children, when emerging as readers, writers, and communicators, seem to instinctively understand the concept of communication?
Sensenbaugh (1996) states that, “with little or no direct instruction, almost all young children develop the ability to understand spoken language” (p. 1). This fact alone is amazing enough, but then, by using their instincts and desire to learn, these young kids seem to be driven to read. The most crucial element of reading, according to Sensenbaugh, is by understanding that language is made up of sound, of which the smallest unit is called the phoneme.
The article Phonemic Awareness: An Important Early Step in Learning to Read talks much about the smallest sound units of language, classifying them as “phonemes” and stating that they are a “crucial factor in children learning to read” (p. 1). The article then goes on to discuss why the concept and understanding of phonemes is so important to educators of the English language. Phonological awareness, the article says, is the technique of teaching students that words consist of both syllables and phonemes. Apparently, having learned this, children can learn the complexities of speech much easier.
Furthermore, much research across the scholastic board described these five awareness levels in regards to phonemic abilities:
To hear rhymes and alliteration as measured by knowledge of nursery rhymes To do oddity tasks (comparing and contrasting the sounds of words for rhyme and alliteration) To blend and spit syllables To perform phonemic segmentation (such as counting out the number of phonemes in a word) To perform phoneme manipulation tasks (such as adding, deleting particular phoneme and regeneration a word from the remainder. (1996, Sensenbaugh)
Much research went in to proving the point that phonological awareness at an early age is positive for young readers. In fact, so confident was the author in this research that he even went as far as to say that “phonological awareness appears to be a necessary condition for learning to read” (p. 2) and that it is “critical for children to be able to link phoneme awareness to a knowledge of letters”.
From there, the article goes on to describe what the author calls the “great reading wars”. Apparently, there is a fuming debate as to how educators should be teaching beginning language skills. One side supports the use of “whole language” teaching, whereas the other side touts the magic of phonics. The article ends with a very clear-headed statement that a balanced approach is what we need when concerning a reading instruction program. As teachers, the article advises that we “need to be aware of instructional activities that can help their students become aware of phonemes” (p. 3). Only in this way, concludes Sensenbaugh, will students become more sophisticated readers.