The Flinders University study involving 90 students showed that four-year-old children who received phonics training would be much better placed when they entered school the following year. The researchers said the program was also valuable for identifying children who could be at risk of reading problems during their formal education.
Fifty of the South Australian pre-schoolers in the study received 13.5 hours of lessons directly focused on phonics and sound awareness while the other 40 continued with their normal lesson plans.
Lead author Dr Karyn Carson said the children who received the focused lessons made bigger improvements in these areas than the ones who did not.
“In tests, they performed 2.5 times better at converting letters into sounds and sounds into letters,” she said.
“This emphasised that this ability to move between letters and sounds is fundamental to reading development.”
Dr Carson said phonics and sound awareness were chosen as focus areas in this study because they were “the strongest predictors of how well children will learn to read when they enter school”.
She said the approach could help ensure that all children were on a trajectory toward reading success, instead of taking a “wait-and-see” approach.
“Preschool teachers interact with four-year-old children multiple times per week in the year leading up to school entry,” Dr Carson said.
“Thus, they are ideally situated to plant the seeds of knowledge, identify children not keeping pace with their peers, support parents with take-home strategies, and provided important transition information to school teachers.”
Of the 90 children in the study, 23 had spoken language difficulties. Ten of these students continued with their usual lesson plan while 13 took the focused classes. The children taking focused classes showed greater improvements than the 10 who didn’t but the result was less clear than in the case of typically developing children.
About 80 per cent of time in the focused lessons was devoted to sound awareness, the rest to phonics.
Phonics and sound awareness are different skills, but they are closely connected.
While phonics is knowledge of the connection between sounds and written letters, sound awareness includes recognising rhymes, identifying the first and last sound in a spoken word and blending and separating the different sounds that make up words.
The lessons were delivered by preschool teachers with coaching from trainee speech language pathologists.
Dr Carson said the results of the study could not be generalised to entirely different groups of children, such as those on the autism spectrum or with Down syndrome.
‘Effectiveness of Preschool-Wide Teacher-Implemented Phoneme Awareness and Letter-Sound Knowledge Instruction on Code-Based School-Entry Reading Readiness’ (2018), by Karyn Carson, Anne Bayetto and Anna Roberts (Flinders University), has been published in Communication Disorders Quarterly (Sage).Jump to next article