Thursday, January 28, 2016

Response to Intervention: Phonemic and Phonological Awareness

            As noted in the September 30, 2015 blog post, the core competency required for effective implementation of Response to Interventions (RTI) is the ability to correctly collect, analyze, and utilize data.  The correlate of frequent monitoring and subsequent adjustment drives the core principles for implementing RTI.  The ability to collect data, evaluate results, and be an honest consumer of the resulting data promotes the correlate of frequent monitoring and subsequent adjustment.  Teacher proficiency with data must therefore become a professional competency
            Frequent monitoring of student progress, and adjusting instruction or interventions based on results, is a correlate of continuous school improvement within Effective Schools.  This correlate requires teacher competency in collecting data, evaluating results, and effectively consuming the data.  When teachers identify and prescribe an intervention, they often have difficulty accepting the need to adjust when the prescribed intervention proves ineffective. Too often, a teacher erroneously perceives the intervention’s failure as a personal failure of the teacher’s initial prescription.  Thus, defensiveness rather than professional awareness delays the necessary adjustment.  For this reason, teacher preparation programs as well as districts or schools need to consider the following six ideas for successful development of an effective RTI system:
1.      Encourage participation by key stakeholders during planning and implementation.
2.      Elicit strong administrative support in staff development, instructional integrity, and data collection.
3.      Provide in-depth staff development with mentoring, modeling, and coaching.
4.      Begin follow-up trainings at the beginning of each school year.
5.      Distribute a manual outlining procedures and materials.
6.      Build Problem Solving Models including RTI into school schedules and the student improvement process (Lau, Sieler, Muyskens, et al, 2006).
            Increased awareness optimizes the opportunity for effective implementation of the RTI system.  However, potential problems will be omnipresent without administrative support and ongoing professional development.  The following identify the essential eight core principles for implementing RTI.  
1.      Effectively teach each and every student.
2.      Provide early intervention.
3.      Use a multi-tier model of service delivery.
4.      Use a problem-solving method to make decisions within the multi-tier model.,
5.      Use research-based validated interventions/instruction.
6.      Monitor student progress to inform instruction.
7.      Use data to make decisions.
8.      Use assessment for three purposes: screening, diagnostics, and progress monitoring.
RTI has been proven effective for improving reading, writing, Mathematics, and school culture related to behavior management.  The most popular areas for RTI addressed academic expectations or behavioral concerns.  One widely utilized, albeit controversial, program is Reading First.  Another highly successful program has been Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS).  These initiatives utilize the RTI framework as displayed in Table 1 below. 

Table 1: 

The balance of this post will discuss phonemic and phonological awareness, which is an essential competency for emergent literacy. Phonemic and phonological awareness is now typically introduced during Pre-Kindergarten programs.  This emphasizes the need for universal Pre-K since foundational emergent literacy concepts are being introduced and then reinforced during the Kindergarten year.  When such learning opportunities are missed or ineffective, a child might find him/herself in First Grade and in need of a Tier 2 or 3 intervention to develop the phonemic and phonological awareness exhibited by same-age/grade peers.    
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds (Yopp, 1992). Phonemic awareness is essential to learning to read in an alphabetic writing system, because letters represent sounds or phonemes.  Without phonemic awareness, phonics makes little sense.  Phonemic awareness is fundamental to mapping speech to print.  For instance, if a child cannot hear that "man" and "moon“ begin with the same sound or is unable to blend the sounds /rrrrrruuuuuunnnnn/ into the word "run",  then he or she may have great difficulty connecting sounds with their written symbols or blending sounds to make a word.
A phoneme is a speech sound.  A phoneme is the smallest unit of spoken language and has no inherent meaning (National Reading Panel, 2000).  Phonemic awareness involves hearing language at the phoneme level.
Phonemic awareness is not phonics.  Phonemic awareness is auditory and does not involve words in print.  Phonemic awareness is important because it teaches students to attend to sounds. Phonemic awareness primes the connection of sound to print.  Phonemic awareness gives students a way to approach reading new words.  Phonemic awareness helps students understand the alphabetic principle whereby letters in words are systematically represented by sounds.
Phonics, is the use of the code (sound-symbol relationships to recognize words.  Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sound structure of language. This is an encompassing term that involves working with the sounds of language at the word, syllable, and phoneme level.
Phonemic and phonological awareness is difficult because although the English language includes 26 letters, there are approximately 40 phonemes.  Sounds are represented in 250 different spellings.  For instance, /f/ as in ph, f, gh, ff.  Research has established that children lacking phonemic and phonological awareness skills exhibit difficulty grouping words with similar and dissimilar sounds (mat, mug, sun), blending and splitting syllables (sun-ny), blending sounds into words (m_a_n), segmenting a word as a sequence of sounds (e.g., fish is made up of three phonemes, /f/ ,/i/, /sh/), detecting and manipulating sounds within words (change “r” in “run” to “s” to make “sun”), (Kame'enui, et al., 1997).
Most research-based reading intervention programs utilize a phonemic and phonological awareness approach as the foundation for their model of reading intervention.  Many of these programs are recommended for utilization as Tier 3 (Intensive) RTI.  Next month's blog post will review the tenets of some of the most popular Tier 3 reading intervention programs.

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To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (January 28. 2016) Response to intervention: Phonemic and phonological  awareness.
[Web log post] Retrieved from

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