Teacher education in phonemic awareness instruction

Date of Completion

January 2004


Education, Special|Education, Teacher Training|Education, Reading




Translating reading research into classroom practice requires a teacher to have a thorough understanding of those aspects of spoken language that the writing system represents. Converging evidence has identified phonemic awareness (PA) as an essential, though not sufficient, component of beginning reading instruction. PA instruction has been shown to accelerate reading acquisition in most children and reduce the incidence of reading failure. However limited, evidence suggests that many teachers do not have the recommended conceptual knowledge or skills sufficient to provide effective PA instruction that is based on empirically validated instructional content and methodology. ^ To that end, this study examined, with respect to PA instruction, the competencies of 223 randomly selected Connecticut first-year teachers initially certified in early childhood (n = 53), elementary ( n = 118), and comprehensive special education (n = 52). Data were collected anonymously on the Survey of Teacher PhAKS (Phonemic Awareness Knowledge and Skills), a 15-item, self-administered, multiple choice instrument developed by the investigator. ^ Results of this study indicate that significant numbers of beginning teachers in this sample appear to be inadequately prepared with respect to PA instruction. They have limited knowledge of the conceptual basis of PA, are generally unable to select task-appropriate materials or activities, and lack skill in analyzing written words into constituent phonemes. Using a performance standard established by a panel of expert judges, only 18% of this sample have acceptable competency in PA instruction. Moreover, special educators are not appreciably better prepared to teach PA than regular education teachers. A low response rate (47%) warrants caution in generalizing beyond this sample. However, using the unlikely best-case scenario in which all non-respondents achieve high scores, then only about half of special educators and two-thirds of regular education teachers would have requisite levels of knowledge and skills in PA instruction. ^ These findings suggest that university teacher education programs may not be providing future teachers with sufficient content or practice with respect to phonemic awareness instruction. Investigations of university curricula with respect to the content of beginning reading instruction may be warranted in light of recent state and national curriculum reforms in reading instruction. ^