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What is a phonemic awareness weakness?

Dear Let's Go Learn, One of your FAQs mentions Phonemic Awareness and the lack some kids may have which leads to poor reading skills. I'm kinda guessing that this is what my daughter has. I have determined that in 1st grade the ears, eyes and mouth were not synchronized to properly read. She looks at a word and then guesses, hoping that it's the right word. Some of her guesses include words that don't have the same letters as the one she is trying to figure out. She doesn't really sound out words, she just likes to guess or will just skip the word and continue reading. She's not a strong speller either, but doesn't always spell with phonics. Her handwriting is poor as well, which leads me to believe she wasn't taught properly in reading, writing or spelling. What resources would you suggest in order for me to help improve her reading ability? She will be a 3rd grader and I feel that if she's not strong in the early skills, she will continue to fall behind and not want to read. I'm homeschooling her and this is very frustrating for both her and me. This will be our first year of homeschooling. Thanks.

Hello, Thanks for your email. What you are describing does sound like phonemic awareness weakness. And yes, you are correct, if her weaknesses are not addressed, she may continue to fall behind and will not want to read. Phonemic awareness is a major indicator for reading ability. A person with strong phonemic awareness will usually learn to read with just about any type of reading instruction. A person with poor phonemic awareness may have a very difficult time no matter what type of instruction.

"I have determined that in 1st grade the ears, eyes and mouth were not synchronized to properly read. ...which leads me to believe she wasn't taught properly in reading, writing or spelling." Phonemic awareness is a processing ability. This means that if your daughter had phonemic awareness weakness, she probably had it long before 1st grade. No one could notice it before that because she was not being instructed to read. Poor or inadequate instruction cannot create weak phonemic awareness but it can exacerbate the problem. Poor phonemic awareness will also contribute to a poor spelling performance, as you mentioned. I would expect a student with a profile like your daughter would not always spell phonetically. Some of the kids I worked with wrote letters that seemed to have nothing to do with the sound they were saying even if they said the sound as they wrote it. They would be saying "s" and writing the letter K.

As far as poor handwriting goes, phonemic awareness doesn't usually contribute to that. It depends on the kind of handwriting mistakes she is making, but most kids with poor handwriting have some difficulty with visual-spatial processing. This means that they may have a hard time copying a shape, they may approach the task in a very disorganized way. This kind of student may also print their letters a different way every time. Or perhaps your daughter is putting so much concentration into spelling that she is not concentrating on what her letters look like.

I am very impressed that you noticed it was a problem with ears, eyes and mouth. Most people don't automatically understand that those three processing abilities are working together. Not only do you see and hear the sounds, you actually "feel" the motor activity in your mouth. If these three things are not matched up, it can create a struggle. I am sure this situation is very frustrating for you and your daughter. I have known master teachers who had been working with beginning readers for years who wanted to pull their hair out because of this kind of difficulty. Twenty years ago, most people thought that phonemic awareness could not be increased. Thankfully, that is not the case anymore. The first step is to get your daughter tested with a full reading assessment. Let's Go Learn, Inc. offers an on-line reading assessment. If you decide you want to pursue assessment and would rather have an assessment in person, look for someone in your area who specializes in reading assessment and instruction. Make sure any assessment you choose measures all parts of reading; sounding-out words, memorizing words, spelling, reading in context and vocabulary.

Don't despair, increasing phonemic awareness can be hard but it certainly do-able. You are fortunate that you got an early start on the issue. If your daughter were a 5th grader, this would be a more difficult task. I have even worked with adults who could not read for 40 years because of poor phonemic awareness. One older gentleman finally learned to read and it changed his life entirely. "I can read the story to my grandchild for the first time instead of making it up." I will never forget the look in his eyes. You and your daughter can work together to excel in reading, it takes commitment and determination. Keep at it.

Tags: phonemic awareness, struggling reader, reading instructio

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