Teacher phonemic awareness

If you have a school staffroom conversation about phonemic awareness and spelling, you'll soon discover that many teachers (like many adults generally) can't tell you things like:

  • What the sounds of spoken English are,
  • The main spellings for each sound,
  • How many sounds there are in a given word, e.g. "fox", "breeze" and "drought",
  • What the second, third or fourth sound is in a given word, e.g. the third sound in the words "chalk", "freight" and "witch",
  • The last sound in the words "is", "has" and "dogs",
  • The last sound in the words "backed", "hissed" and "liked",
  • The difference between a blend and a digraph,
  • The difference in usage between "c", "k", "ck" and "q",
  • Why we double letters, for example in beg-begging,
  • What four main sounds are represented by the letter "y",
  • What words with "y" as in gym, "ch" as in school and "ph" as in phone have in common, and
  • What the unstressed vowel is.

There's lots of confirmation of this in studies of teachers' phonemic awareness and spelling/linguistic knowledge, some of which show that the majority of teachers get the majority of questions on phonemic awareness tests wrong.

Why these things are not taught in Primary Education courses at university, and why student teachers haven't rioted about their absence from course content, remains a mystery.

If teachers are not taught good phonemic awareness and spelling pattern knowledge – things we know are critical for early literacy-learners – how are they supposed to teach them to children? Teacher skills really matter and need a proper evidence base and proper investment.

Part of the motivation for setting up this website was so that I could contribute to professional development effort in these areas, help build local teacher skills and give teachers an accessible, local source of useful, accurate information about sounds and spellings, given all the lay knowledge and other dross on this topic that is published on the internet and elsewhere.

If you're in Melbourne and your school would like an inservice on phonemic awareness and spelling patterns, including pre-and post-testing (of course without anyone having to write their names on the test, and with results reported for the whole group not individuals)  please let me know on spelfabet@gmail.com.

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