By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

Fortunately, many schools are now emphasizing phonemic awareness in their reading instruction, particularly for young children. Yet parents should still be highly alert for signs that their children are struggling. As noted in Why Kids Can't Read: Challenging the Status Quo in Education, by Phyllis Blaunstein and Reid Lyon, here are some signs that a child may be in trouble:

Great difficulty in understanding that words are made up of individual sounds that can be pulled apart and combined to make words: for example, that batboy can be pulled apart into bat and boy and that the word bat can be broken down still further and sounded out as: b aaaa t;

 Struggling to read and sound-out common, one-syllable words, such as dog, cat, hop, nap.

 Frequently mispronouncing complicated words, leaving out parts of words or confusing the order of the parts of words, saying amulium instead of aluminum, for example;

 Stumbling when reading multi-syllable words, without coming close when trying to sound out the full word;

 Omitting parts of words when reading, so that it sounds as if there's a hole in the word, reading convertible as conible, for example;

 Poor performance on multiple choice tests, and an inability to finish tests on time;

 Disastrous spelling skills.

Signs of Effective Reading Instruction

If your child is experiencing these problems, it's important to look closely at the reading instruction he or she is receiving. Here are the qualities of sound, proven instruction for phonemic awareness:

  1. Children are learning the sounds of language, and teachers are helping them practice with sounds that make up words.
  2. Children are learning how to put sounds together to make up words, and how to break words apart into separate sounds.
  3. Children are learning the letters of the alphabet, and can recognize the names and shapes of letters.
  4. Children's teachers are reading to the class and talking about what the students are reading.
  5. Children are learning phonics - how sounds and letters are related - and practicing phonics by reading books that focus on the letter-sound relationships they're learning.
  6. Children are being asked questions to help them think about the meaning of what they're reading, and are learning the meanings of new words.
  7. Children are learning to expand their vocabulary by using the dictionary, using known words and word parts to figure out words, and using clues from the rest of a sentence to better understand the meaning of words.
  8. Teachers are checking to see if students understand what they're reading by asking questions about the story or the material.