Thursday, March 24, 2011

Acquiring the Alphabetic Principle: A Case for Teaching Recognition of Phoneme Identity (1990)

Byrne, B. & Fielding-Barnsley, R. (1990). Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(4), 805-812.

Given: an understanding of the phonological structure of language, a.k.a. PA, initiates an understanding of the alphabetic principle, the prerequisite to reading (Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1989; Juel, Griffith, & Gough,1986; Tunmer, Herriman, & Nesdale, 1988).

This article addresses "some questions of detail concerning phonemic awareness—in particular, how it might be efficiently taught,whether various phoneme classes might present special problems, and whether phonemic awareness "spreads" unaided from the phonological locality in which it was first generated."

Experiment 1
Dealt with teaching preschoolers phoneme identity and the phoneme's position in the word (beginning and ending). Children trained to identify /m/ and /s/. Later /f/ and /b/ were introduced. The research question addressed was whether children trained in identity on the first two sounds would show evidence of the alphabetic principle through successfully transferring their knowledge to /f/and /b/.

Training: The experimenter first named items presented to children and said they started or ended with a target  phoneme. This was repeated twice (three exposures). The child was then asked to name the items 3 times while the experimenter reminded the child that "all the words are /?/ words." This training lasted 4 days.
Testing followed immediately after each training day - the child was presented with two pictures, provided the names of the pictured items, told "one is an /?/ word and one is not" then was asked "Which is the /?/ word?"
12 pairs of words were used while six were presented after each training session.

Days 5 and 6, were termed the alphabetic stage of the experiment. Children were trained to read the words sat and mat to a criterion of six correct responses. They were also taught the the phonemes associated with the graphemes for /s/ and /m/ (same criterion). Transfer was tested by presenting new words while being asked to choose one with a target phoneme: Is this "mow" or "sow" ? The eight transfer items were "sum, mad, sow, met, mum, sad, mow and set." On day 6,the same procedure as day 5 continued with the phoneme-grapheme instruction for f and b with a transfer task. Words targeted for phonetic cue reading: "fun, big, fell, bat, bun, fig, bell, and fat." (p.806)

Results: "children can be trained to notice the identity of phonemic segments in words."

  • 15 of 16 subjects scored better than chance on some of the identity tests
  • 11 reached criterion on six or more of the eight phonemes
  • children no worse at identity of final consonants than initial
  • high correlations among eight identity tasks means the concept of phoneme identity for a single sound can transfer to all sounds. 
  • children with a high level on phonemic awareness completed the transfer task 

". . . a single aspect of phonemic awareness, sensitivity to phoneme identity, was sufficient to support acquisition of the alphabetic principle (p. 807)."

Implications for teaching: reading curriculum can be limited to select phonemes rather than  systematic coverage or all phonemes.

Experiment 2

Experiment 2 examined the same issues as Experiment 1 but focused on segmentation. Did thorough training in segmentation alone lead to acquisition of the alphabetic principle? The second question addressed transfer, would children who successfully acquired /s/ and /m/ perform well on /f / /b/ transfer without segmentation training for these phonemes? A third inquiry involved position effect (initial vs. final). The effect did not exist for phoneme identity, but was hypothesized that it could occur in the segmentation task.

Results: identity performance predicted total alphabetic transfer whereas segmentation did not.

Segmentation of the initial and final consonants of words was taught to preschoolers. There was no child who failed to respond correctly to some degree.  But performance on segmentation task was less stable on than it was on the identity task. The results from Experiment 1 showed that once the principle
of phoneme identity was understood, it generalized to untaught phonemes, but this did not apply to segmentation in Exp. 2. However, segmentation training did make children aware of phoneme identities. Thus, a benefit of segmentation is that it results in phoneme identity

Article's purpose is the "fine-tuning of instructional materials designed to teach phonemic awareness."

Phoneme identity tasks differ based on phoneme position in word. Final phonemes are harder to detect than initial phonemes.

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