Brandi B. Kenner, CEO, Choice-filled Lives Network; Sr. Consultant/Advisor at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 12:30pm

Cognitive and Sociocultural Predictors of Receptive Phonemic Awareness Development in 2.5- to 4.5-year-old Children: Implications for Theory and Practice 

Prevailing models of phonological awareness posit that phonological awareness begins at the whole-word level and that development is characterized by incremental sensitivity to smaller units of sound discrimination with age (i.e. from word awareness, to syllable and/or rhyme awareness, and finally to the level of the individual phoneme). Accordingly, phonemic awareness development has traditionally been conceptualized as a sub-skill, and the smallest unit, of phonological awareness that emerges during the school-aged years in tandem with explicit, formal reading instruction. However, the developmental speech perception literature reveals that infants acquire implicit knowledge of many aspects of phonological awareness including the phonological inventory, phonological contrasts, and phonotactic constraints of their native language before their first birthdays. As such, children’s early emerging sensitivity to phonemic content of words may link directly to children’s subsequent ability to analyze words into component sounds (Kuhl et al., 2005; Werker & Tees, 2002). Indeed, promising results have emerged from Cardillo (2010) who reported the striking finding that 7-month-old performance on a measure of native phonemic discrimination predicted 5-year-old phonological awareness. This suggests that phonological awareness, and particularly phonemic awareness, is likely developing earlier than traditional reading models would predict, but that this awareness is masked by the more explicit nature of the tasks developed to index phonemic awareness as a pre-reading skill. 

We conducted a preliminary study to investigate the developmental precursors to phonemic awareness in 2.5- and 3.5-year- old children, using experimenter-developed receptive measures of phonemic awareness and comparing them to more standardized production measures (Kenner, Terry, Friehling, & Namy, 2017). The data revealed a developmental progression of receptive phonemic awareness abilities starting at 2.5 years. This talk presents data from a second study that further validates the measures employed, and fleshes out the developmental trajectory identified in our preliminary study, adding 4.5-year-old participants who have begun to exhibit phonological awareness on performance-based measures. This study also examines the cognitive, environmental, and sociocultural factors that predict phonemic awareness development during these years. Results are discussed in terms of implications for theory, as well as intervention and reform efforts at child, family, program, and community levels. 

Join the Zoom meeting on Thursday, October 22 at 12:30pm at