Discussing Phonemes and Phoneme Awareness: Addressing Misunderstandings and Important Findings

Friday, May 20, 2022 - 12:30pm


1. Mark S. Seidenberg                                         Maryellen C. MacDonald

   Vilas Research Professor                               Donald O. Hayes Professor

        University of Wisconsin-Madison

Questioning the Roles of “Phoneme” and “Phonemic Awareness” in Reading Instruction

The concepts of phoneme and phonemic awareness are the main focus of attention among educators interested in using the “science of reading” to improve literacy outcomes. Some of these approaches seem simplistic and possibly counterproductive, given extensive research on the development of phonological knowledge and its relation to literacy.  It’s important to recognize that the theoretical bases of concepts such as phoneme and the way the concept is used in education are different things.

2. Carol Fowler, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, U. of Connecticut; Past-President of Haskins Laboratories

Speech is Alphabetic After All

Mark Seidenberg and others (e.g., Morais, 2021) have recently suggested that phonemes do not emerge as units of the spoken language until individuals achieve literacy in an alphabetic writing system. I disagree in part on grounds that a crucial characteristic of the spoken language, namely language productivity at the level of the lexicon, requires phonetic “particles.” I agree that orthographic learning modulates phonological knowledge. 

3. Susan Brady, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, U. of Rhode Island; Retired Senior Scientist, Haskins Labs

Misunderstandings about How to Foster Students’ Phoneme Awareness: How to Do Better

The importance of phoneme awareness for children learning to read has been supported by a large body of research.  Nonetheless, the translation of research for practice needs a course correction for two reasons:  1) Those in the reading field who were not fans of phonics diverted attention away from the phoneme and emphasized extensive instruction on the larger sound structures of language (i.e., rhymes, syllables, onset-rimes); 2) Many mistakenly thought that ability to do manipulation activities substitution, deletion) orally, without letters, indicated the level of phoneme awareness necessary for reading prowess.  Yet,  the evidence accrued over decades indicates that both practices are faulty and that changes in phoneme awareness instruction are very much needed.

Format:  Each talk will be 12 minutes.  The set of talks will be followed by discussion by the speakers and audience members for the remaining time.

Remote access:  https://yale.zoom.us/my/haskins  (All are welcome)