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What Is Phonological/Phoneme Awareness?

Stanovich (1993-94) defines "phonological awareness" as the ability to deal explicitly and segmentally with sound units smaller than the syllable. He also notes that researchers "argue intensely" about the meaning of the term and about the nature of the tasks used to measure it. Harris and Hodges (1995) present a brief essay on phonemic awareness. Another oft-cited source (Adams, 1990) uses "phonemic awareness" almost exclusively. Phonological awareness sometimes refers to an awareness that words consist of syllables, "onsets and rimes," and phonemes, and so can be considered as a broader notion than phonemic awareness. Each term is widely used and perhaps (if incorrectly) used interchangeably. In preparing this Digest, both terms were used to search the ERIC database. For the purposes of this Digest, each author's use will be followed.

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Adams (1990) describes 5 levels of phonemic awareness in terms of abilities:

  • to hear rhymes and alliteration as measured by knowledge of nursery rhymes
  • to do oddity tasks (comparing and contrasting the sounds of words for rhyme and alliteration)
  • to blend and split syllables
  • to perform phonemic segmentation (such as counting out the number of phonemes in a word) to perform phoneme manipulation tasks (such as adding, deleting a particular phoneme and regenerating a word from the remainder).