Developing Phonological Awareness Skills in Preschool Classrooms: Evidence from Three Rural Primary Schools

Year: 2021

Author: Staley, Bea

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Background: There is a growing body of evidence around the important role foundational literacy skills and experiences, acquired in the preschool years, play in preparing children to become skilled readers. Specifically, the link between a child’s acquisition (mastery/development) of phonological awareness skills in the early years of schooling and the degree of success or difficulty students experience learning to read in the primary (elementary) years is well established. Phonological awareness is a broad concept, which encompasses a number of subskills related to a student’s ability to identify and manipulate sounds in words. Aims: This project, which was co-designed with preschool and primary schools educators in the Northern Territory, provided explicit phonological awareness instruction, along with hands-on small group phonological awareness games and activities to preschool students from three rural schools. This presentation reports of the project and the data gathered from the first year of this teaching intervention.Methods: The Phonological Awareness Skills Test (PAST) (Zgonc, 2010) was used in this study as a pre and post measure, to provide an individual assessment of the phonological awareness skills which are typically mastered by students in the early years of schooling. The PAST test evaluates 16 of the subskills that make up the overarching ‘umbrella’ concept of phonological awareness, with six test-items (questions) for each subskill. This paper investigates whether explicit classroom based phonological awareness teaching and small group learning activities had a significant effect on the phonological awareness skills of the 110 preschool children who participated in this study.Results: On average, the improvement in students’ phonological awareness skills, as measured by the PAST, was found to be statistically significant for both the whole student cohort, and for each individual school. Two participating schools experienced a very large effect size, and a moderate improvement was measured at the third (other) school. This suggest that despite varying teacher buy in and demographic differences between schools, the explicit teaching and learning activities trialled in this study had a positive impact on students’ phonological processing skills. Key findings: These results affirm that explicit phonological awareness instruction and associated learning activities can have a positive impact on preschool students’ phonological awareness skill development. The collaborative design and implementation of the project, the phonological awareness instruction, the language and literacy context around the project, issues of learner readiness, teacher and parent feedback, and the implications for generalization will be discussed.