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An alternative approach to the measurement of phoneme discrimination and segmentation in young children.

Proficient reading depends upon efficient, effortless, and automatic word recognition. The foundation for word recognition and reading development in general is based on knowledge of orthographic symbols (letters of the alphabet) and a conscious understanding that spoken words are made up of smaller units of sound (Adams, 1990, 2002; Gillon, 2004; Juel, 1988; Lundberg, Olofsson, & Wall, 1980; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; Share, Jorm, Maclean, & Matthews, 1984; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Stanovich, 2000; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer, 1984; Torgesen & Wagner, 1998). The conscious understanding of the sound structure of oral language is referred to as phonological awareness (1) and may be considered a fundamental component of emergent reading ability especially pertinent to the development of literacy in young children.

Since phonological awareness at entry to school is correlated with future reading success, it would be useful to have a practical screening test or early identification measure to gauge children's skills and identify children who might need alternative instruction in order to attain literacy. Current assessments of phonological awareness often are deemed impractical and inappropriate for children as young as four and five years old, in part, because they tend not to be engaging and motivating for young children (Heath & Hogben, 2004; National Reading Panel, 2000; Share, Jorm, Maclean, & Matthews, 1984). Further, the experimental procedures used in numerous studies of phonological awareness often lack a contextual experience. In a 1974 study conducted by Liberman, Shankweiler, Fischer, and Carter, the researchers required children to engage in a tapping task involving isolated words, whereby children would tap a wooden dowel on a table in order to represent the sound segments in the words. Similarly, the study conducted by Lundberg, Olofsson, and Wall (1980) required children to place a peg in a board in order to represent each syllable in a given word presented in isolation. An additional component of this study required children to listen to isolated syllables and then identify and produce a multisyllabic word. While the research methodologies of these studies have provided insight into children's phonological awareness, the experimental procedures do not intrinsically engage children's interest, nor do they contain adequate motivational mechanisms for young children.

The importance of identifying children who might require alternative instruction to attain adequate literacy skills is particularly relevant in early childhood education. Research has indicated that children who have language deficits, particularly in the phonological domain (e.g. the ability to make distinctions between sounds in oral language), experience the greatest difficulty in mastering the alphabetic code (Gillon, 2004; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading panel, 2000; Vellutino & Scanlon, 2002). Further, research has indicated that poor readers and children with specific reading impairments or dyslexia demonstrate significantly lower phonological awareness ability than their peers. In short, numerous studies have shown that reading impairments are associated with a core deficit in the area of phonological knowledge (Adams, 1990; Gillon, 2004; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; Vellutino & Scanlon, 2002). Early identification of deficits in the area of phonological processing can influence emergent literacy instruction for monolingual English speaking students and for those who are learning English as a second language and may avert the need for more intensive special education programming and interventions in the later school years (Linklater, O'Connor & Palardy, 2009).

In order to ensure all children are provided with the requisite skills necessary to attain adequate reading competence, it is incumbent upon educators to utilise valid and reliable assessment instruments with young children upon school entry. If educators are able to identify children who have not attained sufficient phonological knowledge, then these children can be provided with intensive and individualised early intervention protocols in order to improve their skills.

Linklater, O'Connor, and Palardy (2009) concluded that English Language Learners tend to score lower on measures of phonological awareness in the areas of initial sound recognition and segmentation abilities as compared to their monolingual English speaking counterparts upon entrance into school. These researchers suggested that initially, a lack of exposure to the vocabulary and terminology of the assessment protocols and assessment mechanisms may adversely affect performance. However, these same researchers asserted that with instruction in these discrete areas, English Language Learners are able to make progress in the domains of phonological awareness, particularly in the first months of kindergarten, thus reaffirming the notion that phonological awareness transfers to a second language.

Bochner and Bochner (2009) recently have pointed out that many deaf individuals may be considered exceptions to the notion of transferring phonological skills from one's primary language to a second language. The authors noted that phonological awareness can be particularly problematic for deaf children since many of them do not have well-developed phonological skills in a spoken language. These individuals tend to rely on the visual channel for processing linguistic information through a sign language, lipreading, and/ or other means. As such, phonological acquisition and subsequent reading development present substantial challenges for these learners.

A meta-analysis conducted by the National Early Literacy Panel (2008) showed that preschool and kindergarten predictors of conventional literacy correlated with future reading success and reaffirmed the necessity of acquiring phonological awareness skills as a means to facilitate literacy development. More specifically, the report demonstrated correlations among phonological awareness, decoding abilities, reading comprehension, and spelling attainment.

Snow, Burns, and Griffin (1998) and Linklater, O'Connor, and Palardy (2009) acknowledge the crucial role that phonological awareness plays in literacy development, and even suggest that phonological awareness training prior to school entrance can be useful. These researchers note that children from impoverished backgrounds and English Language Learners are at an even greater risk for experiencing difficulties with literacy acquisition, and advocate for early interventions and training for this population of children. Parent education about the central role an appreciation of the sound structure of oral language plays in literacy development is essential according to these researchers. Further, Snow, Burns, and Griffin (1998) note that proper education can enable parents of young children to practice rhyming activities and games at home and draw attention to the sounds inherent in words even before formal schooling begins outside of the home. These actions can significantly impact literacy development in a positive way, and counteract some of the factors that may inhibit adequate literacy acquisition.

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the efficiency of a novel procedure for assessing phonemic awareness in young children. The procedure is intended to provide a meaningful, motivating, and engaging activity for children that will result in valid and reliable information for educators. The educators then can utilise assessment not only as a means to gather information about what young children know and are able to do, but also as a scaffolding and teaching tool. Much as the assessment procedure engages children in a game activity, educators can provide instruction directed towards children attaining increased sound awareness through game-centred and play-oriented approaches that build upon their 'unofficial' worlds (Dyson, 1993, 1997, 2001).

Method

Participants

Forty Caucasian children took part in this study. The children's mean age was 64.85 months with a standard deviation of 7.72. Their ages ranged from a minimum of 50 months to a maximum of 83 months. The sample was divided into a younger and older group after the data were collected. The younger group consisted of 22 participants (8 males and 14 females) ranging in age from 50 to 64 months (4.2 years old to 5.4 years old). Their mean age was 59.14 months. The older group consisted of 18 participants (10 males and 8 females) ranging in age from 65 to 83 months (5.5 years old to 6.11 years old). Their mean age was 71.83 months. The selection criteria required all participants to meet the following standards:

* Native English-speaking children between the ages of four to six years, and were deemed 'typically developing;' i.e., not exhibiting any developmental, cognitive, or sensory-motor deficits.

* No evidence of middle ear infection was present at the time of data collection as determined by self-reports from participants and/or their parents.

The children who participated in this study were recruited from two specific locations in New York City, an Upper East Side public elementary school containing approximately 400 students and an Upper West Side private elementary school containing approximately 200 students. Approximately 50% of the children who attend the public elementary school are Caucasian while the remaining 50% of these children are African American, Asian, or Hispanic. Based on data provided by the New York City Department of Education, particularly statistics relating to eligibility for free or reduced lunch, the children who attend the public elementary school are generally representative of middle to upper middle class families (New York City Department of Education, 2008). More specifically, the New York City Department of Education reports that, for the 2007-2008 school year, 21.3% of the children enrolled in the public elementary school were eligible for free or reduced lunch, and the school contained few to no children living in temporary housing facilities. The public elementary school also was not eligible for Title I funding and, based on an independent Quality Review of the school conducted during the 2007-2008 academic year, the school was deemed 'well developed' based on criteria examining teacher qualifications and training, curricula, and student achievement (New York City Department of Education web site).

Children who attend the private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan generally live within the school's postal code and are Caucasian. Since the school is private, parents are responsible for paying school tuition and few scholarships are available for children and families.

Stimuli and tasks

An adult female who had experience in the performing arts produced all utterances used in this investigation. The talker was instructed that the audience would consist of children ranging in age from four to six years old and that she should produce the utterances using a normal conversational speaking rate for young children. In particular, she was instructed to make a special effort to pronounce each utterance clearly and to place equal emphasis on each word. The talker produced each utterance three to five times, and the best utterance token was selected for presentation to the participants.

The utterances were digitally recorded using a microphone attached to the speaker's head in a double-walled IAC booth. The edited signals were recorded on a CD for presentation to participants

A discrimination task and a segmentation task were used in this investigation.

Discrimination

The discrimination task included 18 pairs of trials, each of which consisted of monosyllabic nonsense syllables. In 13 of the items, the target utterance was a CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) syllable. In two of the items the target utterance was a CCVC syllable, in two of the items the target utterance was a CVCC syllable, and in one of the items the target utterance was a CCVCC syllable. Contrasts occurred in fricative and stop consonants. In nine of the items, the contrast occurred in the initial position, and in six of the items, the contrast occurred in the final position. No contrast occurred in three of the items.

Nonsense words/monosyllables were presented in the context of the sentence, 'Barney says X and Y'. After a one-second interval of silence, the following question was presented, 'Are these words the same or different?' The utilisation of the Barney character was intended to put the words in context for the children and also served as a cue for them to begin listening. Three pairs of sample stimuli are listed below, and a complete list of the stimuli used on the discrimination task is included in Table 1. The stimuli are written phonetically in a very broad transcription using conventional notation commonly found in linguistics texts (e.g., O'Grady, Dobrovolsky & Aronoff, 1997).

1a. Barney says /k I b/ and /p I b/. Are these words the same or different?

1b. Barney says /k I b/ and /p I b/. Are these words the same or different?

2a. Barney says /m e p/ and /m e p/. Are these words the same or different?

2b. Barney says /m e p/ and/m e b/. Are these words the same or different?

3a. Barney says /k l a k/ and /k l as k/. Are these words the same or different?

3b. Barney says /k l a k/ and /k l a k/. Are these words the same or different?

Subjects' responses were limited to 'same' and 'different' for this task. The two trials comprising each item were not presented consecutively; rather they were separated by at least six trials for other items. Each item was comprised of two trials. All possible combinations of responses could occur (i.e., same-different, different-same, same-same, and different-different). In order for an item to be scored correct, the participant's response to each trial had to be correct as described in the Data Analysis section below following Bochner, Christie, Hauser & Searls (2011); Bochner, Garrison, Palmer, Mackenzie & Braveman, (1997); and Bochner, Garrison, Sussman & Burkard (2003).

Segmentation

The segmentation task included 18 pairs of trials, all containing monosyllabic English words. Fourteen of the words were comprised of CVC syllables. Two of the words were comprised of CCVC syllables and two were comprised of CVCC syllables. Nine items contained a contrast in a single consonant (4 in the initial position and 5 in the final position). Three items contained a vowel contrast, and two items contained contrasts in both a consonant and a vowel. Four items did not contain any contrast.

The target stimulus consisted of a CV or VC syllable presented in the context of the embedded question', Sponge Bob says, is X a part of Y?' After a one-second interval of silence, the narrator prompts the child saying, 'Yes or No?' The Sponge Bob character was intended to put the utterances in context for the children and serve as a cue to begin listening. Three pairs of sample stimuli are presented below, and a complete list of the stimuli used on the segmentation task is included in Table 2.

1a. Sponge Bob says, is /u p/ a part of fat? Yes or No?

1b. Sponge Bob says, is /ae m/ a part of fat? Yes or No?

2a. Sponge Bob says, is /I p/ a part of slip? Yes or No?

2b. Sponge Bob says, is /I t/ a part of slip? Yes or No?

3a. Sponge Bob says, is /f a/ a part of fox? Yes or No?

3b. Sponge Bob says, is /f a/ a part of fox? Yes or No?

Subjects' responses were limited to 'yes' and 'no' for this segmentation task. As with the discrimination task, the two trials comprising each item were not presented consecutively; rather they were separated by at least six trials for other items. Each item was comprised of two trials, and all possible combinations of responses could occur (i.e., same-different, different-same, same-same, and different-different). In order for an item to be scored correct, the participant's response to each trial had to be correct as described in the Data Analysis section below following Bochner, Christie, Hauser & Searls (2011); Bochner, Garrison, Palmer, Mackenzie & Braveman, (1997); and Bochner, Garrison, Sussman & Burkard (2003).

Procedure

Gillon (2004) has noted that a 'best practice' phonological assessment procedure for young children would incorporate the use of colourful pictures, toys, or puppets in order to capture children's attention, along with a protocol that is fun and interesting (also see National Reading Panel, 2000). Following Gillon's suggestion, this study utilised a game simulation format along with voice approximations of popular culture cartoon characters. A colourful and interesting child-oriented game board containing familiar animal figures was used in order to entice the children to engage in the activity. The game format served to eliminate the trappings of de-contextualised assessment procedures that fail to draw upon familiar genres of children's play that are enjoyable and motivating. Similarly, the use of popular culture cartoon characters to utter the speech stimuli served to incorporate the interests and 'social worlds' of children into the procedure. In this investigation, as children responded to the discrimination and segmentation task stimuli, they moved a small token along the game board. At three designated points signified by star shapes, children collected small prizes in order to promote motivation.

The discrimination and segmentation tasks were administered to each participant on an individual basis in a quiet classroom setting. The tasks were administered over the course of one session lasting about 30 minutes. Each participant completed the discrimination task prior to completing the segmentation task. Prior to engaging in the tasks designed for data collection, each participant received instructions and a series of 'practice' items that enabled them to become familiar with the task and response protocols. The practice items served to insure that the children understood the procedure prior to data collection.

During the practice session, the examiner provided direct verbal feedback to the children's responses. More specifically, if a participant provided an incorrect response to an item, the examiner would pause and provide verbal feedback in the form of explanations as to why the response was incorrect. The examiner also modelled methods utilised for obtaining responses to the stimuli, including the repetition of the utterance, slow segmentation of monosyllabic words, etc. This part of the procedure then resembled teaching in some respects, as the examiner directly engaged with each participant, providing verbal feedback, cues, scaffolding, and coaching in order to increase the potential for children to be successful with the tasks during data collection when examiner feedback and instruction would cease.

The examiner administered at least five practice items for each task prior to asking children to complete the test items independently. The examiner moved a child from the practice phase to the data collection phase of the study when each of the following criteria were met:

* The child was able to respond to the stimuli using an appropriate response pertinent to the game, i.e. same or different; yes or no.

* The child responded correctly to at least three practice items in a row or to 6/8 practice items.

After completing the practice session, data collection was begun. As the children responded to each trial, they moved a small token along a game board in order to simulate a play sequence and collected small prizes (i.e. stickers) at designated points in order to help encourage and maintain motivation/attention.

Children's responses to each trial were recorded. If a child requested to hear an item again, the examiner would press the repeat button on the CD player and allow the child to hear the stimulus again. If no response was provided within the designated interval, the trial was scored as incorrect and the next item was presented. If a child began talking to the examiner during data collection, the examiner would pause the game and instruct the child to hold his/her thoughts until the end of the game. The examiner then resumed the game, allowing the child to hear without interruption the last item in the sequence.

Data analysis

Participant responses can be considered a set of 72 individual trials or a set of 36 pairs of trials. Previous research using similar procedures has approached the data from the latter perspective, treating participants' responses as pairs/ blocks of trials (Bochner, Christie, Hauser & Searls, 2011; Bochner, Garrison, Palmer, Mackenzie & Braverman, 1997; Bochner, Garrison, Sussman & Burkard, 2003). In order to compare the two approaches to aggregating the data, a correlation analysis was conducted. The results of this analysis provide an empirical basis for the treatment of the data.

Participants' performance is reported in terms of the proportion of correct responses. The mean, standard deviation and range are reported for each group of participants and each task. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to test for differences between groups and tasks. Specifically, a 2x2 ANOVA was conducted with groups and tasks as factors. There were two levels of each factor (i.e., two groups and two tasks). Finally, correlation analyses were used to examine relationships between variables.

Results

Overall results

Each of the 36 items for the combined discrimination and segmentation tasks was comprised of two trials, and participants' responses can be considered as either a set of 36 items or a set of 72 trials. Each trial was scored as correct or incorrect since the response alternatives for each task were limited to 'same' or 'different' for the discrimination task and 'yes' or 'no' for the segmentation task. Since each trial consisted of two potential response alternatives, the chance level performance for a given trial was 50%. However, an item was scored correct if and only if the child's response to both trials was correct. No partial credit was awarded. Treating each item as a block of two trials reduces the chance level of performance to 25%, and facilitates the interpretation of results.

A correlation analysis was conducted in order to examine the relationship between scoring the participants' responses as a set of 36 items as opposed to 72 separate trials. The results of this analysis revealed a strong correlation between the two scoring methods (r = 0.98), indicating that the scoring methods are essentially equivalent. Importantly, no information is lost in treating participants' responses as a set of 36 items. In accordance with other studies using similar procedures, (Bochner, Christie, Hauser & Searls, 2011; Bochner, Garrison, Palmer, Mackenzie & Braverman, 1997; Bochner, Garrison, Sussman & Burkard, 2003) the data are treated as a set of 36 items in order to facilitate the interpretation of results. The mean proportion of items correct for all children enrolled in the study (N=40 participants) was 0.538 with a standard deviation of 0.154.

Groups and tasks

One of the main purposes of this study was to compare the performance of younger children to that of older children. The younger group of children (Group A) had an overall mean proportion correct of 0.492 with a standard deviation of 0.171. Their performance ranged from a minimum of 0.194 to a maximum of 0.833. The older group (Group B) had an overall mean score of 0.593 with a standard deviation of 0.112. Their performance ranged from a minimum of 0.389 to a maximum of 0.750.

Another aim of the study was to determine whether there was a difference between performance on the discrimination task versus the segmentation task. The discrimination task mean was 0.558 with a standard deviation of 0.197 and scores ranging from a minimum of 0.111 to a maximum of 0.889. The segmentation task mean was 0.517 with a standard deviation of 0.164 and scores ranging from a minimum of 0.167 to a maximum of 0.833.

Table 3 displays the mean proportion correct for each group of participants on each task, and Table 4 displays the mean number correct for each group of participants on each task. Tables 3 and 4 are complementary in that they provide slightly different perspectives on the results. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to test for differences in performance between the younger (Group A) and older (Group B) groups of participants and between the discrimination and segmentation tasks. The results of the ANOVA indicate a significant difference between groups with F (1, 76) = 6.45, p = 0.013. The difference between tasks was not significant, nor was the interaction between groups and tasks.

Correlation analyses were conducted to examine the relationship between participants' age and overall performance and the relationship between tasks. The results of the first correlation analysis indicated that participants' age, a variable closely associated with group membership, was moderately correlated with their overall performance with r = 0.42 (p = 0.008). The results of the second correlation analysis indicated that participants' performance on the discrimination task was moderately correlated with their performance on the segmentation task with r = 0.46 (p = 0.003).

Individual participant's performance

In addition to studying group data, the performance of five individual participants was selected for closer examination. These five individuals were selected because their parents were willing to participate in an interview seeking to explore factors that may contribute to literacy development and overall performance on literacy-based tasks. Each of these individuals was a member of the older group, and their performance is displayed in Table 5.

The overall performance of two children (Jane and Steve) was within one standard deviation of the mean for their group (Group B). The performance of two others (Jack and Sam) was more than one standard deviation below the mean for the group, and the performance for one child (John) was more than one standard deviation above the mean for the group.

Discussion

The older children (Group B) performed significantly better overall than their younger counterparts (Group A) in this study as demonstrated by the results of the ANOVA. In addition, it was shown that age and overall performance are moderately correlated (r = 0.42). These findings are consistent with the results of other studies relating to the effects of age on performance on tasks of phonological awareness (Gillon, 2004; Liberman, Shankweiler, Fischer, & Carter, 1974; National Reading Panel, 2000; Stahl & Murray, 1994; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer, 1984). The performance of the participants in the younger group was more variable than that of the older group as demonstrated by the larger standard deviation and range of their scores. As such, the younger group exhibited a larger degree of individual differences.

Research has shown that as children become older, they demonstrate an increased competence in the ability to engage in certain tasks of phonological awareness (Gillon, 2004; Liberman, Shankweiler, Fischer, & Carter, 1974; Stahl & Murray, 1994). The results of the syllable and phoneme segmentation study conducted by Liberman, Shankweiler, Fischer, and Carter (1974) demonstrated that there is a direct relationship between age and phonological awareness task complexity. Liberman et al. argued that children of pre-school age are able to engage in tasks to measure phonological awareness; however, as children enter into kindergarten and first grade, their performance increases along with their ability to engage in more complex tasks. Adams (1990) and Yopp (1998) also have defined differing degrees of performance difficulty on tasks of phonological awareness and associated them with children's age.

The tasks used in this study seem very sensitive to individual differences and, as such, may provide a useful approach for identifying individuals 'at risk' for delays in the development of reading skills. While the results revealed that younger children can engage in both the tasks of discrimination and segmentation, it is evident that with increasing age, performance on both tasks increases. When comparing the results of the older group (Group B) to those of the younger group (Group A) on each task, it is not surprising that the biggest difference between groups occurred on the discrimination task (see Tables 3 and 4). The older group's relative success can be attributed to their generally superior ability to apply cognitive resources to perform mental operations, along with a general increase in ability to engage in such tasks with increasing age.

Interestingly, the results of the ANOVA indicated that there was not a significant difference between children's performance on the discrimination task compared to the segmentation task. However, there was a moderate correlation between performance on the discrimination and segmentation tasks (r = 0.46), indicating a discernible tendency for children who perform well on one task to perform well on the other, and vice versa. The lack of significant difference between tasks in this study may be attributed to the fact that the older group of participants still was not old enough to master the segmentation task. The linguistic content of the stimuli also may have contributed to the difficulty of the segmentation task. Further, the tasks themselves were reliant upon memory. In other words, with regard to the discrimination task, children were required to hold two nonsense syllables in memory and make a determination if those syllables were the same or different. Similarly, with respect to the segmentation task, children were required to hold a syllable and a word in memory and determine if the syllable was part of the word. The complexity/difficulty of these mental operations likely contributed to individual's performance on the tasks.

The discrimination task seems very appropriate for both four and five year olds. All of the participants including the youngest children demonstrated understanding of the task and only two children performed below the chance level. Importantly, the two children who performed below chance were among the youngest children enrolled in the study, which is consistent with the aforementioned discussion relating to age and performance on tasks of phonological awareness. Even though the older children performed better, the discrimination task still was not too easy for them. The mean proportion correct for the older group of participants was 0.633, falling midway between the chance level (0.25) and a perfect score (1.00). Therefore, data indicate that the discrimination task is very appropriate for four, five and six year old children.

The moderate correlation between performance on the discrimination task and performance on the segmentation task suggests that children who struggle with the discrimination task also tend to struggle with the segmentation task, regardless of age. Research has indicated that tasks of phonological awareness are hierarchical in nature (Adams, 1990; Linklater, O'Connor & Palardy, 2009). Children who experience difficulty demonstrating competence with the most rudimentary of phonological awareness tasks, such as rhyming, likely will experience difficulty with more complex tasks, including those of phoneme manipulation and segmentation (Gillon, 2004; Linklater, O'Connor & Palardy, 2009). Research further suggests that these findings hold true regardless of whether the children are first or second language learners. Moreover, data indicate that phonological awareness can be developed through targeted instruction for second language learners who have normal hearing. The relatively large degree of variation in the performance of the younger children suggests that the discrimination task, in particular, may be able to contribute to the evaluation of phonological awareness in children as young as four years of age and assist in the identification of those at risk for delays in the development of reading skills. Performance on the segmentation task indicates that it is probably not as useful with four and five year olds. However, it may be more appropriate for use with children older than six years of age.

In order to obtain valid and reliable results from any assessment, the participants must be attentive and engaged in the procedure. This is especially important when working with young children. In this regard, the length of time a test takes to administer is particularly relevant. An assessment that is too lengthy may adversely affect a child's ability to concentrate and, as a result, may yield invalid and unreliable results. In this study, approximately a half-hour was required in order to implement a training protocol and both assessment tasks. While for the youngest children enrolled in this study, a half-hour would be considered beyond the realm of their attention spans, this study incorporated some 'break' periods at designated points during the game play. These breaks helped the youngest children maintain their attention.

The game board utilised in this investigation contained three star shapes distributed at roughly equal intervals among the squares on the game board. For the children, the star shapes indicated the point at which they would have an opportunity to select a prize from a collection of stickers. While the prize collection points proved motivating for the children, these points also served as opportunities for children to shift their focus away from concentrating on the stimuli to a different activity. After selecting the prize, children then re-gained focus and concentration for another set of trials before taking an additional break. Subsequent studies may consider drawing on these 'break' options or additionally consider breaking the assessment into smaller periods of time or collection sessions.

Gaining an understanding of the skills children possess upon entry into school is central to developing a curriculum responsive to their needs, especially at the kindergarten level. An assessment procedure such as the one developed for this investigation, assuming further research supports its validity and reliability, would be helpful to early childhood teachers, and would assist them in developing a curriculum that targets the kinds of skills children need to develop further. More specifically, such an assessment would enable classroom teachers to determine which students are entering school with a developing sense of phonological awareness and which children need specific, targeted instruction in order to draw their attention to the sound structure of oral language. An understanding of students' needs would then enable the classroom teacher to develop skill groups to focus on specific elements of phonological awareness.

Empowering classroom teachers to utilise valid and reliable informal assessments in their own classrooms and with their own students will enable them to gain the most accurate information about their students' needs. For classroom teachers, it is important to utilise assessments that not only derive meaningful and accurate results to inform teaching practices and communicate information to parents, but also are easy to administer and do not require a significant amount of specialised training. An assessment is more likely to be utilised by classroom teachers if it is not too complicated and if it is a compliment to educational practices. Some current assessments of phonological awareness utilised with young children are cumbersome and lack adequate controls. For example, The New York City Early Childhood Literacy Assessment--2 (ECLAS--2) requires teachers to produce the speech stimuli presented to children. In this situation, there is considerable opportunity for variation in the pronunciation and emphasis (linguistic stress) placed on the speech stimuli. In order to ensure the validity and reliability of results from assessments of phonological awareness and to simplify the test administration procedure, educators should consider recording the stimuli, as well as using assessment procedures that are engaging for children and directly associated with teaching and learning activities.

In consideration of daily classroom practices, the assessment methodology presented in this article can be considered an extension, and ultimately, a springboard for child-centred, hands-on, and engaging teaching methods. The research methodology presented in this article is consistent with the idea of creating authentic, contextual experiences for learning the foundational skill of phonological awareness. Opitz (2000) provides a conceptual frame work for aligning phonological awareness development with authentic book-reading experiences. The idea then of reading aloud to children and utilising textual elements in order to encourage them to manipulate sounds and play with words further supports the assertion that children learn through meaningful and connected experiences (Opitz, 2000).

Gillon (2004) and Walsh (2009) provide additional support for extending everyday experiences in order to emphasise of the sound structure of language. Sorting or arranging toys according to initial sounds or even asking children to complete tasks in the classroom based upon a target sound in their own names can provide further experience, practice, and exposure to these fundamental concepts that can and should be linked to authentic assessment practices utilised in classrooms.

Additional instructional implications derived from this study indicate that teaching should begin to focus on discrimination-based activities and experiences that draw children's attention to words in oral language, allowing them first to hear and distinguish between sounds in the initial position, moving onto sounds at the end of words, and finally those in the medial position. For those students who have mastered the ability to engage in these tasks of discrimination, focus can be shifted to segmentation abilities. Utilising a classroom-based assessment procedure as described in this article can not only determine student competence within an individual phonological awareness strand (e.g. discrimination or segmentation) but also provide more reliable results, as children are assessed in ways that align with the instructional practices that were utilised to teach these same skills.

In summary, the results of this study suggest that the proposed discrimination and segmentation procedures are appropriate for use with young children. The relatively large degree of variation in the performance of younger children suggests that the discrimination task, in particular, may be able to contribute to the evaluation of phonological awareness in children as young as four years of age and assist in the identification of those at risk for delays in the development of reading skills. Performance on the segmentation task indicates that it is probably not as useful with four and five year olds. However, it may be more appropriate for use with children older than six years old.

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Anne M. Bochner

Beekman Hill International School, Columbia University

Teachers College and Touro College

(1) There is a rather subtle distinction between the terms 'phonological awareness' and 'phonemic awareness'. According to Adams (1990) and Gillon (2004), phonological awareness refers to an overall understanding of the sound structure of oral language which includes knowledge of words within sentences and syllables within words. Phonemic awareness on the other hand refers to the knowledge that words are made up of individual sounds. Phonemic awareness can be considered a component of phonological awareness. Walsh (2009) claims it is imperative to clearly define terminology and that phonemic skills, (e.g., segmentation and blending) are a consequence of a conscious understanding of phonemic awareness.

Anne Bochner completed a PHD in literacy education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her areas of specialisation include literacy and inclusive education. Currently, she is teaching at the Beekman Hill International School, Columbia University Teachers College and Touro College in New York City.
Table 1: List of stimuli used on the discrimination task.

Item   Target Stimulus   Comparison Stimulus   Comparison Stimulus

1.        /t ae z/            /p ae z/              /t ae z/
2.         /z E d/             /v E d/               /v E d/
3.         /k I b/             /p I b/               /p I b/
4.       /[??] ae p/          /s ae p/              /s ae p/
5.       /f l a k s/         /f l a k s/           /s l a k s/
6.         /s u f/           /s u [??]/              /s u f/
7.         /f i g/             /f i b/               /f i g/
8.       /k l ae k/          /k l ae k/            /k l ae k/
9.       /l I [??]/          /l I [??]/            /l I [??]/
10.        /r E t/             /r E p/               /r E p/
11.       /b l I k/           /p l I k/             /b l I k/
12.      /l [??] g/          /l [??] g/            /l [??] g/
13.      /[??] I p/          /[??] I f/             /[??] I f/
14.        /m e p/             /m e p/               /m e b/
15.       /s a r t/           /s a r t/             /z a r t/
16.        /n u g/             /n u b/               /n u b/
17.        /d I n/             /b I n/               /d I n/
18.     /k [??] r b/        /k [??] r b/          /t [??] r b/

Table 2: List of stimuli used on the segmentation task.

Item   Target Stimulus   First trial     Second trial

1.         /p I t/          /p I/            /p E/
2.       /[??] I n/          /t I/         /[??] I/
3.        /s l I p/         /I p/            /I t/
4.         /s i t/          /s i/            /s i/
5.       /d [??] g/       /d [??]/         /n [??]/
6.        /f ae t/          /u p/           /ae m/
7.       /f [??] t/       /f [??]/           /f E/
8.       /[??] i p/         /m i/          /[??] i/
9.         /s u p/          /s u/            /z u/
10.     /m [??] s t/      /m [??]/         /[??] s/
11.      /b [??] s/       /[??] s/         /[??] t/
12.       /f a k s/         /f a/            /f a/
13.        /l E t/          /E t/            /l E/
14.       /t r I m/         /r I/            /I t/
15.        /p E t/          /p E/            /p u/
16.      /[??] i t/         /m a/            /z o/
17.      /b [??] z/       /[??] s/         /[??] t/
18.        /p I n/          /I t/            /I f/

Table 3. Mean proportion correct and standard deviation (SD) for each
group of participants on each task.

Group      Discrimination Task   Segmentation Task   Overall

Group A    Mean = 0.497          Mean = 0.487        Mean = 0.492
(N=22)     SD = 0.217            SD = 0.187          SD = 0.171

Group B    Mean = 0.633          Mean = 0.552        Mean = 0.593
(N=18)     SD = 0.143            SD = 0.126          SD = 0.112

Overall    Mean = 0.558          Mean = 0.517
(N = 40)   SD = 0.197            SD = 0.164

table 4. Mean number correct and standard deviation (SD) for each group
of participants on each task (each task contains 18 items; the overall
column is based on responses to two tasks; i.e., 36 items).

Group      Discrimination Task   Segmentation Task   Overall

Group A    Mean = 8.95           Mean = 8.77         Mean = 17.72
(N=22)     SD = 3.91             SD = 3.37           SD = 6.17

Group B    Mean = 11.39          Mean = 9.94         Mean = 21.33
(N=18)     SD = 2.57             SD = 2.26           SD = 4.04

Overall    Mean = 10.05          Mean = 9.30
(N = 40)   SD = 3.55             SD = 2.95

Table 5: Performance (proportion correct) of five selected children
overall and on the discrimination and segmentations tasks.

Child      Age      Overall score   Discrimination    Segmentation
                                         score           score

Jane    70 months       0.583            0.667           0.500
Jack    75 months       0.472            0.500           0.444
John    67 months       0.722            0.778           0.667
Sam     75 months       0.389            0.333           0.444
Steve   81 months       0.500            0.444           0.556
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Author:Bochner, Anne M.
Publication:Australian Journal of Language and Literacy
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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