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Teaching phonological awareness to young children with learning disabilities.

Stanovich (1991) called the "specification of the role of phonological processing in the earliest stages of reading acquisition . . . one of the more notable scientific success stories of the last decade" (p. 78). Phonological skills involve manipulations of the phonological constituents of spoken words in tasks such as blending, segmenting, and rhyming. Students who learn to read well can rhyme at approximately age 4 (Maclean, Bryant, & Bradley, 1988) and blend and segment orally presented words and sounds by the end of the 1st grade (Perfetti, Beck, Bell, & Hughes, 1987). But most poor readers, by the end of the 2nd grade, still cannot blend or segment words as well as normally reading younger children (Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987). These findings have excited much of the reading research community because they seem to identify specific competencies causally related to early reading success. A causal linkage would have implications not only for the scientific understanding of reading development but also for possible early educational intervention for students at risk of reading failure.

Recent training studies have attempted to tease out a causal link between phonological skills and learning to read by studying normally developing kindergarten children who either did or did not receive some aspect of phonological awareness training (Ball & Blachman, 1991; Cunningham, 1990). Both studies indicated reading advantages for children in phonological treatments, but at the same time they left many unanswered questions about the children who might be expected to benefit from phonological training, the skills to select for training, and the way that phonological training interacts with reading instruction. For example, the subjects in these experiments were children who likely would learn to read efficiently whether or not they received phonological instruction. Both studies were conducted with kindergarten children who received other prereading and sound/symbol instruction, in addition to training in phonological manipulations. If phonological skills interact reciprocally with beginning reading instruction, as suggested by Ehri and Wilce (1987), then reading instruction may have artificially bolstered the effect of phonological training. Finally, training activities combined several phonological manipulations, obscuring the effects of individual skills and the relationships among them.

Researchers commonly select normally achieving children (excluding children who fall more than 1 standard deviation below the mean on cognitive measures) or older subjects (2nd grade through adult) for training studies of phonological awareness and reading (Ball & Blachman, 1991; Cunningham, 1990; Vellutino, 1979; Williams, 1979). If phonological skills are necessary for reading acquisition, it makes sense to teach children these essential skills at a developmentally appropriate level before they receive reading instruction. To investigate the feasibility of such instruction, we sought subjects who might be expected to experience difficulties at the beginning stages of reading instruction - young children with learning disabilities.

What, specifically, should be taught in a program of instruction in phonological awareness? Researchers are in disagreement about which auditory phonological skills are most directly related to the initial stages of reading and what the relationships might be among them (Lewkowicz, 1980; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer, 1984; Yopp, 1988). Part of the difficulty lies in the inconsistency among studies concerning which subskills, in which formats, should be included within the larger categories of rhyming, blending, and segmenting. In the category of blending, for example, some studies examined the blending of continuous sounds (Sssaaammm = Sam); others considered onset-rime (S - am = Sam), join the ending (Sa-m = Sam), or totally separated sounds (S - a - m = Sam); and others insisted on using only pseudowords, whatever the task. Segmenting and rhyming include a similarly large range of skills. For our study, we selected three tasks within each category (rhyming, blending, segmenting) to reflect the variety of tasks found in other research.

For training in any of these tasks to affect reading acquisition, however, children would need to generalize their new knowledge about blending, segmenting, or rhyming to words they eventually encounter in print. The first small step toward that broader transfer is generalization from the sounds and words used in training activities to novel sounds and words. The next step is application of knowledge learned through a trained phonological task to a new phonological task.

Correlations among most phonological skills are high (Yopp, 1988), suggesting that the skills develop together. However, because these correlations are derived from studies that used children who have developed these skills "naturally" (i.e., through incidental learning), we do not know the effect that explicit teaching might have on this constellation of skills. For example, will training on a specific phonological skill lead to improvement on other phonological skills? Understanding the facilitation among tasks in the same phonological domain (e.g., transfer from blending continuous sounds to blending separated sounds) or from one phonological domain to another (e.g., blending of separated sounds facilitating segmentation into separate phonemes) would allow instructional designers to make use of tasks with the widest transfer value.

In their analysis of the role of phonological processing in reading, Wagner and Torgesen (1987) suggested that "phonological awareness may be difficult to train" (p. 209). Moreover, the notion of developmental appropriateness could complicate teaching young children with learning disabilities. It is possible that naturally occurring phonological competence may be subject to developmental readiness, as demonstrated by age (Calfee. Lindamood, & Lindamood, 1973; Perfetti et al., 1987; Stanovich et al., 1984); concrete operational thought, such as decentering and control processing (Tunmer, Herriman, & Nesdale, 1988); or knowledge of letter names or sounds (Ehri & Wilce, 1987). Research has not assessed whether phonological manipulation training is subject to a child's developmental readiness. By including subjects across a range of age and cognitive ability in each treatment, we can examine the effect of readiness on learning phonological skills.

Despite the bulk of research linking poor readers with a lack of phonological knowledge, few studies have examined the potential for teaching specific phonological skills before reading instruction to children who would not otherwise be expected to develop them. This study investigates that potential by training and testing specific phonological manipulations with groups of young children who might be expected to experience difficulty in learning to read.



The 47 subjects for the study were 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old children selected from 55 children with developmental delays enrolled in preschool at the Experimental Education Unit of the University of Washington. Eighty percent of the children had significant language delays, and some had additional disabilities, such as physical handicaps, mental retardation, or behavior disorders. Children who scored 30% or more in a phonological category on the pretests were eliminated from the subject pool, along with 1 child with autism and 3 children who left the program before completion of the study. None of the selected children had received formal instruction in letter sounds or reading.


Cognitive Ability. The McCarthy Scales of Children's Abilities (McCarthy, 1972) yield scores in three ability areas: verbal, perceptual, and quantitative. These scores combine into a General Cognitive Index (GCI), with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 16. Reliability coefficients on the GCI for ages 3 to 6 range from .90 to .96. Concurrent validity was established through correlations of the McCarthy GCI with the full Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) IQ (.71) and the Stanford-Binet IQ (.81). The McCarthy GCI, which is a scaled score, is used to estimate mental age (MA).

Phonological Awareness Tests. We developed nine subtests of auditory phonological skills (three each for rhyming, blending, and segmenting), each assessing a specific task. These subtests were intended to reflect the range of measures used in previous studies (Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Fox & Routh, 1975, 1984; Lewkowicz, 1980; Maclean et al., 1988; Yopp, 1988). Each subtest began with 3 nonscored examples on which subjects were given corrective feedback, and 10 scored items on which no feedback was provided beyond encouragement to continue the test. Tasks were as follows:

* Rhyming tasks required children to recognize rhyme ("Dime/time: Do these words rhyme?"), identify rhyme oddity ("Cat, hat, bell: Which word does not rhyme?"), and produce rhyme ("Tell me a word that rhymes with land").

* Blending tasks required children to blend continuous, stretched words ("Ssssaaaammm: Say it fast."), blend words divided into onset-rime ("S (pause) -am: Say it fast."), and blend words with all sounds separated ("S (pause)-a (pause)-m: Say it fast.").

* Segmenting tasks required children to segment two- and three-phoneme words, saying all of the sounds in order ("Mob. Say all the little bits in mob."), separate words into onset-rime (trained through four examples: "Mob. Say it this way: M - ob."), and say the first sound in words ("Mob. Say the first sound in mob.").

None of the items on the subtests were used during training, although the formats were singlar. Table 1 provides examples of the tasks, teacher cues, and student responses for each subtest. Pretests, midtests, and posttests were identical except for the addition of three mastery items on the posttests.
Examples of Phonological Tasks for Each Student
Test Teacher Says Child Says
Recognition make/shake yes
Oddity make/tree/shake tree
Production make shake
Continuous Sssaaam Sam
Onset-rime S - am Sam
Separated sounds S-a-m Sam
Separated sounds Sam S - a - m
Onset-rime Sam S - am
First sound Sam s

Phonological Mastery Tests. To assess how well children learned the actual tasks and items used during the 7 weeks of instruction, we constructed a mastery test for each treatment. The tests consisted of a sample of 3 items, drawn from the taught items within each of the three tasks formats in a treatment. For example, the blending mastery test consisted of 9 items (3 items from each of the three blending formats).

Letter Recognition. Children in the study were nonreaders. However, because letter name and sound/symbol knowledge are often cited as predictors of reading success for young children, a test of letter recognition was administered to all subjects. Letters were printed in block capitals on individual cards and shown to children one at a time. Correct letter names or sounds were counted as correct responses.


Pretests. Preschool research staff administered the McCarthy Scales of Children's Abilities individually as part of the school's overall research program. In the week before the study began, graduate students administered the nine phonological subtests and the letter recognition test individually to potential subjects. Children who scored more than 30% in any phonological category at pretest (blending, segmenting, or rhyming) were eliminated from the study.

Design. We employed a randomized block design to create maximally diverse groups while keeping mean age and cognitive ability within each treatment comparable. We combined subjects in both morning classes, separated them by year of birth into three lists of 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds, then rank ordered subjects within each list by the McCarthy GCI. From each block, we randomly assigned children to one of the three treatments or the control group, assigning children in the afternoon classes to groups in a similar manner. By mixing children from the six preschool classes in each of the four treatments, we minimized the confounding of classroom experiences and treatments. No significant pretreatment differences were found in age, cognitive ability, letter recognition, or phonological pretests. Means and standard deviations for these measures are reported in Table 2.


Instruction. We selected 13 phonemes to represent a range of continuous and stop sounds, and assembled 71 real words from these phonemes to use throughout the three treatments, reserving other phonemes to create a pool of novel testing items. Three graduate students with teaching experience provided instruction; each teacher conducted all three treatments to minimize potential teacher effects. Instruction continued for 7 weeks in groups of three to five children meeting four times each week for 10 min per day.

* Phase I Training (3 weeks). For the first 3 weeks, each treatment received training in only one task format. For example, the blenders practiced blending stretched words beginning with continuous sounds, and rhymers practiced rhyme production. During the first week of training, teachers provided models and leads for group responses. In the second and third weeks, teachers continued to use models and leads, but followed group responses with individual turns for all children. This teaching format (model, lead, group test, and individual test) extended across the remainder of the study.

Blenders were taught to blend two and three phonemes presented as continuous sounds ("I'll say words the slow way. You'll say them fast. Ssseeeeennnn. What word?" [Children say seen.]). The teacher's efforts were aided by a ceramic squirrel ("Aaaannn") who spoke to the children in stretched words requiring their translation.

Segmenters began separating sounds by saying two- and three-phoneme words slowly, stretching each sound ("We're going to say words slowly, without stopping between the sounds. Seen. Say it slowly." [Children say ssseeeennnn.]). A puppet named Sam, who only understood stretched words, assisted the teachers with this task.

Rhymers were provided with rhyme examples and group practice, then asked to make a rhyme, where children could use the teacher examples as their own ("Lake, sake, shake. These words rhyme. Say lake, sake, shake." [Children say lake, sake, shake.] "Rhyme with sake." [Children say lake or shake, or make a rhyme of their own.]). Teachers used a picture book with rhyming couplets to encourage children to shout out the rhyme to a given cue word.

* Midtest. At the end of Phase I, a midtest probed transfer within each group's phonological skill area by testing the taught skill and other (untaught) skills within the same phonological area. For example, blenders were tested with the blending subtests on blending stretched words, and also blending totally separated sounds, but they were not tested on segmenting or rhyming. We wanted to discover whether training in one task, such as the one presented in Phase I, would transfer to other tasks within the same skill area.

* Phase II Training (4 weeks). The remaining 4 weeks of instruction reviewed the previously taught task and extended training to other tasks within the treatment skill area. For example, rhymers continued to produce rhymes, with the additional tasks of identifying whether or not a pair of words rhymed and selecting from three words the one that did not rhyme. Blenders were taught to blend words beginning with stop sounds, to blend words with all sounds separated, and to blend onset-rime. Segmenters were taught to separate words into onset-rime (s-een), say all the separate sounds in words, and to identify the first sound.

* Control. Children in the control condition participated in routine preschool activities, such as listening to stories read by their teachers or circle time" oral language activities. Because all our subjects were prereaders, we expected them to have little, if any, prior experience practicing sounds in isolation. Concerned that differences between treatments and control could be confounded by a treatment advantage in hearing and repeating sounds in isolation, the first author met twice individually with children in the control condition during Phase II to practice the isolated sounds used in training. Children were told, "Today we're going to practice saying sounds. Say this sound." The teacher modeled each sound and the children repeated the sounds, which were presented in random order until the child repeated each sound in the set correctly.

Posttests. After 7 weeks, we individually tested students in all four conditions on the nine subtests described previously. In addition to the posttest battery, we individually administered the mastery test to children in each treatment, which consisted of selected items used in their training sessions (blenders were given a blending mastery test, segmenters were given a segmenting mastery test, and rhymers a rhyming mastery test).

Fidelity of Treatment

Each Monday, the three instructors practiced the formats to be used for the week with the first author, who was also an instructor for the treatments. Throughout the week, we observed each instructor conducting at least one session for each treatment, and we provided additional training when necessary. We audiotaped random sessions to verify that formats were being followed as designed. All three instructors met daily following the training to discuss and resolve difficulties with formats and management.


Results were examined on two types of tests: (a) tests of items used during instruction (mastery of trained items) and (b) tests of items that did not appear during instruction (generalization to novel items and transfer to untaught tasks).

Mastery of Trained Items

Results on the 9-item mastery tests indicated that all children in the treatments mastered at least some of the training formats and items, although there was large variance within each treatment and among the three formats (except for blending continuous sounds, where all blenders scored 100%). These tests were group specific (e.g., rhymers received only the rhyming mastery test, blenders only the blending test); thus we report the results descriptively as percent correct on the 9 sample items and on the 3-item clusters for each format. We did not conduct statistical comparisons between the treatments on percent of mastery because the three tests contain different tasks and items. Mean percentages correct for the 9 mastery items were 87.6 for the blenders (100 on blending continuous sounds, 82 on onset-rime, and 94 on separated sounds), 48.3 for the segmenters (72 on segmenting all sounds, 69 on onset-rime, and 33 on first sound), and 76.2 for the rhymers (81 on rhyme production, 64 on oddity, and 89 on recognition).

Examination of the scores for individual children on each tested format confirms that mastery within treatments was not uniform. Figure 1 shows the number of items correct (0-3) for individual children on each mastery subtest. Each figure represents 1 child's score, (e.g., on blending continuous sounds, 11 blenders scored 3 correct; on onset-rime, 7 blenders scored all 3 items correct, 2 children scored 2 correct, and 2 scored 1 item correct).

Summer term at the preschool limited our instruction to 7 weeks, and the amount of instruction in a given format probably affected the level of mastery of items within that format. For example, the mean for segmenting each phoneme in a target word (taught during 16 sessions) was 72%; however, the mean for saying the first sound (taught in the last 4 sessions) was 33%. Although rhyme recognition (taught during the last 2 weeks) appears to be an exception, guessing all "yes" or all "no" answers could yield a score of 50%. Thus, interpreting these scores as representations of relative task difficulty is untenable.


Following Phase I (3 weeks), with exposure to only one task, subjects were tested on the three different tasks within their general treatment area. Although growth occurred on the taught task, we could not detect improvement over pretests for any nontaught task by any group.


Univatiate analyses of variance (ANOVAS) were performed for each phonological posttest (with group as the between-subjects factor). Significant results were followed with Tukey's Test of Honestly Significant Differences (HSD) to determine where the differences lie.

Blending. An ANOVA on the posttest scores found significant effects for blending training on all three tasks [blending continuous sounds, F(3,43) = 6.57, p = .001; blending onset-rime, F(3,43) = 7.68, p < .001; blending separate sounds,F(3,43)=10.08,p<.001]. Pairwise comparisons confirmed that on blending onset-rimes and blending separated sounds, children in the blending group performed significantly better than children in the segmenting, rhyming, or control conditions. For blending continuous sounds, however, blenders and segmenters did not differ. Together, the blenders and segmenters out-performed the rhymers and the control. Figure 2 shows data for each treatment on the three blending subtests. Each line in the graph represents an individual child's progress from pretest to posttest. Pretest and posttest means and standard deviations are reported below each group.

Segmenting. Figure 3 shows pretest and posttest scores on segmenting subtests for each treatment. ANOVAS revealed significant treatment effects for all three segmenting subtests [separating each sound, F(3,43) = 11.92, p < .00 1; separating into onset-rime, F(3,43) = 8.40, p < .001; and segmenting first sound, F(3,43) = 2.94, p <.05]. As expected, pairwise comparisons determined that segmenters performed significantly better than blenders, rhymers, or the control group on these tasks.

This figure demonstrates the importance of examining the source of within-group variance. Segmenters performed better than other groups; however, on the latter two tasks, only 4 children made measurable gains. The fault might rest with the format of instruction, or with the shorter period of training on these tasks (4 days for first sound). Another possibility is developmental readiness for segmentation, addressed later in this article. Only 1 child of the 35 not trained to segment made any progress in these tasks.

Rhyming. Figure 4 shows pretest and posttest scores on the rhyming tests. Two of the rhyming tests, oddity and recognition, required forced-choice responses. The chance levels (33% for oddity; 50% for recognition) are indicated in the figure by a horizontal line. Treatment effects were significant for rhyme production and oddity [rhyme production, F(3,43) = 3.13, p < .05; rhyme oddity, F(3,43) = 3.15, p < .05], with rhymers performing better than children in any other treatment or the control. Results for rhyme recognition, which was a yes/no task, were not significant, F(3,43) = 2.11, p = ns. Curiously, the child in the control group who scored well on the pretest and posttest of rhyme production scored below the chance level on oddity and recognition.

Developmental Readiness to Learn Tasks

Each treatment included 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old children with a range of GCI from 50 to 112 (overall mean GCI was 71). Because of the range of ages and GCIs, we selected mental age (overall average 3.8 years), which incorporates age and cognitive ability, as the best approximation of developmental level. Our strategy was to partial out the "developmental readiness" variance from posttest performance through a multiple-regression technique that entered mental age from the McCarthy on the first step, and then assessed the variance on the posttests accounted for by training (mastery of trained tasks). These analyses removed the effect of developmental readiness (as a function of age and cognitive ability) to determine whether training was related to the residual variance on each of the posttests. Table 3 shows, for each treatment, the posttest variance accounted for by mental age and the additional variance attributed to training, with the correlation (R), percent of variance accounted for thus far ([R.sup.2]), and the change in explained variance ([R.sup.2] change) associated with each addition.


Trained Subjects. Mental age accounted for a significant amount of posttest variance for the trained subjects on only three of the nine posttests [blending onset-rime, F(1, 10) = 5.37, p < .05; segmenting first sound, F(1, 11) = 6.43, p < .05; rhyme oddity, F(1, 10) = 6.24, p < .05]. When training in a class of phonological manipulations was forced into the equation on the second step, training added significant independent variance in all but the rhyme recognition posttest [blending: continuous sounds, F(2, 9) = 14.62, p < .01, onset-rime, F(2, 9) = 4.89, p <.05, separated sounds, F(2, 9) = 4.65, p < .05; segmenting: all sounds, F(2, 10) = 5.16, p <.05, onset-rime, F(2, 10) = 11.02, p <.01, first sound, F(2, 10) = 7.90, p <.01; rhyming: production, F(2, 9) = 23.48, p <.01, oddity, F(2, 9) = 4.78, p <.05, recognition, F(2, 9) = 2.44, p = ns].

Control Subjects. Children who were not trained showed a different pattern of variance (see Table 4). Mental age accounted for significant variance on all of the blending posttests [blending continuous sounds, F(1, 10) = 51.29, p <.05; blending onset-rime, F(1, 10) = 5.37, p <.05; blending separate sounds, F(1, 10) = 5.48, p < .05] and all of the rhyming posttests [rhyme production, F(1, 10) = 6.24, p <.05; rhyme oddity, F(1, 10) = 6.24, p <.05; rhyme recognition, F(1, 10) = 24.35, p <.05]. Floor effects on the segmenting posttests (none of the control subjects scored any items correct) prohibited a similar regression procedure for these measures.


Next, letter recognition and pretest performance were entered stepwise into the equation for the control subjects; but after mental age had been partialed out, letter recognition retained no predictive power, nor did pretests, except on the rhyme oddity subtest, F(2, 7) = 21.464, p <.01. Few control subjects showed appreciable change from pretest to posttest. The difference in patterns of variance between control and treated subjects suggests that although mental age contributed significantly to phonological performance, many children - regardless of their cognitive development - benefited from training in phonological anipulation.


Feasibility of Training

Results from the mastery tests and posttests suggest that we can teach phonological skills to young children with learning disabilities, and we can teach these skills before children have functional reading ability. Overall, the trained groups significantly outperformed other treatments and the control group. There were differences, however, between children's mastery of taught items and their scores on the posttests of novel items. Many children did not fully generalize from a set of trained words to new words, although they did generalize sufficiently for their performance to significantly exceed that of children in the control and other treatment conditions. (It could be that some children memorized the responses used in training and did not learn the manipulations we attempted to teach, or that the examples in our training did not exhibit sufficient range for generalization, or that our instruction for any number of reasons was insufficient to encourage generalization.) Marsh and Mineo (1977) suggested that performance might be phoneme specific (children transfer to taught phonemes in new words, but not to new phonemes). Slocum (1991) extended the argument, suggesting that blending may involve separate generalizations for various classes of phonemes, while segmenting may involve only one. If this hypothesis is confirmed, then a hierarchy among phonological manipulations involves far more complexity than most researchers have assumed.


Results from the 3-week midtests indicated that children who learned the taught skill (e.g., blending continuous sounds) did not generalize to other skills within the treatment condition (e.g., blending stop sounds). This lack of transfer to other phonological tasks supports the notion that phonological skills may be more isolated and specific than the global term phonological awareness implies. Interpreting lack of transfer is difficult, however, because so many rival explanations are possible. The midtest lack of transfer could have resulted from (a) the short-term nature of the instruction (10 to 12 sessions), (b) too narrow a range of taught examples (a finite set of sounds and words), (c) selection of the wrong task as exemplar of a wider skill (blending continuous sounds did not lead to transfer; perhaps onset-rime would), or (d) use of a lower performing population.

Static performance on tests, however, need not imply lack of growth in a skill. The pretests were subject to floor effects, and a child could have partial knowledge or increased knowledge that was not tapped by any of the tests we used (i.e., response could be close to correct, or closer at midtest or posttest than at pretest, and still be scored incorrect). Tests that are more sensitive to small changes in skill level could yield different results.

In general, training in one phonological area also did not lead to improvement in other phonological logical skills. Thus blending training did not improve segmentation, and rhyming did not improve blending. One exception occurred, however. Post hoc pairwise comparisons indicated that children who received segmenting training improved in blending continuous sounds. This hint of a facilitating effect could be explored by teaching segmentation to a higher criteria than that achieved in this research, and by replicating the experiment with larger treatment groups.

Developmental Readiness

Correlation studies of phonological awareness assess competency in the absence of explicit training and suggest relationships among age; the ability to perform specific phonological manipulations; and broader, more general, metacognitive phonological awareness. If our ability to train specific phonological skills is influenced by age or by some other measure of "developmental readiness," then training activities, particularly for children with low cognitive functioning, may need to be bounded by developmental recommendations. Certainly our subjects, overall, were both younger and lower functioning than those typically selected for phonological training. Our findings indicated that after mental age was partialed out, our training accounted for significant amounts of posttest phonological performance.

It is provocative to note that, for these children, training changed the pattern of correlations among phonological measures, age, cognitive level, and letter recognition reported in other studies (Chall, 1967; Tunmer et al., 1988). Although mental age was significantly correlated with phonological test performance for untrained subjects. Figures 2,3 and 4 show that most children benefited from phonological training regardless of their developmental level. This finding is good news for lower functioning children. A recent study by Cunningham and Stanovich (1991) suggested that a high level of print exposure may compensate somewhat for the vocabulary and world knowledge lags associated with low cognitive levels. The challenge is to provide high levels of print exposure (i.e., reading) to children with low below average cognitive ability to forestall the Matthew effect of good readers continually improving while poor readers fall ever more behind their normally reading peers (Stanovich, 1986).

Further Research

This research raises several issues that require resolution before recommending training in phonological manipulations for children with learning disabilities. One issue concerns the extent of the generalizations that make up phonological awareness. Our tests indicated that although blending a finite set of words was easier to teach than segmenting those same words, children had difficulty generalizing the mastered tasks to novel items, even when novel items were presented in the same formats as training tasks. If phonological awareness is to assist reading acquisition, however, children must apply phonological manipulations to new words in new contexts. The skills used in this research were defined and limited by our instruction: a set of training sounds and words, a teaching format, and a limited amount of time (summer term). Further training studies with children in the beginning stages of developing phonological awareness will continue to define the components and relationships among the skills incorporated in the larger construct.

The second issue concerns facilitation among tasks. Our measures indicated that teaching one phonological skill (blending) did not, in general, lead to improved performance in a different phonological skill (segmentation). These measures, however, only tested transfer in an absolute sense; that is, they did not assess whether children, once taught one phonological skill, might learn a second skill at a faster rate. A recent study by Slocum (1991) indicated that children who first learned to segment words by onset-rime learned to blend onset-rime words more rapidly than children for whom blending onset-rime was the first phonological task learned. Slocum did not detect facilitation in the opposite direction, that is, when segmenting training followed blending. Although Slocum's transfer measure was different from that used in the present research (i.e., rate of learning rather than test performance), it bears some resemblance to our finding of transfer from segmenting instruction to blending continuous sounds. More research is needed to discover the nature of the relationships among phonological skills so that the ordering of skills in instruction is optimally efficient.

The third issue requires longitudinal study. Research with normally developing kindergarten children (Ball & Blachman, 1991; Cunningham, 1990) suggests that raising their level of phonological awareness improves these children's success in acquiring sound/symbol relations and in decoding of short words. But unlike children whose cognitive and language development follows a normal course, many children with disabilities do not, on their own, develop phonological awareness. Providing phonological training to these children and then following them through the first years of reading instruction could disclose whether this kind of early intervention will remove some of the barriers on the road to literacy.

In summary, the present research answered several questions. Young children with disabilities can acquire specific phonological manipulation skills. Mental age (at least the range examined in this study) does not appear to seriously limit learning phonological skills. For these children, short-term training of specific phonological skills does not produce generalization to other skills within the same class, nor does short-term training of skills within a class (e.g., blending) produce appreciable generalization to other classes of phonological skills (e.g., segmentation). Research focusing on the relationship among specific phonological manipulation skills and their contributions to reading will help us identify the metalinguistic factors that contribute to children's readiness for reading instruction.


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ROLLANDA E. O'CONNOR (CEC WA Federation), Teaching Associate, JOSEPH R. JENKINS (CEC WA Federation), Professor, and NORMA LEICESTER, Doctoral Student, College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle. TIMOTHY A. SLOCUM (CEC #499), Assistant Professor, Department of Special Education, Utah State University, Logan.
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Author:O'Connor, Rollanda E.; Jenkins, Joseph R.; Leicester, Norma; Slocum, Timothy A.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:May 1, 1993
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