enCORE Phonics & Phonemic Awareness

A Systematic Progression of Foundational Reading Skills for Students with Moderate to Severe Disabilities

 Elementary student decoding text Teacher is supporting with explicit phonics instruction.

Imagine a young student named Daniel, eyes wide with excitement as he picks up his brand new book, Chicken Little, to follow along as his teacher reads it aloud to his class. He thinks to himself, “This book has farm animals! I like to watch the chickens when we go to my grandmother’s house.” At his last school, Daniel never had his own copy of the books, let alone a brand new copy!

Some of the letters on the pages of the book seem like a mystery to him, but with each new lesson activity in phonics and phonemic awareness, those letters begin to make more sense. They transform into sounds, words, and eventually, as he progresses through the year, stories.

The journey from recognizing letters to reading fluently is one that every child, including students with moderate to severe disabilities, can partake in. While the definition of reading success will look different for different students, all students deserve access to rich stories and informative texts to learn about the world.

The Need for Explicit Phonics and Phonemic Awareness Instruction for Students with Disabilities

Research has shown that systematic, explicit instruction in phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and text comprehension, or the ‘Big 5’ of the Science of Reading, is effective reading instruction for all students, including students with moderate to severe disabilities. None of these components is sufficient on its own. In other words, it’s not enough to just teach phonics or just teaching reading comprehension. Instead, the key areas of the Science of Reading should be integrated into instruction and follow a developmental progression within a cohesive ELA curriculum.

Students with extensive support needs typically have lower nonverbal reasoning, decoding, and language comprehension skills when compared to their typically developing, same-age peers, and they often begin their school journey with fewer literacy experiences. This may be due to co-occurring sensory, physical, and/or cognitive challenges. As a result, reading instruction for these students should be intensive.

The ELA domain of enCORE equips teachers to deliver intensive instruction in each of the ‘Big 5’ areas, including phonics and phonemic awareness. Yes, enCORE can teach students to read! The goal of ELA instruction in enCORE is for each student to be able to read the words within a book and make meaning from the book.

For the sake of this blog, we will focus primarily on the foundational reading skills that support teaching students with disabilities learning to read.

What Is Phonics and Phonemic Awareness?

Phonics and phonemic awareness skills are foundational reading skills.

  • Phonics involves the relationship between sounds and their corresponding letters or groups of letters.
    • For example, “m” says /m/, as in “mother,” and “a” says /ă/ as in “apple.”
  • Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in words. Phonemes are the smallest units of spoken language that combine to form words.
    • For example, there are three phonemes in the word “sun” → /s/, /ŭ/, and /n/, and there are three phonemes in the word “moon” → /m/, /oo/, and /n/.

Together, phonics and phonemic awareness skills form the foundation for reading success in emergent and early readers. These skills enable students to decode new words, improve their reading fluency, and ultimately, comprehend texts more effectively.

Evidence-Based Instructional Practices to Teach Phonics and Phonemic Awareness to Students with Disabilities

Language and literacy researchers have studied best practices for teaching students how to read for decades. A meta-analysis from the National Reading Panel found the following evidence-based instructional practices for teaching phonics and phonemic awareness:

Teaching Phonics

  • Follow a systematic, structured instructional sequence
  • Onset-rime instruction may be easier for students with moderate to severe disabilities
  • Pair with spelling instruction
  • Effective when delivered individually, in small groups, or in whole group setting
  • Beneficial regardless of socioeconomic status and ability status
  • Greater effects in younger students, but still significant effects for older students
  • Classroom teachers and computers are effective at teaching phonics skills; increased benefits when computer-assisted instruction matches skills being taught in the classroom
  • Should not be taught as the only part of a reading program

Teaching Phonemic Awareness

  • Teaching just one or two skills at a time
  • Delivering instruction in small-groups (compared to individually or whole class)
  • Pairing phonemic awareness instruction with instruction on letters
  • Both classroom teachers and computer-assisted instruction are effective
  • Blending and segmenting have the biggest effects on reading skills (compared to other phonemic awareness skills like deletion)

These best practices apply to all students. Students with moderate to severe disabilities will likely develop these skills at a slower pace, and some of the higher level phonemic awareness skills (like deletion) may be more difficult to master.

What Does Phonics and Phonemic Awareness Instruction Look Like in enCORE?

Foundational to the enCORE ELA curriculum is the integrated literature of the given unit. All instruction is connected to the content and concepts presented by the literature, including explicit instruction on phonics and phonemic and phonological awareness. This systematic integration helps students make meaning of new learning and supports generalization of skills across content and setting.

enCORE delivers a systematic progression of phonics and phonemic awareness skills in the elementary grade band (K-5) and reinforces these skills in the middle school and high school grade bands.

enCORE phonics and phonemic awareness instruction is systematic, active, and engaging. It follows a developmental progression (meaning, the skills build upon each other) and helps students learn letter shapes and names, what sound the letters make, and the letter-sound relationships. The goal is to teach children to blend sounds together to decode unfamiliar words in support of the larger goal of making meaning from the text. The letter name and sound associated with each unit’s book are identified along with the two specific phonological and phonemic awareness skills.

Let’s look at one example of this through the fiction text, Chicken Little, found in Unit 3, Lesson 1. During the Lesson Segment on Foundational Skills, the learning objectives are:

  • Identify uppercase and lowercase “r”
  • Isolate and identify the /r/ sound
  • Indicate whether words rhyme
  • Segment and blend syllables
  • Use phonics skills to decode new words

During the explicit phonics instruction for the letter “r,” students make connections to previously learned letter names and sound identification before engaging with the new letter. This is done through teacher-led instruction and hands-on learning activities with the magnetic whiteboard, letters, display trays, and worksheets.

Sample Phonics Instruction in enCORE

Letter and SoundPhonemic and Phonological Awareness Activity 1

Note: This is a sample of the lesson plan. To view the entire lesson segment on foundational skills, click here.

Sample Phonemic and Phonological Awareness Activity in enCORE: Rhyming

Notice how students are practicing rhyming skills with word pairings that relate directly to the content covered in the unit’s book, Chicken Little. The words include the animals mentioned in the book (e.g., fox, duck, goose). This is on purpose! Research demonstrates that students with moderate to severe disabilities require more practice in the ‘Big 5.’ By integrating all instruction to the literature of the given unit, students have additional opportunities to practice vocabulary acquisition and text comprehension.

In this sample lesson shown below, we see explicit instruction of the phonemic awareness skill (rhyming) while connecting those rhyming words to the vocabulary words that are presented in the text. Students learn to identify whether two words rhyme (fox – socks, yes) and (fox – duck, no) while they continue to make meaning of these new farm animal vocabulary words (fox, duck) in the context of the story (Is the sky really falling like Chicken Little has said?).

Note: This is a sample of the lesson plan. To view the entire lesson segment on foundational skills, click here.

Sample Phonemic and Phonological Awareness Activity in enCORE: Syllables

Notice how the syllable work relates directly to the content of the unit’s literature book, Chicken Little. As students learn to break apart the words into their individual syllables, they are practicing with words found in the book: chicken, little, acorn, falling, Henny, Penny, Ducky, etc. By integrating all instruction with the literature of the given unit, students have additional opportunities to practice vocabulary acquisition and text comprehension. This is true for every single ELA lesson in enCORE. All instruction in the ‘Big 5’ relates directly to the literature of the unit to further support students’ ability to generalize new learning and make meaning from the text.

Phonemic and Phonological Awareness Activity 2

Phonemic and Phonological Awareness

Note: This is a sample of the lesson plan. To view the entire lesson segment on foundational skills, click here.

Order of Letters within enCORE

The order of letters taught in enCORE follows a developmental progression, starting with single letters. The most frequently used letters are taught first – m, a, s, t, r, and i are the first 6 letters presented in enCORE). See the full sequence of letters in the enCORE Phonics and Phonemic Awareness Scope and Sequence. Then, instruction progresses to digraphs, initial and final blends, long vowels with silent -e, r-controlled vowels, common inflections (-ing, -ed, -s), vowel digraphs and diphthongs, word patterns, and common prefixes and suffixes.

Assessing Phonics and Phonemic Awareness Skills in enCORE

TeachTown Benchmark Assessments cover skills associated with each of the five pillars of the Science of Reading, including phonics and phonemic awareness skills. They have been designed to help teachers monitor student progress on individual skills over time and demonstrate growth. Benchmark Assessments can be used to demonstrate a student’s progress on a particular skill, such as letter-sound correspondence or rhyming. The reporting features include a student’s raw score, percentage, item analysis, and also where in the curriculum (which enCORE ELA units) to focus future instruction to ensure students have truly individualized intervention.

Learn More

To learn how enCORE will help your teachers deliver systematic, explicit phonics and phonemic awareness instruction, get in touch today.

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