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PODCAST: The Six Shifts, Episode 3: Recommitting to Phonemic Awareness Instruction

Posted by admin on Apr 2, 2021 11:43:20 AM

In this second shift, we dig into some misconceptions surrounding phonemic awareness.


In this episode

Welcome to episode 3 of The Six Shifts, with Jan Burkins and Kari Yates, co-authors of Shifting The Balance: Six Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom. In this series, Jan and Kari, with Stenhouse’s Dan Tobin, address misconceptions and misunderstandings that have discouraged educators from incorporating the science of reading into the balanced literacy classroom.

If you're just tuning in, check out episodes one and two. In our third episode, Jan, Kari, and Dan begin digging in to the second shift: Recommitting to Phonemic Awareness Instruction.

Listen to episode 3

About the book

ShiftingtheBalance_RGB_smallIn Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom, authors Jan Burkins and Kari Yates address this tension as a critical opportunity to look closely at the research, reevaluate current practices, and embrace new possibilities for an even stronger enactment of balanced literacy.

From phonological processing to brain research to orthographic mapping to self-teaching hypothesis, Shifting the Balance cuts through the rhetoric (and the sciencey science) to offer readers a practical guide to decision-making about beginning reading instruction. The authors honor the balanced literacy perspective while highlighting common practices to reconsider and revise—all through a lens of what’s best for the students sitting in front of us.

Meet the authors

Jan HeadshotDr. Jan Burkins was an elementary classroom teacher for seven years and a literacy coach for seven years. She has worked as a part-time assistant professor, a district literacy leader, and is currently a fulltime writer and consultant.


kari yatesKari Yates is an author, speaker, consultant and staff developer with a passion for helping busy literacy educators thrive. Her experiences include classroom teacher, special education, Reading Recovery teacher, elementary principal and district literacy coordinator.

Read the transcript

Dan: Welcome back to our podcast series, Shifting the Balance with the author's Jan Burkins and Kari Yates. Before we dig into chapter two on phonemic awareness, let's take a step back and remind us why you wrote Shifting the Balance in the first place.
Jan: Well, Dan, in light of some pretty tension laden conversations going on in the field, that may be an understatement, right? We asked ourselves, could it actually be true that we as balanced literacy educators were missing or misunderstanding compelling opportunities to connect research to our instructional practices bin the reading classroom?
Kari: And we found that when we were vulnerable, and honest and look closely at the research, the answer was yes. There are some things we've been missing, or misunderstanding. And so the next natural question for us was, so what can we do?
Dan: So hasn't phonemic awareness been part of beginning reading instruction for a long time? Aren't most teachers doing some form of phonemic awareness?
Jan: Yes, Dan, I think probably most teachers are doing phonemic awareness in some shape or form. It's true. It's been all around for a long time, I did a metanalysis of phonemic awareness research as my dissertation in 1999, which was kind of the research heyday on the topics. So yes, phonemic awareness is not a new topic. The current issue is that we tend to take a bit of a potluck approach to phonemic awareness instruction, rather than being really intentional about it.
Kari: And by sort of taking this a bit of this and a bit of that approach to phonemic awareness, it turns out, we might be actually missing the real power of intentional phonemic awareness instruction.
Dan: So what were some of the misunderstandings that were getting in the way of children developing phonemic awareness?
Jan: Well, the first one, Dan, the first misunderstanding is a really important one, is this misconception that phonemic awareness develops naturally, which it absolutely doesn't. Because the use of phonemes in written language is a human invention, to hear and notice and manipulate sounds and words, children have to rewire a part of their brains to do a completely new job, a job that it wasn't born to do.
Jan: So developing phonemic awareness, this awareness of the internal sound structure of a word takes a lot of practice, and it's just not easy. And it's up to us to make sure kids get enough practice.
Kari: Another critical misunderstanding in this chapter, I think, is the idea, I think it's misunderstanding three, that once children know all their letters and sounds, they're good to go, they'll be able to read. And children do need to learn their letter names and sounds before they will be able to read. That alone is, it's big work, but phonemic awareness is sort of like the other side of the learning to read coin, and phonemic awareness we've found is often the really underappreciated side of that coin. But without it, without those strong phonemic awareness skills, children can never really come to that critical aha moment where print makes sense to them, because they understand how the sounds they hear align with the spellings that they see. And so children need both.
Dan: Let's wrap up this podcast with a quick overview of, what can readers expect from chapter two?
Jan: Well, in chapter two, we unpack four misunderstandings in light of experimental science, relating to phonemic awareness. And so readers can expect the opportunity to stretch their thinking of it around some likely assumptions around phonemic awareness. And we're going to invite them in this chapter to reconsider that, taking a bit of this and a bit of that approach to phonemic awareness instruction.
Kari: In the second half of the chapter, and that's where the practical applications always come. We offer a thoughtful skills progression for phonemic awareness practice, and then some really practical and powerful instructional routines, tips for making phonemic awareness more multisensory, using materials that you likely already have access to right in your classroom. And this chapter also comes with some cool extra goodies that we've got hosted on our website, And so we've done a lot to make the research actionable for teachers.
Dan: Thank you.
Kari: Thank you, Dan. We appreciate the opportunity.
Jan: Yes, Dan. Thanks so much to you and Stenhouse.