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Choosing Assessments for Phonics & Word Identification

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education

Assessing emerging literacy skills, like phonics and word identification, gives teachers important data. This lesson shows how to choose and use assessments for phonics and word identification.

Assessment Basics

Julie is an early educator who wants to meet all her students' needs. She knows the best way to teach them is to differentiate her instruction based on their needs and abilities. When she knows their skill levels, she can create lessons and opportunities for them to grow and make progress. In other words, though she teaches first graders, she recognizes not all her students are on what is considered a first grade level.

Lucky for Julie, she has access to several assessment tools she can use. When she assesses students, she has a specific purpose in mind. To get to know readers initially, like at the beginning of the year or when a new student arrives, Julie administers informal assessments, tests meant to measure the student's skill level in things like phonics and word recognition. She uses the results to determine instruction, not to give a grade.

How does Julie select assessments that pinpoint what she needs to know? Let's see.

Assessing Phonics and Vocabulary

Julie understands that students need a solid understanding of phonics to succeed as readers and writers. Phonics is the use of sounds in speech to create and read written words. Phonics has several components, such as:

  • Phonemes: individual sounds in speech
  • Syllables: part of a word with one vowel sound that may or may not have consonants
  • Onset: the consonant before a vowel in a syllable
  • Onset rime: any vowel and consonant

Phonemes are the smallest units of the sounds in speech. The word 'cart', though it has four letters, has three phonemes: /c/ar/t. The same word has one syllable as there is only one vowel, and the onset, the consonant before the vowel, is 'c'. Finally, the onset rime, the vowel/consonant, is 'ar'. When teaching students elements of phonics and vocabulary, specifically skills needed to write and spell, Julie makes sure her students understand these concepts. Let's see some screenings she uses to assess these skills.

Phonemic Awareness

Julie begins with assessing a student's ability to discriminate between sounds heard in speech. This assessment is completely oral, and completed one-on-one with a student. Julie writes down answers on a scoring sheet. It measures a student's ability to:

  • Identify words that have the same beginning sound
  • Isolate a phoneme within a word
  • Break a word into individual sounds
  • Blend sounds into words
  • Create new words by manipulating phonemes

For example, Julie may ask a student to name the initial sound in the word 'cat'. The answer is the sound /c/. Or she may ask what the three sounds in cat are, c/a/t; a word that has the same onset, like 'car'; and what the end sound is.

Phonological Awareness

Students with phonological awareness are able to show their understanding of syllables, rhymes, onsets, onset rimes, and words. Like the phonemic awareness assessment, Julie gives this test orally and individually to students.

She asks questions like:

  • How many words are in the sentence 'I like to go to the park'?
  • Do these words rhyme: 'fat', 'hat', 'dog'?
  • Which four sounds make the word 'frog'? (/f/r/o/g)
  • What word do these sounds make: sh/i/p?
  • How many syllables are in the word 'hotdog'?

Alphabetic Awareness

In order to put pieces of phonics to use, students need to have alphabetic awareness, or knowledge of the symbols that represent speech, the 26 letters of the alphabet, and their corresponding sounds. Julie gives assessments to measure whether or not a student recognizes these concepts at the beginning of the year, then checks in several times as the year progresses. She'll give a final assessment at the end of the year to measure progress from the beginning of the year.

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