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At the Cutting Edge: The Importance of Phonemic Awareness in Learning to Read and Spell

ISBN 1-877398-07-1

This book is about something vitally important: learning to read and spell. To stand their ground in today’s world, children must be able to read and spell confidently and well.

How can we help them learn these skills more easily? This book gives that help. As well as discussing how children learn to read and write, it is packed with practical ideas for giving them the tools they need, whatever their level—how to ensure a better start for the child just beginning school, or give effective support for older students with reading difficulties.

This second edition of At the Cutting Edge features updated research, shows how it can be used, provides an expanded array of activities that can be readily used by the classroom teacher to make the teaching of phonemic awareness both simple and fun, and contains a number of copiable blackline masters to support teaching and learning.

The author draws a careful distinction between phonemic awareness and phonics. Teaching phonemic awareness is not the same as teaching phonics. Phonics teaches how to link letters to phonemes, but phonemic awareness teaching concentrates on sound.

While this book emphasises the teaching of phonemic awareness it also suggests that a balance of whole language and phonics appears to produce more positive attitudes to reading than does either whole language or phonics alone. There is no reason why phonics and whole language could not be taught together. In fact, phonics can be taught through to high school, to help students handle the longer and more complex words that crop up in later grades.

Although there is more to reading than decoding skills, children who have high levels of these skills can focus their mental energy on developing comprehension, vocabulary and general knowledge through lots of reading practice—which will in turn give them opportunities to think productively about what they read.

Tom Nicholson is a professor of education at the University of Auckland. As well as his involvement in teaching and research, he directs several university-supported reading “clinics”  for children in Auckland with reading difficulties. His many other publications include Solving Reading Problems Across the Curriculum and (with Sue Dymock) Reading Comprehension: What is it? How do you teach it? which also published by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.