Educator's Literacy Knowledge

Current Projects

Phonemic Awareness Skill of Deaf Educators

Krystal L. Werfel, Emily Lund, Uma Soman, and C. Melanie Schuele

A foundation of phonemic awareness is critical to the development of word decoding skill. Consistent with their slow language development, children with hearing loss typically have insufficient phonemic awareness in kindergarten and first grade, when word decoding skills are taught. Thus, it is vital that teachers of the deaf possess adequate explicit phonemic awareness skill so that they are able to scaffold the development of phonemic awareness skills in children with hearing loss. Spencer et al. (2008) reported differential performance on tasks of explicit phonemic awareness across groups of educators, with speech-language pathologists performing highest (though not at ceiling; 79% accuracy) and other educators scoring significantly lower (64%). Deaf educators were not included in the Spencer et al. or similar studies of educators.  Little is known about the explicit phonemic awareness skill of deaf educators; however, deaf educators are expected to deliver early literacy instruction to children with hearing loss. If, as hypothesized, deaf educators perform similarly to other educators, professional development in the area of phonemic awareness may be necessary. The purpose of this study is to examine the explicit phonemic awareness of deaf educators as a first step toward developing professional development in early literacy for deaf educators. Of particular interest are predictors of deaf educators’ phonemic awareness skill, including type of educational program in which teachers work (e.g., TC versus Oral), years of experience, classes taken (e.g., phonetics, language development), and highest level of education. In addition, participants’ skill with hard versus easy words to segment are compared. 

Phonemic Awareness Skill of Speech-Language Pathologists and Other Educators

Krystal L. Werfel


Purpose: Educators rely on sufficient knowledge and skill to provide effective phonemic awareness instruction, an important component of early literacy instruction, particularly for children who experience difficulty learning to read. The purpose of this study was to evaluate and compare the phonemic awareness skill of several groups of educators, including speech-language pathologists (SLPs; n = 160), kindergarten teachers (n = 109), firstgrade teachers (n = 112), reading teachers (n = 100), and special education teachers (n = 60).

Method: Participants completed a paper–pencil measure of phonemic awareness skill that included 3 tasks. The measure was designed to assess sophisticated explicit phonemic awareness skill within a print context, representing an advanced skill level that has been deemed critical to teaching.

Results: SLPs demonstrated superior performance on the measure of phonemic awareness skill when compared to other educators (d = 1.54). The performance of reading and special education teachers was comparable to that of kindergarten and first-grade teachers. Orthographic knowledge had an adverse impact on the performance of all groups. However, SLPs were far more proficient than other educators at segmenting words that had a complex relationship between speech and print (e.g., box, use).

Clinical Implications: SLPs have relative expertise in phonemic awareness, yet their performance may not be proficient. Three recommendations are discussed: (a) Increase the phonemic awareness skill of all educators, (b) revise instructional materials to enhance educators’ efforts to provide accurate and effective phonemic awareness instruction, and (c) include SLPs as members of the team responsible for phonemic awareness instruction and intervention.