First-Year Teacher Knowledge of Phonemic Awareness and Its Instruction

Aug. 20, 2009

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, v. 32 no. 3 (August 2009) p. 270-289.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Converging evidence has identified phonemic awareness (PA) as one of five essential components of beginning reading instruction. Evidence suggests that many teachers do not have the recommended knowledge or skills sufficient to provide effective PA instruction within the context of scientifically validated reading education.

This study examines the knowledge of PA instruction of 223 first-year teachers initially certified in special education, early childhood education, and elementary education.

Research Questions

The following research questions were explored in this study:

1. What is the level of knowledge about PA and PA skills of first-year teachers?

2. Can first-year teachers distinguish between PA and phonics?

3. Will there be differences in knowledge about PA, PA skills, and the ability to distinguish between PA and phonics among first-year teachers initially certified in comprehensive special education, elementary education, or early childhood education?


Two hundred and twenty-three randomly selected first-year teachers from 102 school districts in a northeastern state participated in this study. Individuals in this sample represented graduates of teacher education programs in 15 different states.

Forty-six percent of the sample had a master's degree. The teachers in this sample were initially certified in special education (n = 52; 4 male, 48 female; mean age = 30.94 years), elementary education (n = 118; 6 male, 112 female; mean age = 28.14 years), and early childhood (pre-kindergarten through third grade) education (n = 53; 1 male, 52 female; mean age = 28.02 years). Most of the teachers were Caucasian (95%).


Results indicate that significant numbers of beginning special and general education teachers in this sample appear to be inadequately prepared with respect to PA instruction.
They have limited knowledge of PA, confuse PA with phonics, are generally unable to select task-appropriate materials or activities, and lack skill in analyzing written words into phonemes.
Special educators did not have significantly more knowledge or skills than their general education counterparts.

These findings suggest that university teacher education programs may not be providing future teachers with sufficient content or practice with respect to PA instruction.

Updated: Nov. 24, 2009