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Caribbean Journal of Education

Acquiring Basic Reading Skills: An Exploration of Phonetic Awareness in Jamaican Primary Schools

Publication Date: 
September 2007

Basic reading skills need to be acquired early in a target language to allow students to make full use of educational opportunities provided in all their subjects. Grades 1 to 3 is a critical time as those reading below the grade 4 level, internationally, are classified as non-readers, with grade 1 being a crucial link. Phonetic skills are an important component of reading skills. This article describes studies aimed at discovering how knowledgeable primary school students in grades 1 to 3 were in their ability to (1) sound out the alphabet, (2) identify which letters are vowels, (3) sound the vowels appropriately, and (4) spell simple three-letter words. Standardized (Mico Diagnostic Reading Test) and non-standardized (Alignment Test, Phonics Test) tests were used to determine the literacy and phonic levels of over 1,609 students. The results indicated that students were entering grade 1 with low levels of phonetic ability, with girls and boys showing a similar lack of competencies, and that these competencies, though improved, were still not fully acquired by the end of grade 1. Key problems were identified and were mainly associated with the vowels. For those reading below grade level, a 12-day, 48-hour intervention over three weeks, training the ear to hear three letter words, one vowel at a time, increased these phonetic competencies. A year-long intervention is also described and suggestions are made as to how these phonetic skills can be taught in our often overcrowded and noisy classrooms.

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