logo

Phonics: Introduction | Phonics: Spelling | Phonics: Sight Words

Phonics and Word Study Assessment

Print this page

[Click on the photos to see a larger version]

What is phonics and why is it important?
Reading is a complex task especially for beginning readers. These readers must manage many cognitive processes occurring simultaneously (e.g., recognizing words; constructing meaning of words and sentences; taking new information and relating it to their background knowledge). The goal of phonics instruction is to provide children with the skills they need in order to recognize words automatically. Phonics instruction initially helps children learn the alphabetic principle, which is the understanding of the connection between written letters and spoken sounds. Systematic, explicit phonics instruction has been proven to be the best way to ensure that primary grade children become fluent readers, improving word recognition and spelling achievement as well as reading comprehension. In this section, we will refer to students' developing knowledge of letters, sounds, and word as "word knowledge."

How do I assess word knowledge? How do I monitor student progress?
At the beginning, middle, and end of the year, you measure students' word knowledge through various tasks on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS). Alphabet Knowledge, Letter Sound Knowledge, Word Recognition in Isolation and Context, and Spelling are all PALS tasks that provide information about students' developing word knowledge. Additionally, you can analyze the errors your students make while reading word lists and passages. Since your students are solidifying their knowledge of phonics (and phonological awareness) through their work with words in texts, we are including the Concept of Word task in this guide.

It is also important to monitor students' progress by assessing their word knowledge on a regular but informal basis. Such assessments are especially crucial for struggling readers. These informal assessments help you determine if students are making progress in their word knowledge and if you need to modify your instruction. Taking several measures across time will give you a more complete picture of your students' word knowledge development.

In this section of the Phonics and Word Study Guide, you will learn how to interpret word knowledge tasks on PALS and use similar tasks throughout the year to guide your instruction. The assessments in this lesson include:

ASSESSMENT


Alphabet Knowledge


Alphabet knowledge is a significant predictor of future reading success. Assessing alphabet knowledge will allow you to align instruction to meet the needs of your students. As you administer this task, you should take note of the automaticity of your students' responses. There is a significant difference between the student who knows 12 letter names automatically and the student who knows 12 letter names only after given time to think and process. The procedure for this task is outlined on the PALS website.

Click here to go to PALS Website

You should periodically assess your students' alphabet knowledge using the same procedure as outlined in PALS. Regular assessment of alphabet knowledge is especially crucial for students who are having difficulty learning letters. Click here for an alternative alphabet knowledge student sheet that you could use.

Letter Sound Knowledge


pix Simply put, phonics is the connection between letters and sounds. PALS provides you with an assessment of letter sound knowledge that will allow you to align instruction to meet the letter sound needs of your students. Students must have a firm grasp of letters and their corresponding sounds, so you should take note of the automaticity of their responses. As with letter recognition, there is a significant difference between the student who knows 20 letter sounds automatically and the student who knows 20 letter sounds only after given time to think and process. The procedure for this task is outlined on the PALS website.

Click here to go to PALS Website

You should periodically assess your students' letter sound knowledge using the same procedure as outlined in PALS. Assessing letter sound knowledge on a regular basis is especially important for students who are having difficulty learning letter sounds. Click here for an alternative letter sound knowledge student sheet that you could use.

Concept of Word


pix As your students are developing their phonological awareness and their knowledge of letters and their corresponding sounds, they are simultaneously developing their concept of word. A child's concept of word is the ability to match spoken words to written words while reading connected text. The procedure for this task is outlined on the PALS website.

Click here to go to PALS Website

As you are working with your students, make some anecdotal notes about their performance. For example, while tracking the memorized text, did the student point to individual letters as s/he said each word or did the student point to the words as they were spoken? Did words with two or more syllables confuse the child? A behavior that demonstrates a solid concept of word (along with accurate tracking) is accurate identification of words within a line. The PALS procedure has you go back to individual sentences for the student to identify specific words. If the child has to reread the sentence in order to accurately identify the word, then s/he has a developing concept of word (also known as a rudimentary concept of word). This student does not have a solid concept of word and could still benefit from concept of word instruction. Click here to see some questions to help guide your observations.

Word Recognition in Isolation and Context


PALS assesses a child's word recognition in isolation and in context. These tasks help you identify your students' instructional reading levels. Analyzing student errors on the word lists and passage reading will provide you with helpful information about your students' word knowledge, specifically their approach to figuring out unknown words. This can help you determine the necessary decoding strategies you need to emphasize during instruction. For example, if a child is using beginning sounds alone (e.g., reading duck for dog), you would emphasize looking at the middle and ending sounds. Analyses of this type should only be done on instructional level texts (using PALS benchmarks, texts the student is able to read with 90% to 97% accuracy with acceptable rates or word lists read with at least 75% accuracy with adequate speed).

Errors on the passage reading (word recognition in context) can be analyzed by investigating students' meaning, structural, and visual cues. When confronted with unknown words, a student will use whatever resources are at hand which may include anything from pictures to background knowledge to grammar. The ultimate goal is for your students to decode unknown words using meaning and syntax as confirmation only.
  • Meaning cues indicate that students are using context to assist them in figuring out the unknown word. Questions to guide your analysis of meaning cues include:
    • Did the student preserve the meaning of the text?
    • Did the student use the story background?
    • Did the student use information from the pictures?

  • Structural cues indicate that students are using the structure of the sentence (syntax or grammar) to figure out the unknown word. Guiding questions for structural cues include:
    • Did the student use syntactical or grammar knowledge?
    • Did the student make the sentence sound right?

  • Visual cues indicate that the student is using grapheme/phoneme knowledge to decode the unknown word. Guiding questions for visual cues include:
    • Did the student use the same beginning sound?
    • Did the student use the same ending sound?
    • Did the student use similar letter combinations?
    • Did the student leave off the ending of the word (e.g., the "s" in blocks or the "ed" in walked)?
With each of these guiding questions addressing meaning, structural, and visual cues, you should ask yourself whether or not the students self-corrected their errors. Self-correction analysis should also be accompanied with an assessment of whether or not the meaning of the passage and/or sentence was compromised. For example, a child might read the sentence "The dog ran down the road." as "The duck ran down the street." Reading duck for dog indicates that the student was using the visual cue of the beginning sound; however, the meaning of the passage was compromised. Reading street for road indicates that the student was using the meaning cue. Therefore, the meaning of the passage was not compromised. Though meaning is being preserved, the student is not attending to visual cues. We must remember that in these situations that the beginning reader must be held accountable for decoding the words. As stated before, accurate decoding is the ultimate goal.

Click here to see a chart of guiding questions.

Spelling


PALS provides a spelling assessment to allow you to track growth throughout the year. When analyzing student errors, you should look at all of the words and not just the scores. Additionally, you should look at target features in each of the words where appropriate and not just at the target words for each feature. For example, the target feature for the word rip might be beginning sounds and the student spelled it RP. This response would earn the student a point for the beginning sound feature, but the response should also be looked at in terms of the missing medial vowel and the accurate representation of the ending sound. Looking at all of the students’ responses will allow you to notice patterns in their spelling and help guide your instruction.

Click here to see a chart of guiding questions.

You should periodically assess your students' spelling achievement by using the same procedure as outlined in PALS. Weekly spelling checks provide you with an informal look at your students' developing word knowledge. You can use the same guiding questions from the PALS assessment to guide your analysis.

Please feel free to download and use any of the activities and information that we have provided. You may contact the Reading First office at the University of Virginia if you have any questions.

Phonics: Introduction | Phonics: Spelling | Phonics: Sight Words
Pictorial Case Study: Phonics for the Beginning Reader
Pictorial Case Study: Phonics for the Instructional Reader
Pictorial Case Study: Phonics for the Emergent Reader

Back to the top of the page

Contact Reading First in Virginia

Copyright 2003-2010 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. The University is an equal opportunity educator and employer. This information is subject to change without notice. For questions or comments on the content contact Reading First in Virginia. For questions or comments on the site itself contact the Webmaster.