PHONEMES OR DICTEMES

George Lakoff, cognitive linguist at UC Berkeley has written eloquently about the power of words to “frame” ideas. He says, “What has been learned from the brain and cognitive sciences is that words are defined by fixed frames we use in thinking……”
We are influenced by the language we use to “frame” ideas. Literacy is a topic that concerns us all, and as we search for better ways to introduce literacy to the young, and modify instruction to implement research findings, it might be interesting to consider how a word like “phoneme” frames our ideas about how to teach alphabet knowledge.
When the essential skill of phoneme awareness is discussed, the word “phoneme” leads one to conclude that a phoneme is a sound—a sound being
something that is heard. (“Phon” from the Greek means “sound” and the suffix “–eme” according to Webster, is a significantly distinctive unit of language structure). What if we used the word “dictemes” instead?
We know from brain, behavioral and cognitive research that awareness of the segments of words (usually referred to as phoneme awareness) is critical for skilled reading. Remembering and manipulating something received by the ears is difficult. That’s why we repeat a telephone number to ourselves (or aloud) as we look for the pencil to write it down. The motor system is helping us remember.
Identifying these word segments and keeping their sequence in mind is easier for the motor (speech) system than for the auditory system. Children can feel that their mouths are moving to make the sound units in words. But we mostly teach them to “listen” for the sounds in words, rather than also showing them how to “feel” themselves making those sounds. It is a lack of the ability to identify and manipulate the individual units in words that is consistently found in children who have difficulty reading. So, if current instruction is not successful in teaching this skill, how might we improve instruction?  more later…..

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