Rhymes assesses phonological awareness. The phonological system is the part of language that is concerned with the ways in which sound patterns are used to communicate. As children learn to talk they develop increasingly sophisticated cognitive representations for phonological aspects of speech. They become aware that words can be segmented into syllables (e.g. that ‘wigwam’ is composed of ‘wig’ and ‘wam’), and that different words can contain similar elements (i.e. similar onsets like w-ig and w-am, or similar rimes like w-ig and d-ig). The importance of this phonological awareness for early literacy development has been very well demonstrated in research (Snowling, 1995; Goswami, 1994, 1991, 2001; Goswami and Bryant, 1990; Rack, 1994; Savage, 2001; Ziegler and Goswami, 2005). Phonological awareness is often assessed by means of an oddity test in which the child has to pick out the one which is different from of list of similar sounding words, e.g. ‘mop, hop, tap, lop’; ‘ham, tap, had, hat’ (Bradley and Bryant, 1983. Bradley, 1980; Goswami, 2012). Many teachers and researchers have observed that the oddity test is difficult to give, especially with very young students. Students tend to forget the items and may fail for reasons other than poor phonological awareness. Rhymes does not suffer from this limitation, because it incorporates pictures which help the student to remember the items.

Dyslexic children are known generally to have poor phonological skills (Rack, Snowling and Olson, 1992; Holligan and Johnston, 1988). In the phonological deficit model of dyslexia (Hulme and Snowling, 1991; Snowling, 1995, 2000) it has been hypothesised that the status of children’s underlying phonological representations determines the ease with which they learn to read, and that the poorly developed phonological representations of dyslexic children are the fundamental cause of their literacy difficulties. In the CoPS research Rhymes was found to be a highly significant predictor of later literacy skill. Rhymes (given at age 5) correlations with literacy skills were 0.54 (BAS Word Reading at 6:6), 0.58 (Macmillan Individual Reading Analysis (MIRA) at 6:6), 0.52 (Edinburgh Reading Test at 8:0), 0.45 (Word Recognition and Phonics Skills Test (WRaPS) at 8:0), and 0.50 (BAS Spelling at 8:0). All except WRaPS (p<0.05) were significant at the p<0.01 level. Rhymes also correlated with all phonics aspects of the Middle Infant Screening Test (MIST) given at age 6:6 (p<0.01). Stepwise regression analyses showed that Rhymes, together with Wock, were among the best predictor variables. For further information on the statistical evidence see Singleton, Thomas and Leedale (1996) and Singleton, Thomas and Horne (2000).

Case study - poor phonological awareness

The CoPS profile of James, aged 5, shows good or reasonably satisfactory scores in all areas except Rhymes, which shows an SAS of 75 (see Figures 34a and 34b). His visual memory skills are fairly strong. Further investigation by his teacher showed that he had no idea about rhyming or alliteration or syllable segmentation at all. He could not generate any rhymes and did not recognise common nursery rhymes. Although his auditory discrimination skills were not all that strong, he was nevertheless generally able to detect when two words were identical and often – but not always – noticed when two words were not identical. It is likely that some auditory discrimination weakness has also affected James’s performance on Letter names, which demands quite close auditory attention. However, he seemed totally unable to determine similarities between syllables within sounds. It was as if he could not analyse words into constituent parts but heard them only as ‘whole sounds’. Or perhaps he did analyse words into sounds but somehow could not avoid focusing on the points of difference between them, oblivious of any similarities. For example, James maintained that ‘peg’ and ‘beg’ were just different – he could not appreciate that they ended with the same sound. Nor was it the case that he was focusing on the onset of the words, because he could not appreciate that ‘peg’ and ‘pet’ began with similar sounds, either.

Although James’s poor phonological awareness could be due to dyslexia, in the absence of evidence of other cognitive difficulties, it is most likely that it is due to lack of appropriate language experience in the pre-school period. He was a very shy, quiet student who had been upset by the noise and boisterousness of the play group and so his mother had withdrawn him and he seems to have spent most of his pre-school years at home on his own. He has very good constructional skills, which his mother said were developed through many hours of playing with Lego by himself.


Figure 34a. Case study – James

Figure 34b. Case study – James

James’s good visual memory will probably mean that he has no problems with whole-word methods of reading, and his average score for Races does not indicate a serious auditory memory difficulty. Nevertheless, he will tend to struggle with phonics, and may even avoid any analytical approach to reading. He will almost certainly have difficulties with writing and spelling. Phonological awareness and auditory discrimination training at this stage will give James a much better basis for literacy development, enabling him to benefit from phonics teaching and help to prevent literacy difficulties later on. Strategies for teaching the student with poor phonological awareness may be found in Teaching recommendations.