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Testing Segmenting Skill

This is the second of four Phonics Assessment Tests that you can use to determine whether your child possesses certain skills and knowledge essential to efficient reading.

The segmenting test assesses your child’s ability to segment words into their component sounds. As with the blending test, which should have been given first, the segmenting test is an orally presented phonemic awareness test. In fact, your child should see no words in any of the first three phonics assessment tests. All three are presented orally.

If you give the blending test first, it becomes relatively easy to explain to your child what is expected of him on the segmenting test. Just tell him that you are going to say a word and that he is to tell you the sounds in the word. Tell him that if you say map, he should say /m/-/a/-/p/, pausing briefly after each sound.

Begin the test by saying “The first word is dog. What are the sounds in dog?” Log your child’s answers on the test scoresheet by putting check marks on the lines following dog for each correct response. Note what he said if the response is incorrect.

Scoring

Here are some examples of the scoring of various responses:

/d/-/o/-/g/ (check, check, check) Score=3
/d/-/og/ (check first line, then write og on next line) Score=1
/do/-/g/ (write do on first line, check third line) Score=1

Here are more examples using the word black:

/b/-/l/-/a/-/c/ (check, check, check, check) Score=4
/bl/-/a/-/c/ (write bl on first line, check third and fourth lines) Score=2
/bl/-/ac/ (write bl on first line and ac on fourth line) Score=0
/b/-/a/-/c/ (check, X, check, check) Score=3 (Use an X for a skipped sound)

If you count all of the individual lines on the segmenting test, you will get 63 items. The score is reported like this: 63/63, or 45/63, or 31/63. Just add the correct responses and put that in a fraction over 63.

Implications of Poor Segmenting Ability

If you have a child who can hardly segment words at all, and if your child is older and is in a school system that doesn’t emphasize phonics instruction in the lower grades, then you just might have found the primary reason that your child is struggling with reading. It is nearly impossible to continue accumulating a larger and larger store of sight words without an understanding of the phonics code that is incorporated within them. If your child is very intelligent, he might get to the fifth, sixth or even seventh grade reading level by memorizing all of his reading vocabulary as sight words, but his spelling, his comprehension, and his ability to continue adding new words to his reading vocabulary are all likely to suffer.

Training Segmenting Skill

Fortunately, while segmenting is considered an auditory skill, a good portion of that skill consists of knowledge rather than auditory ability. Blending is a true auditory skill, and young children sometimes have to work quite hard to develop that skill.Teaching segmenting is mostly about explaining the range of English sounds that we represent with print Segmenting, on the other hand, is extremely easy to teach because it involves more knowledge than skill.

Once your child has been told that /b/ and /e/ and /l/ are sounds, it’s a relatively trivial matter for him to then skillfully divide the word bell into its three component sounds. Sure, he might say /b/-/el/ the first few times, but this is an issue easily addressed. A bit more difficulty is introduced by sounds like /oy/ and /ow/ because they are dipthongs and start out with one sound, then end with another. (/oy/ begins with /oe/ and ends with /ee/, whereas /ow/ begins with /o/ and ends up at /oo/.)

If your child is natural segmenter, he will hear these variations and will try to segment /ow/ and /oy/ into two sounds each. Again, it is just a matter of informing your child that we treat /ow/ and /oy/ as one sound for the purposes of coding and decoding words in print.

The only real skill involved in segmenting surfaces when some children are still having difficulty distinguishing one sound from another accurately. For example, /ch/ and /j/ sound similar enough to a young child that chip and gyp are indistinguishable. They also will sometimes think that they are hearing chrain when you are saying train. This is why you get some odd spellings from young children. They are spelling what they think they are hearing, using the appropriate code for those sounds that they are incorrectly distinguishing.

More on the Test Itself

The segmenting test is on the upper right side of the test score sheet. It is composed of 18 words with a total of 63 sounds, so a perfect score is 63/63. The segmenting test here is much more comprehensive than the one in Reading Reflex because it contains several words with advanced code vowel sounds, the first of which is rain. The reason for incorporating these extra words is to pick up the older child who knows some basic code and knows how to spell words like trip, so he just parrots the sound for each letter that he’s visualizing. When he hits rain, strange things can happen, including considerable frustration as he tries to figure out the four sounds he sees in the word rain.

I’m not going to go over the specific answers to the segmenting test. You can assume that if point has four lines following it, then point has exactly four sounds. If you’re unclear as to what they are, check this page: Notation for the 43 Sounds.

The next Phonics Assessment Test will cover an auditory processing skill that readers of the English language must develop to efficiently decode unfamiliar words they encounter in print.

Note: If you're interested, all of this testing is included in the OnTrack Reading Phonics Program, which consists of a very inexpensive, but comprehensive, advanced code phonics workbook and the accompanying instructions.