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  • Semester 1Online Unscheduled
  • Semester 2Online Unscheduled




EDER652 From Phonemes to Phonics: Theory, Research, Differentiated Instruction and Assessment

Unit rationale, description and aim

The ability to automatically connect a letter or sequence of letters (graphemes) to sounds (phonemes) is crucial for reading words accurately and lays the foundation for reading fluency and comprehension. Phoneme awareness and phonics (teaching the connection between sounds and letters) are identified as critical components of literacy instruction in every Australian primary school curriculum. The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) accreditation requirements also mandate that teacher education programs include evidence-based approaches to teaching phonological awareness and phonics. It is therefore critical that teachers working with developing readers understand how phonological awareness and phonics are conceptualised in reading research and can analyse research on effective instruction on them. It is also essential that teachers know how to design systematic, explicit, and evidence-based adaptive phonics instruction for their students, how to assess their students’ developing decoding skills, and how to evaluate the effectiveness of their phonics instruction. 

This unit examines how phonemic awareness and phonics are conceptualised in reading acquisition theories, why they are important for learning to read, and how we can teach and assess them effectively. 

The aim of this unit is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to lead their colleagues in developing effective phonics instruction and assessments for students with diverse needs. 

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Examine the role of phonemic awareness and phonics in different theories of reading acquisitionGC1, GC9
LO2Summarise the evidence existing research has produced for phonemic awareness and phonics instructionGC1, GC9
LO3Evaluate which practices and instructional approaches are best suited for different students and purposesGC3, GC7
LO4Design evidence-based phonics instruction and assessments for diverse groups of studentsGC2, GC3, GC8
LO5Evaluate the effectiveness of their phonics instructionGC3, GC7, GC8

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers - Highly Accomplished

In connection to the learning outcomes, on successful completion of this unit, pre-service teachers should have developed the following industry specific knowledge based on the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers - Highly Accomplished standards:

Industry StandardRelating toRelevant Learning Outcome
APST(HA)1.2Expand understanding of how students learn using research and workplace knowledge.LO2, LO5
APST(HA)1.6Work with colleagues to access specialist knowledge, and relevant policy and legislation, to develop teaching programs that support the participation and learning of students with disability.LO4
APST(HA)2.1Support colleagues using current and comprehensive knowledge of content and teaching strategies to develop and implement engaging learning and teaching programs.LO1
APST(HA)2.3Support colleagues to plan and implement learning and teaching programs using contemporary knowledge and understanding of curriculum, assessment and reporting requirements.LO4
APST(HA)4.1Model effective practice and support colleagues to implement inclusive strategies that engage and support all students.LO4
APST(HA)5.1Develop and apply a comprehensive range of assessment strategies to diagnose learning needs, comply with curriculum requirements and support colleagues to evaluate the effectiveness of their approaches to assessment.LO4
APST(HA)5.4Work with colleagues to use data from internal and external student assessments for evaluating learning and teaching, identifying interventions and modifying teaching practice.LO5

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers - Lead

In connection to the learning outcomes, on successful completion of this unit, pre-service teachers should have developed the following industry specific knowledge based on the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers - Lead standards:

Industry StandardRelating toRelevant Learning Outcome
APST(Lead)1.1Lead colleagues to select and develop teaching strategies to improve student learning using knowledge of the physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students.LO4
APST(Lead)1.5Lead colleagues to evaluate the effectiveness of learning and teaching programs differentiated for the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities.LO5
APST(Lead)2.1Lead initiatives within the school to evaluate and improve knowledge of content and teaching strategies and demonstrate exemplary teaching of subjects using effective, research-based learning and teaching programs.LO4
APST(Lead)2.5Monitor and evaluate the implementation of teaching strategies within the school to improve students’ achievement in literacy and numeracy using research-based knowledge and student data.LO2
APST(Lead)3.3Work with colleagues to review, modify and expand their repertoire of teaching strategies to enable students to use knowledge, skills, problem solving and critical and creative thinkingLO4
APST(Lead)3.6Conduct regular reviews of teaching and learning programs using multiple sources of evidence including: student assessment data, curriculum documents, teaching practices and feedback from parents/carers, students and colleagues.LO5
APST(Lead)5.2Model exemplary practice and initiate programs to support colleagues in applying a range of timely, effective and appropriate feedback strategies.LO3


Topics will include:

Phonological and phonemic awareness and their role in learning to read

  • Structure of spoken words
  • Phonemic features in Standard Australian English
  • What phonemic awareness is, and how it differs from phonological awareness and phonics
  • Phonemic awareness in theories of reading development
  • The reciprocal relationship between phonemic awareness, phonics and spelling
  • Evidence for phonemic awareness instruction using letters
  • Evidence for phonemic awareness instruction without letters
  • How to integrate teaching phonemic awareness into teaching letter-sounds
  • Examples of effective teaching sequences for blending and segmentation


The English writing system and how phonemes are represented in alphabetic writing systems

  • The difference between alphabetic and nonalphabetic writing systems
  • Representation of speech in different writing systems
  • Systematic relationship between letters and sounds in alphabetic writing compared to meanings
  • Graphemes in Standard Australian English
  • Common spelling patterns in English

Phonics and its role in learning to read

  • Phonics in different reading acquisition theories
  • Grapheme-phoneme and phoneme-grapheme relationships and their critical role in decoding and spelling

Evidence-based approaches to teaching phonics

  • Systematic phonics vs. non-systematic phonics
  • Synthetic phonics vs. analytic phonics
  • Scope and sequence of grapheme-phoneme correspondences, and the speed of introduction
  • Use of decodable books
  • Use of high-quality children’s literature to teach phonics
  • Set-for-variability/flexible phonics
  • Adaptive instruction of phonics to support advanced, EAL/D and struggling readers/spellers

Assessment and progress monitoring

  • Assessment of phonemic awareness
  • Assessing phonics knowledge and decoding success
  • Phonics screeners
  • Decoding assessments
  • Progress monitoring 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit is offered in online unscheduled format and supported by a unit Learning Management System (LMS) site. The students are required to use the online learning platform that provides asynchronous access to lectures, readings, and quizzes. The students are required to participate in four interactive online workshops in addition to regular online learning. The unit uses an active learning approach to support students in acquiring, exploring, and analysing the essential knowledge associated with phonics instruction and assessment. Students will engage in an experiential learning cycle of conceptual learning and inquiry; engagement with existing research; active experimentation in their classrooms; and collecting and evaluating evidence.

Engagement for learning is the key driver in the delivery of this unit. The unit will facilitate active participation in pedagogical approaches that demonstrate alignment of teaching, learning and assessment and incorporate: 

  • Online digital resources, including reference readings, database and document searches, and recorded lectures from experts;
  • Online small group collaborative learning to foster reflective practice following the personal analysis, evaluation and synthesis of relevant literature and instructional and assessment practices in different schools; 
  • Online forum and chat tools to build a community of learners; and 
  • Problem-based learning sessions to develop necessary skills and analyse and apply learning to school case studies. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

In order to successfully complete this unit, the students need to pass five multiple-choice assessments and complete one written assignment. The multiple-choice assessments build on short mastery-learning quizzes provided after each topic that allows students to continuously monitor their own learning of the core content. The five multiple-choice assessments assess students' understanding of the English writing system, graphemes and phonemes; phonological awareness and phonics and their place in reading acquisition theories; research on effective instruction; and the available assessments and progress monitoring methods best suited for their students. Each multiple-choice assessment is worth 10% of the final mark.

The written assignment task is worth 50% of the final mark and allows students to show their skills in designing effective phonics instruction, including the scope and sequence, and assessment practices for their students and schools. The written assignment is related to knowledge of evidence-based instruction and assessments and requires the students to apply their knowledge and skills to designing evidence-based phonics instruction and assessment for their current or future students.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate CapabilitiesStandards

Assessment Task 1: Five Multiple-Choice Exams

Students will complete five short multiple-choice exams assessing their comprehension of the content presented in lectures and readings


LO1, LO2, LO3GC1, GC3, GC7, GC9APST(HA)1.2, APST(HA)2.1, APST(Lead)1.1, APST(Lead)2.5, APST(Lead)5.2

Assessment Task 2: Written assignment

Compose a plan for evidence-based phonics instruction and assessment for one school year for your current or future students. 


LO4, LO5GC2, GC3, GC7, GC8APST(HA)1.2, APST(HA)1.6, APST(HA)2.3, APST(HA)4.1, APST(HA)5.1, APST(HA)5.4, APST(Lead)1.1, APST(Lead)1.5, APST(Lead)2.1, APST(Lead)3.3, APST(Lead)3.6

Representative texts and references

Phonemic Awareness

Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the reading wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19, 5-51.

Ehri, L. C., Nunes, S. R., Willows, D. M., Schuster, B. V., Yaghoub‐Zadeh, Z., & Shanahan, T. (2001). Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel's meta‐analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 36(3), 250-287.

Honig, B., Diamond, L., Gutlohn, L., Cole, C. L., Hudon, R. F., Lane, H. B., Mahler, J., & Pullen, P. C. (2018) Teaching reading sourcebook (3rd ed.). Academic Therapy Publications.


Colenbrander, D., Wang, H.-C., Arrow, C., & Castles, A. (2020). Teaching irregular words: What we know, what we don’t know, and where can we go from here. The Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 37, 97-104.

Ehri, L. C., Nunes, S. R., Stahl, S. A., & Willows, D. M. (2001). Systematic phonics instruction helps students learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research71(3), 393-447.

Mesmer, H. A. E., & Griffith, P. L. (2005). Everybody's selling it—But just what is explicit, systematic phonics instruction? The Reading Teacher, 59(4), 366-376. doi:10.1598/RT

Share, D. L. (1999). Phonological recoding and orthographic learning: A direct test of the self-teaching hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology72(2), 95-129. DOI: 10.1006/jecp.1998.2481

Stuart, M., & Stainthorp, R. (2015). Reading development and teaching. London: Sage. Doi: 10.4135/9781473920170

Sunde, K., Furnes, B., & Lundetræ, K. (2020). Does introducing the letters faster boost the development of children’s letter knowledge, word reading and spelling in the first year of school? Scientific Studies of Reading24(2), 141-158. DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2019.1615491

Torgerson, C., Brooks, G., Gascoine, L., & Higgins, S. (2019). Phonics: Reading policy and the evidence of effectiveness from a systematic ‘tertiary’ review. Research Papers in Education34(2), 208-238. DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2017.1420816

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