ERIC Identifier: ED459424
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Lin, Chia-Hui
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Early Literacy Instruction: Research Applications in the
Classrooms. ERIC Digest.
Research overwhelmingly reveals that the early childhood years are the single
most important period of time during which literacy development occurs in a
person's life (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1998;
Slegers, 1996). However, philosophical and methodological differences exist
regarding how best to instruct and encourage young children to read and write.
Teaching reading and writing to young children in American has always been an
area of controversy and debate (Teale & Yokota, 2000), and it remains so
today. The purpose of this Digest is to review various studies and to identify
essential elements of effective early literacy classroom instruction.
PHONICS AND PHONEMIC AWARENESS
According to the National
Institute for Literacy (2001), phonemic awareness is the ability to think about
and work with individual sounds in spoken languages. Before children learn to
read, they need to be aware of how sounds work. Teachers should integrate
phonemic awareness instruction in the curriculum to help children learn to read
and spell. The instruction can start with having children categorize the first
phonemes-the smallest functional unit of speech-in words and then progress to
more complicated combinations. According to the National Reading Panel (2000) "Phonics skills must be integrated with the development of phonemic awareness,
fluency, and text reading comprehension skills." Developing skill in blending
and manipulating phonemes has been found to permit many children to develop
strong reading abilities who were otherwise struggling.
Phonemic awareness can also be integrated into beginning writing instruction.
While a child writes, the teacher can name the letters or comment about the
strokes used to form the letters. When teachers take dictated messages from
children, such as when writing a thank-you letter to a parent or guest, they can
provide explicit demonstrations of phoneme segmentation. Note, however, there is
no need to postpone children's functional writing until they all know the
alphabet letters since many children develop strong writing skills simply
through exposure to a print-rich environment (Schickedanz, 1998). Teachers
should provide flexible writing experiences that allow young children to use
scribble, random letters, or invented spelling in the beginning and over time
move to more conventional forms (NAEYC, 1998; Teale & Yokota, 2000). When
children write their own texts, they are also developing their vocabulary and
phonemic awareness (Slegers, 1996).
POSITIVE ADULT-CHILD RELATIONSHIPS
literacy learning benefits greatly from adults who are responsive to their
interests and sensitive to their current level of language development (Slegers,
1996). During the infant and toddler years, children need many one-on-one
interactions with caring adults to support their oral literacy development.
Parents can talk to very young children and respond to their attempts to engage
with simple language and frequent eye-contacts. Young children also need
teachers to play with, talk with, sing to, and with whom to do finger plays and
other learning games. In preschool, children need positive and nurturing
relationships with teachers who can model reading and writing behaviors, engage
in responsive conversations, and foster their interests in learning to read and
write (NAEYC, 1998; Teale & Yokota, 2000).
A PRINT-RICH ENVIRONMENT
Children need materials to support
their literacy development. When children have ready access to writing tools
with which to express themselves in symbolic ways, they are motivated to learn
and use literacy. Books, papers, writing tools, and functional signs should be
visible everywhere in the classroom so that children can see and use literacy
for multiple purposes. Children also engage in more reading and writing
activities in print-rich environments (Slegers, 1996). For toddlers, teachers
can provide simple art materials such as crayons, markers or papers for them to
explore and manipulate. For preschoolers, teachers can draw children's attention
to specific letters and words in the environment whenever it is appropriate.
Besides accessible writing tools, children also need time to explore literacy.
In the free-choice time period, children can engage in literacy-related play by
sharing and sending messages to friends in a writing center. Creating menus for
a restaurant, writing grocery lists, or making invitations to classroom events
are examples of activities that can help children understand what readers and
writers do before they actually acquire the skills necessary to read and write
(NAEYC, 1998; Neuman, 1998; Teale & Yokota, 2000). When literacy is an
integral part of their daily activities, children actively construct their own
literacy knowledge and strategies and learn to read and write naturally and
playfully (Teale & Yokota, 2000).
INTEGRATED LANGUAGE EXPLORATIONS IN THE CURRICULUM
early childhood curriculum should be intellectually engaging and challenging in
a way that expands children's knowledge of the world and vocabulary.
Investigating real topics or events that are meaningful to children should be a
primary feature of the curriculum. When children investigate, they have
opportunities to ask questions and use their literacy skills to explore their
worlds. Teachers can establish time each day for students to present their
thoughts in symbolic ways. Children can also work in small groups with peers
having different skills so they can learn from each other. Most young children
are eager to learn literacy when they discover that it is useful for exploring
the environment and for communicating with others (NAEYC, 1998; Neuman, 1998).
READING AND WRITING ACTIVITIES
Listening to stories and
discussing them are very important activities in early childhood classrooms
(Slegers, 1996). For very young children, who normally have very short attention
spans, story times work best when they are short (about 5-10 minutes) and
conversational. Teachers can share cardboard books, nursery rhymes, books with
photographs or drawings of animals, people, and brightly colored objects.
Through these activities, children learn to focus their attention on words and
pictures (Neuman & Bredekamp, 2000). In preschool, children need daily
exposure to high quality books. Teachers can read books daily to individual
children or to small groups of children; these readings should be from books
that positively reflect children's identity, home language, and culture. In
kindergarten and the primary grades, children also need to experience and engage
in stories and informational texts daily. These activities foster children's
vocabulary learning and comprehension skills (NAEYC, 1998; Neuman &
Bredekamp, 2000; Teale & Yokota, 2000).
When reading to students of all ages, teachers should speak with inflection
in order to convey meanings. Teachers may either stop and ask questions when
they read the books or they can read an entire passage at once, thereby
permitting students to enjoy the language and the rhythm of the book (Neuman,
1998). After readings, there should be opportunities for children to talk about
what was read and to focus on the sounds and parts of language as well as the
meaning of the book (NAEYC, 1998). Student response cards and group discussions
followed by the retelling of a story using pictures or actual objects are
effective devices for engaging students and enhancing their understanding of the
stories they have read (Neuman, 1998). Background and contextual information
regarding the literature being read is also useful for students' comprehension,
vocabulary building and decoding. This can be provided through field trips,
experiments, videos, or guest speakers (NAEYC, 1998; Schickedanz, 1998).
Students not only need to listen to books, they also need to have chances to
read independently. Library corners need to be in the central part of the
classroom with comfortable furniture that encourages children to read by
themselves. Varying levels and varieties of reading materials, such as novels,
biographies, informational books, magazines, and newspaper articles should be
provided to broaden children's reading experiences. Good lighting and lively
displays of readily accessible arrangements of books encourage children to stay
in the library (Neuman & Bredekamp, 2000). Many teachers like to encourage
children to do book talks about the materials they are reading, finding that
this method significantly promotes conversations and reading interests among the
children. Opportunities for children to read to audiences, including peers,
parents, or even stuffed animals should be provided since this has been found to
increase reading accuracy and fluency. Reading can also be a regular part of
children's out-of-school time so that parents can be involved in supporting
children's reading habits at home. When children have opportunities to
experience various types of literature such as stories, informational texts, and
poems, to respond to them through art, music, or dramatic activities, and to
learn from lessons about comprehension strategies such as predicting and drawing
inferences, they become more capable in processing written language and more
familiar with language patterns and vocabulary (Neuman, 1998; Teale &
VARY TEACHING STRATEGIES ACCORDING TO CHILDREN'S NEEDS
literacy-rich classrooms, some children are able to learn the skills and
strategies necessary for reading and writing through engagement in meaningful
activities. Finger plays, songs, poems, games, chants, and book listening and
discussion all help children to pick up new vocabularies, understand the
similarities and differences in language, and develop phonemic awareness (NAEYC,
1998; Neuman, 1998). However, it is important for teachers to adjust teaching
strategies according to children's needs. Some children need explicit, direct
instruction in order to master the task, and teachers must try to achieve
balance between meaningful activities and skill practices (NAEYC, 1998; Neuman,
1998; Schickedanz, 1998; Teale & Yokota, 2000). Children may need to see or
hear the alphabetic letters isolated from the context in order to better capture
their shape and form (Neuman, 1998).
If a child fails to make expected progress in literacy learning or if their
literacy skills are advanced, teachers also need to prepare more individualized
instructional strategies to meet the child's needs (NAEYC, 1998)
Learning to read and write is a critical
achievement in life. Research reveals conclusively the link between early
literacy and later academic and career success. To ensure that every child
becomes a competent reader and writer is a responsibility shared by teachers,
families and communities. The role of educators in early literacy instruction is
to teach basic skills and to provide rich, meaningful, engaging learning
environments supported by appropriate teaching practices. Each child comes to
the classroom with different literacy experiences and abilities, and teachers
need to consider each child's needs and to provide balanced programs with
explicit instruction and meaningful reading and writing tasks (Slegers, 1996).
When children are encouraged to learn independently, and when teachers, parents
and communities work together to build optimal environments for that learning,
children's success in reading and writing can be expected (NAEYC, 1998; Neuman,
1998; Schickedanz, 1998).
National Association for the Education of Young
Children. (1998).A joint position statement by NAEYC & International Reading
Assoc.: Learning to read and write: Developmentally appropriate practices for
young children. Young Children, 53(4), 30-46.
National Institute for Literacy. (2001). Put reading first: The research
building blocks for teaching children to read: Kindergarten through grade 3.
Washington, DC: Author.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000). Report of
the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based
Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications
for Reading Instruction [Online]. Available:
Neuman, S. B. (1998). How can we enable all children to achieve? In S. B.
Neuman & K. A. Roskos (Eds.), Children achieving: Best practices in early
literacy (pp. 18-32). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Neuman, S. B., & Bredekamp, S. (2000). Becoming a reader: A
developmentally appropriate approach. In D. S. Strickland & L. M. Morrow
(Eds.), Beginning reading and writing. Language and literacy series (pp. 22-44).
Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Schickedanz, J. A. (1998). What is developmentally appropriate practice in
early literacy? Consider the alphabet. In S. B. Neuman & K. A. Roskos
(Eds.), Children achieving: Best practices in early literacy (pp. 20-37).
Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Slegers, B. (1996). A review of the research and literature on emergent
literacy. Urbana-Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early
Childhood Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 397 959)
Teale, W., & Yokota, J. (2000). Beginning reading and writing:
Perspectives on instruction. In D. S. Strickland & L. M. Morrow (Eds.),
Beginning reading and writing. Language and literacy series (pp. 3-21). Newark,
DE: International Reading Association.