Competencies That Underpin Children's Transition into Early Literacy

Article excerpt

There is a reported association between children's language development and their social and academic success in school (Bishop, 1997; Goodyer, 2000; Hay, Elias, Fielding-Barnsley, Homel, & Frieberg, 2007; Senechal, 2006). In terms of this association the evidence is that lower socio economic status (SES) communities have a greater prevalence of children with early literacy difficulties (Boetsch, Green, & Pennington, 1996; Snow & Powell, 2008) such that low SES is a risk factor in terms of children's initial reading development. Associated with this is a growing belief that appropriate early language and learning experiences can act as a protective factor that has a positive influence upon the cognitive and social development of young children to help alleviate low educational achievement (Cashmore, 2001; Elias, Hay, Homel, & Frieberg, 2006; Hawkins & Catalono, 1992; Paul, 2007).

The evidence is that children's oral language competencies underpin children's transition into literacy, which in turn is a major predictor of academic achievement and school attachment (Barrett & Hammond, 2008; Catts & Kamhi, 2005). Oral language competencies, however, are not the only predictors of reading success and it needs to be acknowledged that there are also other influences (Adams, 1990; Byrne, Fielding-Barnsley, & Ashley, 2000; Scarborough, 2005). For example, Scarborough noted the predictive importance of children's: concept of print, expressive vocabulary, sentence/ story recall skills, and receptive and expressive language, along with the students' phonological awareness and letter naming skills, and that these elements are considered interactive, such that an enhancement in one can have a direct and/or indirect influence on another of the elements. While there are a range of interactive influences on children's early literacy development, the focus of this study is on the interactions of children's early expressive and receptive language and their in-class social behaviour.

When children are delayed in language development the indications are that they are more likely to have difficulty settling into school and classroom routines and develop school attachment (Elias et al. 2006; Senechal, 2006). Compared to their peers they are also less likely to form positive peer social interactions involving advanced play and problem solving communication (Fujiki, Brinton, Isaacson, & Summers, 2001; Lindsay, Dockrel, & Strand, 2007). Reciprocally, children's social and interaction problems have a negative influence on the development of children's language by limiting opportunities for dialogue (Hart, Fujiki, Brinton, & Hart, 2004). That is, delays in language hinder children's social interactions and poor social interactions hinder children's language development. From this perspective, the three elements of: (i) children's language proficiency; (ii) children's social skills proficiency; and (iii) children's behaviour control proficiency are considered to be related because they stem from a common underlying cognitive source that manifests all three proficiencies (Goswami & Bryant, 2007).

The speculation is that the core cognitive proficiency of both language and academic delay is the child's working memory along with processing speed and capacity (Goswami & Bryant, 2007). From this perspective, children's attention related behaviours, language, and social development can not be easily separated from their developing cognitive skills to store, organise, and retrieve information into long-term memory (Bishop, 1997; Cole & Cole, 2001; Paul, 2007). The argument is that children with language delays often struggle with peer interactions, attention tasks, and in social dialogue situations because they cannot quickly or efficiently process or attend to all of the linguistic and non-verbal information needed to interact appropriately with teachers, peers, and others (Catts & Kamhi, 2005; Cross, 2004; Snowling, 2005; Nation, 2005). …