This study examined educators' strategies for promoting emergent literacy skills in early childhood classrooms and children's responses to these strategies. Educators' responses to items on a literacy questionnaire were correlated with the observed use of strategies. Twenty early childhood educators and 76 preschoolers participated in this study. Videotaped interactions of small-group storybook reading and a poststory writing activity were coded to capture the frequency of educators' and children's use of print references, alphabet letter names, alphabet letter sounds, and decontextualized language. A literacy questionnaire tapped educators' perceptions of their literacy facilitation practices in these same areas. Educators and children used more utterances that contained alphabet letter names and the sounds of letters during the poststory writing activity than during storybook reading. In contrast, they used higher frequencies of decontextualized language in storybook reading than in the writing activity. Educators' ratings of strategies to model letters, sounds, and prediction questions were correlated with educators' use of these strategies during videotaped interactions. Overall, the results of this study suggest that literacy-rich contexts in addition to storybook reading may be useful for promoting emergent literacy skills in early childhood classrooms. Professional development is required to improve educators' knowledge about emergent literacy facilitation skills and the diverse contexts in which it may be carried out.
Keywords: early literacy, early literacy learning, early childhood educators, early childhood
An important focus of early childhood settings is the facilitation of emergent literacy skills (Justice, Kaderavek, Fan, Sofka, & Hunt, 2009). Emergent literacy has been defined as the skills and knowledge that precede formal reading and support the development of decoding skills and reading comprehension (e.g., Sulzby & Teale, 1991). Whitehurst and Lonigan (1998) categorized emergent literacy skills into two broad areas: outside-in skills, which include vocabulary and oral language development, and inside-out skills, which include print knowledge, alphabet letter names, and phonological awareness. Within this conceptualization, outside-in skills are purported to facilitate reading comprehension, whereas inside-out skills support the development of early decoding and spelling. The importance of facilitating emergent literacy skills in preschool settings is underscored by the finding that children who begin elementary school with poor emergent literacy skills are less able to take advantage of reading instruction in kindergarten (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).
Increasing numbers of children attend child care centers where their developmental progress is facilitated by early childhood educators. As a result, these settings have the potential to be important sources of emergent literacy experiences, because there are multiple opportunities to model emergent literacy skills during naturalistic classroom activities. Examples of these activities include name writing, singing rhyming songs, and storybook reading, all of which may include a focus on print concepts, sound awareness, and oral language. However, existing reports suggest that that this potential is rarely realized. Several studies reveal that early childhood educators and preschool teachers may provide less than optimal support for emergent literacy development, in part, because their knowledge and expertise in this area is highly variable (e.g., Cunningham, Perry, Stanovich, & Stanovich, 2004; Cunningham, Zibulsky, & Callahan, 2009; Mather, Bos, & Babur, 2001). In addition, studies that have investigated the quality of literacy input "across the day" (Connor, Morrison, & Slominski, 2006; Dickinson & Caswell, 2007; Justice, Mashburn, Hamre, & Pianta, 2008; Massey, …