Reading Alphabet Books in Kindergarten: Effects of Instructional Emphasis and Media Practice

By Brabham, Edna G.; Murray, Bruce A. et al. | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Reading Alphabet Books in Kindergarten: Effects of Instructional Emphasis and Media Practice


Brabham, Edna G., Murray, Bruce A., Bowden, Shelly Hudson, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


Abstract. This study compared literacy learning for kindergartners as 12 teachers read 10 popular alphabet books aloud, emphasizing meanings or phonemes, and used centers for independent practice with an alphabet book on audiotape or CD-ROM over a period of four weeks. Researchers taught half the teachers to read the books with an emphasis on phonemes represented by the letters and the other half to focus on meanings of words as the books were read. Within each meaning- or phoneme-emphasis group, teachers had students work with one of the alphabet books, Dr. Seuss's ABC, in a computer center with an animated CD-ROM, or in a listening center with an audiotape and print copy. A total of 152 kindergartners completed pre- and posttests measuring knowledge of vocabulary in the alphabet books, letter names, phonetic cue reading, and phoneme identities. Results for phoneme identities indicated a significant interaction between type of instructional emphasis and media practice. An emphasis on phonemes combined with practice reading the alphabet book while listening to the text on audiotape was significantly more effective than other treatment combinations. Statistically significant improvements from pre- to posttests on all measures suggested that alphabet books are useful materials for beginning literacy instruction.

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As teachers and researchers, we conducted this study to explore learning outcomes when kindergarten children listened to alphabet books read aloud by teachers with either a meaning or phoneme emphasis and practiced independently by reading along with an audiotape or the CD-ROM version for one of the books. Reading aloud has a long history and sound theoretical support as an effective classroom practice (Huey, 1908; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Teale, 1984) and, according to Beck and McKeown, "is probably the most highly recommended activity for encouraging language and literacy" (2001, p. 10). Research in the United States confirms that reading books aloud typically occurs daily across the elementary grades, but is most frequently practiced in kindergarten classrooms (Hoffman, Roser, & Battle, 1993; Lickteig & Russell, 1993).

For kindergarten children, alphabet books frequently are recommended as read-aloud materials because of their potential to explicitly focus attention on print that builds letter-sound knowledge and on vocabulary that develops oral and written language (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996, 1998; McGee & Richgels, 1990; Tompkins, 2001; Yopp & Yopp, 2000). For these reasons, Camp and Tompkins (1990) championed alphabet books as read-aloud materials for emergent and beginning readers, hailing the genre as the "soldier of literacy" (p. 298). In spite of the high praise and wide recommendations for alphabet books, we found little research that actually examined the effectiveness of this genre for enhancing literacy learning, and all of the existing studies were done with preschool, not school-age, children.

In their study of two preschoolers, Yaden, Smolkin, and MacGillivray (1993) reported that the children were unable to associate beginning letters with sounds, even after repeated oral readings of alphabet books by parents. Using videotapes of an adult reading an alphabet book to a child, Horner (2001) found increased attention to print and larger gains on letter naming tasks when 4-year-olds viewed child models asking questions about print rather than pictures or models asking no questions at all. In another study with preschoolers, Murray, Stahl, and Ivey (1996) showed that read alouds with alphabet books produced significantly greater gains in phoneme awareness than read alouds with other types of children's books.

Relationships between vocabulary knowledge and reading achievement have been well established (Herman & Dole, 1988; McKeown, 1985), and a number of studies have demonstrated significant increases in children's vocabularies as a result of reading aloud (Brabham, Boyd, & Edgington, 2000; Elley, 1989; Leung, 1992). …

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