Enhancing Emergent Literacy Skills of Preschoolers from Low-Income Environments through a Classroom-Based Approach

By Massetti, Greta M. | School Psychology Review, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Enhancing Emergent Literacy Skills of Preschoolers from Low-Income Environments through a Classroom-Based Approach


Massetti, Greta M., School Psychology Review


Abstract. Enhancing children's literacy achievement has been identified as a top priority in education policy and research. Recent federal policies and legislation, such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the Reading First Act, have placed special emphasis on academic readiness for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The present project evaluated the effect of the Stony Brook Emergent Literacy Project, an approach that combines teacher training, classroom-based activities, and teacher-evaluated performance using rubrics to target preschoolers' emergent literacy skills. Ten Head Start classrooms were matched and randomly assigned to implement the Literacy Project or serve as the comparison group. Teachers in Literacy Project classrooms implemented 20 group activities and evaluated children's mastery of skills during the activities through rubrics. Children were assessed on their emergent literacy skills by independent evaluators at the beginning and end of the school year. Classrooms that implemented the Literacy Project demonstrated gains in children's emergent literacy skills over the course of the academic year. Results demonstrate the effect of implementing the Literacy Project on children's growth in emergent literacy skills and emphasize the utility of including explicit emergent literacy instruction in early childhood.

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Reading is a critical foundation for children's academic success. Children who read well read more and, as a result, acquire more knowledge in several domains (Stanovich, 1986). Children who read poorly experience problems with multiple reading-related tasks, such as fluency and comprehension, read less than more skilled peers, and do not benefit from the exposure to language and vocabulary as a result of reading (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Echols, West, Stanovich, & Zehr, 1996). Research findings have consistently documented that children living in low-income environments enter school with lower levels of skills necessary for becoming good readers, and continue to trail behind peers from middle- and upper-income backgrounds throughout schooling (Arnold & Doctoroff, 2003).

Research on remediation and intervention for children at risk for reading problems has focused on the construct of emergent literacy (Teale & Sulzby, 1986; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998), which refers to the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are developmental precursors to reading and writing. Data highlight the importance of emergent literacy in predicting success in reading (Lonigan et al., 1999; Lonigan, Burgess, & Anthony, 2000; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). Findings have demonstrated remarkable stability in literacy skills over time and have emphasized the importance of preschool-age competencies in developing critically important emergent literacy skills (e.g., Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998). In a meta-analysis examining the predictive relationship between preschool and kindergarten skills and later reading outcomes, the National Early Literacy Panel (2008) documented robust relationships for a number of competencies measured in early childhood.

Research on emergent literacy has identified a set of skills that are strong predictors of later formal literacy development. Multivariate longitudinal studies have documented two key areas that are most predictive of later reading development: phonological awareness and print awareness (Lonigan et al., 2000; Senechal & LeFevre, 2002; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). In addition, studies have emphasized the contribution of emergent writing competencies in the preschool period to emergent literacy and early formal literacy (McBride-Chang, 1998; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002).

Phonological awareness can be defined as an awareness of the sounds that compose words and the ability to manipulate those sounds (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998); it is one of the strongest predictors of reading achievement (Torgesen & Burgess, 1998; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987; Wagner, Torgesen, Laughon, Simmons, & Rashotte, 1993). …

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