Print-Focused Read-Alouds in Early Childhood Special Education Programs

By Justice, Laura M.; Logan, Jessica A. R. et al. | Exceptional Children, April 2015 | Go to article overview

Print-Focused Read-Alouds in Early Childhood Special Education Programs


Justice, Laura M., Logan, Jessica A. R., Kaderavek, Joan N., Dynia, Jaclyn M., Exceptional Children


Language impairment (LI) is a high-incidence developmental disability that elevates a child's susceptibility to reading problems (Catts, Fey, Tomblin, & Zhang, 2002; Morgan, Farkas, & Wu, 2011; Skibbe et al., 2008). For many children with LI, this susceptibility may be signaled in the early childhood years through its correspondence with lags in the development of print knowledge (Boudreau & Hedberg, 1999; Cabell, Justice, Zucker, & McGinty, 2009; Justice, Bowles, & Skibbe, 2006). Print knowledge is an important precursor of reading skill that reflects young children's developing knowledge about the forms and functions of print (e.g., Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). It includes, for instance, children's alphabet knowledge, their early production of print via writing, and their understanding of various print concepts (e.g., Justice, Pullen, & Pence, 2008; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998). Early childhood special education (ECSE) programming, for which children with LI represent the preponderance of participants (Snyder, Dillow, & Hoffman, 2007), represents an important milieu for implementing interventions that may improve the print knowledge of children with LI and, in turn, potentially reduce their risks for future reading difficulties.

This article describes the results of a randomized controlled trial involving children in 83 ECSE classrooms in which teachers implemented a read-aloud program designed to improve the print knowledge of children with LI, including those for whom LI is the primary disability and those for whom LI occurs concomitantly with or secondary to other disabilities. The present work is situated within a broader body of work seeking to identify effective programs and practices for increasing the early literacy skills of children vulnerable for reading problems (see National Early Literacy Panel [NELP], 2008), with much of this work focused on children reared in poverty (e.g., Hamre et al., 2010; Justice, Kaderavek, Fan, Sofka, & Hunt, 2009; Landry, Swank, Smith, Assel, & Gunnewig, 2006). Recent meta-analyses indicate that interventions featuring adult-child interactive read-alouds represent a particularly viable route for improving young children's early literacy skills, with average impacts of about one third to one half of a standard deviation unit on measures of print knowledge (Mol, Bus, & de Jong, 2009; NELP, 2008). An interactive read-aloud refers to the sharing of a book (fiction or expository) between an adult and child or group of children. The adult reads the book aloud to the child or children and, in the case of interactive read-alouds, promotes children's engagement in the activity by inviting their verbal participation in discussions of the book.

One particular adult-child read-aloud intervention involves implementation of repeated reading sessions featuring print-salient storybooks during which adults use specific techniques, called print referencing, to engage children in explicit conversations about forms and features of print in the book (Justice & Ezell, 2004). Print-salient storybooks are those in which print is a prominent feature of the design; features that make print a salient aspect of the book include speech bubbles, large fonts, changing fonts, and print embedded within the illustrations. The intervention is based on experimental work showing that adults can evoke children to talk more about print (Ezell & Justice, 2000) and to look at it more often (Justice et al., 2008) by making verbal references to the print through questions and comments and also by reading storybooks in which print is a salient characteristic (Dynia, Justice, Pentimonti, Piasta, & Kaderavek, 2011; Zucker, Justice, & Piasta, 2009). When adults do so, it results in positive effects on young children's print knowledge in the short term (Justice & Ezell, 2000, 2002; Justice et al., 2009) and on their longer term reading achievement. …

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