Monday, August 20, 2012

Reading Research Monday: How Early Literacy Skills Are Indicators of Future Reading and Writing Performance


Early literacy skills not only consist of the five essential components of reading, but of other, more foundational skills as well.  These other skills include print awareness, print motivation, readiness, and narrative abilities.  It is important for teachers and parents to be aware of these skills as they are necessary for building proficient and able readers.  While all of these skills are important, several are strong predictors of later reading outcomes.  This means if a student is proficient in these skills in preschool and kindergarten, then he is likely to be proficient in his reading and writing abilities as he ages.  However, the opposite holds true.  If a child struggles with one or more of these predictors, it is likely that she will struggle later on as well.

Knowing which early literacy skills are strong indicators for later reading success is crucial.  The earlier teachers and parents can create interventions for a child to build his early literacy skills, the more likely he will be able to become proficient in the necessary skills. 

Research Findings

In Predictive Validity of Early Literacy Indicators for Middle of Kindergarten to Second Grade by Burke, et al. (2009) correlations were found between kindergarten phonological awareness and first grade reading skills.  The study stressed the importance of monitoring phonological awareness in the very early grades (preschool and kindergarten), as poor performance indicates that interventions are needed.  If these low performing students can be targeted for specific interventions, then the issue can be corrected and "the word-reading problems as well as the poor reading trajectories typified by older struggling readers can be prevented."

Developing Early Literacy Skills: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel also examines early indicators by focusing on how children's skills and abilities are linked to later literacy outcomes in chapter two.  The NELP found that literacy skills "measured when children were in kindergarten or earlier... were substantially related to measures of decoding that were obtained when children were in kindergarten or later.  The NELP found three interesting correlations in preschool and kindergarten aged children:
  1. Reading readiness and concepts of print were most correlated to later reading comprehension abilities.
  2. Current spelling abilities, including invented spelling and decoding, were most correlated to later spelling abilities.
  3. Decoding non-words was most correlated to later decoding real word abilities.

The University of Oregon's Center on Teaching and Learning also adds letter naming fluency to the list of strong predictors.  In its discussion of DIBELS: Letter Naming Fluency the CTL emphasizes that this skill is "highly predictive of later reading success."  However, the CTL is quick to point out that directly increasing a student's letter naming fluency ability does not improve his reading outcomes.  Rather, letter naming fluency is an indicator that a student, "may require additional instructional support."

This doesn't take away from the fact that letter naming fluency is good predictor of later reading outcomes.  It is.  And it is also important to remember that the link between letter naming fluency and later reading success is a correlation, not a causation.  The reason it correlates so well is still unknown, but some believe it is due to other influences like parental involvement building pre-reading skills before a child enters school. 


For parents and teachers it is important to foster a rich learning environment that develops students' early reading skills.  It is also important to monitor how those skills progress and to intervene early if adequate progress is not being made.  In Examination of the Predictive Validity of Preschool Early Literacy Skills Missall, et al. (2007) stresses that "many early indicators are sensitive to growth in preschool and kindergarten."  Burke, et al. supports this by stating that "kindergarten is where a prevention-oriented approach... can have the most impact."

Essentially this means that if students lack the skills they need, it is much more effective to start interventions immediately while the gap between their skills and where their skills should be is relatively small.  If intervention is postponed, then low performing students' skills will remain low while their peers' skills keep increasing.  Remember that standards are a moving target - they increase as students age.  If a student starts interventions in kindergarten, the standard she needs to meet is lower than if those interventions were started a year later when she enters first grade.  With each passing year (or month even) the gap between low performing students and their on-level peers widens.  It is essential to start interventions early.

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