I chose to focus on policy in practice in the early years of a child’s early literacy. I am working towards my reading endorsement, so I feel it’s important for me to focus and learn about this area in early childhood literacy. More and more attention is being put on early childhood literacy. Literacy is the foundation of many forms of learning. Without it, children struggle to learn in other subjects as well. Teaching children literacy skills at a young age can help this individual later have academic achievement, higher graduation rates, and overall just a more productive adult life.
Professionals have found that a child’s development is completely interrelated. Each aspect, whether than be physical development, social and emotional development, cognitive development, or literacy development, all are important to a child’s progress. For example, if a child struggles with fine motor skills at a young age, they may not be able to use their scissors very well which may lead them to get made fun of which affects their emotional development. If a child cannot see well, they likely will have difficulty and struggle with reading, which leads to a lag in their literacy development. Every aspect is tightly knit together, and the child needs to grow in all areas to be successful in one area. The team is only as strong as its weakest link.
It is so important to engage children in literacy at a young age because they can fall behind so easily. Once a child is behind, it is a difficult task for them to get caught up. A child who is behind will likely remain behind throughout their entire lives. Statistics show that ninety percent of kids who have trouble reading will “achieve grade level in reading if they receive help by the first grade” and that “75 percent of children whose help is delayed to age nine or later continue to struggle throughout their school careers.” The article went on to say that, “If help is given in fourth grade, rather than in late kindergarten, it takes four times as long to improve the same skills by the same amount” (Hall, 2009).
I am currently tutoring two boys (grades three and five). I began tutoring them a few weeks after their “at home” learning started due to the Coronavirus. Both of the boys battle attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and they are already a few weeks behind in their schoolwork because their single parent was trying to work and help the children with schoolwork. It was too much for one person to handle, so he hired me. Now, the boys are behind and it is my job to get them caught up. I can tell the boys have not spent a significant amount of time indulged in reading, because I see how it affects every single subject they do. One boy is extremely gifted with numbers, but because of his literacy skills, he tends to struggle to interpret story problems. Each and every unique child of God learns at their own pace and in their own ways and faces their own battles, so how do we reach every student? I think a lot of that responsibility falls on the teachers, but I believe each child comes to school with a set of literacy skills, and each child has a different starting point than their peers sitting next to them. If a child has limited access to literature, they will likely have a difficult time learning how to read. This is why it is so crucial for parents to work with their children.
There are many different ways that parents can begin working with on their child’s literacy skills at a young age. Parents who use a wide range and more complex words in their own daily vocabulary are likely going to have kids who have an easier time learning how to read. The oral language can “build sensitivity to the sound system so that children can acquire phonological awareness and phonics” (Fernandez, Nixon, 2013) If a child is exposed to many words throughout their lifetime, they will have a higher vocabulary. This will help them learn to read in the future because good readers use a variety of methods to determine what a word is. If the child can’t sound out the word because it has a strange pronunciation, they can possibly figure out the pronunciation because they’ve maybe heard it before.
Parents can also lead by example. Often children look up to their parents. Parents can set aside time to read for their own leisure so their child sees that reading is done for enjoyment, not for schoolwork or a punishment. Even for parents to dedicate a room in their house to reading is a great idea. My parents just built a new house, and they put a library full of books in this new house. A whole room full of books. Parents can also help their children by sitting down and reading to them on a daily basis from a young age. Children should be reading with adults, but also encouraged to look at books on their own (even if it is a picture book). The more a child is exposed to books, the easier it will be for them to learn how to read.
Teachers’ knowledge and relationships with each student are a vital part of the child’s growth. Teachers must have respect and understanding of different cultures and students with different at-home lives. Children come into every single situation and lesson with previous knowledge. Some students have more experiences related to certain topics to others. This is why teachers must pre-assess so that they have an idea of what their students already know about the topic. When a child reads a book, they may comprehend it if they have the background knowledge that relates to the story. If a child is reading about a topic they have never heard of before, they will likely struggle to comprehend that story.
Early literacy should be assessed in a variety of ways. Each student is stronger in different areas, so to ensure you are discovering all of what every student knows, teachers should give students different types of assessments. One student may not be a good test taker but may be really good at showing their knowledge in a hands-on or project format. On the other hand, some students may not be good at performing on the spot in a hands-on way or may be sloppy in their projects. Teachers should also give students options at various points. For example, the teacher may say, “You can choose to read a book aloud to me and explain what it is about when you are finished, or you may choose to read the book on your own and take a short quiz about what you understood from the story.” This way, students are given an opportunity to choose what works for them.
Literacy development and learning to read does not simply begin the day a child walks through a school’s doors for the first time. This is an ongoing process and it begins as early as infancy. The more parents talk to their infant, the more likely that child will begin talking at a young age. This will set the child on an easier path for learning how to read. Both a child’s phonological awareness and a child’s vocabulary can and should begin at a very early age, even by simply having long conversations with adults.
Although there is more focus being put on early childhood literacy today than ever before, it is an ongoing issue. As you can see, there is so much research that points to the richness found in starting children in literacy at a young age. There is never going to be a perfect answer of how to fix the issue of this lag and gap between early childhood literacy, but there are certainly things that we as teachers can focus on that can help. Teachers must look at early literacy learning standards, curriculum, accountability and assessment, and teacher education/professional development. As teachers of the youth, we have so much responsibility in our hands that cannot be taken lightly.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) standards give guidelines for the content that children are learning as well as planned activities that are linked to the goals. It also gives a daily schedule for the children. This is a great resource for teachers and even parents to use for their child’s early childhood literacy development. They place a lot of value on reading, writing, listening, and speaking. They also describe the topics in a way that is easy to understand and relate to. “In 2005, 43 states report having early childhood standards, which is a substantial increase over the past few years.” Standards must be well thought out because they have a lot of control over what is being taught in our school systems. They also talk about how the weight of meeting a standard should never be played entirely on a student but should be placed on the adults that are put in place to provide students with opportunities to learn and grow.
The goal is to have a curriculum that is effective. After years and years of research, experts/educators still are unsure how to create an effective early childhood literacy curriculum. The issue is that at such a young age, it is so important for children to be working on their overall growth in physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development, yet still be learning new material about specific concepts. Some believe that there is too much emphasis put on literacy, and that this creates an imbalance in the child’s overall growth and well-being. Anyone who forms a curriculum must have evidence to back up their ideas. “Key components of an early literacy curriculum grounded in evidence-based early literacy research include: (1) oral language development, which includes vocabulary and listening; (2) an understanding of the alphabetic code, which includes phonological/phonemic awareness and knowledge of the alphabet; and (3) knowledge and understanding about print and its use” (Fernandez, Nixon, 2013) This is a great base for curriculum, but it still will not meet the needs of every single child. This is where the teacher comes in to create modifications and accommodations.
Accountability and assessment is another issue that the education system faces in today’s world. Assessment is a way to measure progress, guide teachers’ planning, identify kids who are ahead or behind, and to give others reports and communicate how children are doing. Some people feel that many assessments in early childhood literacy have a narrow focus and do not show what students know and what they still need to learn. For example, if a child is asked to name every letter of the alphabet, they may be able to do this but there’s no meaning to the learning. Students may miss the point that letters form words and words lead us to reading.
Another issue that early literacy education faces today is understaffing. Today, early childhood literacy teachers are given such high expectations and require so much schooling, there is a shortage of capable early childhood literacy teachers. Teachers are expected to know how to do such a broad list of requirements, that it is extremely difficult to find someone who is capable of completing the task of educating.
As Dordt has taught us, teachers are always learning and making revisions to their lessons. You are never a perfect teacher, there is always room for improvement. “As Roskos and Vukelich aptly state, ‘What early literacy policy accomplishes in the next decades depends not only on the structures placed on and in settings and programs, but also on the people who act on those structures to create patterns of activity that can either advance, resist or stall change’” (Fernandez, Nixon, 2013)
- Fernandez, A., & Nixon, C. (2013, November 7). Early Literacy: Policy and Practice in the Preschool Years. Retrieved from https://www.readingrockets.org/article/early-literacy-policy-and-practice-preschool-years
- Hall, S. (2009). Is It a Reading Disorder or Developmental Lag? Retrieved July 12, 2009, from GreatSchools Web site: http://www.greatschools.net/LD/identifying/reading-disorder-or-developmental-lag.gs?content=743&page=all.
- This Preschool Policy Brief was published by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University, April 2006. Reprinted with permission.