Blast from the Past: I've received several notes during the past weeks challenging my advocacy for early reading instruction. Some have related horror stories about how children are being emotionally crushed by being taught to read. I took another look at the research -- this piece has been out for quite a while. There are many more studies now supporting my position: correlational studies showing a the close relationship between kindergarten reading attainment and high school success; studies showing the powerful early payoffs from kindergarten reading instruction; studies showing the retention of these benefits through 3rd and 4th grade, especially for kids from high poverty neighborhoods and English Learners; studies that show vulnerable kids who close that gap or even catch up with more advantaged peers; and, studies showing that academic skills and social-emotional ones grow together. I've added a handful of these to the reference list below.
There are really two things that disturb me about this ongoing disagreement. First, the opponents of early instruction keep citing the same old correlations to prove their point, and they continue to ignore the growing accumulation of correlational and experimental data that gives lie to their beliefs. They don't shift in the face of evidence. They are lock in. It is all a matter of faith now; no data shall change their minds. The second: They never explain what they would do to try to give every opportunity of success to kids growing up in poverty, kids coming to English as a second language, those with disabilities... their panacea is just let those kids play and eventually they'll learn to read. I believe we can do better.
I continue to support Kindergarten reading instruction for young kids to give them the longest ramp to learning.
Two groups that are strong advocates in early childhood education (Defending the Early Years and the Alliance for Childhood), released a report called Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose (see https://dey.org/our-new-report-reading-instruction-in-kindergarten-little-to-gain-and-much-to-lose/). They claim there is no research base for the importance of learning to read in kindergarten (so that its inclusion in the Common Core as a goal for K is potentially harmful).
I think they are wrong about the research here, but wanted to seek out your reaction. Does research suggest that learning to read, especially as indicated in the Common Core, is associated with long-term positive or negative effects?
Great question. This is one that I’ve been thinking about since I was 5-years-old (no, really). My mom asked my kindergarten teacher if she should do anything with me to help and the teacher discouraged any efforts in that regard. At the time, the “experts” believed that any early academic learning was damaging to children—to their academic futures and to their psyches.
When I became a first-grade teacher, we were still holding back on such teaching, at least during the first-semester of grade one. We didn't want to cause the mental disabilities, academic failure, and vision problems predicted by the anti-teaching types.
These days we are doing a great job of protecting poverty children and minority children from this kind of damage. Of course, many of us middle-class white parents are risking our own kids. It is not uncommon these days for suburban kids to enter first-grade, and even kindergarten, knowing how to read. As I’ve written before, I taught both of my kids to read before they entered school.
There are not now, and there never have been data showing any damage to kids from early language or literacy learning—despite the overheated claims of the G. Stanley Halls, Arnold Gessells, Hans Furths and David Elkinds (and many others).
Let me first admit that if you seek studies that randomly assign kids either to kindergarten literacy instruction and no kindergarten literacy instruction and then follow those kids through high school or something… there are no such studies and I very much doubt that there will be. Given how strong the evidence is on the immediate benefits of early literacy instruction I don’t think a scholar could get ethics board approval to conduct such a study.
That it wouldn’t be ethical to withhold such teaching for research purposes should give pause. If it isn’t ethical to do it for research, should it be ethical to do so for philosophical reasons? Yikes.
What we do have is a lot of data showing that literacy instruction improves the literacy skills of the kids who receive that instruction in preschool and kindergarten, and another body of research showing that early literacy skills predict later reading and academic achievement (and, of course, there is another literature showing the connections between academic success and later economic success). There are studies showing that the most literate kids are the ones who are emotionally strongest and there is even research on Head Start programs showing that as we have improved the early literacy skills in those programs, emotional abilities have improved as well.
And, as for the claim that early teaching makes no difference, I wonder why our fourth-graders are performing at the highest levels ever according to NAEP?
The studies showing the immediate benefits to literacy and language functioning from kindergarten instruction are summarized in the National Early Literacy Panel Report which is available on line.
And here are some of studies showing the long-term benefits of early literacy achvievement:
Early reading performance is predictive of later school success (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Duncan, Dowsett, Claessens, Magnuson, et al., 2007; Juel, 1988; Snow, Tabors, & Dickinson, 2001; Smart, Prior, Sansor, & Oberkind, 2005). This means that young children’s reading performances tend to be pretty stable: kindergarten literacy development is predictive of 1stgrade performance; 1st grade predicts achievement in various upper grades and the performance at each of these levels is predictive of later levels.
If a youngster is behind in reading in grade 3, then he/she would likely still be behind in high school, which can have a serious and deleterious impact on content learning (science, history, literature, math), high school graduation rates, and economic viability (the students’ college and career readiness).
The research seems clear to me: teach kids reading early and then build on those early reading skills as they progress through school. Don’t expect early skills alone to transfer to higher later skills; you have to teach students more literacy as they move up the grades (something that has not always happened).
Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E., (1997). Early reading acquisition and the relation to reading experience and ability ten years later. Developmental Psychology, 33, 934-945.
D'Angiulli, A., Siegel, L. S., & Maggi, S. (2004). Literacy instruction, SES, and word-reading achievement in English-Language Learners and children with English as a first language: A longitudinal Study. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 19(4), 202–213. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5826.2004.00106.x
Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428-1446.
Gunn, B., Smolkowski, K., Biglan, A., Black, C., & Blair, J. (2005). Fostering the development of reading skill through supplemental instruction: Results for Hispanic and Non-Hispanic students. The Journal of Special Education, 39(2), 66–85. https://doi.org/10.1177/00224669050390020301
Hus, Y. (2001). Early reading for low-SES minority language children: An attempt to 'catch them before they fall". Folia Phoniatrica Et Logopaedica:International Journal of Phoniatrics, Speech Therapy and Communication Pathology, 53(3), 173-182. doi:https://doi.org/10.1159/000052672
Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 437-447.
Le, V.-N., Schaack, D., Neishi, K., Hernandez, M. W., & Blank, R. (2019). Advanced content coverage at kindergarten: Are there trade-offs between academic achievement and social-emotional skills? American Educational Research Journal, 56(4), 1254–1280. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831218813913
Lesaux, N. K. (2004). The development of reading in children from diverse linguistic backgrounds: A 5-year longitudinal study Available from APA PsycInfo®. (620628002; 2004-99009-053).
Relyea, J. E. (2016). The relationship between early word reading and reading comprehension growth for language-minority learners and native-english-speaking students: A seven-year longitudinal study
Smart, D., Prior, M., Sansor, A., & Oberkind, F. (2005). Children with reading difficulties: A six year follow-up from early primary to secondary school. Australia Journal of Learning Difficulties, 10, 63-75.
Snow, C. E., Tabors, P. O., & Dickinson, D. K. (2001). Language development in the preschool years. In D. K. Dickinson & P. O. Tabors (Eds.), Beginning literacy with language: Young children learning at home and school (pp. 1–26). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. (preschool literacy and language predicts 7th grade performance)
Sonnenschein, S., Stapleton, L. M., & Benson, A. (2010). The relation between the type and amount of instruction and growth in children’s reading competencies. American Educational Research Journal, 47(2), 358–389. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831209349215
Stanley, C. T., Petscher, Y., & Catts, H. (2018). A longitudinal investigation of direct and indirect links between reading skills in kindergarten and reading comprehension in tenth grade. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 31(1), 133–153. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-017-9777-6
Copyright © 2023 Shanahan on Literacy. All rights reserved. Web Development by Dog and Rooster, Inc.