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Early Childhood Literacy

Early Childhood Literacy

The National Early Literacy Panel and Beyond
Volume Editors: Timothy Shanahan Ph.D., Christopher J Lonigan Ph.D.   Chapter Authors: Mindy Sittner Bridges Ph.D., Kate Cain B.Sc, D.Phil., Judith J. Carta Ph.D., Anne E. Cunningham Ph.D., Catherine L. Darrow Ph.D., David K. Dickinson Ed.D., Coralie Driscoll Ph.D., Nancy Eisenberg Ph.D., Beth Anne N. Feldman Ph.D., Howard Goldstein Ph.D., CCC-SLP, James A. Griffin Ph.D., Tiffany P. Hogan Ph.D., Laura M. Justice Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Tanya Kaefer Ph.D., Christopher J Lonigan Ph.D., Peggy McCardle Ph.D., MPH, Susan B. Neuman Ed.D., Jill M. Pentimonti Ph.D., Beth M. Phillips Ph.D., Shayne B. Piasta Ph.D., Ashley M. Pinkham Ph.D., Naomi Schneider Ph.D., Timothy Shanahan Ph.D., Elizabeth J. Spencer Ph.D., Trina D. Spencer Ph.D., BCBA-D, Tracy L. Spinrad Ph.D., Carlos Valiente Ph.D., Barbara Hanna Wasik Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-1-59857-115-8
Pages: 336
Copyright: 2013
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What are today's best practices in early literacy instruction—and what should schools and programs focus on in the near future? More than 20 of the biggest names in early literacy research explore the answers in this essential volume for program directors, administrators, and curriculum developers.

Using the landmark National Early Literacy Panel (NELP) Report as a starting point, this accessible book breaks the report down into key takeaways, recommends future directions in policy and practice, and tackles emerging issues and new research not addressed in the NELP report.

Readers will get balanced, insightful analyses of the latest research on

  • identification of early literacy learning needs
  • phonological awareness and print knowledge
  • comprehension development
  • effective book sharing with young children
  • curriculum-based language interventions
  • the effect of socio-emotional development on academic outcomes
  • pre-K curricula (including which ones show clear evidence of positive effects)
  • the role of home and parent programs in children's literacy development
  • early literacy intervention for young children with special needs

A critical volume that sets the stage for positive change, this important book is a must for every leader in early education. Readers will come away with a nuanced understanding of key issues and recommended practices—knowledge they'll use to drive their decision-making and strengthen early literacy outcomes for young children.

See how this product helps strengthen Head Start program quality and school readiness.

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Review: CHOICE magazine
"This reader-friendly book is packed with contributions from a Who's Who of highly respected early language and literacy researchers. This volume makes clear the imoprtance of supporting early language and literacy development with evidence-based strategies and opportunities, and it affirms the link between early language development and later success in reading and written language."
Review by: Nell Duke, Professor of Language, Literacy, and Culture, University of Michigan
"This book is notable for its currency, the range of topics represented, and the role it can play in shaping the research agenda in early literacy."
Review by: Andrea DeBruin-Parecki, Graduate Program Director, Early Childhood Education, Old Dominion University
"Further clarifies the results of the NELP report and expands on vital issues within it, consistently advocating for the importance of young children's early literacy development to future academic success."
Review by: Diane Haager, California State University Los Angeles
"This book has gathered the most important information about early literacy development into one easy-to-read book. It will be a valuable resource to researchers and other literacy professionals."
Review by: Lesley Morrow, Professor of Literacy, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
"A research-based extraordinarily important contribution to early literacy in this country . . . It should be read by all who are in the field of early childhood."

About the Editors
About the Contributors

  1. The National Early Literacy Panel: A Summary of the Report
    Timothy Shanahan and Christopher J. Lonigan
  2. Contributions of Large-Scale Federal Research Projects to the Early Literacy Knowledge Base
    James A. Griffin and Peggy McCardle
  3. Identifying Early Literacy Learning Needs: Implications for Child Outcome Standards and Assessment Systems
    Elizabeth Spencer, Trina Spencer, Howard Goldstein, and Naomi Schneider
  4. Relations of Children’s Socioemotional Development to Academic Outcomes
    Tracy L. Spinrad, Carlos Valiente, and Nancy Eisenberg
  5. Phonological Awareness and Alphabet Knowledge: Key Precursors and Instructional Targets to Promote Reading Success
    Beth M. Phillips and Shayne B. Piasta
  6. Sharing Books with Children
    Jill M. Pentimonti, Laura M. Justice, and Shayne B. Piasta
  7. Parent Education and Home-Based Efforts to Improve Children’s Literacy
    Barbara Hanna Wasik and Beth Anne Feldman
  8. Significant Differences: Identifying the Evidence Base for Promoting Children’s Early Literacy Skills in Early Childhood Education
    Christopher J. Lonigan and Anne E. Cunningham
  9. Methodological and Practical Challenges of Curriculum-Based Language Interventions
    David K. Dickinson and Catherine L. Darrow
  10. Young Children’s Oral Language Abilities and Later Reading Comprehension
    Tiffany P. Hogan, Kate Cain, and Mindy Sittner Bridges
  11. Early Literacy Intervention for Young Children with Special Needs
    Judith Carta and Coralie Driscoll
  12. Content, Concepts, and Reading Comprehension: What’s Missing in the National Early Literacy Panel Report
    Tanya Kaefer, Susan B. Neuman, and Ashley Pinkham
  13. Reflections on the National Early Literacy
    Panel: Looking Back and Moving Forward
    Christopher J. Lonigan and Timothy Shanahan


Excerpted from Chapter 13 of Early Childhood Literacy, edited by Timothy Shanahan, Ph.D., & Christopher J. Lonigan, Ph.D. Copyright© 2013 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Beyond the National Early Literacy Panel

        The chapters of this book build on the findings of NELP. They highlight emerging research in topics summarized by NELP, offer additional perspective on the findings reported by NELP, and suggest additional areas in which the knowledge base of early literacy and professional practice must be increased. In this section, we summarize some of these key points and identify some crosscutting issues raised by the authors of the chapters.

       NELP restricted its review and synthesis to empirical studies published in peer-reviewed journals. In part, this was done to limit the scope of searches conducted (i.e., alternative search strategies could have included conference reports, dissertations, and other unpublished work), to ensure that searches within a literature were comprehensive (i.e., many alternative literatures are not abstracted and cannot be systematically searched), and to provide some level of quality control over the studies that were included (i.e., peer review ensures that work included meets some quality standard, however slight). In Chapter 2, Griffin and McCardle point out several large-scale projects supported by the U.S. government that have relevant data concerning the development and promotion of early literacy skills. Many of these data sets can be used to answer questions based on the analyses of large and often nationally representative samples of children and families. Regarding some of these data sets, one can question the degree to which depth was sacrificed for breadth in the design of assessment batteries or can be concerned that the measurement operations below the construct labels are, by design, black boxes (e.g., specific item content is not available for most measures used in the data sets for the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study). However, there is no question that these data sets and the reports derived from them to date provide useful information concerning young children’s development. Many of the studies noted by Griffin and McCardle are embedded in the findings reported in other chapters of this book (e.g., Chapter 8).

       In Chapter 3, Spencer, Spencer, Goldstein, and Schneider provide a review of assessments that can be used for different purposes. They note that the NELP report identifies skill domains in which assessment would provide useful information for purposes of screening, identification, and progress monitoring children’s literacy levels and proficiency. These skill domains also are relevant to child and classroom assessment systems that could be used to identify teachers who might need support and professional development to achieve the goal of supporting children’s development. Although the chapter authors identify a host of measures for these different purposes, data on the appropriateness and validity of many of these measures for these purposes are, in most cases, weak or nonexistent (Lonigan, Allan, & Lerner, 2011; Wilson & Lonigan, 2009, 2010). A number of standardized diagnostic measures are validated for use with preschool-age children. However, the cost, training, and administration time required for most of these measures make them impractical for widespread use in most early childhood environments. The best use of these measures is to provide in-depth assessments of children’s relative strengths and weaknesses in specific skill domains.

       Additional work is needed on the development and validation of measures that can be used for screening and progress monitoring of a subset of skills identified by NELP. As an example of such work, the State of Florida, in 2009–2010, developed a set of assessments that teachers in its state-funded preschool program can use to screen and monitor children’s progress related to oral language, phonological awareness, print knowledge, and mathematics (see Florida Department of Education, 2008), in line with Florida’s Early Learning Standards. These assessments are part of an effort by the state to create assessment systems that can be used by teachers to inform instruction. For example, the state previously developed the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading, which is a system of screening, progress monitoring, and diagnostic measuring of children in kindergarten through Grade 12. A large-scale field trial of the preschool measures indicated that they can be administered reliably by children’s preschool teachers and are valid for identifying children at risk of not meeting Florida’s school-readiness classification in the fall of kindergarten.

       In Chapter 4, Spinrad, Valiente, and Eisenberg highlight the growing number of research findings of a connection between children’s self-regulation and their academic skills. As noted by Spinrad and colleagues, studies have shown that a variety of socioemotional constructs are related to children’s language, reading, and math skills, including effortful control, executive function, social competence, peer relationships, teacher relationships, motivation, emotionality, emotion understanding, and emotion regulation. These constructs were not a part of the NELP report’s set of predictor variables because 1) many of the studies of these variables involve children in elementary school or 2) the studies were not published until after the cutoff date for NELP’s literature review (e.g., Blair & Razza, 2007; McClelland et al., 2007). This area of research raises a number of interesting questions concerning the dynamic interaction of academic skills and behavioral and cognitive development. At present, there are many questions concerning definitions of constructs (e.g., Allan & Lonigan, 2011; Willoughby, Blair, Wirth, & Greenberg, 2010) and the degree to which these self-regulation constructs independently influence academic skills, including growth in academic skills (see Duncan et al., 2007; Ponitz, McClelland, Matthews, & Morrison, 2009).

       As previously noted, a frequent criticism of the NELP report is that it emphasized evidence concerning code-related skills and instruction; however, this was a function of the amount of higher-quality published evidence concerning these skills and instructional activities and not a decision on the part of the panel to focus on one area and not another. In Chapter 5, Phillips and Piasta expand the evidence summarized by NELP on code-focused outcomes and interventions to include more recent studies. They confirm the NELP findings regarding the predictive nature of phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge. In addition, they summarize some more recent work on teaching phonological awareness and print knowledge. By the cutoff date of NELP’s literature review, there were few studies identified that examined the effect of teaching children about the alphabet only—in contrast to studies that taught the alphabet in conjunction with phonological awareness instruction. Having looked at the results of more recent studies on the effects of teaching alphabet knowledge, Phillips and Piasta conclude that teaching both letter names and letter sounds is important. They also discuss issues surrounding whole-class versus small-group instructional methods and note that current data suggest a need to increase attention to phonological awareness instruction in preschool classrooms.

       The NELP synthesis of studies concerning interventions involving shared reading is just one of a number of such syntheses that have been reported. In Chapter 6, Pentimonti, Justice, and Piasta review some of these other summaries of the effects of shared reading, and they summarize the effects of interventions involving shared reading that also involve word elaborations and print referencing. They make a point of noting that the effects of these shared-reading strategies may be substantially reduced when used by teachers instead of parents or researchers and that the effects seem to vary as a function of child age and risk status. They note that despite longstanding calls for shared book reading in early childhood education settings, there is considerable variability in how often book reading takes place in preschools and child care centers, with a not small number of preschool and child care classrooms with low levels of book-reading activity. Pentimonti and colleagues also discuss a relatively underresearched area, that is, the types of books that are used in shared reading with young children (e.g., narrative versus expository), and they make suggestions for types of books to be used. They also highlight the need for more research on the relative benefits of small-group versus whole-class shared reading, on types of books used in shared reading, and on optimal ways to promote language skills beyond vocabulary.

       In Chapter 7, Wasik and Feldman summarize results from additional studies of parent and home programs. They provide a detailed summary of the history of evaluations of the now-defunct Even Start program, which was the U.S. government’s two-generation (“family literacy”) program. Several randomized evaluations of Even Start failed to demonstrate positive benefits of the program on most child or parent outcomes. The last randomized evaluation of Even Start, the Classroom Literacy Interventions and Outcomes [CLIO] study (Judkins et al., 2008), evaluated the impact of deploying evidence-based classroom and parent interventions in Even Start programs; however, the CLIO study yielded few positive findings. Wasik and Feldman discuss one possible reason for the lack of consistent positive effects from family literacy programs—fidelity. That is, for an intervention to be effective, those it is intended to affect must receive it in some minimally potent dose. Teachers in classrooms may not implement evidence-based practices as intended, and parents may not participate in the available program components with sufficient frequency for those components to make a difference. Wasik and Feldman also discuss findings from research with older children in which parents are provided with explicit instructional strategies to teach reading skills, and they suggest that it may be useful to develop and evaluate explicit instructional practices for parents of preschool children to use—beyond shared reading—that will help their children acquire early literacy skills.

       Few preschool curriculum or professional development studies were included in the NELP synthesis because there are few empirical evaluations of preschool curricula that are published in peer-reviewed journals or that meet standards of quality that allow causal conclusions. In Chapter 8, Lonigan and Cunningham provide a summary of current evidence concerning preschool curricula and professional development programs. Beyond studies of programs that suggest the value of high-quality early childhood education, there is a relative dearth of well-designed studies that evaluate specific preschool early literacy curricula. Most commercially available curricula have no available studies, or they have studies from which valid conclusions about the effects of the curricula cannot be drawn, and there are relatively few positive results from the few well-designed studies available. Such findings indicate that substantially more work is needed to develop and evaluate preschool curricula. At present, most of the curricula adopted by preschools either have no evidence of effectiveness or no evidence that a particular curriculum is better than a generic alternative. As for professional development programs, the available evidence indicates that professional development for teachers seems unlikely to offer an easy solution, with most studies of professional development failing to show better outcomes for children whose teachers received the professional development than for children whose teachers did not receive the professional development; the one study demonstrating a significant advantage of professional development involved a scope and intensity of professional development well beyond that which programs typically adopt or can afford. Commonalities among curricula and professional development with evidence of effectiveness include explicit instruction that is at odds with the historical philosophy of early childhood education.

       In Chapter 9, Dickinson and Darrow highlight the significance of language development for becoming a skilled reader and note the relative paucity of interventions shown to be effective in promoting language development skills. They note that most studies showing positive effects on language development involve relatively narrow and short-term interventions and have not involved language-focused curricula. They discuss a number of impediments to deploying effective, literacy-focused curricula and also discuss aspects of fidelity of implementation that may be associated with more versus less positive outcomes for children, including the fact that in many classrooms, initial levels of language teaching are low—requiring large changes to move into effective levels of Instruction—adoption of effective strategies may be low and variable in application, and use of strategies may be highly variable throughout the day.

       In Chapter 10, Hogan, Cain, and Bridges provide an expanded description on the ways in which oral language skills contribute to skilled reading, particularly reading comprehension. Based upon the simple view of reading model (Gough, Hoover, & Peterson, 1996; Hoover & Gough, 1990), they describe a changing situation for skilled reading that initially draws heavily on code-related skills and simple language processes in children’s early years but that increasingly relies on a variety of more complex language processes to yield good reading comprehension skills. Given the changing nature of the reading task as children progress through school, difficulties may not be apparent until the more complex language processes are required. Hogan and colleagues discuss the need to promote these more complex language skills that allow children to integrate multiple elements within a text, develop a mental model of the text that can be interrogated and modified, and identify causal relations in text to provide children with the language skills that will ultimately be needed to have skilled reading once the reading tasks make increasing demands on more complex language processes.

       One area that NELP noted it was unable to provide significant evidence for concerned special populations, including children with disabilities. This was because few group-design studies reported results in ways that allowed effects to be isolated within a part of the study sample and because studies with single-subject designs were excluded from the NELP synthesis because they do not yield effect sizes that can be combined with effect sizes of group-design studies. In Chapter 11, Carta and Driscoll summarize the evidence of the effectiveness of interventions with special needs populations. As with the NELP summary, the largest number of interventions evaluated with special needs populations concerned code-focused instruction. These interventions, which typically include a large component of explicit instruction, are effective at promoting the skills they target (i.e., phonological awareness or print knowledge). However, most of the studies of these interventions have involved children who have speech and language impairments rather than more general developmental delays or other cognitive/sensory impairments. Carta and Driscoll note the need for additional studies in this area—studies that involve a broader inclusion of children with special needs, instruction that targets more than code-focused skills, instruction that takes place in typical educational settings, and inclusion of longitudinal outcomes so that the longer term effects of these interventions on children’s conventional literacy skills can be evaluated.

       Finally, in Chapter 12, Kaefer, Neuman, and Pinkham highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of using meta-analysis to identify important correlates of an outcome and effective instructional practices for promoting development of an outcome. They correctly note, as we have elsewhere (Lonigan & Shanahan, 2010), that any meta-analysis is limited by the research that has been completed and reported by the time the analysis is done. Clearly, a meta-analysis cannot provide a synthesis of research not yet conducted or a synthesis of good ideas. Moreover, different sets of inclusion and exclusion criteria can affect the conclusions of a synthesis; Kaefer and colleagues use the example of the effects of shared-reading interventions in which different meta-analyses have supported stronger or weaker effects, in part because of the studies included. They highlight a “mixed methods” approach to meta-analysis in which qualitative aspects of studies are evaluated in an attempt to understand patterns. Such an approach is likely what happens in most meta-analyses, however, and it certainly describes most of the meta-analyses reported by NELP. That is, once the primary meta-analysis is completed, features of individual studies (e.g., methods, population, components of intervention) are analyzed to try to explain reliable and replicable features associated with variations in effect sizes. Although some of these features typically are envisioned at the outset of a meta-analysis, it is also usually the case that other, unanticipated features are evaluated after the studies have been examined first. The essential elements here, however, are reliability and replicability. Any study may produce larger or smaller effects and have unique features; however, those unique features may not be responsible for the larger or smaller effects. To link any feature to an outcome, it is necessary that the feature be evident in multiple studies, and then its presence or absence has to correlate with the outcome variations.

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