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User's Guide to the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation Tool, K-3 (ELLCO K-3), Research Edition

User's Guide to the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation Tool, K-3 (ELLCO K-3), Research Edition

Authors: Miriam W. Smith Ed.D., Joanne P. Brady M.Ed., Nancy Clark-Chiarelli Ed.D.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-948-3
Pages: 104
Copyright: 2008
Available Stock
Paperback $35.00 Qty:

Size:  7.0 x 10.0
Stock Number:  69483
Format:  Paperback
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SAVE when you order the ELLCO K–3 User's Guide and ELLCO K–3 Tool together!

Trusted by schools across the country, ELLCO helps build better literacy programs by assessing the quality of both the classroom environment and teachers' practices. With ELLCO, educators reliably gather the essential data needed for professional development and program improvement that lead to better literacy outcomes for young children. These two NEW editions of ELLCO are even better because they're

  • Age-specific. Assessment is effective and accurate with the new ELLCO editions, designed especially for preschool and early elementary environments. ELLCO Pre-K prompts users to look for preliteracy activities like storybook reading, circle time conversations, and child-originated storywriting, while ELLCO K–3 has been reworked to reflect the evolving literacy skills of K–3 students.
  • Streamlined. Each new edition of ELLCO has just two parts: a classroom observation to gather critical information about 5 key elements of the literacy environment, and a teacher interview, which supplements the observation with educators' firsthand reflections.
  • Easier to administer. Users will get complete information about conducting classroom observations, scoring accurately, and limiting bias. They'll also get helpful descriptors for all 5 levels of the rating scale.
  • Informed by user feedback. The new editions of ELLCO were created using feedback from the education professionals who know the tool best.

With these new editions of the assessment tool thousands trust, preschools and elementary schools will have the information they need to determine the effectiveness of their classroom environments, strengthen the quality of their programs and teaching practices, and improve young children's early literacy outcomes.

View our recorded webinar: Assessing your early childhood program’s literacy practices with ELLCO presented by Louisa Anastasopoulos.

Measure 5 key literacy elements:

  • classroom structure
  • curriculum
  • the language environment
  • books and book reading opportunities
  • print and early writing supports

The User's Guide is part of ELLCO, the bestselling classroom observation tool that helps schools assess the quality of literacy practices and supports and give children the best possible start in language and literacy development. Trusted by schools across the country, ELLCO helps educators reliably gather the data needed for professional development and program improvement, leading to better literacy outcomes for young children.

Learn more about ELLCO Pre-K and ELLCO K–3.

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Review: The Midwest Book Review
"Offer[s] classroom teachers a fresh approach to developing and promoting the literacy skills of young children."
Review by: Betty Bunce, Clinical Professor and Director of Language Acquisition Preschool, Department of Speech Language Hearing, University of Kansas
"Captures the essence of good teaching where indirect as well as direct styles of interaction are valued and where children are supported in developing their own knowledge."
Review by: Laura Justice, Professor, College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University
"This exemplary resource is a must–have . . . I use it all the time and find the data it provides to be valid and reliable indices of the early childhood classroom environment."
Review by: Cynthia Gehrie, Ethnographer, Consultant for Documentation and Professional Development, Early Reading First grant, Northeastern Illinois University
"An organizing and validating instrument that helps classrooms to transform into zones of inquiry and conscious communication."
Review by: Maurice Sykes, Executive Director, Early Childhood Leadership Institute
"The perfect tool . . . for those of us who seek to close the opportunity–to–learn gap during the early learning years."
About the Authors

  1. Introduction to the ELLCO K–3
    Research Literature Base for the ELLCO K–3
    Key Components of Early Reading
    Key Components of Early Writing
    Organization of the ELLCO K–3
    Underlying Assumptions of the ELLCO K–3
    Who Should Use the ELLCO K–3?
    How Does the ELLCO K–3 Compare with the ELLCO Toolkit, Research Edition?
    Contents of the User’s Guide

  2. Effective Elements of Early Literacy: Kenny’s Story
    Vignette 1: Entering
    Vignette 2: Analyzing the Discovery
    Vignette 3: Reading Group
    Vignette 4: End of the Day

  3. Structure of the ELLCO K–3
    Overall Structure and Levels
    Anchor Statements
    Descriptive Indicators
    Evidence Section
    Teacher Interview

  4. How to Conduct an ELLCO K–3 Observation
    Guidelines for Observing in Classrooms
    Scheduling and Duration of Observations
    Conducting Observations with Professionalism and Respect
    Preparing for the Observation
    Taking Evidence and Rating Items
    Focusing on the Evidence
    Rating Strategies
    Avoiding Bias
    Considering Grade Level and Timing
    The Teacher Interview
    Completing the Score Form

  5. A Review of Sample Items
    Recording Evidence
    Understanding the Rubrics
    From Evidence to Rubric to Rating
    Example 1: Item 8, Discourse Climate
    Example 2: Item 15, Strategies to Build Reading Comprehension
    Example 3: Item 16, Writing Environment

  6. Using the ELLCO K–3 for Professional Development
    Tips for Incorporating the ELLCO K–3 into Language and Literacy Practices
    Step 1: Create a Positive Climate for Teacher Development
    Step 2: Preview the ELLCO K–3 Together
    Step 3: Conduct an Initial Observation
    Step 4: Share Results
    Step 5: Generate Goals
    Beginning Steps Toward Change
    Section I: Classroom Structure (Organization, Contents, Management, Professional Focus)
    Section II: Curriculum (Integration of Language and Literacy, Independence, Diversity)
    Section III: The Language Environment (Discourse Climate, Extended Conversations, Vocabulary)
    Section IV: Books and Reading (Characteristics, Sounds to Print, Fluency, Vocabulary, Comprehension)
    Section V: Print and Writing (Environment, Instruction, Student Writing)

  7. Using the ELLCO K–3 in Research
    Practicing and Calibrating Ratings
    Interrater Reliability
    Recalibration in the Field

  8. Technical Report on the ELLCO Toolkit, Research Edition
    Note for the Reader
    Psychometric Properties of the Literacy Environment Checklist
    Interrater Reliability
    General Statistics
    Reliability Analysis
    Measuring Stability and Change
    Psychometric Properties of the Classroom Observation
    Interrater Reliability
    General Statistics
    Reliability Analysis
    Measuring Stability and Change
    Correlation with Another Widely Used Measure
    Predicting Child Outcomes
    Psychometric Properties of the Literacy Activities Rating
    Interrater Reliability
    General Statistics
    Reliability Analysis
    Measuring Stability and Change
    Correlations Among the ELLCO Toolkit (Research Edition)

Web Sites
Web Resources
Research Articles, Books, and Book Chapters

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of User's Guide to the Early Language & Literacy Classroom Observation Tool, K– 3, Research Edition, by Miriam W. Smith, Ed.D. Joanne P. Brady, M.Ed. & Nancy Clark–Chiarelli, Ed.D.

Copyright © 2008 by Education Development Center, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


The importance of early literacy has been underscored by several seminal reports, such as the report of the National Research Council, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), which highlights the importance of balanced, comprehensive literacy programs. Similarly, the National Reading Panel issued a report, Teaching Children to Read (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000), that articulated the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching to read in grades K–6. Yet, despite the fact that research has shown us how to teach students to read, many still are not succeeding. An estimated 20% of our nation's students experience significant difficulty learning to read, and another 20% do not read fluently enough to read for pleasure (Fletcher & Lyon, 1998; Shaywitz, Escobar, Shaywitz, Fletcher, & Makuch, 1992). Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP; National Center for Education Statistics, 2007) indicated that 34% of fourth graders read at a basic level and an additional 33% of fourth graders are considered to be below a basic level. When disaggregated by race/ethnicity, results reveal a vast discrepancy among white, black, and Hispanic students—although 43% of white students read at or above the proficient level, only 14% of black students and 17% of Hispanic students read at these levels (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).

To address these long–standing disparities in educational achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 (PL 107–110) provided new opportunities and challenges for schools and their teachers to ensure academic excellence for all students. A cornerstone of NCLB is accountability. Specifically, in the area of reading/language arts, states have been required to

  • Establish statewide standards and assessments aligned with those standards in reading/language arts…

  • Assess all students in [G]rades 3–8 in reading/language arts annually by 2005-2006…

  • [Develop] assessments [that are] valid, reliable, [and] consistent with relevant, nationally recognized professional and technical standards (Palmer & Coleman, 2003, p. 3)

In an era in which such accountability in reading achievement is paramount, the ELLCO K–3 provides an effective way for practitioners, researchers, and others concerned with quality improvement to gauge progress and focus their program improvement efforts. Moreover, the conceptual framework of the ELLCO K–3 is based on what is known about the components of early reading and writing and effective instruction.

Key Components of Early Reading

Language and literacy are inextricably linked (Adams, 1990; Dickinson & Tabors, 2001; Silliman & Wilkinson, 1994). Students who begin school with a strong language base, including a strong vocabulary and ability to engage in extended discourse, have an academic advantage over their peers (Hart & Risley, 1995; Snow et al., 1998). Regardless of the skills and language proficiency students bring to their first school experience, much can be done in the classroom to facilitate students' oral language development (Wilkinson & Silliman, 2000). Explicit instruction in vocabulary (Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982; NICHD, 2000; Wixson, 1986), incidental instruction in vocabulary (Blachowicz & Fisher, 2000; NICHD, 2000), and providing students with plenty of opportunity to practice using extended discourse through classroom conversations (Cazden, 1988; Wells & Chang–Wells, 2001) are all effective ways to facilitate students' language and literacy growth. Students for whom English is a second language and students who are linguistically diverse benefit from careful assessment, scaffolding, and support (Cummins, 1989; Reed & Railsback, 2003; Wilkinson & Silliman, 2000) in the classroom.

Underlying the ability to work with the alphabetic system is the capacity to hear and manipulate sounds in words. Therefore, phonemic awareness should be emphasized for young children, particularly before they have much familiarity with print (Adams, 1990; Moats, 2000; Snow et al., 1998; Torgesen, Morgan, & Davis, 1992; Williams, 1980). Once students have begun to learn sound–symbol associations and the alphabetic principle, writing and invented spelling support students' ability to identify and manipulate sounds in words (NICHD, 2000; Richgels, 2001; Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1997).

In order to "unlock the code" of written language, beginning readers need instruction in sound–symbol association that is explicit and systematic (Adams, 1990; Byrne & Fielding–Barnsley, 1989; Chall, 1987; A.E. Cunningham, 1990; Ehri, 1991; Ehri & Chun, 1996; Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Schatschneider, & Mehta, 1998; Snow et al., 1998) and that provides sufficient practice in applying graphophonemic strategies to text, particularly to connected text (P.M. Cunningham & Allington, 2002; Stahl & Duffy–Hester, 1998). Different methods of phonics instruction can be equally effective as long as they are systematic (Chall, 1987; NICHD, 2000; Stahl, 2001).

As students develop into readers, there is the need for automatic identification of sight words and proficient sound–symbol association (Adams, 1990; Ehri, 1991; Snow et al., 1998). They also need to be able to read text fluently (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Samuels, 1994) in order to allocate cognitive re– sources necessary for the comprehension of text (Kuhn & Stahl, 2000; NICHD, 2000; Rasinski, 2004; Samuels, 2002). Moreover, methods of instruction that effectively foster greater fluency in students have been clearly identified (Rasinski, 2004; Samuels, 2002). Specifically, instructional methods that emphasize the use of modeling of fluent reading (Chomsky, 1976; Eldredge, 1990; Labbo & Teale, 1990) and repeated reading (Morris & Nelson, 1992; Samuels, 1979; Samuels, Schermer, & Reinking, 1992) have been shown to be effective in increasing students' fluency.

Because comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading, young readers need to become aware of their own thinking—metacognition—and be able to apply the invisible strategies that good readers use as they construct meaning from text (Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, & Campione, 1983; Deschler & Schumaker, 1988; Duffy, Roehler, & Hermann, 1988). Key comprehension strategies include making connections to background knowledge, predicting, summarizing, clarifying, making inferences, and using visualization (Pearson & Fielding, 1991; Pressley, 1994).

Research and practice suggest that effective beginning reading instruction

  • Emphasizes explicit teaching that models, demonstrates, and explains specific strategies and behaviors used in reading connected text (Bereiter & Bird, 1985; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Pressley et al., 1991)

  • Provides students opportunities to practice new strategies with teacher support that is aligned with their abilities (Beed, Hawkins, & Roller, 1991; Tharpe & Gallimore, 1988; Vygotsky, 1934/1986)

  • Carefully matches readers to texts, considering both text difficulty and students' interests (Berliner, 1981; Chall, Bissex, Conrad, & Harris–Sharples, 1996; Chall & Conard, 1991; Gambrell & Morrow, 1996),br />
  • Varies the difficulty of text, depending on the type of reading activity or instruction (Fountas & Pinnell, 1999; Gunning, 1998). For example, optimally during independent reading, students read text at their independent level. But, during teacher–supported instruction, text should be more challenging.

  • Uses strategies to create flexible, small groupings of students with similar levels of reading proficiency (Taylor, Pearson, Clark, & Walpole, 1999)

  • Frequently monitors progress in order to regroup students, based on teacher observation (Keisling, 1978; Slavin, Stevens, & Madden, 1988; Taylor et al., 1999)

Key Components of Early Writing

Since the 1980s, the emphasis in writing instruction has shifted from a focus on product to a focus on process. Experts such as Graves (1987) and Calkins (1994) argued that students should learn to write using the same processes that skilled writers use—that is, by writing about topics that interest them and by revising their work multiple times. This process approach to writing has been conceived of as having distinct stages: brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing—each requiring different skills (Calkins, 1994). To implement the process approach, many have recommended that large blocks of time be set aside for workshops in which students write (Calkins, 1994). Just as skilled writers rely on feedback and collaboration from others, even the youngest students benefit from peer input (Calkins, 1994; Graves, 1987).

Bromley (1999) outlined five components of writing instruction that are generally accepted in the literature:

  • Standards and assessment should guide writing instruction.

  • Teachers should provide large blocks of time for writing, talking, and sharing.

  • Students should receive direct instruction in composing and conventions.

  • Students should have a choice in writing topics and write for a variety of purposes and audiences.

  • Writing should be used across the curriculum to construct meaning.

Although there is limited research on effective writing instruction to date, existing literature does support a process approach to writing instruction, indicating that student achievement in writing is superior when writing instruction is process oriented rather than product oriented (Cotton, 2004). In fact, results from NAEP assessments indicate that students who were expected to write multiple drafts of papers scored significantly better than those who were expected to turn in only a finished product (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999).


The ELLCO K–3 consists of an observation instrument and a teacher interview designed to supplement the observation. The observation contains a total of 18 items, organized into five main sections:

  • Section I: Classroom Structure contains four items that address classroom organization and contents, management practices, and professional focus.

  • Section II: Curriculum consists of three items that address the integration of language and literacy, opportunities for independence in learning, and recognition of diversity.

  • Section III: The Language Environment includes three items that focus on the discourse climate in the classroom, opportunities for extended conversations, and efforts to build vocabulary.

  • Section IV: Books and Reading contains five items that address the characteristics of books available and the development of the key components of reading: reading fluency, phonics and phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and comprehension.

  • Section V: Print and Writing includes three items that focus on the writing environment, writing instruction, and students' writing products.

The ELLCO K–3 is scored and tabulated so that there are two main subscales. Sections I and II combine to create the General Classroom Environment subscale. Sections III, IV, and V join together to create the Language and Literacy subscale. These subscales are intentionally differentiated, with the emphasis placed on the Language and Literacy subscale, which contains the majority of items (11), whereas the General Classroom Environment subscale includes the remaining 7 items.


The ELLCO K–3 is based on several central assumptions about the nature of students' literacy development and the conditions and opportunities in classrooms that either support or detract from such development:

  • Opportunities to use and practice oral language and literacy skills are fostered in classrooms that are structured to support students' initiative, actively engage students in learning experiences, and blend goals for other content areas with literacy learning.

  • Teachers are responsible for instructing students in the key components of literacy that teach and reinforce appropriate reading and writing development.

  • Teachers have a responsibility to understand, evaluate, and respond appropriately to individuals' differing literacy skills and learning needs.

  • Connections are made among students' oral language use, the opportunities students have to engage in extended talk, and their developing capacities as readers and writers.Mbr />
  • Decisions about classroom organization, provision of materials, and scheduling of time are made thoughtfully, with the intent of fostering language, literacy, and learning.

  • Teachers plan curricula that support students in developing their language, reading, and writing proficiencies while engaging them in cognitively challenging learning.

  • Teachers use a range of assessment techniques to evaluate learning and adjust their instruction accordingly.


The developers of ELLCO K–3 recommend that potential users have strong background knowledge of students' language and literacy development as well as experience teaching in primary–grade classrooms. Furthermore, they should understand how instruction adjusts to the changing capacities of students as the students move from kindergarten to third grade. A range of professionals may be interested in using the ELLCO K–3 for a variety of purposes, including the following:

  • Researchers who are engaged in evaluating the quality of language and literacy practices in primary–grade classrooms

  • Curriculum coordinators and literacy coaches, who are involved in supporting the development of teachers

  • Professional development facilitators, interested in fostering a shared vision of effective language and literacy instruction, who want to use a tool that provides both a springboard for discussion and a means for systematic documentation of progress

  • Teachers who are interested in a tool that stimulates their assessment and reflection on their classroom practices and strategies


Thanks to the widespread use of the original ELLCO Toolkit, Research Edition, and feedback from a diverse body of users, we have incorporated a range of changes in the creation of this new instrument. These changes serve to make the ELLCO K–3 easier to use and score and more focused than the original ELLCO. For users familiar with the original ELLCO, it is important to note that items from the Literacy Environment Checklist and Literacy Activities Rating Scale now have been integrated into the architecture of the ELLCO K–3 observation itself (see further details on these items in the technical report). The purpose of this substantial change was to make several of the observation items more robust by including details previously gathered by the Literacy Environment Checklist and the Literacy Activities Rating Scale and reduce reliance on counting literacy materials and activities that tended to skew results. For instance, classrooms with more materials, regardless of whether or how they were used, were more likely to receive higher ratings. The ELLCO K–3 explicitly values how materials are used by teachers and students more than whether materials are merely present. The most significant change is the specificity and depth of items that gauge evidence–based approaches linked to effective reading and writing instruction. This version also includes detailed descriptive indicators at each of the five scale points (rather than for just three), which will help observers more clearly and reliably decide how to rate each item. Chapter 3 provides more details on the structure of ELLCO K–3 tool.