Many studies over the past decade have shown that the early years, from birth to age 2, form an indelible blueprint for your child's long-term learning success. Early behaviors and skills associated with successful reading development used to be described as readiness skills, but we now use the term preliteracy. This umbrella term covers far more than a child's ability to identify letters, numbers, or shapes. It includes important skills such as oral language and phonological and phonemic awareness (the awareness of sounds), as well as knowledge of the alphabet and an understanding of common print concepts (print goes from left to right and from up to down on a page).
By the time your child enters kindergarten, his teacher will expect him to have some preliteracy skills — especially the ability to carry on a brief conversation. She might also expect him to pay attention, and react, to stories; to know some letters of the alphabet and the sounds that these letters make, as well as some basic print concepts, such as knowing that printed words convey meaning. These are all skills derived from living in a language-and print-rich environment.
Encouraging Preliteracy Skills
Although knowing letters and sounds is important, perhaps the most significant factors in your child's reading success are his oral language skills. Language is the foundation of reading development and is strongly tied to your child's growth in reading and writing. Research shows that by about 5 years of age, most children have learned approximately 5,000 words. But those words aren't acquired through passive listening alone. Rather, language is supported through verbal interactions and experiences with others.
One of the most significant interactive learning opportunities comes at dinnertime, when families can try to take the time to talk about the daily events in their lives. Even if your child doesn't always chime in during family conversations yet, he does learn from what he hears. Like all parents, you've probably wondered, "Where did he learn that word?" Most likely it came from listening to you speak with other family members and friends!
Motivation to read and self-regulation (self-control) are also considered preliteracy skills. Children develop motivation to read by being read to often, learning firsthand the pleasures that reading can bring. Motivation also grows out of a child's interaction with the adults in his life and his observations of how print and language are used in everyday life.
Self-regulation involves your child's ability to control his behavior. Listening to a story or directions and sitting still when necessary are skills that will help your child become a capable learner in a classroom. If your child is an especially active learner, you can help him build self-regulation skills through a brief activity, such as listening to a very short story, and then, once you've captured his attention, slowly extending it over time. You'll find that self-regulation is more difficult for some children than for others, and is learned only with your patience and persistence.
While it's important to understand preliteracy skills and behaviors, you don't have to directly teach them. Instead, try to follow your child's lead. For example, interesting experiences like grocery shopping, bank visits, and trips to the veterinarian encourage children to talk. These informal occasions allow them to take risks using language, particularly in new and creative ways. They will play with familiar words, explore new meanings, and test uses of language in different settings. Sometimes they'll even invent new ways to use well-known words, and eventually begin to write about these events (through scribble writing, letters, and phonic spellings). All of this happens in interactive settings, with a devoted adult who listens and responds in positive ways to their language play.
In Stage 1 (initial reading, writing and decoding), typically between the ages of 6 and 7 years old, the child is learning the relation between letters and sounds and between print and spoken words. The child is able to read simple texts containing high frequency words and phonically regular words, and uses skills and insight to “sound out” new words. In relation to writing, the child is moving from scribbling to controlled scribbling to nonphonetic letter strings. Adults are encouraging the child to write about known words and use invented spellings to encourage beginning writing, which can be extended through assisted performance. In this stage, the main aims are to further develop children’s phonological awareness, letter-sound knowledge, and ability to manipulate phonemes and syllables (segmentation and blending). These skills should be taught in the context of print, and children should have ample opportunities to manipulate, trace, and hear the sounds of letters. To encourage independent reading, adults should select books that have few words on each page, with a large type size, and with illustrations on each page. During shared reading, adults should increase the number of print-focused questions that they ask children. Literacy instruction should incorporate listening to stories and informational texts read aloud; learning the alphabet; reading texts (out loud and silently); and writing letters, words, messages and stories. Teachers and parents must ensure that children have ample opportunity to apply practices and strategies. (Westberg, et al., 2006).
In Stage 2 (confirmation and fluency), typically between the ages of 7 and 8 years old, the child can read simple, familiar stories and selections with increasing fluency. This is done by consolidating the basic decoding elements, sight vocabulary and meaning context in the reading of common topics. The learner’s skills are extended through guided read-alouds of more complex texts. By this stage, adults should be providing instruction that includes repeated and monitored oral reading. Teachers and parents must model fluent reading for students by reading aloud to them daily and ask students to read text aloud. It is important to start with texts that are relatively short and contain words the students can successfully decode. This practice should include a variety of texts such as stories, nonfiction and poetry, and it should use a variety of ways to practice oral reading, such as student-adult reading, choral (or unison) reading, tape-assisted reading, partner (or buddy) reading and reader’s theatre. In this stage, vocabulary needs to be taught both indirectly and directly. Adults need to engage in conversations with children to help them learn new words and their meanings. And during reading, it is important to pause to define unfamiliar words and discussing the book upon completion of reading (Westberg, et al., 2006). At the end of this period, the learner is transitioning out of the learning-to-read phase and into the reading-to-learn phase.
In Stage 3 (reading to learn the new), typically developed between the ages of 9 and 13 years old, reading is used to learn new ideas, to gain new knowledge, to experience new feelings, to learn new attitudes, generally from one or two points of view. There is a significant emphasis placed on reading to learn, and writing for diverse purposes. There is time spent balancing the consolidating of constrained skills (spelling, grammar, fluency) whilst providing ample opportunities to explore topics through reading, writing, speaking, listening & viewing. By this time, the learner has transitioned to a stage where he or she is expected to learn from their reading. Adults should teach specific comprehension strategies, such as comprehension monitoring, using graphic and semantic organizers, answering questions, generating questions, recognising textual structures, summarising, and identifying main ideas and important details. Comprehension strategies can be taught through direct explanation, modeling, guided practice and application. Students benefit from cooperative learning and students should be encouraged to coordinate and adjust several strategies to assist comprehension. At this stage, students should be encouraged to use a variety of tools to learn new words, such as dictionaries, thesauruses, reference guides, word parts (prefixes, base words, etc) and contextual clues (Westberg, et al., 2006).
In the penultimate Stage 4 (synthesising information and applying multiple perspective), typically between 14 and 17 years old, learners are reading widely from a broad range of complex materials, both expository and narrative, and are asked to apply a variety of viewpoints. Learners are required to access, retain, critique and apply knowledge and concepts. Learners are consolidating general reading, writing and learning strategies whilst being required to develop more sophisticated disciplinary knowledge and perspectives. These adolescent learners deserve content area teachers who provide instruction in the multiple literacy strategies needed to meet the demands of the specific discipline. In these areas, adolescents deserve access to and instruction with multimodal as well as traditional print sources. Effective instruction includes ample opportunities to discuss disciplinary content and explore how these disciplines apply to the world outside the school walls. Adults should encourage learners to refine interest, pursue areas of expertise, and develops the literacies reflective of the years ahead in post-school contexts (International Reading Association, 2012).
In the final Stage 5 (critical literacy in work and society), reading is used for one’s own needs and purposes (professional and personal). Reading serves to integrate one’s knowledge with that of others to synthesise information and to create new knowledge. Reading and writing is purposeful, strategic, often specialised and anchored. "Literacy" stratifies greatly in adulthood, since our reading and writing habits are shaped by educational, cultural and employment factors that become increasingly diverse in the post-school landscape. In professional and specialised settings, individuals are required to synthesis information from a diverse range of sources in order to form conclusions, shapes audiences views, and navigate multiple points of views (or perspectives).
Through the stages of development, the teacher’s role is to arrange tasks and activities in such a way that students are developing (Verhoeven and Snow, 2001). The teacher - therefore - must be "aware of the learning intentions, [know] when a student is successful in attaining those intentions, [have] sufficient understanding of the students’ prior understanding as he or she comes to the task, and [know] enough about the content to provide meaningful and challenging experiences so that there is ... progressive development” (Hattie, 2012, pp. 19). As noted by Snow (2004), “literacy can be seen as dependent on instruction, with the corollary that quality of instruction is key. This view emphasizes the developmental nature of literacy -- the passage of children through successive stages of literacy, in each of which the reading and writing tasks change qualitatively and the role of the instructor has to change accordingly." (Chall, 1996 as referenced in Snow, 2004)