Early literacy is a major predictor of lifelong success, yet the education field has yet to implement a plan to remove barriers to quality instruction.
NYU Steinhardt professor Susan Neuman, has authored a brief for the International Literacy Association on guidelines for early childhood programs that describes what early literacy instruction should look like and how early childhood programs can achieve that vision.
Neuman’s approach includes in-depth learning through play; differentiated guidance; orchestrated activity that supports content learning and social–emotional development; as well as time, materials and resources that build technical reading and writing skills.
Specifically, she recommends:
- Shared reading experiences: When listening to stories, children begin to pay attention to print (e.g., print referencing) and exercise vocabulary knowledge and comprehension skills.
- Discovery areas: Play allows young children to interpret their experiences, practice what they have learned about print and assume new roles and activities.
- Drawing and writing activities: As children express themselves on paper (without the constraints of correct spelling and proper handwriting), they practice communicating through their own words and start to engage in the writing process.
- Reading comprehension activities: Reading helps children to develop the “rich conceptual knowledge base,” verbal reasoning proficiency and toolkit of procedural skills (e.g., alphabet skills) needed to understand print messages.
She also acknowledges the need for more centralized policies that ensure equitable outcomes:
- Stronger professional learning: A comprehensive, consistent system of early childhood professional preparation and ongoing professional development is needed to ensure that educators receive a “content-rich” education and research-based strategies.
- Smaller class sizes: Small class size enable teachers to better accommodate children’s diverse strengths and needs. For 4- and 5-year-olds, adult–child ratios should be no more than 1 adult for 8–10 children, with a maximum group size of 20.
- Quality reading materials: Libraries should be stocked (with a minimum of five books per child) with high-quality children’s books, computer software and multimedia resources at various levels of difficulty and reflecting various cultural and family backgrounds.
- Individualized instruction: Educators should be equipped with resources to provide more individualized instruction, focused time, tutoring by trained and qualified tutors or other individualized intervention strategies that are used to accelerate learning.
Children come to school with vastly different experiences and abilities. As such, no single teaching method is likely to be the most effective for all children. Effective pre-K literacy instruction, Neuman notes, provides all students with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to continue down a path of literacy achievement.
“We cannot underestimate the importance of the early childhood years in children’s overall development and literacy learning, What we do in these early years will make a difference in their reading patterns, interests and lifelong desire to learn,” Neuman says.
Susan Neuman, is a professor of childhood and literacy education in Steinhardt’s Department of Teaching and Learning. She served as assistant secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education of the United States Department of Education under the George W. Bush administration.