A new study shows that low-income preschoolers who are at risk for developing reading problems can improve their reading skills if they're read to by teachers who identify the letter, track the shape of the letters, and discuss the words formed by those letters.
The study was carried out by researchers at the Ohio State University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Toledo. It appears in the journal Child Development.
In the longitudinal study, 550 4-year-olds took part in Project Sit Together and Read, a 30-week shared-book reading program in 85 targeted-enrollment preschool classrooms serving low-income children. Because of their low-income status, the children were at risk for developing reading problems as they moved into formal reading instruction.
In some of the classrooms, teachers talked about the print in the books and also nonverbally referred to the print. This means they asked whether children knew certain letters, traced the print with their fingers, noted the directionality of the type (for example, how we read from left to right in the English language), and discussed the concepts behind words that appear on a page (that is, words as meaningful units that map to spoken words). In other preschool classrooms, teachers read to the children using a more traditional style for reading aloud that typically doesn't draw children's attention to the print on the page.
The study also examined the number of times per week the children were read to: In some classrooms, children were read to four times a week, while in others, they were read to twice a week. Follow-up assessments were done in elementary school a year later and two years later.
The children who were read to four times a week by teachers who talked about the print in the books showed improvement in their reading and spelling and developed better reading comprehension when they were assessed one and two years later compared to the children whose teachers didn't talk about the print in the books. Frequency mattered, too: Preschoolers who heard print-focused reading four times a week developed better skills on some outcomes than those who were read to two times a week. Notably, the extra focus on print didn't detract from children's vocabulary development.
"Our findings ultimately support the importance of encouraging young children to attend to and interact with print during the preschool years as a means of fostering long-term literacy development," explains Shayne B. Piasta, assistant professor of teaching and learning, and assistant director of the Children's Learning Research Collaborative, at the Ohio State University, who conducted the longitudinal analysis for the study.
"The results can inform the development of early childhood programs and curricula that facilitate literacy skill acquisition for the large numbers of U.S. children living in poverty and attending targeted programs such as Head Start or state-sponsored prekindergarten."