Early Childhood

National Panel Readying Guidance To Build Foundations for Reading

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — July 09, 2003 2 min read
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Child-care workers, Head Start and other preschool teachers, and parents can expect some guidance on what they can do to help equip young children with the foundations for later reading success when a national panel releases its findings from a research synthesis later this year.

The National Early Literacy Panel, convened by the National Center for Family Literacy, based in Louisville, Ky., is conducting a systematic analysis of early-childhood studies to identify the key predictors of later reading proficiency in children from birth to age 5, as well as effective strategies, programs, and settings for building those skills.

While its final report is not expected until December, the panel of scholars met here last month to discuss its preliminary findings on the links between a child’s early experiences with books and meaningful conversation and their ability later to master reading skills.

“My hope is that this will transform preschool,” said panel member Dorothy Strickland, a professor of education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. “I think the time is right, and policymakers are beginning to understand how important those early years can be.”

The project, financed by the federal National Institute for Literacy, is a follow- up to the work of the congressionally mandated National Reading Panel. That panel’s 2000 report has guided recent federal and state reading policies. The current project is using methods similar to the NRP’s to analyze research in the field, but it will look at a broader range of studies.

The early- literacy group—as well as a panel looking at qualitative research on reading and another focusing on literacy issues affecting students with limited English skills—is intended to address criticism that the National Reading Panel’s research focus was too narrow.

Four Questions

Since it first convened in April of last year, the early-literacy panel has zeroed in on four research questions: What are the skills and abilities from newborns to 5-year-olds that predict later success in reading and reading comprehension? What environments and settings contribute to or inhibit those skills and abilities? What child characteristics help or hinder the development of those skills and abilities? What are the best programs or interventions for fostering those skills and abilities?

Some 6,700 published studies were screened to address the first question, of which about 230 were included in the analysis. After its initial examination of those studies, the panel will focus much of its work on potential predictors of a child’s success in reading— such as alphabet and word knowledge, print awareness, memory, and vocabulary— to address the other three questions, according to Chris Schatschneider, a member of the panel and an associate professor of psychology at Florida State University. The final report will also recommend areas for further study.

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