It’s typical for a kindergarten teacher to have students with the literacy skills of a 3-year-old in the same class with pupils who are working at a 3rd grade level.
That’s why teachers need to understand the series of steps children go through when they learn to read and write and be trained to teach children with such varying abilities appropriately, says a position statement from the International Reading Association and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
For More Information
For information on how to obtain a copy of the full position statement, call or write the NAEYC, 1509 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036-1426; (202) 232-8777 or (800) 424-2460. The statement is also available on the World Wide Web from the NAEYC.
The statement, “Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children,” published in this month’s issue of the NAEYC’s journal, Young Children, is meant to provide a combined approach for those who specialize in literacy development and those who are more focused on the development and learning of young children. The document includes seven policy recommendations.
Susan B. Neuman, an associate professor of language and literacy at Temple University in Philadelphia, who worked on the document, said the statement especially attempts to reach the people who actually care for young children, including those who work in child-care centers and family child-care homes--most of whom don’t have any college-level training. “We’re trying to say things in plain English,” she said.
Ms. Neuman said that the IRA-NAEYC document complements a similar report released in the spring by the National Research Council. The panel of prominent researchers that worked on the earlier report recommended that day-care workers and preschool teachers play a larger part in the early literacy development of young children. (“Experts Urge Bigger Role for Preschools in Literacy Development,” April 22, 1998.)
And though some early-childhood educators had expressed skepticism about previous drafts of the new statement, they are welcoming the final product.
“When I got this draft, I was just delighted,” said Frank Fielden, a senior consultant with the Colorado Department of Education. Mr. Fielden also is the vice president of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, which was in the process of drafting such a statement until it learned of the one being developed by the Newark, Del.-based IRA and the Washington-based NAEYC.
An earlier draft, Mr. Fielden said, paid little attention to the reading experiences of infants and toddlers. But, he said, the revised version is much more inclusive.
James H. Squires, the president of the reading specialists’ association and an early-childhood-education consultant for the Vermont Department of Education, called the statement a “very fair representation that doesn’t come down firmly in one camp or another,” referring to the phonics vs. whole languagedebate.
And Helen Schotanus, a curriculum supervisor in the New Hampshire Department of Education, said the statement “points out the breadth of what needs to be done. Teachers really need to know what the most current research says.”
Sue Bredekamp, the director of professional development and accreditation for the NAEYC, remarked that she had expected a negative reaction to the part of the document that links certain skills and teaching practices to specific grade levels. Instead, she said, that piece was welcomed.
A Combined Approach
The two groups stress the importance of reading to children and giving them access to a variety of books and other printed materials in preschool, kindergarten, and the primary grades. But the statement also gives equal time to such topics as letter naming and spelling instruction.
“Although research has clearly established that no one method is superior for all children, approaches that favor some type of systematic code instruction along with meaningful connected reading report children’s superior progress in reading,” the authors write.
The statement describes, point by point, five phases that children, beginning in the preschool years, go through as they learn to read and write: awareness and exploration, experimental reading and writing, early reading and writing, transitional reading and writing, and independent and productive reading and writing. At each phase, or grade, suggested practices for teachers, as well as for parents, are provided.
For example, in kindergarten, or phase 2, the document says teachers should:
- Encourage children to talk about reading and writing experiences;
- Provide many opportunities for children to explore and identify sound-symbol relationships in meaningful contexts;
- Frequently read interesting and conceptually rich stories to their classes; and
- Provide daily opportunities for their pupils to write.
The 17-page document also suggests ways to foster language and literacy development in infants and toddlers, through simply talking and singing to babies, using board books, and providing art materials, such as crayons and paper.
And the statement strongly recommends improvement of early-childhood training programs.
“For teachers of children younger than kindergarten age in the United States, no uniform preparation requirements or licensure standards exist. In fact, a high school diploma is the highest level of education required to be a child-care teacher in most states,” the document says.
M. Susan Burns, the study director for the National Research Council report, said she found the two statements to be consistent.
But in response to the strong position that the IRA and NAEYC take against standardized testing in the early grades, Ms. Burns said she believes there can be a “happy medium” between tests and other forms of assessment.
“Just because it’s standardized doesn’t mean it’s bad,” Ms. Burns said.
And even though the IRA-NAEYC statement asserts that the best way to build an early understanding of reading in preschoolers is to read aloud to them, Ms. Burns noted that conversations with children about such activities as cooking dinner are also essential to developing vocabulary and an interest in words.
To expand on the statement, the NAEYC plans to publish a book that will be available by the time the group meets for its annual conference in November. A brochure for parents also is planned.
Teaching the Very Young
The International Reading Association and the National Association for the Education of Young Children have released a position statement on literacy for very young children.
The document recommends:
- A comprehensive, consistent system of early-childhood professional preparation and ongoing professional development.
- Sufficient resources to ensure adequate ratios of qualified teachers to children and small groups for individualized instruction.
- Sufficient resources to ensure classroom, school, and public libraries that include a wide range of high-quality children’s books, computer software, and multimedia resources at various levels of difficulty and reflecting various cultural and family backgrounds.
- Policies that promote children’s continuous learning progress.
- Appropriate assessment strategies that promote children’s learning and development.
- Access to regular, ongoing health care for every child.
- Increased public investment to ensure access to high-quality preschools and child-care programs for all children who need them.
A version of this article appeared in the July 08, 1998 edition of Education Week as Reading Group, NAEYC Issue Literacy Recommendations