Science for Early Literacy Learning Really Matters
The science of reading is having a positive impact on teaching and learning.
Posted Jul 16, 2020
In this era of intensified remote learning, some cognitive scientists of reading and human development are reaching out from the university reading lab to both parents and educators not only with science-based information from refereed journals but also with engaging and practical best practice science-based solutions via blogs, podcasts, and webinars. Maybe this is a new era for innovation and technology-driven education solutions.
Currently there is a science of reading movement inspired in part by cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and practitioners who seek to bring the science of reading to light and “anchor reading instruction in the scientific evidence base” as well as “abandon practices that lack evidence of effectiveness for all learners.” They have formed a professional organization dedicated to achieving this purpose and just last month launched a new journal entitled The Reading League Journal (The Reading League website, 2020).
A thought leader in The Reading League and science of reading movement, reading researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Mark Seidenberg, reports that "the disconnect between education and science has been detrimental to both students and educators.” He goes on to say, “When more programs embrace the Science of Reading, we will see better outcomes for students, educators, school districts, and society.” (The Reading League website, 2020.)
Science matters in all areas of child development. A successful example of bringing the science of development and literacy to a wider audience of parents and educators comes from cognitive scientist Dr. Gene Ouellette, a professor of developmental and educational psychology at Mount Allison University in Canada and associate editor of the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. Ouellette recently launched a podcast devoted to understanding and nurturing child development entitled Kindergarten Ready: What Really Matters in Child Development with a sharp focus on birth to age 5. He spotlights what the science of human development, and reading research in particular, teach us regarding kindergarten readiness for literacy learning.
Anyone who knows the science of reading understands why being ready for literacy when entering kindergarten is important. Learning to read in kindergarten and first grade impacts everything that comes after. Children skilled in reading stay in school longer, attain higher education levels, and are less likely to experience poverty or be incarcerated; they are more likely to find employment and have higher incomes later in life (Cree & Stewart, 2012). Reading proficiency is even a determinant of better health outcomes (Sanfilippo, Ness, Petscher, Rappaport, Zuckerman, & Gaab, 2020). So being ready to learn to read, write, and spell when entering kindergarten really matters.
In one recent podcast episode about readiness and emergent literacy, Ouellette goes beyond the traditional readiness list such as zip up your coat, respond to your name, and count to 10. He reports key literacy learning readiness factors such as the importance of early vocabulary development and background knowledge which ultimately hugely impact reading acquisition and comprehension even as early as kindergarten and first grade. Listeners learn that preschoolers should not only “respond to their name” but learn to read and write their names before entering kindergarten making use of a strong cognitive effect called “the own name effect,” which jumpstarts acquisition of alphabet knowledge and awareness of beginning sounds (Reutzel, 2015; Treiman & Broderick, 1998; Treiman, Levin, & Kessler, 2007). Preschoolers have a propensity to want to learn to read and write their own names but some parents and even some day care providers fail to see the value of early name writing for understanding the concept of what a word is, how words are formed with letters, that names have beginning sounds, and that print goes from left to right and sounds in words from beginning to end. The name writing effect is in fact a joyful rite of passage for entering kindergarten. It can help open a gate to the pathway to literacy. Any child who enters kindergarten who cannot write his or her first name is already behind.
My own endeavor to bring the science of development and literacy to a wider audience of parents and educators has been in the creation of webinars—one on dyslexia and another spelling awareness webinar explaining how early invented spelling impacts reading comprehension focusing on what beginning readers need to learn (automatic word reading, phonological awareness, phonics, spelling, and sight words) along with efficient, effective, and useful ways of learning it.
My work is underpinned by Ouellette’s podcast where he endeavors to cover a wide range of topics related to child development; he packs a lot of valuable and practical science-backed information into the 25-minute podcast while making it humorous and fun. In an episode on developing vocabulary, he coaches parents in talking to babies by describing a real-life episode. He takes the listener to the beach complete with sound effects of crashing waves and squawking, squealing gulls and tells how while sunbathing he and his wife observed a near-by couple who missed an opportunity to develop their baby’s language and concept development.
His episodes bring in real-life taped interviews with both children and parents including a timely one on stress, anxiety, and uncertainty in COVID times sharing how parents in households with toddlers and older children meet everyday challenges when everyone is at home. In another, he talks about babies and speech perception and how it relates to kindergarten readiness. And while he self-admits that he geeks out on the science and research he has a special gift for interpreting important science in ways parents and caregivers of preschoolers can appreciate. His podcast helps promote joyful natural literacy learning even before kids enter kindergarten.
Kindergarten Ready: What Really Matters is a wonderful podcast for parents and even for scientists as a model for how our work can be more impactful. Check it out and see how cognitive scientists can make our world a better place.
Cree, A., Steward K. (2012) The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy: A Snapshot of Illiteracy in a Global Context. Melbourne, Australia: World Literacy Foundation.
Reutzel, R. (2015). Early literacy research: Findings primary-grade teachers will want to know. The Reading Teacher, 69, 14-24.
Sanfilippo J, Ness M, Petscher Y, et al. (2020). Reintroducing Dyslexia: Early Identification and Implications for Pediatric Practice. Pediatrics. 146(1):e20193046
The Reading League website. 2020. https://www.thereadingleague.org/
Treiman , R. , & Broderick , V. ( 1998 ). What’s in a name: Children ’ s knowledge about the letters in their own names. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 70 ( 2 ), 97 – 116 .
Treiman, R. , Levin , I. , & Kessler , B. ( 2007 ). Learning of letter names follows similar principles across languages: Evidence from Hebrew. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 96 ( 2), 87– 106 .