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Pre-K Literacy Starts With Rich Adult Interactions and Play, Says Research Brief

2-HeadStart-Reading-Class-blog.jpgDo you think pre-K literacy starts with mastering letter names, sounds, and the conventions of print? A research brief published this week from the International Literacy Association says those elements are only part of what helps young children master reading skills. 

In "What Effective Pre-K Literacy Looks Like," written by former assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education Susan B. Neuman, the association outlines a number of steps it considers important for creating strong readers. 

They include reading to young children, which "reinforces print conventions and concepts in the context of a meaningful experience;" setting up discovery areas for children to play and "to practice what they have learned about print with their peers and on their own;" and offering regular opportunities for children to express themselves on paper, even with teachers acting as scribes early on. Such activities "send the important message that writing is not just handwriting practice—children are using their own words to compose a message to communicate with others."

The brief was released Monday, the same day that the International Literacy Association released its 2018 "What's Hot in Literacy" report. That report, which catalogued the responses of more than 2,000 literacy professionals around the world, found that early literacy was listed as among the top most important issues in the field. 

William Teale, a professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago and the immediate past president of the ILA, said in an interview that there's general agreement about the importance of the early years in setting a child's academic trajectory. But, he said, there is still some disagreement about how to make high-quality early-childhood education widely available. Educators are also still debating which are the best curricula or methods to imparting that high-quality instruction, Teale said. He said the research brief is meant to inform the conversations of educators and of policy makers. 

"The ongoing question is, how do we foster those early literacy skills? To what degree to we engage in all kinds of direct instruction and to what degree do we embed instruction in play," Teale said. "And how do you do this at scale is also a big thing." 

Education Week File Photo: In 2016, Head Start teacher Yolanda Gladney reads to 3-year-olds LaTruth Alexander, Rome Williams, and Emily Valdez-Rojo.—Shane Bevel for Education Week

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