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Education & Teaching - Language Acquisition

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Brenda Geier K-12 Reading Specialist - The research tells us that with the support of
parents, caregivers, and early childhood educators, as well as exposure to a literacy-rich
environment, children progress from emergent to conventional reading. By interacting
through reading aloud and conversation, children are exposed to learning early. It is
very important to read aloud to children and provide opportunities for them to talk about
the stories that they hear. As Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, and Wilkinson (1985) state, "The
single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in
reading is reading aloud to children, especially during the preschool years". It helps them
develop oral language, cognitive skills, and concepts of print and phonemic awareness.

Children read to develop background knowledge about a range of topics and build a
large vocabulary, which aids them in later comprehension and development of reading
strategies. They also watch how others read and therefore become familiar with the
reading process. They are constantly learning.

Still, many enter elementary school without a strong background in literacy. These are
the children who are most at risk of developing reading problems. To provide high
chances of success, teachers should be involved in professional development to learn
more about child development as it relates to literacy acquisition.

At age 3-4, children begin to "read" their favorite books by themselves. They begin to
use "mock handwriting" (Clay, 1975). Around age 5, in kindergarten, most children are
considered emergent readers. They make rapid growth in literacy skills if they are
exposed to literacy-rich environments (Burns, Griffin, & Snow, 1999). Children may try to
recall what has been written or use a picture created with the text to reread instead of
using the letter clues (Kamberelis & Sulzby, 1988; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).
Although they are beginning to apply phonetic knowledge to create invented spellings,
there is a lapse in time before they use phonetic clues to read what they write.

For those parents who choose to home-school their children, an enormous advantage
exists to teach children phonetic knowledge, sight words and decoding before they enter
school. This learning advantage gives them power with text that most will not be
equipped with.

Most children will become early readers during the first grade. They commonly look at
beginning and ending letters in order to decode unfamiliar words (Clay, 1991; Pinnell,
1996b; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). They know a small number of sight words.

By second grade, they are transitional readers, able to read unknown text with more
independence. They use meaning, grammatical, and letter cues more fully and use
pictures in a limited way while reading (Clay, 1991; International Reading Association &
National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1998; Pinnell, 1996b; Snow,
burns, & Griffin, 1998). Transitional spellers can apply spelling rules, patterns, and other
strategies to put words on paper.

By the third grade, children are typically fluent readers. They can read for meaning while
focusing less on decoding. They may use transitional and phonetic spellings to spell
infrequently used words.

The child's concept of words changes as the child's literacy development evolves.
Children construct their own knowledge thus the difference between how an adult
understands reading and writing and how a child understands reading and writing.

Children progress through several categories of phonological skills from rhyming to


blending. The most difficult task involves the complete segmentation of phonemes and
manipulation of them to form new words (Griffith & Olson, 1992; Hall & Moats, 1999). If
we begin teaching our children how to segment and manipulate phonemes at the pre-
school age, they will have the tools necessary to spell correctly, understand the meaning
of words and be able to write and read complete sentences with ease.
Screen and assessment are crucial tools to determine children's literacy needs. Data
helps teachers identify children who are developing at a less than normal pace and are
in need of intervention. The earlier, the better to find these children. Throughout
kindergarten and first grade, children can be screened for phonemic awareness,
alphabetic knowledge, and an understanding of basic language concepts (Texas
Education Agency, 1997a). Performance based assessments, such as observational
records of reading and writing, developmental benchmarks, and portfolios can also be
used to inform daily teaching (Allington & Cunningham, 1996; Burns, Griffin, & Snow,
1999; international Reading Association & National Association for the Education of
Young Children, 1998; Slegers, 1996).

Teachers, parents and caregivers need to understand and support children's emergent
literacy and, in later years, children's transition to conventional reading and writing.
Teachers, administrators, and specialists must understand the developmental nature of
emergent literacy and early conventional literacy and ensure that the curriculum and
instructional materials are appropriate. Parents need to be educated in child
development and support sharing and exploring literacy with their children. The literacy
program needs to support children's social, emotional, aesthetic, maturational, and
cognitive needs. The reading program must be balanced and include quality literature,
writing opportunities, development of phonemic awareness and alphabetic knowledge.

To provide opportunities for children's literacy acquisition, schools should work with
community groups and libraries to provide informational programs for parents regarding
the development of literacy skills in young children. Teachers should review research on
reading and young children and become familiar with Learning to Read and Write:
Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children. (The joint position statement
of the International Reading Association and the National Association for the Education
of Young Children). All teachers should develop an understanding of phonological terms
and work to provide a developmentally appropriate curriculum in reading and writing that
is attainable but challenging. Educators need to develop strategies for preventing
reading difficulties to begin with. Libraries or resource centers should have extensive
and varied resources.

Learning should be a fun process that instills a desire to learn even more. If we all work
together, we can accomplish this.