Research In Early Childhood Education Education Essay

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No Child Left Behind has placed emphasis on students' literacy and mathematics skills. It has pushed for literacy to be incorporated throughout the curriculum and throughout the educational system. With such an emphasis on literacy preschools have begun to focus on emerging literacy skills in order to prepare children for the transition to kindergarten. Researchers are hoping that the developmental status of important cognitive skills can be identified in the preschool period and that those children who are lagging behind their peers in cognitive development can be targeted for early remediation, so that they can enter kindergarten with the skills they need to learn (Molfese, Modglin, Beswick, Berg, Jeffery, & Molnar, 2006). Within the larger skill set that encompasses emerging literacy, letter knowledge is a skill set that contributes to children's later success in reading. Letter knowledge is a strong predictor of later reading achievement (Bradley & Jones, 2007). Research shows that it has an indirect effect that facilitates the learning to read process. Letter knowledge in preschool has been shown to effect the development of proficiencies in elementary school. In a study conducted by Denton and West (2002), children who were proficient in identifying letters in kindergarten entry showed stronger skills at the end of kindergarten and in first grade on measures of phonological processing and word reading compared to children who were not proficient(Molfese, Modglin, Beswick, Berg, Jeffery, & Molnar, 2006). There are several factors that attribute to children being able to name letters. In the area of letter knowledge many areas have been explored and the following questions have arisen from researching this topic:

What components are necessary for children to gain a complete understanding of the alphabet?

How do home literacy practices affect children's letter knowledge?

What types of books contribute to children's letter knowledge and how does the way they are shared affect their awareness of letters?

What components are necessary for children to gain a complete understanding of the alphabet?

There are four components that children need to understand about the alphabet. These components are: letter-shape knowledge or letter recognition, letter-name knowledge, letter-sound knowledge, and letter-writing ability. Letter shape knowledge involves children's ability to recognize visual characteristics of letters. There are those that feel the ability to write letters does not necessarily relate to children's ability to name them. This includes being able to distinguish letter shape, orientation and directionality. These skills can be learned through block play. Visual discrimination is a concept that is necessary to see the similarities and differences among letters. When children chose individual blocks for a building project they are using visual discrimination in a way that has meaningful context for them. Having repeated experiences looking at and comparing blocks paves the way for looking at and comparing individual letters and, later, combinations of letters that make up words (Wellhousen & Giles, 2005).

Letter-name knowledge is children's ability to distinguish that a letter is a symbol, that each has a specific name, and that each letter represents to symbols both upper case and letter case. Through this understanding they begin to distinguish that some letters are similar and that others in their upper and lower case form are dissimilar. Research has shown that children have a tendency to learn the first letter or their name more readily than other letters. The reason that they tend to learn the first letter of their own name and the letters of important people to them is that they hold special significance to them. This is also combined with the fact that the capital letter is visually more salient than other letters within names. In a study conducted by Treiman, Cohen, Mulqueeny, Kessler and Schechtmen (2007) in regards to name recognition, found that detailed knowledge of letter shape emerges first for the initial letter of the name and later extends to the subsequent letters. This information suggest that knowledge of language specific characteristics emerge quite early with regards to the concept of left to right directionality.

Letter-sound knowledge is children's ability to understand that letters have sounds. Bradley and Jones (2007) states that as children learn sounds, they tactile learn that a letter's name often provides a clue for the sound that the letter represents. Much research has been conducted into this correlation with different results. There is one correlation that is rather consistent and that is that alphabet knowledge influences phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is the ability to distinguish sounds. Venezky's (1975) acrophonic principle, which states that the most common sound that a letter represents is often the first sound of the letter name, letters can be grouped into five categories: letter sound at the beginning of the letter name, letter sound at the end of the letter name, letter name represents a sound, but the letter also represents another sound, letter sound at the beginning of the letter name, but the letter also represents another sound and letter names that do not contain the sound that the letter represents.

Letter-writing is a skill that is not assessed in young children. There is some research that suggests that this ability be assessed as part of children's alphabet knowledge. As children learn to write their names they become more familiar with the shape and function of the letters that they print. In a study by Treiman et al. (2007), found differences in children's familiarity with print due to age. It states that many young children do not seem to understand that writing symbolizes language, believing instead that it represents meaning directly (Treiman et al., 2007). In a study of Head Start children it was suggested that activities that include letters encourage children to write, including activities that encourage name writing may be valuable for supporting young children's understanding of the alphabet principle (Diamond, Gerde & Powell, 2008). Therefore there is a connection between children's ability to write and their understanding of letters.

How do home literacy practices affect children's letter knowledge?

Parents are considered to be their child's primary educator. Research has found that characteristics of the home and family, such as income, parent's literacy levels and literacy habits, and parent-child engagement in literacy activities have been found to be associated with children's literacy and language skills (Weigel, Martin, & Bennett, 2006). The home is the first environment that serves as the setting for which language and literacy is encountered. It is an environment that provides an opportunity for children to gain familiarity with literacy materials, observe others engaging in literacy activities, explore literate behaviors, to engage in joint reading and writing activities with others and to benefit from learning strategies family members use when engaging in joint literacy task. The home literacy environment positively affects reading achievement, verbal achievement and alphabet recognition. Literacy outcomes are improved when parents engage in activities such as singing songs, reciting rhymes, telling stories, drawing pictures and playing games.

According to a study conducted by Neumann, Hood and D. Neumann (2009), within each literacy interaction parents can provide enough guided participation as is necessary to scaffold the child's movements within their zone of proximal development. The aforementioned study documented how a parent scaffolded her young child's emergent writing and letter knowledge in the home. This study suggest that using the scaffolding approach while incorporating environmental print and a multisensory approach is a promising approach to supporting emergent writing skills, alphabet knowledge, and print motivation. It is important to note the method used in the study was based on Vygotsky's principles of continual movement in the zone of proximal development. Research from a another study in regards to home environments concluded that there is a need for those who design and implement programs aimed at strengthening children's literacy and language development to more closely attend to the specific literacy environments and skills they want to impact (Weigel, Martin, & Bennett, 2006). Socioeconomic status affects the home environment and literacy skill focus. Middle class families tend to focus on literacy as a focus of entertainment, while those within lower class families focus on skills (alphabet recognition and singing the alphabet). Parent's efforts to directly engage children in literacy activities are more strongly associated with children's increased print knowledge and interest in reading (Weigel, Martin, & Bennett, 2006). While reading aloud to children is an important activity for building literacy, interventions should include parents literacy habits and beliefs in their roles when nurturing children's literacy and language development.

What types of books contribute to children's letter knowledge and how does the way they are shared affect their awareness of letters?

Shared book reading provides an opportunity for children to be exposed to print and therefore be exposed to letters as well. However, shared reading is only effective in growth of letter knowledge with exposure to repeated readings and readings that focus on letter content rather than plot. In most shared reading experiences print-related comments are rare and account for less than 10% of the dialogue (Horner, 2004). Conversation during shared book reading tends to focus on pictures and plot. Alphabet books are an excellent way to expose children to letter knowledge. These books are considered to be print salient. Reading alphabet books provides a medium in which print is discussed significantly more frequently when compared to storybook reading (Bradley & Jones, 2007).

Teacher talk directly affects what children gain from shared book reading. In a study conducted on observational learning, children were more likely to ask print related questions when the behavior was modeled. The amount of time that teachers spend focusing on print determines the amount of letter knowledge that is gained. Alphabet books are the best books to be used when the focus of instruction is on letter knowledge but genre is a feature that should be taken into consideration when selecting them. Genre and text structure greatly affects how alphabet books are presented. Alphabet books such a Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom lend themselves to focusing on comprehension rather than awareness of letters. When selecting alphabet books for the purpose of increasing letter knowledge, teachers should select books in which the text uses alliteration. These are books that contain illustrations that clearly represent the picture on the page. Pictures that clearly represent the letter allow for teachers to discuss letter sounds and shape and can be used to teach children to think inventively about the alphabet. Another point of caution is books that contain illustrations around the letters themselves that distract from the shape of the letters.

Letter knowledge is a skill set that is being continually researched. Recent research has found that children's early letter knowledge directly affects their later reading ability. There are correlations between phonological processing and print knowledge. Through the learning of letters children are able to make connections to not only familiarity with print but the learning of letter sounds. Letter knowledge is tied to other skills that are necessary for both reading and writing. Although there is some disagreement on how writing, particularly name writing, affects letter knowledge.

There are four main components that contribute to children's gaining of letter knowledge. These components are interconnected and through the learning of these components children gain a full understanding of the alphabet. Home literacy practices affect children's preliteracy skills. Socioeconomic status as well as parental beliefs affects what skills are learned and shape children's literacy practices. Shared book reading can help children learn more about the alphabet but it also takes multiple opportunities and meaningful contexts for the information to be useful. Teachers need to be aware that their beliefs and practices affect how they teach literacy skills. In a study conducted Neuman and Cunningham (2009), there was strong evidence that a practice based model of professional development improved the quality of the structural and process features of the language and literacy environment. To improve literacy skills such as letter knowledge, teachers need to have a solid foundation in early literacy development.