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8.4: Fostering Emergent Readers

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    The early childhood educator has an important role to play in the conceptual, procedural, and generative knowledge development of young readers. The previous sections of this chapter discussed how to help students understand what reading is all about (conceptual knowledge) and what specific skills and concepts children need to build their emergent reading capacity (procedural knowledge). This section will address instructional strategies and assessment options to support conceptual and procedural knowledge development. It will also extend to generative knowledge, or the application of these skills and concepts in real world settings.

    8.4a Instructional Strategies for Emergent Readers

    Once early childhood educators understand the skills and components of emergent reading development, they can be intentional about the instructional strategies they utilize in the classroom. Using targeted instructional strategies helps maximize student learning and creates the environment for children’s literacy to thrive. Intentional literacy practices also allow educators to provide instructional modifications and supports to scaffold students’ learning as well as create inclusive literacy experiences. There are an infinite number of ways that educators can create intentional, inclusive literacy experiences. However, this section will discuss four categories of instructional practices that all early childhood educators should strive to incorporate: developing print-rich environments, playing with language, creating play-based text experiences, and providing diverse reading experiences. Figure 8.5 includes instructional practices for promoting emergent reading development in each of these four areas.

    Developing Print-Rich Environments

    Chapter Five of this textbook talks extensively about the importance of attending to the environment and how it can support literacy learning. Looking specifically at emergent reading development, it is critical that children see text used in meaningful ways in their learning environment. Regular exposure to common words, names, and items in their classroom can have a significant impact on students’ emergent reading abilities. Showing children how text works in meaningful contexts also further promotes children’s understanding that reading is about making meaning. For instance, many teachers label parts of the classroom and frequently-used items (e.g., cubbies with children’s names, centers, the sink). Educators can also intentionally focus on diversifying the types of print in the classroom as well as how children notice and use the available print materials.

    Playing with Language

    In addition to surrounding students with meaningful print, educators can foster a playful stance towards language. This intentional posture shows children that learning about reading can be fun, and reduces the stress that can come with learning about a new language system. Playing with language is a way to help students investigate how words and sounds can be manipulated. Having a focus on language play also frees us to immerse children in repeated readings as well as repeated engagement with songs, rhymes, and games that children love. It is not uncommon for children under five to find a book or song that they love and want to hear over and over. Encouraging these repeated exposures while also continuing to provide new text-based language play is the key to developing strong emergent reading skills. Chapter Seven of this textbook discusses the important role language plays in children’s broader literacy development.

    Creating Play-Based Text Interactions

    Because play is the primary vehicle for young children’s learning, early childhood educators have the opportunity to work from this area of strength and comfort. Finding logical extensions to children’s play that incorporate text interactions requires the educator to pay attention to children’s interests and match the work they are doing in their play with authentic materials. This could include strategically placing certain materials in a center (e.g., restaurant menus in the dramatic play center) or inquiring if children would like to incorporate text into an activity (e.g., asking children if they would like to bring some of the materials from the writing center over to make signs for the road they are building in blocks). Maintaining an intentional and inclusive focus on embedding developmentally appropriate text allows students to use play to act out proficient reader behaviors.

    Providing Diverse Reading Experiences

    One of the most important actions that early childhood educators can take is regularly providing children with diverse reading experiences. In order to get good at reading, we need to see and hear proficient readers in action. Reading a variety of texts aloud exposes children to the many purposes of reading. It also builds children’s vocabulary knowledge, develops their understanding of how print works, and helps them know what to expect from certain types of text. For instance, the more fiction stories that adults share with students, the more quickly they begin to understand the elements of narrative text (e.g., characters, setting, problem/solution) and use them to aid comprehension. Young children who have been exposed to a variety of texts will quickly see how the elements of a narrative story are different from their favorite non-fiction dinosaur book, which uses photographs, captions, and labels to share factual information. While children are not actually reading in most of these experiences (decoding and understanding the words independently), they are developing foundational understandings about print that will support their development from an emergent to an early, beginning reader.

    Two children read a book together.
    Giving children the opportunity to interact with books is a valuable part of supporting emergent literacy. Interact with books © Longwood University is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike) license

    Instructional Practices That Support Reading

    Developing A Print-Rich Environment

    • Label classroom spaces and objects using words
    • Use names of children throughout the room
    • Find meaningful symbols and pictures to support children’s access to materials
    • Infuse familiar text into centers
    • Create print materials designed by the students
    • Supply nonfiction and fiction texts
    • Display student work with documentation (adult dictates student’s ideas and posts next to their artwork)
    • Diversify print materials (magazines, travel brochures, menus, etc.)

    Playing with Language

    • Share nursery rhymes and poems
    • Sing songs throughout the day (transition times, good morning greeting)
    • Read and revisit rhyming books encouraging children to say common refrains
    • Select a word of the day/week (have children use, draw, find, etc. the word)
    • Teach children idioms, alliterations, and other fun ways to play with words
    • Use children’s names to examine letter names, sounds, and shapes
    • Build on students’ interest in letters and words

    Creating Play-Based Text Experiences

    • Use felt boards and options for children to create their own story or retell a familiar story
    • Provide puppets and a space for a “theater” to allow children to develop puppet shows
    • Develop a space for drawing and writing with various tools
    • Design a dramatic play area with familiar items from home (including text-based items)
    • Observe children’s play and find ways to bring in text materials to enhance their experiences
    • Develop signs or labels that children can use in their play
    • Dictate words for students to record experiences

    Providing Diverse Reading Experiences

    • Engage in daily read alouds of age-appropriate texts
    • Build in independent reading time where students can select their own books to “read” and retell using pictures and background experience
    • Develop small group and buddy reading moments
    • Regularly engage in shared reading where the teacher models their thinking about a text
    • Reread familiar and loved stories
    • Allow children to participate in interactive reading where they help the teacher “read” parts of the book
    • Use print referencing techniques to point out elements of the text (e.g., page numbers, title, where to start reading, the direction of the text, author and illustrator)
    • Examine text features of non-fiction books (e.g., table of contents, glossary, maps, charts, labels)

    8.4b Literacy Assessment for Emergent Readers

    There are a number of assessment options to understand what students know about the constrained skills of phonological awareness, alphabetic principle, and concepts of print as well as the continuous components of comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency. Chapter 6 of this textbook discusses many purposes, types, and uses of both formal and informal assessment options for literacy. Because young children, birth to age five, are typically showing emergent reading abilities but are not yet proficient readers, observation is the early childhood educator’s most important tool. Carefully watching children as they interact in whole groups, small groups, and individual settings can tell us a lot about what children know about reading and what they are ready to learn. Additionally, it is critical that educators develop methods of documenting these observations over time.

    Educators can use assessment options such as anecdotal notes, observational checklists, and artifacts (see Chapter 6 for further explanation) to document children’s emergent reading behaviors. For instance, we may observe an older four-year old child showing signs that they have mastered the alphabetic code (e.g., the child can name all the letters easily) and are ready to start a more focused look at the connection between letters and sounds as well as familiar words in their environment. However, we may also observe significant lags in development (e.g., the child demonstrates indicators of early and later infancy at 3 years of age). Observational assessment options can be just as important to document these concerns. Using well-constructed assessments can open up discussions with families and caretakers about factors impacting the child’s reading development and serve as a guidepost for what supports the child needs to continue building their reading foundation. Intentionally selecting emergent literacy assessment routines and practices ensures that our instructional strategies will match students’ needs.

    Pause and Reflect: Round is a Tortilla

    Moira, Angela, and José have been spending a good deal of time in the art center recently. The teacher, Mrs. Peters, has watched as they used construction paper, stencils, and markers to design new pieces of artwork. The children have been especially interested in the shape stencils after the class read the book, Round is a Tortilla (Thong, 2015). Mrs. Peters asked the children if they would like to find the words to label their shape artwork. They eagerly agreed that this was a good idea and ran to grab the book from the classroom library. Mrs. Peters helped them locate the words: circle, triangle, rectangle, square, oval, and star. She then wrote the shape words on index cards and left the children to decide how to incorporate these words into their work. After some discussion, the children decided that they should divide up the words so each child gets two shapes. Then they spread out the shape pictures they had done and took turns adding shape words to each picture. Mrs. Peters walked by the center a few times during their play and noted how Moira and José were easily naming each shape word as they labeled the pictures and were saying the name of each letter as they wrote on the artwork, but Angela kept looking up for confirmation from her peers about which word matched each shape and was having difficulty saying the letter names as she labeled the pictures.

    Identify the instructional practices Mrs. Peters incorporated to support the students’ literacy development. How should Mrs. Peters utilize assessment tools to document the students’ knowledge and abilities?

    This page titled 8.4: Fostering Emergent Readers is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sandra Carrie Garvey (Remixing Open Textbooks with an Equity Lens (ROTEL)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.