The effect of instructional approaches on beginning reading in kindergarten

An ‘immersion in print” approach results in significantly increased reading readiness and word reading ability by the end of kindergarten. These are the findings published as an interim report of a continuing study by Reutzel, Oda and Moore at Brigham Young University.

Reutzel et al. compared a traditional reading readiness curriculum with two experimental ‘immersion in print’ curriculums. The latter two curriculums were influenced by both ‘whole language’ and ‘literature-based’ methods of reading instruction.

The researchers assumed that children’s preschool experience with oral and written language vary greatly. They believe that children’s experience with written language, or with the oral language used in school, can inhibit children’s ability to take advantage of classroom instruction. Some children lack an understanding of print concepts is related to reading achievement (although there is no evidence that the one causes the other).

Low achievers at the end of first grade exhibit poor concepts of printed language. Some research suggests that children can learn about print concepts through ‘immersion in print’, that is, through an environment rich in print and print use. Other researchers suggest that teachers need to teach print concepts directly.

Three approaches to teaching evaluated

Six kindergarten classrooms with a total of 132 children were selected for participation in this study. The principals characterized their school populations as in the middle to lower range socioeconomically. The three participating kindergarten teachers, each with one morning and one afternoon class, were judged competent by their principals and by outside investigators, and no significant differences between teachers were noted in observations.

Each teacher held an undergraduate degree only, and each indicated a strong belief in developing reading ability through phonics, visual and auditory discrimination activities and sight word approaches.

The participating teachers each taught a different program: traditional, immersion in print and immersion in print plus print concept lessons. These programs were assigned randomly, and each teacher was trained in their assigned instructional program and was provided appropriate materials.

The teacher assigned to teach the traditional state- adopted readiness program (Ginn Reading Rainbow Series and Alpha Time) was designated as a control for purposes of this experiment. The program continued for 80 school days, from December until May. Each of the classes devoted equal amounts of time to language instruction.

Children in all classes were pretested and posttested using the Written Language Awareness Test, Concepts About Print Test, the California Achievement Test’s Reading Readiness subtest and the Test for Identifying Early Readers. (See the original research for an in-depth description of the tests.)

The traditional reading readiness curriculum consisted of auditory and visual discrimination of letter names and sounds and basic sight words. Children were read to for 15 minutes each day. The next 60 minutes were spent focusing on variouus “centers” which included alphabet skills and writing practice, a library corner and reinforcement of skills with worksheets.

Immersion in print

For the ‘immersion in print’ classes, the teacher was given six “shared reading experience units” – big books or enlarged copies of regular books – in which the children were encouraged to follow along as the teacher read aloud. Subsequent to the oral reading, the big books were used in writing and repeated reading activities. Read-along tapes, as well as art and music activities, accompanied each unit. Language experience charts, word blanks and pattern sentence stories were also used in these classes.

Children were encouraged to write and to use inventive spelling. One hour was devoted to these language activities: 30 minutes of group activities and 30 minutes for use of centers. 15 minutes were used for singing. A chart of the song was posted for the children to follow.

In addition to the above, the third teacher also taught print concepts directly to the children during the language arts activity period. Concepts such as “book”, “word”, “letter”, “paragraph”, “sentence”, as well as locational and directional concepts (top, bottom, beginning, first, left, right, etc.) were taught by:

1. giving a definition

2. giving an example

3. giving a non-example

4. asking the student to demonstrate while the teacher explained

5. having the teacher demonstrate while the student explained

6. having students apply the concept on their own

7. having the teacher check the students’ application

Immediately following 80 days of instruction, the tests were readministered to all students.

Improved results with emphasis on print

With regard to reading readiness and word reading skills, the test results from this first year of the study show significant differences between traditional and “immersion in print” classes. The ‘immersion in print’ approach led to significant increases in reading readiness and work reading ability.

The word reading and reading readiness scores for the two experimental classrooms were 1/2 better than the traditional reading readiness control group. Reutzel et al. report that environments in which print is emphasized result in significantly increased scores on standardized readiness tests as well as on informal reading inventories.

In the traditional readiness curriculum, instructional time is spent mainly on isolated word or letter drills and, as a result, does not appear to provide enough exposure to connected print.

Interestingly, the teaching of print concepts to the third group did not appear to improve their reading readiness or word reading. The researchers suggest, though, that the effects from teaching print concepts may not have been measurable at this stage in the students’ reading development. The study is continuing to determine if teaching print concepts affects student achievement once formal reading instruction is encountered in first grade.

It should be noted that this study involved a relatively small sample of teachers who were not randomly chosen. Until further research is carried out, the results should be considered tentative.

Reutzel et al. state that even at this stage, their study indicates that kindergarten curriculums that provide print-rich environments and structured experiences with print and which are taught by knowledgeable teachers, can significantly increase children’s print awareness, reading readiness and word reading ability.

“Developing Print Awareness: The Effect Of Three Instructional Approaches on Kindergartners’ Print Awareness, Reading Readiness and Word Reading” Journal of Reading Behavior Volume 21, Number 3, p. 197-217.

Published in ERN January/February 1990 Volume 3 Number 1


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