Study questions waiting for readiness in kindergartners

Parent Taking Child To Pre SchoolWhen children begin kindergarten, their teachers usually give them time to develop readiness skills before plunging into teaching intensive academic skills.

But a new study in Preventing School Failure questions this common waiting-game approach, especially for students who need intervention.

Researchers from the Behavior Reading Improvement Center at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte say that kindergartners who received small-group reading intervention for a whole school year outperformed students who began the same intervention midyear in phonemic awareness and early decoding skills.

Early reading interventions

Despite mounting evidence of the importance of early, explicit reading interventions for students who enter school without critical pre-reading skills, many kindergarten programs delay intensive reading instruction until later in the year, the researchers write.

“These findings suggest there may be an advantage to starting reading intervention from the beginning of the kindergarten school year as a way of ensuring strong performance in key early literacy skills before first grade,” write Nancy Cooke and her fellow researchers.

“In addition, we found that a number of readiness skills could be addressed within the context of the supplementary lessons, suggesting that waiting for students to be ‘ready’ for supplementary instruction may disadvantage students when it comes to academic progress.”

In the study, kindergartners at two urban schools received core reading instruction across the school year for approximately 90 minutes per day with Open Court Reading. Children at both schools received supplemental small-group Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction in pull-out groups of 3-6 students conducted by tutors and paraprofessionals. Students in one school received supplemental instruction for the whole year (mean of 81 and 98 lessons for Tier 2 and Tier 3) and students in the other school received the supplemental instruction for one semester (mean of 36 and 44 lessons for Tier 2 and Tier 3).

Early Reading Tutor (ERT) served as the Tier 2 intervention and Reading Mastery Classic I served as the Tier 3 intervention. ERT uses scripted instruction to address phonemic awareness, explicit phonics, passage reading and fluency skills. RMI is a direct instruction program that teaches phonemic awareness, word attack skills and comprehension strategies. Students were screened with DIBELS (Initial Sound Fluency and Letter Naming Fluency) at the beginning of the year, and students needing supplementary support were given DIBELS subtests of Phoneme Segmentation Fluency and Nonsense Word Fluency.

Readiness difficulty

Teachers can address-children’s readiness gaps with individualized instruction, the researchers write. They should also be careful about the language they use. Many students may have difficulty following directions and understanding tasks so it’s important to use simple, consistent and direct language. It’s important to choose reading programs with uncomplicated, repetitive and unambiguous language to reduce students’ confusion. Paying close attention to language is another way to help children with readiness.

The researchers recommend teaching phonemic awareness with letters (i.e. teaching students that sounds can be connected to the letters those sounds represent). They also recommend engaging students in small-group instruction with choral responding and a brisk pace punctuated by frequent “down time.”

“Supplemental Reading Help for Kindergarten Students: How Early Should You Start,” by Nancy Cooke et al., Preventing School Failure, Volume 54, Number 3, 2010, pps. 137-144.

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