Development of emergent literacy and early reading skills in preschool

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  • 1.Copyright 2000 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0012-1649/00/S5.00 DOI: 10.1037//OOI2-1649.36.5.596Developmental Psychology 2000, Vol. 36, No. 5, 596-613Development of Emergent Literacy and Early Reading Skills in Preschool Children: Evidence From a Latent-Variable Longitudinal Study Christopher J. Lonigan, Stephen R. Burgess, and Jason L. Anthony Florida State University Although research has identified oral language, print knowledge, and phonological sensitivity as important emergent literacy skills for the development of reading, few studies have examined the relations between these aspects of emergent literacy or between these skills during preschool and during later reading. This study examined the joint and unique predictive significance of emergent literacy skills for both later emergent literacy skills and reading in two samples of preschoolers. Ninety-six children (mean age = 41 months, SD = 9.41) were followed from early to late preschool, and 97 children (mean age = 60 months, SD = 5.41) were followed from late preschool to kindergarten or first grade. Structural equation modeling revealed significant developmental continuity of these skills, particularly for letter knowledge and phonological sensitivity from late preschool to early grade school, both of which were the only unique predictors of three children experience significant difficulties in learning to read (Adams, 1990). There is strong continuity between the skills with which children enter school and their later academic performance. Those children who do experience early difficulties in learning to read are likely to continue to experience reading problems throughout the school years (Baydar, Brooks-Gunn, & Furstenberg, 1993; Felton, 1998; Stevenson & Newman, 1986; Tramontana, Hooper, & Selzer, 1988) and into adulthood (Bruck, 1998). For instance, Juel (1988) reported that the probability that children would remain poor readers at the end of the fourth grade if they were poor readers at the end of the first grade was .88. Children who enter school with limited reading-related skills are at high risk of qualifying for special education services. In fact, the majority of school-age children referred for special education evaluation are referred because of unsatisfactory progress in reading (Lentz, 1988).Reading skills provide a crucial piece of the foundation for children's academic success. Children who read early and well experience more print exposure and consequent growth in numerous knowledge domains (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Echols, West, Stanovich, & Zehr, 1996; Morrison, Smith, & DowEhrensberger, 1995). In contrast, children who lag behind in their reading skills receive less practice in reading than other children do (Allington, 1984), miss opportunities to develop reading comprehension strategies (Brown, Palincsar, & Purcell, 1986), often encounter reading material that is too advanced for their skills (Allington, 1984), and may acquire negative attitudes about reading itself (Oka & Paris, 1986). Such processes may lead to what Stanovich (e.g., 1986) termed a Matthew effect, in which poor reading skills impede learning in other academic areas (Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990), which increasingly depend on reading across the school years. Although the development of skilled reading occurs without significant problems for the majority of children, an estimated oneWhereas more traditional approaches to the study of reading often take as their starting point children's entry into the formal school environment, an emergent literacy approach conceptualizes the acquisition of literacy as a developmental continuum with its origins early in the life of a child, rather than as an all-or-none phenomenon that begins when children start school. An emergent literacy approach departs from other perspectives on reading acquisition in suggesting that there is no clear demarcation between reading and prereading. Emergent literacy consists of the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are presumed to be developmental precursors to conventional forms of reading and writing (Sulzby & Teale, 1991; Teale & Sulzby, 1986; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998), and thus it suggests that significant sources of individual differences in children's later reading skills are present prior to school entry. Previous research has identified a number of potentially important components of emergent literacy. Whitehurst and Lonigan (1998) recently outlined different components of emergent literacy skills and identified three factors that appear to be associated with preschool children's later word-decoding abilities: oral language, phonological processing abilities, and print knowledge.Christopher J. Lonigan, Stephen R. Burgess, and Jason L. Anthony, Department of Psychology, Florida State University. Stephen R. Burgess is now at the Department of Psychology, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. Preparation of this article was supported, in part, by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD36067, HD36509) and the Administration for Children and Families (90-YF0023); the views expressed herein are the authors' and have not been cleared by the grantors. We wish to acknowledge the contributions of the child-care centers, the directors, and the personnel who assisted with this project as well as the children and parents who made it possible. We thank Sarah Dyer, Brenlee Bloomfield, Crystal Carr, Tracy Ferguson, Kimberly Ingram, Danielle Karlau, Nikki Sutton, Emily Shock, and other students at Florida State University for their assistance with data collection. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Christopher J. Lonigan, Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee Florida 32306-1270. Electronic mail may be sent to 596

2. EMERGENT LITERACY AND EARLY READING Reading is a process of translating visual codes into meaningful language. In the earliest stages, reading in an alphabetic system involves decoding letters into corresponding sounds and linking those sounds to single words. A substantial body of research has demonstrated positive correlations and longitudinal continuity between individual differences in oral language skills and later differences in reading (e.g., Bishop & Adams, 1990; Butler, Marsh, Sheppard, & Sheppard, 1985; Pikulski & Tobin, 1989; Scarborough. 1989; Share, Jorm, MacLean, & Mathews, 1984). Whereas the connection between oral language and reading is clear for reading comprehension (e.g., Snow, Barnes, Chandler, Hernphill, & Goodman, 1991), some studies indicate that vocabulary skills also have a significant impact on decoding skills very early in the process of learning to read (e.g., Wagner et al.. 1997). Additionally, oral language appears to be related to a second emergent literacy skill, phonological sensitivity, as defined below. Studies of both preschool (e.g., Burgess & Lonigan, 1998; Chaney, 1992; Lonigan, Burgess, Anthony, & Barker, 1998) and early elementary school children (e.g., Bowey, 1994; Wagner, Torgesen, Laughon, Simmons, & Rashotte, 1993; Wagner et al., 1997) have demonstrated significant concurrent and longitudinal correlations between children's vocabulary skills and their phonological sensitivity. Phonological sensitivity refers to sensitivity to and ability to manipulate the sound structure of oral language. Research with a variety of populations and using diverse methods has converged on the finding that phonological sensitivity plays a critical and causal role in the normal acquisition of reading (e.g., Adams, 1990; Byrne & Fielding-Bamsley. 1991; Slanovich, 1992; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). Children who are better at detecting and manipulating syllables, rhymes, or phonemes are quicker to learn to read, and this relation is present even after variability in reading skill owing to factors such as IQ, receptive vocabulary, memory skills, and social class is partialed out (e.g., Bryant, MacLean, Bradley, & Crossland, 19%; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987; Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte, 1994). Moreover, studies of disabled and poor readers indicate that there is a core phonological deficit in nearly all poor readers regardless of whether their reading abilities are consistent or inconsistent with their general cognitive abilities (Stanovich, 1988; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994; Torgesen, 1999). In addition to oral language and phonological sensitivity, aspects of children's print knowledge seem to be important emergent literacy skills. For example, knowledge of the alphabet (i.e., knowing the names of letters and the sounds they represent) at entry into school is one of the strongest single predictors of short- and long-term success in learning to read (e.g., Adams, 1990; Stevenson & Newman, 1986). Understanding the conventions of print (e.g., left-to-right and top-to-bottom orientation of print, the difference between pictures and print on a page; Clay, 1979a, 1979b) and the functions of print (e.g., that the print tells a story or gives directions; Purcell-Gates, 1996; Purcell-Gates & Dahl, 1991) also appears to aid in the process of learning to read. For example, Tunmer, Herriman, and Nesdale (1988) found that children's scores on Clay's (1979a) Concepts About Print (CAP) Test at the beginning of first grade predicted their reading comprehension and decoding abilities at the end of second grade even after Tunmer et al. controlled for differences in vocabulary and metalinguistic awareness. Some emergent literacy advocates have also suggested that children's faculty with environmental print (e.g., recognizing597product names from signs and logos) reflects their early print awareness by demonstrating the ability to derive the meaning of text within context (e.g., Goodman, 1986). Despite some evidence for associations between emergent literacy and later reading, there have been relatively few studies examining the relations between these multidimensional aspects of emergent literacy or between these components during the preschool period and later reading skills. As noted above, aspects of oral language appear to be related to phonological sensitivity. Children's letter knowledge also appears to be associated with some aspects of phonological sensitivity (Bowey, 1994; Stahl & Murray, 1994) and growth in these skills (Burgess &. Lonigan, 1998; Wagner et al., 1994, 1997). Evidence from school-age children indicates that these three components of emergent literacy are causally related to each other and to later reading (e.g., Wagner et al., 1997); however, how they relate to each other during the preschool period is not known. Consequently, it is not clear whether there are interactions between these different emergent literacy skills or whether they are relatively independent of one another, and thus a well-elaborated developmental model of preschool emergent literacy and its relation to conventional literacy cannot be advanced. Moreover, basic questions concerning the nature of preschool phonological sensitivity currently remain unanswered, as discussed below. The majority of evidence linking phonological sensitivity in prereaders with the development of reading has come from studies that have assessed phonological skills at the point of school entry but prior to formal reading instruction (e.g., Bradley & Bryant, 1983, 1985; Share et al., 1984; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer, 1984; Wagner etal., 1994, 1997). Compared with research on school-age children's phonological sensitivity, there has been significantly less systematic study of preschool children's phonological sensitivity, and many of these studies have been limited by small sample sizes, use of only one or two measures of phonological sensitivity, and other methodological weaknesses. In one of the more extensive studies to date, MacLean, Bryant, and Bradley (1987) administered a rhyme detection task and a knowledge-of-nursery-rhymes task to a group of 66 three-year-old children. When the children were 4'/2 years old, their ability to read 12 simple high-frequency words was assessed. Compared with nonreaders, children who could read some of these words scored higher on the earlier rhyme and alliteration measures. Bryant et al. (1990) reported additional data on these children, who completed additional rhyme and alliteration detection tasks when they were about 4'/i years old, phoneme deletion and phoneme tapping tasks when they averaged about 6 years of age, and reading and spelling tests when they averaged about 6V2 years of age. Bryant et al. found that the rhyme and alliteration detection tests that had been administered when the children were AV2 were correlated with the later phoneme deletion and phoneme tapping tasks (average r = .48), and scores on these rhyme and alliteration tasks significantly added to the prediction of reading and spelling scores independent of mothers' educational level, child age, IQ, receptive vocabulary, and the score on either the phoneme deletion or phoneme tapping tasks. Evidence suggests that there is a developmental hierarchy of children's sensitivity to linguistic units at different levels of complexity. Children achieve syllabic sensitivity earlier than they achieve sensitivity to phonemes, and children's sensitivity to in- 3. 598LONIGAN, BURGESS, AND ANTHONYtrasyllabic units (i.e., onset-rime) also precedes sensitivity to phonemes (Fox & Routh, 1975; I. Liberman, Shankweiler, Fischer, & Carter, 1974; Lonigan et al., 1998; Treiman, 1992). However, there is controversy concerning whether sensitivity to lower levels of linguistic complexity (i.e., syllables, onset-rime) represents processes important for reading. Sensitivity to phonemes is often assumed to have special status in the relation between phonological sensitivity and reading both because it is at this level that graphemes correspond to speech sounds in reading and because individual phonemes do not have separable physical reality (e.g., A. Liberman, Cooper, Shankweiler, & Studdert-Kennedy, 1967; Morais, 1991; Muter, Hulme, Snowling, & Taylor, 1997; Nation & Hulme, 1997; Tunmer & Rohl, 1991). Other authors have suggested that children's abilities to detect rhyme facilitate reading through a mechanism different than sensitivity to phonemes (e.g., Goswami & Bryant, 1990, 1992). Both of these views, however, assume that there is more than one type of phonological sensitivity and that the different types may be more or less related to reading. Most extant studies compared the ability of different phonological sensitivity measures (e.g., measures of rhyme vs. phonemic sensitivity) to predict reading. In these studies, when one measure of phonological sensitivity predicts reading bettertypically defined as a significant semi-partial correlation obtained while controlling for the other measure of phonological sensitivitythe results are taken as supporting the crucial importance o...


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