The development of literacy in the first year of school
Research evidence (Donaldson, 1978; Wells, 1985a; Hughes, 1986; Tizard and Hughes, 1984) over the last decade and a half has confirmed the competence of the pre-school child. At school entry Donaldson (1989) writes "... that children are highly active and efficient learners, competent enquirers, eager to understand" (p.36). There is less evidence concerning the extent to which educators harness this astounding pre-disposition to learn. The aims of the research project studied the development of reading in the reception year of school in Part 1 by: 1. assessing the range of literacy development exhibited by 191 children on entry to school; 2. identifying the entry skills that most reliably predict success in reading by the end of the first year of school; and in Part 2 of the study by: 1. considering the extent to which reception teachers facilitate a mastery of literacy by both capitalising on, and teaching to, each pupil's prior knowledge Part 1 of the study In September 1987 and 1988, 191 children were assessed soon after school entry. The different aspects of functioning that were measured were: 1. General maturity and intellectual functioning 2. Literacy related skills 3. Adjustment to school. II At the end of the year in July 1988 and 1989 two aspects of the child's functioning were assessed. 1. General maturity and cognitive functioning 2. Assessment of both written and spoken language. These data were collected over two years. In 1987/88 and 1988/89 thirty-two classes were studied in sixteen primary schools in the Local Education authorities of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, the former Inner London Education Authority and the London Boroughs of Harrow and Haringey. The data were pooled and extensively analysed using both descriptive and parametric statistical techniques. The main findings are: 1. Children arrive at school with a possible range of five years in their functioning regarding literacy related skills and intellectual ability. 2. Pearsons correlations, multiple regression and discriminant analyses confirm that the ability to identify letters of the alphabet and write one's name at school entry are the most powerful predictors of successful reading by the end of the year. This confirms the findings of earlier studies of the importance of these abilities (Tizard et al, 1988; Wells & Raban, 1978). 3. Understanding of the conventions of print, although weaker, has a positive relationship with reading. 4. An explanation of these data is that there is a developmental pathway to fluent reading. The child develops through the emergent literacy phase, with the accretion of an understanding of print and text through to the phase of beginning conventional reading. Progression takes place through the transition phase of whole word processing, Fnth's (1985) logographic stage to the alphabetic stage into conventional reading. Arriving at school able to identify the letters of the alphabet and able to write one's name indicates a more refined processing of print needed for this transition phase. 5. Children who do not adjust to school are four times less likely to be able to read by the end of the year. In Part 2 of the study A sample of reception class teachers was investigated through a postal questionnaire survey. The questionnaire examined: 1. The extent to which reception class teachers are aware of the most predictive entry skills; 2. The ability of reception class teachers to identify the skills in their new school entrants; 3. The use that reception class teachers made in their teaching of reading of the most valuable entry skills with which children arrive at school. Teachers involved with Part 1 of the study were recruited, and an additional group were circulated by the postal questionnaire, in the geographical areas of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Haringey, Harrow, Lewisham, Westminster, Camden, Hillingdon, Southwark and Greenwich. Sixty-two teachers completed the questionnaire. The main findings from these data showed that: 1. The majority of the reception class teachers surveyed ranked the importance of the entry skills in the reverse order to those found to be most valuable in Part 1 of the study. 2. Reception class teachers use approaches to reading that develop understandings of print and its usefulness. They foster the enjoyment of books. However, they do not appear to value the importance of orthographic awareness in the child's repertoire of strengths at school entry. The teachers are therefore ill-placed to closely match their teaching to the child's existing knowledge. The main recommendations are that this study indicates the necessity for dissemination of these research findings The new school entrant is very competent and due apparently to insufficient awareness of the most crucial entry skills reception class teachers are unable to fully capitalise on the child's prior knowledge. It is vital that initial and in-service teacher education address this gap.