Early Literacy Instruction (Birth-Elementary Grades)


The Hornbook

1450 - 1650

Dating back to medieval times, the Hornbook "had upon it letters of the alphabet, and if the boy masters that he will be able to enter the tower" (Plimpton, 1916, p. 264). Each level of the tower contains a different teacher and a different subject of the curriculum that needed to be mastered. The Hornbooks over time were made of different materials including either brass, silver, ivory, copper, gold, or even gingerbread. The gingerbread was used as a motivating factor so once the child knew a letter, he could eat it. Hornbooks also displayed religious materials, and sometimes arithmetic. As Smith (2002) contended, "The hornbook seems to have been very popular throughout the Colonial period. It was used in two capacities: for catechizing in church, and for giving children their first reading instruction in school" (p. 15).
Plimpton, G. (1916). The Hornbook and its use in America. Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 26(2), 264-272.
Smith, N. B. (2002). American Reading Instruction. The International Reading Association, Newark, DE.

Only boys were taught to read


Only boys were taught to read in Roman times. Print access was very limited and handwritten manuscripts were only owned by the wealthy. Reading was of little interest to most people, except for Monks and Priests who read scriptures in Latin.

Mathews, M. M. (1966). Teaching to read, historically considered. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Gingerbread Method of Teaching the Alphabet


"In the sixteenth century gingerbread was a most delectable and popular dainty" (Smith, 2002, p. 6). Since gingerbread was so popular, someone conceived the idea of encouraging students to learn the alphabet by offering them gingerbread letters to eat once they had learned the letter names. "Basedow, a German educator of the eighteenth century, was so enthusiastic about the gingerbread method of teaching the alphabet that he recommended the employment of a school baker for every school" (Smith 2002, p. 7).
Smith, N. B. (2002). American Reading Instruction. The International Reading Association, Newark: DE.

The Printing Press


Although the printing press was invented in 1400, it was until 1500 that it had spread to various countries. This made universal literacy possible.

Kleek, A.V., & Schuele, M.C. (2010). Historical Perspectives on Literacy in Early Childhood. The American Journal of Speech and Language Pathology, 19, 341-355.

Family Responsible for Children Learning to Read

1550 - 1850

During the American Colonial Era and the Industrial Revolution, the family was responsible for children learning to read. Reading started at a very early age and took place in the home (Kleek & Schuele, 2010). The importance that society placed on ensuring that families taught their children to read is indicated by early laws passed in several New England colonies. Reading and grammar were emphasized in the laws to be conducted in the household.
Kleek, A.V., & Schuele, C. M. (2010). Historical perspectives on literacy in Early Childhood. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 19 (341-355).

Bible Scriptures

1600 - 1700

In Colonial America, the emphasis on early literacy reading was to read Bible Scriptures. The job of teaching was the responsibility of the mother. Instruction started at a very young age and took place in the home. The instruction used "formal didactic techniques that were precursors to modern phonics approaches" (Delonas, 1976, p. 17).
Cremin, L. (1970). American Education. New York, NY: Harper, Torch.
Delonas, J.W. (1976). The struggle for reading as seen in American magazines. (Doctoral Dissertation). Michigan State University, East Lansing.

Alphabetic Method

1600 - 1900

"From the colonial period in America until the early 1900's, reading generally was taught via a code-oriented approach called the ABC or alphabetic method that basically had been in place since the Greek and Roman days" (Kleek & Schuele, 2010, p. 341). Reading was generally taught through the alphabetic method, which later became known as synthetic phonics. Letter names were learned first, followed by the sounds they represented.
Kleek, A.V., & Schuele, M.C. (2010). Historical perspectives on literacy in early childhood. American Journal of Speech and Language Pathology, 19, 341-355.

The New England Primer was introduced

1690 - 1899

The New England Primer was introduced and became widely used to teach children to read through continued memorization of the alphabet, verses, rhymes, and short stories (Monahan & Barry, 1999). Many of the selections from the primer were drawn from the King James Bible. It was the first textbook published in the 13 colonies. It was used with beginning and intermediate readers.
Monahan, E.J., & Barry, A.L. (1999). Writing the Past: Teaching reading in Colonial America and the United States, 1640-1940.

Infant Schools


Infant schools began to appear, first in England, and then in the United States of America. These schools were for toddlers through age 5. Clapping, dancing, and marching were some activities conducted at the schools. Only motor skills were taught, reading was not.
Beatty, B. (1995). Preschool education in America: The culture of young children from the Colonial era to the present. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Compulsory Education


Older children started attending compulsory education in more formal institutions outside of the home, due to societal changes (parents working outside the home). The responsibility for teaching reading now fell onto the teachers within the schools.
Rogoff, B. (2003). The Cultural Nature of Human Development. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Mothers were advised against teaching reading


Contrary to earlier beliefs and approaches, ideas began to shift away from early didactic forms of instruction in the home. Mothers were advised against teaching reading to their children younger than 6.
Kleet, A.V., & Schuele, M.C. (2010). Historical perspectives on literacy in early childhood. American Journal of Speech and Language Pathology, 19, 341-355.

Reading is a Visual Skill

1900 - 1960

"Through the 1960's, reading was considered primarily a visual skill (e.g. decoding involved discrimination of letter shapes)" (Kleek & Schuele, 2010, p. 347). Reading in schools was devoted to learning letters, their shapes, and possibly identifying sounds to letter shapes.

Combined Alphabetic an Phonetic Systems

1900 - 1920

"One new feature in reading materials which was developed in the 1900's was the contrivance of certain alphabetic and phonetic systems which it was thought would make reading easier for beginners" (Smith, 2002, p. 127). One example of such was the "Scientific Alphabet"which respelled words and omitted silent letters. Another example was "The Shearer System" where a letters sound is represented by a mark. These systems were invented as means of teaching beginning readers speedily and effectively but they did not enjoy wide or permanent use.

Smith, N.B. (2002). American Reading Instruction. The International Reading Association, Newark, DE.

The sentence and story method

1900 - 1910

The sentence and story methods of instruction were "an outgrowth and expansion of the word method so strongly agitated during the preceding period" (Smith, 2002, p. 128). Although these methods were used for quite a few years, it later became known that children who had been taught these methods were not able to read well in upper elementary grades.
Smith, N.B. (2002). American Reading Instruction. The International Reading Association, Newark, DE.

Maria Montessori opens "Casa dei Bambini"


The children at Montessori's school (some as young as age 3) "...were like little explorers, hungry to learn, and settled right in and worked with earnest" (Thayer-Bacon, 2012). Montessori advocated that the young age child should be instructed.

Thayer-Bacon, B. (2012). Maria Montessori, John Dewey, and William H. Kilpatrick. Education and Culture, 28(1), 3-20.

The National Kindergarten Association is founded

1909 - 1949

Bessie Locke founded the National Kindergarten Association (NKA) in New York City in 1909. The goal was to bring kindergartens to "all nation's children" (Beatty, 2004, p. 3). Locke had difficulty raising money for kindergartens however her "...efforts over four decades contributed to a 300-percent increase in the number of children nationwide attending public and private kindergartens" (Beatty, 2004, p. 4).
Beatty, B. (2004). Past, present, and future: What we can learn from the history of preschool education. American Prospect, 15(11), 3-6.

NAEYC is formed

1926 - 2015

The nation's premiere organization for early childhood professionals was formed in 1926. At first it was called the National Association for Nursery Education (NANE) which eventually evolved to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). From 1975 to 1986 membership grew to over 50,000, and then over 100,000 by 1997.

History of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (2015). Retrieved from: https://oldweb.naeyc.org/about/history.asp.

"Why Johnny Can't Read"


Up until 1955, whole word approaches were firmly in place. "Why Johnny Can't Read" was a book written by Rudolph Flesch and phonics methods were re-examined. It remained on the best-seller list for 39 weeks. "In summary, Flesch felt the U.S. would soon fall behind industrialized nations because it could not teach its children to read, and he proposed the root of the problem was the absence of phonics in schools" (Schantz & Zimmer, 2005, p. 2). The books children had been using in school were simplistic and when they got to a word they did not know they "guessed" rather than "sound it out".

Schantz, P., & Zimmer, J. (2005). Why Johnny can't read: 50 years of controversy. History of Reading News. Retrieved from: http://www.historyliteracy.org/newsletters/histlit.2005.28.2.pdf.

The nation's first English-speaking public kindergarten opened


Elizabeth Peabody founded the nation's first English-speaking public kindergarten in 1960. Despite resistance, she emphasized and compared the program to German kindergartens (children's gardens) which sounded less like school. "The effort lasted only a year, however, because the superintendent thought it too costly." (Beatty, 2004, p. 3).
Beatty, B. (2004). Past, present, and future: What we can learn from history of preschool education. The American Prospect, 15(11), 3-6.

Headstart was founded

1965 - 2015

Founded by President Johnson, Headstart became the first publicly funded preschool program. Headstart was a half-day preschool program for children of low-income families which was supported by the federal government. In the 1960's, "only ten percent of the nations three and four-year-olds were enrolled in a classroom setting" (K12 Academics). The program was successful and in 2005, 69% of four-year-olds were in some type of preschool setting (K12 Academics). The rate of attendance in preschool programs continues to grow each year.

K12 Academics (2015). History of preschool in the United States. Retrieved from: http://www.k12academics.com/systems-formal-education/preschool-education/history-preschool-united-states#.Vighq7y_tg0

In-home child care declines; Centers on the rise

1965 - 2015

"Center care experienced a 400 percent growth rate from 1970-1990" (Neugebauer & Wilson, 2012, p. 8). Center-based child care are now a a fabric of life in the United States. More mothers are working full-and part-time compared to those mothers in the 1960's. In fact, in 2015, nearly half of all preschool children, with mothers who work full time, are in child-care centers or family child care homes (Neugebauer & Wilson, 2012).

Neugebauer, R., & Wilson, M. (2012). Who's minding our preschool children? Trends in the utilization of childcare. Exchange: The Early Childhood Leader's Magazine, 208, 8-11.

Education for children ages 3-8 is deemed as crucial and critical


Hymes and Widmer describe education for children ages 3-8 as crucial and critical to describe the impact these early years have on the development and future education of the child. At this time it was also pointed out that schools were wasting precious time postponing the teaching of important subjects on grounds that they were too difficult for children of those ages.
Hymes, J.K. (1965-66). More pressure from early reading, Early Childhood, Crucial Years for Learning. 17-2.Widmer, E.L. (1970). The critical years: Early childhood education at the crossroads, Scranton, PA: Interactional Textbook Company.

Emergent Literacy


The research movement known as emergent literacy originated with Marie Clay. More followers in the U.S. began engaging in emergent literacy work in the 1980's. This research was based on the premise of early literacy activities that naturally occurred as a part of family based experiences with preschoolers.
Clay, M. (1966). Emergent reading behavior (Unpublished doctoral dissertation) University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Phonics vs. Look-Say Approach

1967 - 1979

In the mid 1900's the prevalent thoughts about effective reading instruction for early readers was influenced by a reading scholar named, William Gray. Gray objected to phonics approaches and supported a method of reading instruction known as "look-say". "This method was called look-say because it taught children to recognize and say whole words by sight rather than using knowledge of letter-sound relationships to read words" (Kim, 2008, p. 91).
Kim, J. S. (2008). Research and the Reading Wars. In F. M. Hess (Ed.), When Research Matters: How Scholarship Influences Education Policy (pp. 89-111). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Balanced Approach to Literacy

1996 - 2015

According to Frey, Lee, Tollefson, Pass, and Massengill (2005), "Balanced literacy is a philosophical orientation that assumes that reading and writing achievement are developed through instruction and support in multiple environments in which teachers use various approaches that differ by level of teacher support and child control" (p. 272). For several decades prior to the 2000's researchers debated whether a skills-based approach or or a meaning-making approach was best for teaching reading. In 1996 California coined the term, balanced literacy. This approach combines a balance of teacher-directed instruction and student-centered activities.

Frey, B.B., Lee, S.W., Tollefson, N., Pass, L., & Massengill, D. (2005). Balanced literacy in an urban school district. Journal of Educational Research, 98(5), 272-280.

Developing a comprehensive plan for teaching reading


In 1999, the International Reading Association released a position paper, titled, "Using Multiple Methods of Beginning Reading Instruction" (IRA, 1999). "This position statement suggests that no single method or single combination of methods can successfully teach all children to read" (Morrow, 2010, p. 30). Once the teacher teacher is well versed on the many methods of reading instruction, and he/she knows the students in the classroom, then the teacher can develop a comprehensive plan for teaching a child reading and writing.
International Reading Association (1999). Using Multiple Methods of Beginning Reading Instruction. A Position Statement of the International Reading Association. Retrieved from: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED435085

Morrow, L. M. (2010). Literacy Development in the Early Years: Helping Children Read and Write. New York, NY: Pearson.

Forty states have publicly funded preschool programs


In 2002, forty states had some type of publicly funded preschool program, although most targeted children from low-income families. Since 2001, "...there has been a 17 percent increase in children attending Pre-K nationwide" (Beatty, 2004, p. 5).
Beatty, B. (2004). Past, present, and future: What we can learn from the history of preschool education. American Prospect, 15(11), 3-6.

Digital Literacy for 21st Century Learners

2003 - 2015

Early childhood students are becoming exposed to technological devices at an early age. It's a natural part of children's lives and has been shown to support emergent literacy development (McGee & Richgels, 2006). Although our society has become more dependent on technology, early childhood settings often lag behind in that area (Parette, Quesenberry, & Blum, 2009). "We are quite optimistic that change will indeed occur-as the early childhood discipline embraces the challenge of reconceptualizing the role of technology in the developmentally appropriate practice" (p. 341).
McGee, L.M, & Richgels, D. J. (2006). Can technology support emergent reading and writing? Directions for the Future. In M.C. McKenna, L.D. Labbo, R.D., Kieffer, & D. Reinking (Eds). International Handbook of Literacy and Technology (Vol. 2, pp. 369-377). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Parette, H., Quesenberry, A., & Blum, C. (2009). Missing the boat with technology usage in early childhood settings: A 21st century view of developmentally appropriate practice. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(5), 335-343.

Report of the Early Literacy Panel is Published


In 2008, the National Early Literacy Panel along with the National Center for Family Literacy and the U.S. National Institute for Literacy Published the Report of the Early Literacy Panel. "A review and synthesis of early literacy research examining the skills and abilities of young children that predict later literacy outcomes and the interventions, programs, environments, settings, and child characteristics that promote the skills and abilities of young children associated with later literacy outcomes" was established (http://www.researchconnections.org/childcare/resources/15316). Six variables for teaching children to read (ages B-5) were reported including; phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, rapid automatic naming, writing, and phonological memory. Five early literacy skills were also discussed including; concepts about print, print knowledge, reading readiness, oral language, and visual processing. Together those 11 variables consistently predicted later literacy achievement for preschoolers and kindergarteners.
Developing Early Literacy (2008). Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Retrieved from: http://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/NELPReport09.pdf.

A need for further exploration


According to Lee (2013) there is a strong need for "to further explore the field of early literacy development among very young children" (p. 36). Lee examined publications in the U.S. from 1990-2009 and discovered that publications regarding literacy development among toddlers age 0-3 was lacking. Although the number of publications from 1980-1990 was lower than the number of publications from 1990-2009, Lee (2010) discusses the continued need for additional publications that involve more diverse participants.
Lee, B. Y. (2010). Early childhood development in Toddlerhood: Publication Trends from 1990-2009. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41, 25-37.

Less than half of 3-4 year olds are enrolled in a Pre K Program


According to The Atlantic (2014), "less than half of all 3 and 4 year olds across the country are enrolled in any sort of early education, mostly due to the fact of how pricey programs can be". Politicians argue that PreK is the grade that precedes kindergarten. The connotation is that Preschool is then daycare, nursery school, or a type of babysitting arrangement. Critics argue that Preschool is as important as PreK.

The Atlantic (2014). The politics of Pre-K. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/11/the-politics-of-pre-k/382878/

Reutzel discusses early literacy research in 2015


Reutzel makes the case for handwriting to return to the elementary classroom. He also recommended focusing early literacy instruction on blending, segmenting, and manipulating phonemes to produce greater achievements in phonemic awareness and future reading achievement than on times spent with rhyming and alliteration. Writing and reading workshop, letter alphabet knowledge and concepts about print are also highlighted in his article.
Reutzel, D. R. (2015). Early literacy research: Findings primary-grade teachers will want to know. The Reading Teacher, 69(1), 14-24.