Lessons From My Mother: Reflections on the National Early Literacy Panel Report

May. 10, 2010

Source: Educational Researcher, 39(4): 301-304. (May 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this review, the author focuses on the inclusion criteria for the selection of studies in the National Early Literacy Panel report.

The author argues that the interpretation of early literacy is overly narrow and ignores the important role of background knowledge and conceptual development.
The author claims that the bulk of the studies they report focused on code based interventions. they discovered that alphabet knowledge (code), phonological awareness (code), phonological memory (code); writing one's own name (code); rapid naming of letters (code) were the strongest predictors of later measures of literacy development. But while the existing evidence might suggest a code-focus, a different type of empiricism begins to argue against such a narrow focus.

To make this argument, this review examines studies of comprehension in content areas and shows how domain-specific knowledge uniquely contributes to literacy learning.
The author argues that children are natural knowledge seekers. They want to become expert in a domain. And it's this goal that drives their ambition to come to school to learn about literacy among many other skills.

Given that the large majority of children have the wherewithal to read and read well, what might we need to do in these early years to help children get on the road to successful reading, not just in kindergarten, but in the later years when the comprehension demands get harder?

This report could be the subject of much mischief. There will be people out there who will apply these skills like a laundry list of what they should teach. They'll work on alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, phonological memory, rapid naming of random letters and digits and colors and objects, and they will confidently argue that they are teaching children to read.

But what they are doing is exposing children to a set of narrow, largely procedural skills, and training them to recite, mimic, and repeat nonsense or what appears to them to be meaningless at the time. They will be teaching children how to react and not how to think. Children deserve better. In contrast to such an approach, we need to expose children to language-rich and content-rich settings that can help them acquire the broad array of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that build a foundation for literacy and content learning. The early years are just too precious to get it wrong.

Updated: Jul. 05, 2011