Early Literacy Skills: How Kindergarten Teachers Help Kids

Josh Duke


Most experts agree on the importance of early literacy skills. Sonia Cabell, assistant professor in the School of Teacher Education & Florida Center for Reading Research, wants to look deeper. She and a team of researchers, led by Stefanie Copp from the University of Lynchburg, explored how early childhood educators support their youngest students in their latest article

Dr. Sonia Cabell[/caption] Ultimately, her research hopes to improve how teachers can serve their students and improve literacy. This new research looks at how kindergarten teachers support students while they are writing to build spelling skills that are critical for later reading and writing success. They hope that their work adds to the currently limited data on how teachers support their student’s early writing skills through scaffolding. “Young children’s ability to write successfully as early as kindergarten appears to influence their later literacy success,” says Cabell. “Specifically, early writing ability is not only linked to later writing ability, but also later reading ability. Therefore, it is important to understand how teachers currently support young children’s development of early writing.” Writing down something spoken involves a lot of overlapping abilities that we often take for granted. Particularly for kindergarten-aged students—the focus of this latest study—this is a big task. They first have to know how to write letters, then understand the sound letters make. Finally, they have to know how to spell the words they hear.

The Research

The research team followed four teachers and closely observed their classrooms over four weeks and also conducted surveys and interviews. In particular, they wanted to look at what kinds of things teachers said to support students’ written attempts during instructional time devoted to writing. They noticed that these teachers used used a wide range of strategies. Teachers sometimes encouraged students to do the thinking through providing a low-support scaffold (e.g., Why did you write that letter down?). At other times, teachers provided a medium-support scaffold (e.g., What is your next word?). But most of the time, teachers used a very high-support scaffold (e.g., Played has the sound /p/at the beginning like in p-p-penguin.) One key take away from the study is that teachers may benefit from additional professional development on how to better support students during writing time by starting with a low-support scaffold to encourage students to think through their writing, and then moving toward higher-support scaffolds as needed. As researchers conduct more studies on early literary skills, Cabell and her team hope to provide insights on how to better serve students. Especially at a young age, reading and writing are closely tied together. Research like this helps illuminate this connection and establish why early childhood education is so important. If you’re interested in learning more about literacy education, check out our graduate programs in Reading Education & Language Arts.