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Four stories about literacy. Evidence for a whole child/whole language approach. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD. Temple University. Story 1 :. E-books as conversation blockers. Introduction.

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four stories about literacy

Four stories about literacy

Evidence for a whole child/whole language approach

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD.

Temple University

story 1

Story 1:

E-books as conversation blockers

  • Nearly two-thirds of parents say that educational toys like talking books are “very important” to a child’s intellectual development (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004).
  • We don’t know if these books are preferred by children and if they encourage the kinds of story related conversations and questions that build good readers
to find out
To find out…
  • Tested 23, 3-year olds at two children’s museums in Chicago and Philadelphia. The children were presented with both e-books and traditional books and asked to choose 1.
  • We not only looked at their choices, but closely examined a subset of 6 boy and 6 girls matched on maternal education and ethnicity to see how parents interacted with the children during e-book and traditional reading.
  • Surprisingly, children chose more traditional books than e-books -- 2/3 of the children did so
  • More drastically, parents were more directive in their language when reading e-books (Point to the ___) and more conversational when reading traditional books(What is Jonny looking at?).
the moral of the story
The moral of the story

E-books thwart the kind of conversations that build great readers

They might (?) be good for learning individual vocabulary -- but they don’t promote the kind of reading that encourages a love of books.

Collins, M., Parish, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. (in preparation) Electronic Books:

Boon or Bust for Interactive Reading

story 2

Story 2:

Moving beyond the words

once upon a time
Once upon a time…
  • Teachers and researchers knew that good reading was built upon a strong foundation of strong oral language skills.
  • Many also knew that:
    • Good readers had good vocabularies
  • So many started stressing vocabulary learning as the staple for early literacy success.

Just because

Reading => good vocabulary

It does not mean that:

Good vocabulary alone => reading

Do good language skills overall predict reading better than does vocabulary alone?

to find out11
To find out….
  • We followed 1,137 children from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development from 54 months to 1st grade.
  • We asked two questions:

1. Was oral language at 54 months directly related to reading scores in 1st grade?

2. Was oral language best defined through vocabulary or through broader language skills?

  • Oral language is critical not only for building letter-sound correspondence, but for reading comprehension!
  • Broader language skills are more important than vocabulary alone.
the moral of the story13
The moral of the story
  • We must have rich conversations with children that build a strong language foundation.
  • Studying vocabulary without the context will not do the trick

Remember studying words for the SATs??

  • NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2005). Early child care and children's development in the primary grades: Results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. American Educational Research Journal 43(3), 537-570
story 3

Story 3:

It’s all about the story!

there once was a researcher
There once was a researcher…
  • Who thought that story telling or narrative should help bridge the gap between oral language and reading.
  • That researcher (Catherine Snow) hypothesized that story structure and the language that emerged within stories would offer rich scaffolding for reading.
many have now asked
Many have now asked..
  • If narrative use (understanding and telling stories) is related to reading competence.
  • Whether story telling might be even more important for children from poor environments.
to find out17
To find out…
  • We studied 987 children from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development in 3rd grade.
  • We asked them to tell a story using a book with no words -- Frog Where are You? By Mercer
We coded the story for narrative structure (setting, purpose, characters) and for language complexity (use of connectors like and, but; time words like while, then…)
  • We also have information on children’s vocabulary and reading levels
  • Narrative ability (telling and understanding stories) does relate to reading scores and has added value even over language ability.
  • Why? Narrative seems to stimulate richer use of language
  • Narrative seems to be particularly important in stimulating language for poorer children
the moral of the story20
The moral of the story?

Telling stories in a classroom and at home helps to build the strong language skills that support early literacy and reading.

We all have stories to tell and need to tell them to our children and to model them for the parents and children in our charge.

What was it like when you were young?

Who did you see in the market today?

story 4

Story 4

Play = Learning

did you know that
Did you know that…
  • In Japanese preschools more than 50% of time is spent in play?
  • That the Japanese children outscore most nations in reading and math scores?
  • That research suggests that learning takes place in playful and meaningful environments?

•HARVEY F. BELLINThe Media Group of Connecticut


Yale University Family TV Center



•A two-year study to develop a video-based program of playful learning games to strengthen emergent literacy skills of at-risk 4-5 year-olds from low-income families in any childcare setting.



Video/DVD Program for Preschool Children

• Five learning games played by ‘real people’ children and their parent or teacher.

• Playfulanimations and interactive challenges to young viewers.

introduction explains program premise and models dialogic reading



Phonological awareness: Rhymes, words ending with the same sound.


Explains program premise,and models dialogic reading.




Print Knowledge: Parts of a book, direction of reading text. Vocabulary.Emergent writing. Story structure.


Phonological awareness: Alliterations, words that start with the same letter and sound.


PROGRAM TESTING Participants & Methodology

METHODOLOGY Test Preschoolers in Parent, Teacher & Home Care Settings

• Pre-test children’s emergent literacy skills.

• With no prior training, adults use program with children for two weeks.

• Post-test emergent literacy skills. Conduct focus groups. Compare pre/post.

  • Participants: 303
    • • 180 Children(Mean Age: 4.00 years)• 123 Adults(Parents, Teachers, Home Care)
  • Low-SES Communities in Five States:
    • • Los Angels • Chicago • Cleveland
    • • New York City • Greenville, SC

YEAR 1: LOCAL (New Haven, CT)

Participants: 267

• 179 Children(Mean Age: 4.07 years)• 91 Adults(Parents, Teachers, Home Care)

Randomly Assigned to:

• Experimental Group (91 children)

• Control Group (85 children)

alphabet letters print knowledge means how many of 26 letters can child identify

RESULTSPre/Post Gains in Children’s Skills

LOCAL: 41.8% Gain

NATIONAL: 21.0% Gain

ALPHABET LETTERS (Print Knowledge)(Means: How many of 26 letters can child identify)

making rhymes phonological awareness percentage of children who can make rhymes

TEST RESULTSPre/Post Gains in Children’s Skills

LOCAL: 28% Gain

NATIONAL: 33% Gain

MAKING RHYMES (Phonological Awareness) (Percentage of children who can make rhymes)

write name emergent writing percentage of children who can write their name

TEST RESULTSPre/Post Gains in Children’s Skills

LOCAL: 12% Gain

NATIONAL: 14% Gain

WRITE NAME (Emergent Writing) (Percentage of children who can write their name)

the moral of the story32
The moral of the story?
  • Play = Learning
  • Children learn best when they are active discoverers and explorers in a meaningful world

Singer, D. & Belin, H. Video-Based Play Intervention to Strengthen Emergent Literacy of At-risk PreschoolersIn Singer, D., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (Eds.) (in press). Play=Learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and social-emotional growth. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

your grandmother knew that children learn best
Your grandmother knew that children learn best…
  • With people who treat them like whole people (with intelligence and emotions) ~ not e-toys
  • Who have full conversations ~ not just vocabulary
  • Who tell stories
  • Who know how to play with them
now science tells us that what grandma knew is also best practice
Now science tells us that what grandma knew is also best practice
  • Sure we have to teach


    • Our teaching must occur in social, language rich and playful environments
    • That respect whole children who use whole language