International perspectives on alphabet knowledge from preschool through Grade 3: Developmental processes and consequences for reading and spelling skills

International perspectives on alphabet knowledge from preschool through Grade 3: Developmental processes and consequences for reading and spelling skills

First Author: Barbara DeBaryshe -- University of Hawaii
Keywords: Letter knowledge, Early childhood age 3-8, Word reading, Alphabetic writing, Spelling
Abstract / Summary: 

Early alphabet knowledge (e.g., recognition of graphemes, letter names and sounds, increasing automaticity) is a foundational component for literacy and one of the strongest predictors of decoding, spelling, and reading comprehension in early elementary school. This symposium includes research involving five languages—Dutch, English, Hebrew, Portuguese and Spanish—that use different orthographies and have different degrees of phonological transparency and regularity in the writing system. Samples range from 3 to 8 years of age and the studies include a blend of cross-sectional, experimental and longitudinal designs. Two studies examine factors associated with the acquisition of alphabet knowledge in the preschool period. One study demonstrates the outcomes of a home-based alphabet and emergent writing intervention on later literacy skill and school adjustment. Two studies examine how alphabet knowledge, in concert with other skills, affects the development of spelling and reading competence in elementary school. Implications for instruction will be emphasized.

Symposium Papers: 

Not quite as easy as ABC: Predicting the order in which preschool children learn the letters of the English alphabet

First Author/Chair:Barbara DeBaryshe -- University of Hawaii
Additional authors/chairs: 
Seongah Im; Lauren Mark

PURPOSE: We tested nine models predicting the order in which children learn the letters of the English alphabet. These models were (a) letter is the child’s first initial, (b) letter is in the child’s first name, (c) alphabetical order, (d) developmental order of spoken phoneme production, (d) frequency in print, (e) phonological transparency of the letter name, (f) visual similarity of upper and lower case forms, (g) visual features of the grapheme, and (h) order of presentation in the classroom curriculum.

METHOD: Participants were 140 preschool children (mean age 44 months). Children were assessed at the start and end of the school year on three measures: upper case (UCLN) and lower case (LCLCN) letter names and lower case letter sounds (LCLS). Data were analyzed using two-level (letter and child) non-linear mixed models. Child age, dual language status, pretest vocabulary and phonological awareness, and hypothesis codes were the level two predictors. Six models were tested, i.e., for UCLN, LCLN, and LCLS at each time period.

RESULTS: All hypotheses were significant for at least two of the six outcome measures. Effects were largest for the first name, first initial, and case similarity hypotheses.

CONCLUSION: Children use multiple sources of information, i.e., input frequency, visual features, auditory cues, and personal relevance to master the task of memorizing letter shapes, names, and sounds. Instructional implications include allocating more time to difficult letters, helping children attend to cues that aid letter learning, and the order in which to introduce letters and case in the curriculum.

Practicing alphabet skills with computer applications

First Author/Chair:Adriana Bus -- Leiden University

PURPOSE: Young children are involved in activities like letter naming and writing. In this computer era, there is an increasing number of educational computer programs to support learning the letters and other literacy skills. In an ongoing research project, What Works for Whom, it is tested whether educational computer programs are beneficial for kindergartners lagging behind in literacy and which programs work for whom.

METHOD: Living Letters, the target program in this study, is an educational computer program to promote alphabetic knowledge. It typically provides responsive replies to all children’s reactions. In a large scale experiment (N = 423) kindergarten children were randomly assigned to this program or a digital control program training math skills.

RESULTS: Overall Living Letters did not have effects on top of the common equivalent experiences with letters at home and in school. However, from Randomized Controlled Trials it appeared that some children’s alphabetic skills did thrive as a result of Living Letters. Among various markers, children’s stress level was the best predictor of learning through this computer program.

CONCLUSIONS: I will discuss for which children a computer program stimulating alphabetic knowledge is particularly beneficial and which program features may explain the effects. It seems that computer programs stimulating alphabetic knowledge are an indispensable element of the preschool/kindergarten curriculum because they enable a sub-sample of children to catch up and learn more than from experiences with letters in daily life.

Early invented spellings as predictors of later reading and spelling ability: Evidence from Brazilian Portuguese

First Author/Chair:Tatiana Pollo -- Universidade Federal de São João del-Rei
Additional authors/chairs: 
Cláudia Cardoso-Martins

PURPOSE: Children start to use their knowledge of letter names and/or sounds to spell words (e.g., spelling L for elephant or OE for pony) long before they go to school. The present study examined whether variations in preschoolers’ early attempts to spell phonologically predict later reading and spelling ability.

METHOD: 74 Portuguese-speaking children in Brazil were evaluated at two different times: when they were 4-years of age and two years later, at the beginning of 1st grade. At Time 1 children were asked to spell a list of 12 words as well as they could. Although many of them knew quite a few letter names, none had started to read yet. At Time 2, we assessed their ability to read and spell words.

RESULTS: Variations in the phonological appropriateness of the invented spellings at 4 years of age, as assessed by the Ponto scoring system (Kessler, 2009), correlated significantly with children’s ability to read (r = .352) and spell words (r = .374) at 6 years of age. Furthermore, even after we controlled for variations in letter-name knowledge at the beginning of the study, scores on the invented spelling task continued to contribute significantly to the ability to spell words later on.

CONCLUSIONS: These results extend the findings of previous studies by showing that variations in preschoolers’ incipient attempts to spell phonologically predict later reading and spelling ability, and suggest that an analysis of children’s early spellings may contribute to the identification of children at risk of literacy difficulties.

Parents practicing alphabet skills with their children: An intervention to promote early literacy, reading, and writing acquisition in first grade and adjustment to school

First Author/Chair:Adi Elimelech -- Tel Aviv University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Dorit Aram

PURPOSE: The study examined the efficacy of a home-based literacy intervention that focused on alphabetic skills in promoting children’s early literacy in kindergarten, reading and writing in first grade, and school adjustment.

METHOD: Participants were 60 children from the same kindergarten (30 in the intervention, M = 68 months) and their mothers. All the mothers participated in a lecture about the importance of early literacy activities. Children and mothers in the intervention practiced short, guided literacy activities focusing on writing using booklets and games four times a week over 12 weeks. The children in the control group continued with the kindergarten’s curriculum. Children’s alphabetic skills were assessed before and after the intervention (posttest1) and their reading, writing, and social adjustment were assessed in first grade (posttest2).

RESULTS: Children in the intervention outperformed those in the control on all posttest1 and posttest2 assessments. In addition, the intervention group adjusted significantly better to school compared to the control.

CONCLUSIONS: A short group intervention, which combined theoretical and practical guidance, helped parents learn to efficiently support their children's early literacy skills via writing activities. Nurturing early literacy skills in kindergarten can improve children’s reading and writing and their school adjustment as they begin first grade.

The contribution of alphabetic fluency to word reading and spelling

First Author/Chair:Mercedes López-Aguado -- University of Leon
Additional authors/chairs: 
Liliana Tolchinsky

PURPOSE: Children acquiring literacy in transparent orthographies, such as Spanish, master the name of the letter and learn to decode and spell words very early on. We examine the relative contribution of alphabetic fluency – quick letter writing and naming – on word reading and word spelling performance after children have mastered the alphabetic code.

METHOD: Participants were native Spanish speakers, 147 from first grade (M= 74 months) and 125 from third grade (M= 99 months). Children were assessed on word and pseudoword reading as well as on word spelling. To assess alphabetic fluency children performed an alphabet task, they had to write as many letters as they can in one minute and a RAN test, they had to name aloud letters as quickly as they can. Four structural equation models were run, two with word reading and two with word spelling as the dependent variable for first and third grade, respectively. All the models fit the data well.

RESULTS: Word reading was directly affected by alphabetic fluency and indirectly --through alphabetic fluency -- by spelling. The effect of alphabetic fluency was maintained in first and third grade but the indirect effect of spelling diminished. Alphabetic fluency and word reading also directly affected word spelling and these effects increased from first to third grade.

CONCLUSION: Learning to read and spell words appears to be affected by an alphabetic factor that embraces beyond knowledge of letters names, and letter to sound correspondence quickness and automatized usage of orthographic elements.