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Literacy Development in Children

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Bachelor's in Communication Sciences and Disorders

Tables of Contents

What Is Literacy Development?

Language and literacy development in children, 5 literacy development stages, literacy development in early childhood, early literacy development stages in children.

The benefits of physical activity for a person’s health and longevity are well documented. However, not everyone is aware of the many health benefits of the most common form of mental exercise: reading .

For children, literacy development provides benefits that begin immediately and last a lifetime.

The importance of early literacy development to a child’s success in school and life can’t be understated. Even though the literacy rate in the U.S. is 99%, researchers estimate that 43 million U.S. adults have low literacy skills that impair their cognitive abilities. Introducing children to books and reading from their first months of life prepares them to succeed in school while also strengthening family bonds and promoting children’s health and well-being for a lifetime.

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Benefits of literacy that last a lifetime.

Crayons, Pencils, and Keyboards; Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children; and Nationwide Children’s Hospital report these benefits of language and literacy: They build confidence and self-esteem, encourage independent learning, enhance cognitive ability, strengthen brain function, improve attention span, and enrich communication skills.

Literacy development is the process of learning words, sounds, and language. The acquisition of early literacy skills begins in a child’s first year, when infants begin to discriminate , encode , and manipulate the sound structures of language, an ability called phonological awareness.

It’s important to assess a child’s language skills at an early age, because delays in literacy development could indicate a language or reading disorder. Research has shown that languages with consistent sound-to-letter correspondences, or orthographic consistency, are easier for children to learn.

Encouraging Communication and Reading Skills

Reading-related activities in the child’s home are key to early literacy development. These activities include joint reading, drawing, singing, storytelling, game playing, and rhyming.

Using Childhood Literacy to Treat Communication Disorders

While nearly all children experience problems with a few language sounds, words, or syntax, some children struggle to reach literacy milestones that are common for their age group. These are among the language problems that young children may encounter:

Some language development problems relate to hearing loss, so children experiencing language problems should have their hearing checked. Speech language pathologists are able to help children overcome language learning difficulties; they also help parents, caregivers, and teachers overcome language learning difficulties in children. Children under the age of 3 who appear to have problems with literacy development may qualify for state early intervention programs that help them develop cognitive, communication, and other skills.

How children develop language skills and become literate are two separate but closely related processes :

These are the components of language and literacy development programs for young children:

At this stage, the child focuses on communication and language from others, understanding, and responding. The four aspects of attending and understanding are know , see , do , and improve :

Communicating and Speaking

Early communication efforts by infants and toddlers focus on what the child wants or needs through facial expressions, gestures, and verbalization. The child engages with others using increasingly complex language and initiates interactions with others verbally and nonverbally to learn and gain information. Preschoolers learn to vary the amount of information they communicate as dictated by the situation. They begin to understand, follow, and comply with the rules of conversation and social interaction.

Through their interactions with others, infants and toddlers learn new words and begin to use them to communicate and respond. The parent or caregiver shows an object or action and repeats its name, and also demonstrates words that express feelings and desires. Preschool children learn how to use a wider range of words in various settings and with shades of meaning in specific situations. They also begin to categorize words and understand relationships between words. When engaging children in conversation, the person takes every opportunity to introduce new words to the child that relate to the topic and setting.

Emergent Literacy

The earliest stages of literacy for infants and toddlers is their repetition and use of rhymes, phrases, and song refrains. They begin to physically handle books and understand that they’re the source of stories and information. Children start to recognize pictures, symbols, signs, and basic words; understand what pictures and stories mean; and make marks that represent objects and actions.

Phonological Awareness

Preschoolers begin to understand that language is composed of discrete sound elements that have their own meaning. Singing songs, playing word games, and reading stories and poetry aloud help make children aware of phonological distinctions in the words, phrases, and sentences they’re using. Through wordplay, such as being called by name with the separate sounds of the name highlighted, children become aware of the individual sounds that make up words.

Print and Alphabet Knowledge

Preschoolers begin to show that they understand how printing is used and the rules that apply to print. They can identify individual letters and associate the correct sounds to the letters. The parent or caregiver can draw attention to the features of printed letters and show children different print types, such as those used in menus, brochures, and magazines. The person can emphasize the relationship between letters and sounds. Reading alphabet books together helps children connect a letter with words that use the letter and pictures of the objects.

Comprehension and Text Structure

By hearing and reading stories, preschoolers begin to comprehend the narrative structure of storytelling and start to ask questions about and comment on the stories. Children are introduced to stories by reading aloud together, and after several rereadings, they’re able to recall its plot, characters, and events. They’re also able to retell the story using puppets and other props related to the book, as well as through their own illustrations and writing.

Preschoolers can be introduced to writing as a way to describe in their own words a story or an event, such as preparing a shopping list before going to the grocery store. They can also be asked to write captions for pictures and photographs. Children can be taught the proper spacing of words by writing each word of a sentence on a separate piece of paper. Drawing helps children develop the motor skills required for writing; in place of a pencil or crayon, they can be encouraged to write using their finger or a stick to write in sand or dirt.

The stages and corresponding skills of literacy development.

According to The Edvocate, This Reading Mama, and UpToDate, readers should be able to complete the following tasks at each literacy development stage. Emergent literacy: sing the ABCs; alphabetic fluency: see the relationships between letters and sounds; words and patterns: read silently without vocalizing; intermediate reading: read to acquire ideas and gain knowledge; and advanced reading: comprehend longer texts such as books.

Early literacy typically occurs in a child’s first three years , when the child is introduced to books, stories, and writing tools (paper, pencils, etc.). Children learn language, reading, and writing skills simultaneously, in part through their experiences and interactions with others. Parents and caregivers can encourage early literacy development stages through various activities:

The goal of early literacy efforts isn’t to teach children to read at a very young age but rather to prepare them for each stage of literacy development, from earliest image recognition through reading fluency at ages 11 to 14. The five stages of literacy development are emergent literacy , alphabetic fluency , words and patterns , intermediate reading , and advanced reading .

1. Emergent Literacy

The initial stage of literacy development sees children acquire literacy skills in informal settings before their formal schooling begins. This preliterate phase lasts until children are 5 or 6 years old and is characterized by specific pre-reading behaviors:

At later ages in this stage, children may recognize and be able to write the letters in their names, distinguish between uppercase and lowercase letters, and identify an increasing number of high-frequency words.

2. Alphabetic Fluency

At this novice reader stage , children between the ages of 5 and 8 begin to recognize relationships between letters and sounds. These activities are typically observed during this phase of literacy development:

3. Words and Patterns

During this transitional stage that occurs from ages 7 to 9, children’s reading fluency improves, and children begin to recognize syllables and phonemes rather than simply individual letters. Children in this decoding reader phase have reading vocabularies of up to 3,000 words. Behaviors in this stage include the following:

4. Intermediate Reading

By ages 9 to 15, children begin to acquire ideas from what they’re reading. Their reading material includes textbooks, dictionaries and other reference works, newspapers, magazines, and trade books. At this stage of literacy development, a child’s reading comprehension becomes equivalent to listening comprehension. These are some of the experiences of readers at this phase:

5. Advanced Reading

At the last stage of literacy development, readers can comprehend long and complex text without assistance. They’re also able to find on their own books and other printed material that’s relevant to a specific topic. Characteristics of readers at this stage include the following:

Literacy development in early childhood entails helping children build language skills, including their vocabulary, ability to express themselves, and reading comprehension. Learning to read is a complex process that children master at their own pace , so it’s natural for some children to proceed more slowly than others.

Skills Needed for Reading Comprehension

The many individual skills required for reading comprehension can be divided into seven broad categories: decoding , fluency , vocabulary , sentence structure, sentence cohesion , background knowledge , and working memory and attention .

The seven elements of reading comprehension.

The skills that make up reading comprehension, according to Reading Rockets and Understood: 1. Decoding — Sound out words. 2. Fluency — Recognize words by sight. 3. Vocabulary — Become familiar with a collection of words. 4. Sentence structure — Understand how words build sentences. 5. Sentence cohesion — Understand how words connect ideas. 6. World experience — Relate to what’s being read. 7. Working memory — Take in information from text.

Activities That Stimulate Reading Comprehension

The best way to prepare children for a lifetime of reading enjoyment is to surround them with words from infancy through their teen years. Everyday activities, such as eating meals, going to the store, taking a bath, and playing outside are excellent opportunities to build a child’s vocabulary and other literacy skills. These literacy activities are suitable for infants and toddlers, as well as for pre-K and school-age children.

Resources: Literacy Development in Early Childhood

While researchers in early literacy development agree that it’s a step-by-step process, they define the steps in different ways. Generally, the path a child takes from earliest awareness of print and reading to independent, competent reader and writer is completed in five stages :

Awareness and Exploration Stage

Between the ages of 6 months and 6 years old, children hear and experiment with reproducing and creating a range of monosyllabic and polysyllabic sounds, ultimately forming words that represent discrete things and concepts. Their introduction to reading is typically through listening to and discussing storybooks, participating in rhyming activities, and beginning to identify letters.

Novice Reading and Writing Stage

At ages 6 and 7, children match letters with sounds and connect printed and spoken words. They can tell simple stories, and understand the orientation of printed words on a page. They’re also able to read and write individual letters and high-frequency words and sound out new monosyllabic words that they encounter.

Traditional Reading and Writing Stage

When they’re between the ages of 7 and 9, children gain fluency in reading familiar stories, increasing their enjoyment. They’re able to decode elements of words and sentences while building their vocabulary of words they recognize on sight. Their reading skills allow them to process new information, and they have a better grasp of the meaning of the material they read.

Fluent and Comprehending Reading and Writing Stage

Between the ages of 9 and 15, children are able to understand what they’re reading from multiple perspectives and learn new ideas and concepts. Their reading expands to reference books, textbooks, and various media, in which they’re exposed to a range of worldviews in addition to new syntax and specialized vocabularies.

Expert Reading and Writing Stage

When children reach their midteens, their reading skills allow them to tackle advanced topics in science, history, mathematics, and the arts. They’re able to make associations across subject areas and consider complex issues from diverse points of view. Their reading and writing span topics from social and physical sciences to politics and current affairs.

Importance of Literacy Development in Children

Children gain confidence in many areas of their lives when they grow up to become strong readers. The literary skills they began learning in their first months of life enhance all aspects of their lifelong education. By encouraging a love of reading in children, we instill a desire to learn and progress that propels them through their school years, careers, and personal lives. Children learn that reading is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable skills they’ll ever possess.

Infographic Sources

Crayons, Pencils, and Keyboards, “Why is Literacy Development Important for Children?”

Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children, “Benefits of Early Literacy Skills”

Nationwide Children’s Hospital, “Early Literacy: Why Reading is Important to a Child’s Development”

Reading Rockets, “Comprehension Instruction: What Works”

The Edvocate, “What Are The Five Stages of Reading Development?”

This Reading Mama, “Word Pattern Readers and Spellers {Stage 3}”

Understood, “6 Essential Skills for Reading Comprehension”

UpToDate, “Emergent Literacy Including Language Development”

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Why is literacy development important for children.

June 17, 2021

Literacy development is the process of learning words, sounds, and language. Children develop literacy skills in order to learn to read and write confidently and eventually improve their communication skills overall. The stages of literacy development that a child goes through can vary depending on the child’s comprehension levels but generally include the same key concepts along the way. Understanding literacy development in children as an educator is key for helping children master these core skills that set them up for their education. With an understanding of literacy development and how to address each of the stages of literacy development, both educators and students alike will be set up for success in the classroom. 

Why is Literacy Development Important?

As the pillars of language and reading skills, literacy development is a crucial time in a child’s life. Educators need to understand why literacy development is so important in order to effectively help children within each stage of their early literacy development.

Here are just a few reasons early literacy development is important:

The Five Stages of Literacy Development

As a child grows older and demonstrates the key stages of literacy development they will improve their reading and writing ability. The five stages of literacy development include emergent literacy, alphabetic fluency, words and patterns, intermediate reading, and advanced reading. Each stage of literacy development helps the child move forward and become a stronger student. Keep in mind that a child's current age group doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re at that step in their early literacy development. 

Stage 1: Emergent Literacy 

Age Range: 4-6 years old.

As the earliest stage of literacy development, emergent literacy is the first moment that a child begins to understand letters and words . While many of the behaviors of the emergent literacy stage are not fully formed and irregular, these are still some of the first signs that a child is beginning to form literacy ability.

Here are Some Behaviors of Stage 1 Learners: 

Free Webinar: 5 Essential Strategies to Effectively Teach Letters and Sounds

Stage 2: Alphabetic Fluency

Age Range: 6-7 years old.

As the child grows older and more comfortable with learning their words and letters, they enter the alphabetic fluency stage of literacy development. 

Here are Some Behaviors of Stage 2 Learners:

Stage 3: Words and Patterns

Age Range: 7-9 years old.

Sometimes referred to as the “transitional” stage of literacy development, the words and patterns stage is when children begin to develop stronger reading skills . This is the stage when children can vary the most in terms of skills and may adopt behaviors in multiple stages of literacy development. 

Here are Some Behaviors of Stage 3 Learners:

Stage 4: Intermediate Reading

Age Range: 9-11 years old.

During the intermediate stage of literacy development, children begin to rely less on educational crutches that help a child learn new words. This is also when children are becoming able to write out sentences with less error and develop stronger fluency overall. 

Here are Some Behaviors of Stage 4 Learners: 

Stage 5: Advanced Reading

Age Range: 11-14 years old.

As the last stage of literacy development, advanced reading is when children become fully fluent and capable of relying on independent reading to learn new information. Reading and writing provide little difficulty and students can absorb complex reading materials during this stage. 

Here are Some Behaviors of Stage 5 Learners: 

Develop Early Literacy with Learning Without Tears!

Each stage of literacy development provides its own unique challenges and triumphs in learning to become confident in reading and writing. Learning Without Tears specializes in early childhood development programs that help further progress within the stages of literacy development. Learning Without Tears offers a wide range of educational materials to help teachers create an engaging lesson plan that will get children excited to learn more. With resources for parents to get children set up for school and programs for teachers to teach early literacy concepts , Learning Without Tears is committed to helping children become confident students. Learning Without Tears has created resources and educational materials for children in pre-k to 5th grade to help students succeed during every stage of literacy development and early childhood education. Explore Learning Without Tears to help children get the most out of their education today.

A—Z for Mat Man and Me !

Seamlessly bring the ABCs to life while building foundational literacy skills with our new letter book series. Each of our illustrated letter books introduces a letter of the alphabet and emphasizes their associated sound through captivating, visual stories. The engaging stories in each book capture children's imaginations and expose them to social-emotional skills and diverse cultures. Learn More → . 

Coming Soon... A-Z for Mat Man and Me

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Early Literacy Development

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Infants, toddlers and preschoolers develop oral language and pre-literacy skills everyday that will help them become readers. It's an exciting and critical time of learning! Parents, teacher and childcare providers can find additional information about our youngest learners in the sections on Preschool and Childcare , Oral Language , Print Awareness , Phonemic Awareness , and in the section especially for preschool teachers .  Featured partner: Reach Out and Read

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Original research article, home literacy environment and children’s english language and literacy skills in hong kong.

literacy development study

Emerging evidence has shown a positive association between the home literacy environment (HLE) and monolingual children’s language and literacy development. Yet, far fewer studies have examined the impact of the HLE on second language development. This study examined relations between the HLE and children’s development of English as a second language in Hong Kong. Participants were 149 ethnic Chinese children (80 girls; M age = 59 months, SD age = 10 months) and one of their caregivers. Caregivers completed questionnaires about their family backgrounds and HLE and children were assessed on their English language and literacy skills. Findings revealed considerable variability in the types of literacy activities that caregivers were engaged in at home with their children. A series of multilevel regressions demonstrated that the HLE was differentially associated with English vocabulary, letter knowledge, phonological awareness, and word reading skills after controlling for child and family characteristics. Results highlight the importance of a literacy-rich home environment for children’s development of English as a second language and the need to support caregivers in providing a range of home literacy activities to facilitate different language and literacy skills.


It has been well documented that differences in language and literacy skills emerge early in life ( Hart and Risley, 1995 ; Fernald et al., 2013 ). Extant research has explored individual and environmental factors that underlie variability in language growth and development ( Dickinson and Tabors, 2001 ). Mounting evidence suggests that the home literacy environment (HLE) is one of the most significant predictors of early language and literacy development ( Frijters et al., 2000 ; Niklas et al., 2015 ). As gaps in language, literacy and achievement persist over time and can have long-lasting impact on children ( Stanovich, 1986 ), it is critical to understand the characteristics and role of the HLE starting from the early years in order to disentangle the factors and processes associated with language and literacy outcomes and to identify the kinds of support needed for children and families.

With the rise of English as a global language ( Crystal, 2012 ), a growing number of studies has investigated the association between the HLE and children’s development of English as a second language. However, to date, most studies that examined the influence of the HLE on children’s proficiency in English as a second language have primarily been conducted in predominantly English-speaking contexts (e.g., Duursma et al., 2007 ; Farver et al., 2013 ). Far less research has focused on HLE and second language learners of English in multilingual contexts (e.g., Kalia and Reese, 2009 ; Dixon, 2011 ). Against this background, the present study examined whether and how HLE is associated with the development of English as a second language in a sample of ethnic Chinese children from Hong Kong.

Conceptualizing the Home Literacy Environment

Much of the early research on the HLE primarily focused on differences in HLE by family socioeconomic background (e.g., income and parental education) or on a single literacy activity, most notably parent-child reading as a defining feature of the HLE ( Payne et al., 1994 ; Scarborough and Dobrich, 1994 ). Later work conceptualized the HLE as a multidimensional construct that encompassed a variety of literacy-related interactions, resources and attitudes, consisting of parent-child joint activities, such as shared reading, parental teaching of print-related skills, singing songs and rhymes, storytelling and watching educational television programs ( Frijters et al., 2000 ; Wood, 2002 ); availability of learning materials, such as the number of books at home ( Sénéchal et al., 1998 ); and parental beliefs and attitudes toward literacy ( Debaryshe, 1995 ; Weigel et al., 2006 ). Based on the Home Literacy Model ( Sénéchal and LeFevre, 2002 ; Sénéchal, 2006 ), home literacy experiences can be categorized into formal and informal interactions. Formal literacy interactions refer to activities in which the focus is on the features of print (e.g., adults directly teaching children print-related skills, such as letter names and sounds; adults pointing to letters in the text), whereas informal literacy interactions refer to opportunities that are centered on the meaning attached to print (e.g., often manifested by shared reading; adults focusing on meaning carried by the text during shared reading). The HLE can be further differentiated into active components, which emphasize parent-child engagement in literacy activities and passive components, which refer to children’s observations of parents modeling literacy behaviors (e.g., parents’ engagement in reading) ( Burgess et al., 2002 ).

Home Literacy Environment and Children’s Language and Literacy Outcomes

An extensive body of research has shown concurrent and longitudinal links between the HLE and children’s early language and literacy development ( Burgess et al., 2002 ; Manolitsis et al., 2011 ; Rodriguez and Tamis-Lemonda, 2011 ; Sénéchal and LeFevre, 2014 ; Tamis-Lemonda et al., 2019 ). Shared reading –the most studied aspect of the HLE—has been found to contribute significantly to the development of receptive and expressive vocabulary ( Sénéchal et al., 1998 ; Evans and Shaw, 2008 ; Farrant and Zubrick, 2012 ), letter name and letter sound knowledge ( Frijters et al., 2000 ), and as well as listening comprehension ( Sénéchal and LeFevre, 2002 ). In several meta-analytic reviews (e.g., Scarborough and Dobrich, 1994 ; Bus et al., 1995 ; Mol et al., 2008 , 2009 ), the frequency of exposure to parent-child reading accounted for unique variance in children’s language and literacy skills, and later reading achievement. Other indices of shared reading, such as the number of books in the home, visits to the library, children’s requests to be read to and the age at which children were first read to by their parents contributed substantial variance to language growth ( Debaryshe, 1993 ; Payne et al., 1994 ; Raikes et al., 2006 ). The quality of book reading, including the reading behaviors of parents and interactions during shared reading was also found to be significant correlates of children’s language and literacy outcomes ( van Kleeck et al., 1997 ; Deckner et al., 2006 ). Correlational (e.g., Haden et al., 1996 ) and intervention studies (e.g., Whitehurst et al., 1988 ; Reese and Cox, 1999 ; Justice and Ezell, 2000 ) revealed that reading behaviors, such as asking questions, labeling and describing objects, and providing feedback and focusing on print yielded significant positive effects on vocabulary and print knowledge.

Another aspect of the HLE, direct teaching of print-related skills (e.g., letter recognition and letter sounds) has been found to predict children’s alphabet knowledge ( Evans et al., 2000 ; Hood et al., 2008 ; Hindman and Morrison, 2012 ; Martini and Sénéchal, 2012 ), phonological awareness ( Foy and Mann, 2003 ; Johnson et al., 2008 ; Niklas and Schneider, 2013 ), word reading ( Puglisi et al., 2017 ), and writing ( Puranik et al., 2018 ). Existing studies have combined a range of parent-child joint activities as a measure of the HLE in predicting early language and literacy outcomes (e.g., Griffin and Morrison, 1997 ; Leseman and de Jong, 1998 ; Wood, 2002 ; Van Steensel, 2006 ). For instance, Van Steensel (2006) found that children who participated in a variety of joint literacy activities, such as shared reading, library visits and singing nursery songs, as well as observed parents and/or siblings engaging in literacy activities themselves exhibited gains in vocabulary and general reading comprehension. Wood (2002) ’s study demonstrated that children who were exposed to four types of parent-child literacy activities (i.e., storybook reading, letter-based activities, singing, and playing language games) had significantly higher vocabulary and reading ability scores as compared to their counterparts who were engaged in singing only or to those that did not participate in almost any of the literacy activities. Weigel et al. (2006) ’s findings revealed that children’s engagement in a variety of parent-child joint activities, such as shared reading, storytelling, singing rhymes, drawing pictures, playing games and television viewing was associated with enhanced print knowledge. Indeed, several large-scale longitudinal studies have adopted a multidimensional approach in examining the HLE that captures variations in the type of literacy activities that children are exposed to at home. For instance, the Index of Early Home Literacy Activities of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study ( Mullis et al., 2007 ) examines early literacy experiences through six activities, namely reading books, telling stories, singing songs, playing with alphabet toys, playing word games and reading aloud signs and labels.

Cumulative research has demonstrated the associations between aspects of the HLE and children’s early language and literacy skills in their native language ( Sénéchal et al., 1998 ; Hindman and Morrison, 2012 ). Studies with children from different ethnic backgrounds and/or contexts who are learning English as a second or foreign language have found similar results (e.g., Hammer et al., 2003 ; Duursma et al., 2007 ; Kalia and Reese, 2009 ). Farver et al. (2013) ’s study with Latino immigrant children in the United States found that parents’ engagement in activities was positively associated with children’s oral language skills in both English and Spanish. Further, home literacy resources in English and parents’ literacy behaviors in Spanish were associated with children’s print knowledge in both English and Spanish. In another study with Indian children learning English, it was found that book reading practices and parental teaching predicted children’s print skills in English and that book reading practices moderated the relationship between the degree of English spoken at home and children’s English receptive vocabulary skills ( Kalia and Reese, 2009 ). Indeed, as there is greater complexity in the HLE of children and families that navigate multiple languages in their homes and community contexts, it is worthwhile to identify specific pathways through which the HLE may impact children’s language and literacy development. Oral language and early literacy skills are interrelated components that provide a crucial basis for children’s academic success and subsequent educational attainment in school. In the development of English, vocabulary, phonological awareness, and letter knowledge have been found to predict word reading abilities among first and second language learners ( Whitehurst and Lonigan, 1998 ; Muter et al., 2004 ). This study therefore, explores the relationship between a combination of home literacy activities and the development of English as a second language among ethnic Chinese children in Hong Kong and focuses specifically on English vocabulary, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and word reading skills.

The Hong Kong Context

Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997. During most of the colonial period, English was the sole official language. In 1974, Chinese became a co-official language alongside with English. Since 1997, the Hong Kong government has adopted the “biliterate and trilingual” language policy to enable its citizens to become proficient in written English and Chinese and in spoken English, Cantonese, and Putonghua. Cantonese is the mother tongue of the majority of the local population and is used most often in workplace and non-workplace settings, such as in the communication with spouses, children, parents, friends, colleagues, and clients ( Bacon-Shone et al., 2015 ; Census and Statistics Department HKSAR, 2019 ). Over time, the proportion of the population using English as the usual language (i.e., in daily communication) increased from 2.2% in 2001 to 4.3% in 2016 ( Census and Statistics Department HKSAR, 2017 ). Among individuals with children aged six and below and whose mother tongue is not English, around 13.7% must or often use English to communicate with their children. The most cited reasons for parents to use English were to offer children the opportunities to be exposed to English and the belief that it is better for their children to learn English earlier ( Census and Statistics Department HKSAR, 2019 ).

Despite the predominant use of Cantonese among the general population in Hong Kong, proficiency in English is highly prized and is viewed as a vehicle for upward social mobility ( Evans, 2000 ). English is one of the languages used in the Government and in legal, professional and business sectors. In education, English is the medium of instruction in private universities and in six out of eight government-funded universities ( Kirkpatrick and Liddicoat, 2017 ). The outpouring of criticism of the compulsory Chinese medium instruction policy for secondary schools in 1998 eventually led to the fine-tuning of the medium of instruction policy in 2010 ( Tollefson and Tsui, 2018 ), reflecting the priorities placed on English language education by stakeholders such as parents and the business community. Owing to the market-driven nature of the kindergarten sector in Hong Kong, parental preference for English further contributed to the push toward the early provision of English language teaching in schools amidst the implementation of the ‘biliterate and trilingual’ language policy ( Leung et al., 2013 ).

English is promoted as a second language in the local school curriculum starting from the early years. As recommended in government curriculum and policy documents, English is introduced in kindergartens on condition that teachers possess appropriate levels of language proficiency and adopt an informal teaching approach, such as through the use of songs, storytelling, and language activities ( Education Department, 1994 , 1999 ; SCOLAR, 2003 ). The objectives of English language teaching in the early years are to nurture children’s interest, attitude and confidence toward English and to develop basic skills, such as understanding simple conversations and words ( Curriculum Development Council, 2006 , 2017 ). The frequency and structure of English language teaching, however, vary considerably across kindergartens such that English is: (i) taught as a subject by local and/or native English-speaking language teachers (i.e., children are exposed to the language for only a certain amount of time per week); (ii) introduced within a bilingual/trilingual program (i.e., children are simultaneously exposed to multiple languages during the school period and an English class teacher may be present alongside a Cantonese and/or Putonghua class teacher in the classroom); or (iii) used as the main medium of instruction ( Lau and Rao, 2013 ; Ng and Rao, 2013 ). In Hong Kong, kindergartens are categorized as either private-independent or non-profit making. The latter makes up 80% of all kindergartens in Hong Kong ( Education Bureau, 2019 ) and are eligible to apply for the Kindergarten Education Scheme (in which kindergartens are funded by the government to provide free half-day services for children) ( Education Bureau, 2016 ). In most non-profit making kindergartens, Chinese (Cantonese) is the medium of instruction and English is taught as a subject ( Lau, 2020 ). The variation in exposure to English, coupled with differences between the first and second language (Chinese as a morphosyllabic language versus English orthography), poses some unique challenges for children in learning English in Hong Kong.

To date, only limited empirical studies have examined factors and contexts that underlie English language development among young children in Hong Kong. A small number of studies have specifically explored the HLE and children’s English language and literacy development (e.g., Yeung and King, 2016 ; Tse et al., 2017 ). In Yeung and King’s (2016) ’s study of the HLE among children learning English as a second language, it was found that there were variations in home support and parents were engaged in home teaching (e.g., homework instruction) more frequently than in shared reading and in the provision of literacy materials. Findings revealed differential impacts of the HLE on children’s English language and literacy outcomes. Shared reading predicted children’s receptive and expressive vocabulary, syllable awareness and word reading skills while home teaching predicted letter knowledge and the provision of literacy materials predicted expressive vocabulary only. Tse et al. (2017) further demonstrated the long-term impact of early home reading activities (i.e., prior to entry into primary school) on the Chinese and English reading attainment of 1376 Grade 4 students. Specifically, a combination of activities including storybook reading, storytelling, singing songs, playing word games, writing letters and reading aloud signs contributed to children’s reading performance in English. However, it was noted that a sizeable number of parents never or almost never engaged in home reading activities in English prior to or during their children’s primary schooling. Related studies point to the role of family processes in children’s school readiness in Hong Kong. Lau et al. (2011) found that parents were engaged more in home-based involvement than in school-based involvement. Home-based involvement, including the provision of language and cognitive activities had the strongest predictive relationship to children’s school readiness. In another study, Ip et al. (2016) demonstrated that reading (e.g., storybook reading and storytelling) and recreational activities (e.g., listening to music and playing together) in the home learning environment significantly mediated socioeconomic gradients in children’s school readiness. Intervention studies on parent-child reading also revealed positive effects on children’s language and literacy development. Chow et al. (2010) ’s study demonstrated the effectiveness of a 12-week parent-child reading intervention (dialogic reading vs. typical reading vs. control) on children’s development of English as a second language. More specifically, both typical reading and dialogic reading yielded significant intra-group gains in word reading skills. Further, children in the dialogic reading condition had gains in phonological awareness. Together, these studies suggest the importance of parental engagement at home and the provision of a literacy-rich environment to support children’s development.

However, much remains unknown about the types of home literacy activities that caregivers are engaged in to support children’s English language learning, as well as the potential role of related factors in children’s development of English as a second language in Hong Kong. The current study extends previous research by examining the HLE more extensively (e.g., including reading behaviors and media-based activities) in relation to a range of early English language and literacy skills. Further, this study considers a host of factors that underlie children’s exposure to English (e.g., enrolment in extracurricular English lessons, amount of English exposure at school) in the analysis of the predictive role of the HLE on early English language and literacy outcomes. The present work is situated within theoretical frameworks that highlight the interactions and interrelationships among individual and environmental factors and is underpinned by: (i) the bioecological theory that views home experiences as proximal processes that serve as primary engines in predicting child development ( Bronfenbrenner and Morris, 2006 ); (ii) the social learning theory, which stresses the role of interactions with more experienced others, such as parents in optimizing development and learning ( Vygotsky, 1978 ); and (iii) the attachment theory, which highlights the significance of responsive, stimulating and supportive caregiving in child development ( Bretherton, 1985 ). Arising from the aforementioned theories is also the notion that culture plays an integral part of proximal processes that shape children’s development, including language and thought. Hong Kong is uniquely positioned for the study of the HLE amidst culturally specific parenting values and practices among Chinese parents (e.g., priorities on academic preparedness) ( Luo et al., 2013 ), the implementation of the “biliterate and trilingual” language education policy ( Wang and Kirkpatrick, 2019 ) and the status of English in a post-colonial society ( Bolton, 2012 ). Findings from this study will provide important insights into the nuances and complexities of the contextual support for English language learning in a multilingual context and enable the identification of specific dimensions of the HLE that effectively facilitate the development of English as a second language among young learners. The research questions for this study were as follows: (a) What kinds of home literacy practices are caregivers engaged in to support children’s English language and literacy development?; (b) What is the relationship between the HLE and children’s English language and literacy skills?; (c) To what extent does the HLE predict children’s English language and literacy skills? Based on the review of learning-related practices of Chinese parents in Chinese contexts ( Ng and Wei, 2020 ), it is hypothesized that caregivers will engage more in direct teaching of print-related skills than in other home literacy activities, such as shared reading. The HLE, as measured by caregivers’ reports of their engagement in literacy activities with children, will be positively associated with early English language and literacy outcomes even when controlling for child and family characteristics. It is expected that different aspects of the HLE will be differentially related to children’s English language and literacy skills. Specifically, based on Chow et al.’s (2010 ) findings, it is expected that shared reading will be associated with a range of English language and literacy skills.

Materials and Methods


A total of 149 children (69 boys and 80 girls) between the ages of 39 and 81 months ( M age = 59 months, SD age = 10 months) and one of their caregivers were recruited from one K1 (for 3- to 4- year olds), K2 (for 4- to 5- year olds) or K3 (for 5- to 6- year olds) class from 10 non-profit making kindergartens in Hong Kong. The number of children recruited from each kindergarten ranged from 8 to 26. Information on the frequency and content of English language teaching was collected through an interview with the English teacher in the participating kindergartens. English language teaching ranged from 20 to 40 min per session and from 1 to 5 days per week. The curricula and teaching contents in English language teaching were comparable across kindergartens and emphases were placed on the development of letter knowledge and sounds, vocabulary and sentence structures through a variety of activities, such as storybook reading, singing songs, playing word games, and pre-reading and pre-writing opportunities.

Table 1 shows descriptive statistics of children and their families. Participating caregivers were mostly the child’s mother (81%) or father (17%), whilst 2% were other caregivers. Caregivers provided demographic and socioeconomic information about both parents using a questionnaire. All children in the sample were exposed to English lessons at school, ranging from 0.7 h per week to 2 h per week. Parents’ highest educational qualification was measured over 7 levels from primary education to doctoral degree. The mean highest qualification for both mothers and fathers was close to level 3 (upper secondary), with a mean of 3.1 for mothers and 3.2 for fathers. Household income was measured across 10 bands, from less than $4,000 HKD per month to greater than or equal to $100,000 HKD per month. The mean (4.8) was close to band 5 ($30,000 to $39,999 HKD per month). Respondents reported the primary language(s) used at home, with 95% of respondents using Cantonese, 20% using Mandarin, 15% using English, and 2% using another language (respondents could select all options that applied). Twenty-three percent of children had extracurricular English lessons.

Table 1. Descriptive statistics of key variables for children in the sample.

Children were directly assessed using one measure of non-verbal intelligence, and four measures of English language and literacy: receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and word reading. The HLE was measured based on responses to the caregiver questionnaire. Socio-demographic variables were also created based on responses to the caregiver questionnaire. School information on English language teaching was obtained through the teacher interview.

Non-verbal Intelligence

Sets A and B (24 items) of the Raven’s Colored Progressive Matrices ( Raven et al., 1995 ) were administered to assess children’s non-verbal intelligence. Children were asked to select one missing piece from six available options to complete a matrix-like pattern with a missing section. One point was awarded for every correct answer. Cronbach’s alpha was 0.58.

Receptive Vocabulary

Two item sets (24 items) of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test- IV (PPVT-4; Dunn and Dunn, 2007 ) were used to measure children’s receptive vocabulary. Children were presented with four pictures and asked to point to the illustration that corresponded to the word that was orally presented by the assessor. One point was awarded for every correct answer. As the PPVT-4 was not normed within the local Hong Kong population, raw scores were used in the analysis. Cronbach’s alpha was 0.84.

Phonological Awareness

The elision sub-test (20 items) of the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing – Second Edition (CTOPP-2) ( Wagner et al., 2013 ) was used to measure children’s phonological awareness. The assessor read aloud a two-syllable word and children were asked to delete a target syllable (e.g., say airplane without saying plane) or to delete phonemes from each word that was presented orally by the assessor (e.g., say cup without saying/k/). One point was awarded for every correct answer. As the CTOPP-2 was not normed within the local Hong Kong population, raw scores were used in the analysis. Cronbach’s alpha was 0.76.

Letter Knowledge

Children were asked to name the lowercase letters of all 26 letters of the alphabet that were presented in random order. One point was awarded for every correct answer. Cronbach’s alpha was 0.95.

Word Reading

Children’s word reading skills were assessed using a locally developed test by McBride-Chang and Kail (2002) . This test consisted of 30 English words that were constructed from textbooks used in kindergartens in Hong Kong. Children were presented with the English words and asked to read each word aloud. One point was awarded for every correct answer. Cronbach’s alpha was 0.98.

Home Literacy Environment

The caregiver questionnaire consisted of items that tapped into the frequency of caregivers’ engagement in English literacy activities with children, such as shared reading (e.g., number of children’s books, age at which the child was first read to, frequency of shared reading and parents’ reading behavior during shared reading), storytelling, direct teaching of print-related skills (e.g., letter sounds and alphabets), visiting the library, singing rhymes/songs, using apps or digital media, watching television programs and helping with schoolwork. The frequency of engagement was assessed on a 7-point likert scale ranging from 0 (never) to 7 (daily). Caregivers were also asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed with statements about their behaviors if and when they read to children (e.g., I emphasize printed words while reading) on a continuum from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Response choices for the number of children’s books in English were coded on a 7-point scale ranging from 0 (none) to 7 (more than 100). An overall composite variable representing the HLE was created by standardizing each item, taking the mean of all items, and standardizing the composite HLE variable.

Socio-Demographic Variables

The caregiver questionnaire also included items on child characteristics, as well as family demographic and socioeconomic information, such as household monthly income (10 levels), mother’s and father’s education level (highest educational qualification over 7 levels), the primary language(s) spoken at home, and whether or not children participated in extracurricular English lessons (see Table 1 ).

School-Level Data on English Language Teaching

Information about the structure and arrangement of English language teaching in each of the participating kindergartens was obtained through an interview with the English teacher in the participating child’s class. The interviewed teacher was asked about the duration and frequency of English language teaching per week, as well as the teaching content of the English curriculum at the school.

Written informed consent was obtained from kindergarten principals, teachers and parents. Caregivers completed a questionnaire to provide socio-demographic information about children and both parents. The questionnaires were distributed to caregivers and returned in sealed envelopes via children’s class teachers at the school. Children were individually assessed on their non-verbal intelligence and English language and literacy skills by trained assessors, who were undergraduates and graduates majoring in early childhood education. The assessments took place in a quiet area at the school and lasted around 20 to 30 min for each child. The English teacher in each of the participating class was interviewed about the structure and arrangement of English language teaching in the school. The interview lasted for about 5 min.

Analytic Plan

All analyses were conducted using Stata 15.1. Descriptive statistics were calculated for the raw scores of each of the key variables. Composite variables representing receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and word reading were calculated by summing the relevant items and standardizing the total.

Exploratory factor analysis (principal component factors) was conducted on all HLE items to explore the factor structure of the HLE measure. Loadings for each item were examined after orthogonal varimax rotation with the objective of attaining an optimal simple structure ( Yong and Pearce, 2013 ). Variables were excluded if they had a high proportion of uniqueness or did not load onto a common factor, and the factor analysis was repeated. The result was the exclusion of three variables, and a final 3 factor solution explaining 75% of variance with 3 factors having eigenvalues greater than 1 ( Table 2 ). A composite variable was created to represent each factor, based on the items that had high loadings (0.6 or above) on that factor. Each composite factor variable was calculated using the standardized mean of the items with high loadings and was then also standardized.

Table 2. Rotated 3 factor solution of Home Literacy Environment variables.

A variable representing composite parental socioeconomic status (SES) was created using a latent factor measurement model using maximum likelihood estimation and allowing for missing values, based on the mother’s highest level of education, father’s highest level of education, and monthly household income. Correlations between all key variables were calculated ( Table 3 ). Four OLS regressions were run, with each of receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and word reading being the dependent variable in one of the four models, and age, non-verbal IQ, gender, whether English was the primary language at home, whether the child had experienced extracurricular English lessons, the composite SES variable, and the amount of English exposure at school included as control variables. Models were run twice, first without including the mean overall HLE independent variable, and then again whilst including the HLE independent variable. R 2 values were noted in each case to examine model fit with and without the inclusion of the independent variable.

Table 3. Correlations between key variables.

Next, four separate random slope multilevel regressions were run, with each of receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and word reading being the dependent variable in one of the four models, and the mean overall HLE variable being the independent variable in all four models. This procedure was then repeated three times, by replacing the overall HLE variable with the HLE variable representing factor 1, then factor 2, and then factor 3. The procedure was repeated once more, but this time with all three HLE factor variables included at the same time in each of the regression models. This process resulted in a total of 20 multilevel regressions. All models controlled for age, non-verbal IQ, gender, whether English was the primary language at home, whether the child had experienced extracurricular English lessons, the composite SES variable, and the amount of English exposure at school, and used kindergarten as the level 2 variable. Independent and dependent variables were standardized in all models. Non-verbal IQ, composite SES, and English exposure at school were also standardized, and age was recentered at its grand mean.

To check for the possibility that floor or ceiling effects might be biasing the results, sensitivity analysis was conducted using a Tobit regression model, which is capable of correct inference in cases where there are floor or ceiling effects ( McBee, 2010 ). All regressions were run once more, this time using a mixed-effects Tobit model. Coefficient magnitudes between models were not directly comparable because it was necessary to use raw rather than standardized versions of each dependent variable. However, this procedure made it possible to check whether the direction (positive or negative) of any association, and the presence or absence of statistical significance, were consistent between the random slope multilevel regressions and the regressions using the Tobit model.

Missing values were found for maternal education ( n = 1), paternal education ( n = 3), and household income ( n = 1), which were estimated as part of the calculation of the composite SES variable as described above. Missing values were also found for English as a primary language at home ( n = 1), and this was imputed using multiple imputation. The mixed-effects Tobit regression function in Stata 15.1 does not support multiple imputation so this one case was dropped listwise for the Tobit models only. No other values were missing.

Descriptive statistics for the measures of children’s non-verbal intelligence and language and literacy skills (before standardization) are presented in Table 1 . The HLE was measured based on questions from the caregiver questionnaire. Caregivers reported the number of English children’s books in the household. Six percent of caregivers reported having no books, 67% reported having between 1 and 20 books, and 27% reported having more than 20 books. Caregivers also reported the age at which their child was when they first started to have English read to them. Forty-one percent of caregivers stated that they did not read English to their child, 15% reported reading within the first 12 months, 15% reported reading within 13 and 23 months, and 29% reported starting reading English when their child was more than 2 years old. Of those that reported reading English to their child ( n = 88), a majority of parents agreed that they asked questions (69%), highlighted or explained key vocabularies from the text (68%), emphasized printed words (68%), and discussed sounds of the words (66%) while reading.

Figure 1 shows caregiver responses to a question about the frequency of engaging in English activities with their child. More than 40% of parents reported never reading English books, telling stories, visiting the library, or using English apps or digital media. Around 21% of caregivers read books and 15% told stories at least once a week as compared to 76% of caregivers helping their child with English schoolwork at the same frequency. Figure 2 shows responses to a question asking about how often caregivers teach their child print-related skills. The most common daily practice reported by caregivers was teaching English alphabet letters, with 24% of respondents reporting teaching alphabet letters daily, and 53% of respondents reporting teaching alphabet letters at least 2 to 3 times a week. By contrast, 40% of caregivers said they had never taught letter sounds.

Figure 1. Proportion of caregivers reporting engaging in English activities with their child, by frequency of engagement ( n = 149).

Figure 2. Proportion of caregivers reporting teaching printed-related skills in English to their child, by frequency of teaching ( n = 149).

Table 2 shows the final rotated 3 factor solution from an exploratory factor analysis (principal component factors) of caregiver responses to questions on the HLE, with loadings above 0.6 shown in bold. Factor 1 had high loadings on questions related to reading with children, including the age of the child when reading in English first commenced, highlighting and explaining vocabularies whilst reading, and telling stories in English. Factor 2 had high loadings on questions related to teaching children English letters and words. Factor 3 had high loadings on questions related to activities conducted with children, including singing songs, playing with apps, and watching TV programs. Factor 1 was therefore named “Shared reading and storytelling”, Factor 2 was named “Teaching of print-related skills”, and Factor 3 was named “Play and media-based activities”.

Correlations between key variables are shown in Table 3 . The four measures of language and literacy were all positively correlated with each other ( r = 0.32 to 0.46, p s < 0.05). Child age was positively correlated with all four measures of language and literacy, and with the measure of non-verbal intelligence ( p s < 0.05). Gender was not significantly correlated with any of the variables ( p s > 0.05). The measure of receptive vocabulary was positively correlated with the overall HLE variable and all 3 individual HLE factor variables ( p s < 0.05), whilst the measure of phonological awareness was not significantly correlated with any of the HLE variables ( p s > 0.05). All HLE variables were positively correlated with each other ( r = 0.29 to 0.90, p s < 0.05), with the largest correlation between the overall HLE variable and the variable for factor 1 (shared reading and storytelling) ( r = 0.90). OLS regressions demonstrated the proportion of variance in each of the four measures of language and literacy explained by (i) all control variables only (receptive vocabulary R 2 = 0.24; phonological awareness R 2 = 0.26; letter knowledge R 2 = 0.19; word reading R 2 = 0.24), and (ii) all control variables and the overall mean HLE variable combined (receptive vocabulary R 2 = 0.24; phonological awareness R 2 = 0.34; letter knowledge R 2 = 0.24; word reading R 2 = 0.27).

The results of four separate multilevel regressions are shown in Table 4 , with each of receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and word reading being the dependent variable in one of the four models, and the mean overall HLE variable being the independent variable in all four models. Mean overall HLE was positively associated with receptive vocabulary (β = 0.28, p < 0.001), letter knowledge (β = 0.22, p < 0.01), and word reading (β = 0.18, p < 0.05). Table 5 shows the results of the same set of four multilevel regressions as before, but this time using HLE factor 1 (Shared reading and storytelling) as the independent variable. All control variables and the level 2 variable were the same as before. Factor 1 (Shared reading and storytelling) was positively associated with receptive vocabulary (β = 0.23, p < 0.001), and word reading (β = 0.17, p < 0.05). Table 6 shows the results of the same set of four multilevel regressions as before, but this time using HLE factor 2 (Teaching of print-related skills) as the independent variable. Factor 2 (Teaching of print-related skills) was positively associated with receptive vocabulary (β = 0.15, p < 0.05), and letter knowledge (β = 0.24, p < 0.001). Similarly, Table 7 shows the results of four multilevel regressions using HLE factor 3 (Play and media-based activities) as the independent variable. Factor 3 (Play and media-based activities) was also positively associated with receptive vocabulary (β = 0.32, p < 0.001), and letter knowledge (β = 0.12, p < 0.01).

Table 4. Associations between mean overall HLE scores and 4 different measures of language and literacy.

Table 5. Associations between mean HLE factor 1 scores (Shared reading and storytelling) and 4 different measures of language and literacy.

Table 6. Associations between mean HLE factor 2 scores (Teaching of print-related skills) and 4 different measures of language and literacy.

Table 7. Associations between mean HLE factor 3 scores (Play and media-based activities) and 4 different measures of language and literacy.

Table 8 shows the results of four multilevel regressions, but this time including all three HLE factors as independent variables at the same time. After adjusting for the other two HLE factors: HLE factor 1 (Shared reading and storytelling) was positively associated with word reading (β = 0.13, p < 0.05); HLE factor 2 (Teaching of print-related skills) was positively associated with letter knowledge (β = 0.23, p < 0.001); and HLE factor 3 (Play and media-based activities) was positively associated with receptive vocabulary (β = 0.29, p < 0.001).

Table 8. Associations between mean HLE factor scores (all 3 factors included) and 4 different measures of language and literacy.

Sensitivity analysis was conducted by running all regressions once more but using mixed-effects Tobit models. The directionality of any significant association (positive or negative) between independent and dependent variables was consistent between all random slope multilevel regressions and all corresponding Tobit regressions. The presence or absence of statistical significance at the 5% level was also consistent, with the following exceptions. When using a Tobit model, HLE factor 1 (Shared reading and storytelling) was positively and significantly associated with letter knowledge ( b = 1.51, p = 0.028); and HLE factor 3 (Play and media-based activities) was positively and significantly associated with phonological awareness ( b = 0.67, p = 0.044), and with word reading ( b = 2.70, p = 0.038), but not with letter knowledge ( p > 0.05). When all three HLE factor variables were included as independent variables at the same time, results were consistent, with the exception that HLE factor 1 (Shared reading and storytelling) was not significantly associated with word reading ( p > 0.05).

This study examined relations between multiple aspects of the HLE and the development of English as a second language among ethnic Chinese children in Hong Kong. It addressed three questions: (a) What kinds of home literacy practices are caregivers engaged in to support children’s English language and literacy development?; (b) What is the relationship between the HLE and children’s English language and literacy skills?; and (c) To what extent does the HLE predict children’s English language and literacy development? Our work captured the multifaceted nature of the HLE and examined a range of literacy activities and behaviors in predicting variability in early English language and literacy skills. The findings from this study extended current knowledge by providing new evidence on the HLE of children from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds and contributed to further understanding of the processes that support second language development across different contexts in the early years.

The present work revealed considerable variability in the types of literacy activities that caregivers were engaged in at home with their children. Two notable findings emerged: (1) a sizable portion of caregivers never read books, told stories, visited the library or used digital media to support children’s English language learning; and (2) the tendency for caregivers to teach children print-related skills and help with English schoolwork on a more frequent basis (i.e., at least once a week) was relatively higher than that of reading English books and telling stories with their children. These results suggest that in the context of Hong Kong, caregivers tend to prioritize formal literacy activities that are deemed related to school progress and achievement. Consistent with previous work that indicates Hong Kong parents’ demands for a rigorous academic curriculum to support children’s entry to primary school (e.g., Leung et al., 2013 ), the emphasis on print-related activities and schoolwork in the HLE reflect caregivers’ priorities in preparing children to meet academic requirements and excel in school. In turn, caregivers may not be as active in activities beyond schoolwork, such as telling stories or reading for pleasure with their children. The extent to which caregivers are involved in literacy activities in a second language, however, may be largely linked to their language proficiency levels ( Dixon and Wu, 2014 ). For instance, as more complex language and vocabulary are found in children’s books than in adult conversations ( Hayes and Ahrens, 1988 ), shared reading may require caregivers to possess a certain level of language proficiency in order to read the text and to engage in verbal exchanges with their children. Thus, the quantity and quality of shared reading may potentially be undermined by caregivers’ proficiency and confidence in English. Furthermore, while activity-based approaches have increasingly been implemented in English language teaching in kindergarten classrooms in Hong Kong, studies have also documented the use of traditional paper and pencil exercises and the emphasis on recognition of letters, sounds and words in the teaching and learning process ( Lau and Rao, 2013 ; Ng and Rao, 2013 ). The value attached to formal approaches in language teaching in schools may potentially influence caregivers’ tendency to use more didactic approaches when exposing children to English at home and to target print-related skills rather than oral language skills in their interactions with children.

The results of this study indicated that the HLE was differentially related to children’s English language and literacy development. The overall HLE was positively correlated with receptive vocabulary, letter knowledge, and word reading. Specifically, shared reading and storytelling, as a factor, was correlated with receptive vocabulary and word reading; direct teaching of print-related skills (e.g., letter names and sounds) was correlated with receptive vocabulary and letter knowledge; and play and media-based activities (e.g., singing rhymes/songs, watching television programs) were correlated with receptive vocabulary. There were no significant correlations between any aspects of the HLE and phonological awareness. Multilevel regression analyses further confirmed the unique contribution of the HLE to children’s development of English as a second language regardless of children’s age, non-verbal IQ, gender, whether English was the primary language at home, whether there were extracurricular English lessons, SES backgrounds, and the amount of English exposure at school. Shared reading and storytelling contributed significantly to receptive vocabulary and word reading, and results were robust to sensitivity analysis. After the inclusion of all three factors in the same model simultaneously, shared reading and storytelling also significantly contributed to word reading. The findings are consistent with research evidence on the benefits of shared reading and storytelling on early language and literacy skills ( Wood, 2002 ; Curenton et al., 2008 ; Evans and Shaw, 2008 ). Explicit teaching and coaching by adults (e.g., introducing and explaining vocabulary, helping children decode words, drawing attention to letter names and sounds), as well as provision of opportunities for children’s active participation during the reading process (e.g., adults prompting children to talk about the book) enable children to be exposed to varied vocabulary and elaborate forms of language ( Whitehurst et al., 1988 ; Justice et al., 2005 ). In this study, a composite measure of shared reading and storytelling was used which included the frequency of shared reading, age of onset of reading, number of books at home, and reading behavior (i.e., verbal interactions during reading) and storytelling. It was, therefore, unclear whether the positive relation to receptive vocabulary and word reading was primarily due to aspects of shared reading or storytelling, or both. Further research will be needed to delineate the specific impacts of shared reading and storytelling on children’s language and literacy development. Nonetheless, the current study provides preliminary evidence suggesting that both the quantity and quality of shared reading, as well as storytelling play important roles in fostering children’s vocabulary and word reading skills in a second language.

Direct teaching of print-related skills predicted children’s receptive vocabulary and letter knowledge, and results were robust to sensitivity analysis. While past research found that the primary impact of parental teaching of print-related skills is on code-based skills, such as letter knowledge and phonological awareness (e.g., Evans et al., 2000 ; Sénéchal and LeFevre, 2002 ), the findings in this study supported the relations with receptive vocabulary skills as well. One plausible explanation for this association is the caregivers’ interaction style during print-focused activities. It is possible that caregivers may introduce new words while discussing about letter sounds or talk with children about words when teaching reading and writing, which may facilitate children’s oral language development. However, when all three factors were included in the same model simultaneously, teaching of print-related skills predicted letter knowledge only, suggesting that after controlling for letter knowledge, associations between teaching of print-related skills and receptive vocabulary were no longer significant. Another explanation may therefore be that receptive vocabulary and letter knowledge skills are related but teaching of print-related skills is more directly relevant for letter knowledge than receptive vocabulary. Further research is warranted into the mechanisms through which caregivers teach print-related skills and the verbal interactions that occur during print-focused activities. Further, our study did not find significant associations between any aspects of the HLE and phonological awareness skills. While there may be other mechanisms underlying the lack of association between HLE and phonological awareness ( Sénéchal, 2006 ; Sénéchal and LeFevre, 2014 ), it may be the case that the HLE alone may not be sufficient in facilitating change in children’s development of phonological skills. Given the differences in the phonological features and orthographies between children’s L1 (Chinese) and L2 (English), children may specifically require explicit instruction both at home and at school, and frequent and varied exposure in different contexts to develop phonological skills in a second language.

Play and media-based activities contributed significantly to receptive vocabulary and letter knowledge, although only the contribution to receptive vocabulary was robust to sensitivity analysis. Specifically, play and media-based activities was a stronger predictor of children’s receptive vocabulary skills than either of the other HLE factors, and also compared to the overall HLE. When all three factors were included in the model simultaneously, play and media-based activities predicted receptive vocabulary only. These findings support previous research which documented positive links between individual or composite measures of activities other than shared reading and parental teaching of print-related skills and children’s oral language and/or code-related skills ( Passenger et al., 2000 ; Levy et al., 2006 ; Uchikoshi, 2006 ). This study points to the importance of adopting a broad conceptualization of the HLE to facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of the range of home literacy experiences that may contribute to early language and literacy development. The inclusion of an array of literacy-related activities in the measure of the HLE may be particularly important in second language and/or multilingual contexts. There is a likelihood that caregivers who are not fully fluent in the second language may utilize audio-visual materials as additional sources of language exposure to children. Indeed, in our study, the tendency for caregivers to sing English nursery rhymes/songs, use English digital media and watch English television programs with children on a more frequent basis (i.e., at least once a week) was relatively higher than that of shared reading and storytelling. It is possible that caregivers rely on readily available audio-visual materials to serve as language models for children’s second language development. It is, however, unknown whether and to what extent caregivers are involved with their children during singing, television viewing and the use of digital media. As current research evidence suggests, children learn languages better from live social interactions than from screens alone (e.g., Roseberry et al., 2009 ). Future studies can consider examining the interactions between caregivers and children when activities, such as television viewing and use of digital media, are included as measures of the HLE.

Taken together, this study corroborates previous findings concerning the importance of active home literacy activities (i.e., caregivers’ efforts to directly engage children in literacy activities) ( Burgess et al., 2002 ). As Sylva et al. (2004) concluded, the quality of interaction between caregivers and children is a more significant predictor of children’s outcomes than family background characteristics, such as income and education. There is thus, a need to enhance caregivers’ knowledge, skills and attitude in enriching the HLE and to mobilize resources to support caregivers in facilitating children’s language and literacy development. Prior studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of family literacy interventions that are aimed at developing parents’ capacity to engage children in literacy activities ( Zevenbergen and Whitehurst, 2003 ; Sénéchal and Young, 2008 ; Manz et al., 2010 ; van Steensel et al., 2011 ). Practitioners, policymakers and researchers can capitalize on the potential of family literacy programs to address compelling issues surrounding children’s development of English as a second language. In a 12-week intervention program on parent-child reading in English in Hong Kong, children in the intervention group made gains in both English word reading and phonological awareness skills, suggesting the effectiveness of dialogic reading on second language development among ethnic Chinese children ( Chow et al., 2010 ). Early childhood education programs that encourage school-based and home-based family engagement practices and have family engagement as a core component of their policies can further support children’s language and literacy development ( Goodall and Vorhaus, 2011 ). For instance, schools that provide workshops on specific strategies for literacy improvement (e.g., reading strategies) or design curricula that connect home and school practices (e.g., extended learning activities at home) may promote involvement in children’s education and enable caregivers to develop the competencies to support their children. Indeed, caregivers are more likely to be involved in schools and at home when they recognize the importance of their roles in children’s learning, feel capable of assisting their children and feel invited by the school and their children ( Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler, 1997 ). Further, public campaigns or community events that strengthen family and public participation in literacy activities may help support the development of children’s language and literacy skills. Particularly, community efforts to provide books, as well as support on home literacy activities for families from disadvantaged backgrounds can increase parent-child engagement at home ( Odom et al., 2012 ).

It should be noted that there are several limitations to this study. First, caregivers’ self-reports of their engagement in home literacy practices may be subject to social desirability bias. Future studies can consider supplementing survey data with direct observations of literacy interactions or interviews with caregivers. Respondents to the caregiver survey were also not always the child’s primary caregiver, so interviewing primary caregivers or using direct observations could be helpful to triangulate across several data sources. Second, this study mainly examined the frequency of caregivers’ engagement in literacy activities as a measure of the HLE in predicting early language and literacy outcomes. It would be valuable to examine additional aspects of the HLE that have been found to explain variability in language and literacy development, such as parental beliefs and attitudes about literacy ( Debaryshe, 1995 ; Weigel et al., 2006 ), parent-child interactions, such as maternal responsiveness and sensitivity ( de Jong and Leseman, 2001 ; Tamis-Lemonda et al., 2001 ), parental modeling of reading behavior ( Burgess et al., 2002 ), child literacy interest ( Baroody and Diamond, 2012 ; Carroll et al., 2019 ), and parents’ and children’s foreign language reading anxiety ( Chow et al., 2017 ). Third, this study did not consider the home literacy practices and development of children in the first language. Such data may contribute to more refined understanding of the HLE across languages and may yield important findings on the impact of the HLE on first and second language development. Fourth, while this study considered children’s exposure to English at home (whether English was the primary language), we did not have in-depth information about the circumstances under which English is spoken. More detailed information about the extent of children’s exposure to English, including language use of the child and each family member in the household may enable a more comprehensive understanding of the home language environment. Finally, this study only accounted for amount of exposure to English lessons in schools when analyzing the prediction of the HLE on children’s English language and literacy outcome. Future research can examine the quality of English language teaching in schools to further disentangle the processes that explain the effects of the HLE on children’s development of English as a second language.

This study highlights variability in the home literacy practices of ethnic Chinese families in Hong Kong and demonstrates that aspects of the HLE are differentially related to children’s English vocabulary, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and word reading skills. The present work provides a more nuanced understanding of the characteristics and influences of the HLE in the development of English as a second language in a multilingual context. It adds to a growing body of knowledge that points to the significant role of the HLE in children’s language and literacy skills and has the potential to inform policies and programs that promote family literacy practices. The findings from this study can serve as a basis for future cross-cultural comparisons of the HLE and the development of English as a second language among young children.

Data Availability Statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Ethics Statement

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Human Research Ethics Committee, The University of Hong Kong. Written informed consent to participate in this study was provided by school principals, teachers and the participants’ legal guardian/next of kin.

Author Contributions

CL conceptualized and implemented the study. BR conducted the statistical analysis. Both authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

This research was supported by an internal grant from the Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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Keywords : home literacy environment, English as a second language, language and literacy, early years, parent-child engagement

Citation: Lau C and Richards B (2021) Home Literacy Environment and Children’s English Language and Literacy Skills in Hong Kong. Front. Psychol. 11:569581. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.569581

Received: 04 June 2020; Accepted: 30 December 2020; Published: 29 January 2021.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2021 Lau and Richards. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Carrie Lau, [email protected]

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The role of early oral language in literacy development.

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Timothy Shanahan and Christopher Lonigan explore the connection between early oral language development and later reading comprehension success

Supporting young children’s language and literacy development has long been considered a practice that yields strong readers and writers later in life. The results of the National Early Literacy Panel’s (NELP) six years of scientific research synthesis supports the practice and its role in language development among children ages zero to five.

The NELP was brought together in 2002 to compile research that would contribute to educational policy and practice decisions that impact early literacy development. It was also charged with determining how teachers and families could support young children’s language and literacy development. Outcomes found in the panel’s report (2008) would be used in the creation of literacy-specific materials for parents, teachers, and staff development for early childhood educators and family-literacy practitioners.

Through its work, the NELP uncovered a set of abilities such as alphabet knowledge, oral language, or phonological awareness present in the preschool years that provides the basis for later reading success. It also found that measures of complex and discourse-level skills are particularly strong predictors of reading success – a finding that is consistent with the fact that language is a complex, multidimensional system that supports decoding and comprehension as children learn to read.

In our book Early Childhood Literacy: The National Early Literacy Panel and Beyond,, we explore the NELP report, as well as newer research findings and the effectiveness of specific approaches to teaching early oral language development to establish a solid foundation for later reading comprehension. Below we expand on concepts to help educators understand how oral language relates to reading comprehension, word reading, and language development; where Common Core State Standards factor into the equation; and what teachers can do to foster literacy development.

Laying Down the Building Blocks Through its research, the NELP discovered that the more complex aspects of oral language, including syntax or grammar, complex measures of vocabulary (such as those in which children actually define or explain word meanings), and listening comprehension were clearly related to later reading comprehension, but that simpler measures of oral language (e.g., the widely used Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test) had very limited associations with reading comprehension. Put simply, readers must translate print to language and then, much as in listening, they must interpret the meaning of that language. Numerous studies support this approach by showing that word reading and language comprehension are relatively independent skills, but that each contributes significantly to reading comprehension.

Simple measures of vocabulary in which children simply point to the picture of a word or name a picture are not strongly connected with later reading comprehension. Nevertheless, many studies have shown that vocabulary plays an important role in fostering reading development in the years before and during formal reading instruction. The role of vocabulary is likely two-fold. The words, and the concepts that they represent, are obviously of functional importance in comprehension, and vocabulary might also support decoding or the translation of text into language. The NELP established phonological awareness as a key contributor to children’s ability to learn to read. Of course, phonological representations are part of the linguistic system and the ability to gain access to these representations may in part be a by-product of early vocabulary development (Metsala & Walley, 1998).

Reading comprehension depends on language abilities that have been developing since birth. Basic vocabulary and grammar are clearly essential to comprehension because each enables understanding of words and their interrelationships in and across individual sentences in a text (Kintsch & Kintsch, 2005).

However, children who comprehend well go beyond word and sentence comprehension to construct a representation of the situation or state of affairs described by the text. In some theories, this is referred to as a “mental model” (Kintsch & Kintsch, 2005) and it involves organizing a text’s multiple ideas into an integrated whole, using both information from the text and the reader’s own world knowledge. To do this, successful comprehenders draw upon a set of higher-level cognitive and linguistic skills, including inferencing, monitoring comprehension, and using text structure knowledge. Take the following story for example: “Johnny carried a jug of water. He tripped on a step. Mom grabbed the mop.” The literal representation of the individual words and sentences does not enable the reader to integrate their meanings and construct a mental model. Successful comprehenders understand narrative structure and couple it with their knowledge to infer that Johnny spilled the water. They then understand why Mom grabbed a mop. They also monitor their comprehension of stories-either written or spoken-and realize the need to make an inference (that Johnny spilled the water) to make sense of Mom’s response.

High-level language skills used to create mental models of text are not exclusive to reading. In fact, children begin developing these language skills well before formal reading instruction in a range of language comprehension situations. For example, young children rely on knowledge of narrative structure to do things like follow a set of instructions, share their daily activities around the dinner table, or understand spoken stories, cartoons, and movies.

Assessing Early-Stage Development The skills needed for reading comprehension come into play as students progress. In the early grades, for example, reading comprehension depends heavily on emerging word-reading skills. As children accomplish the ability to automatically and fluently read printed words, language comprehension begins to contribute more to individual differences in reading comprehension. Most children who score poorly on reading comprehension tests have difficulty decoding words and understanding language.

Those with poor word-reading abilities (i.e., poor decoders) lag behind their typically developing peers on reading comprehension measures in the early grades, even if they have good language development. However, those with poor language comprehension, in spite of relatively proficient word-reading ability, usually do not lag behind their typically developing peers on reading comprehension tests until they have had one or two years of reading instruction (Catts et al., 2005).

It’s important to point out that what appears to be a decline in reading comprehension for poor comprehenders is not the result of declining language skills. In fact, these students’ language skills were already poor compared with their typically developing peers at the onset of schooling. A recent report found that poor comprehenders in fifth grade (i.e., those with poor reading comprehension despite good word-reading abilities) evidenced weak language skills as early as 15 months of age (Justice, Mashburn, & Petscher, in press) compared with their age-matched peers who went on to become good comprehenders and poor decoders, and NELP found that early language skills were predictive of later reading comprehension development, but much less so with early decoding skills.

Subsequently, many students who are labeled as “clinically language impaired” prior to, or just beginning, formal education in preschool or kindergarten, do not necessarily have problems learning to read initially (Catts, Fey, Tomblin, & Zhang) Their later “decline” in reading comprehension is thought to be related to the changing nature of reading comprehension assessments: the texts used to assess reading comprehension in the early grades require less complex mental models and very limited language processing, allowing those with weak language skills to answer basic comprehension questions as accurately as their typically developing peers.

In the later grades, however, reading comprehension assessments contain more difficult passages that require more complex mental models. Poor comprehenders lack the language skills needed to construct these complex mental models and begin to score more poorly on reading comprehension assessments when compared to their typically developing peers. Poor decoders with good language comprehension abilities may be able to compensate to some degree for their weak word-reading abilities in the later grades. That’s because even though they might struggle to decode all of the words, their language skills allow them to bootstrap their way to the text’s meaning, using their good language skills and rich knowledge of the world to help construct sufficient mental models to correctly answer comprehension questions (Stanovich, 1980).

Helping Children “Crack the Code” According to our book, a key challenge facing the beginning reader is the ability to “crack the code” or, learning how written language maps onto spoken language. This is because better decoders devote greater cognitive resources to the processes involved in comprehending text. Children’s oral language skills serve as the foundation for both aspects of reading ability-word reading and language comprehension.

Because few preschool children can yet read words, we must look at precursor skills that develop into word recognition or decoding ability. Knowledge of the alphabet and phonological awareness are both strong predictors of later decoding and comprehension, and it is evident that teaching these in combination has a consistently positive impact on improving students’ later decoding and reading comprehension abilities. Rapid naming, knowledge about print conventions and concepts, the ability to write letters or names, and oral language skills were also good predictors, but teaching these has not consistently led to gains in reading success.

How the Common Core Factors into Literacy Development With 46 states now working to implement the Common Core State Standards which include grade-specific K-12 standards in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language, educators may be required to adjust their lessons to align with the standards and assessments used to determine student progress.

But what if the road to success with those standards begins when the student was an infant, toddler, or preschooler? This question was clearly answered through the NELP’s extensive research, which emphasized the importance of print knowledge, phonological processing abilities and oral language skills as important predictors of later literacy skills, and with evidence that teaching these early on can have long-term benefits.

Additionally, assessment of these early literacy skills is important for identifying children who are likely to need more intensive instruction to achieve success with literacy. By identifying and working with students across all literacy levels at a very early age, today’s educators can take a proactive role in ensuring that students meet or exceed standards across the board.

Making a Difference: The Teacher’s Role in Literacy Development Interventions focused on fostering language aren’t easy to develop or implement. The interconnected and complex nature of language comes with a long developmental history and draws on a broad range of linguistic and cognitive capacities. Furthermore, interventions occur within a social context where motivational, behavioral, and social factors can impact the learning climate. Children’s attention to language input and their willingness to respond to it are affected by a host of factors, including their interest in the topic of the conversation, their relationship to the speaker, the number and identities of other conversational participants, and the setting.

Even more vexing is the fact that teachers — the most important source of language input in preschool classrooms — have a history of using language in ways that may not be consistent with the interactions found by research to be conducive to language learning. Teacher’s interactions that best encourage language learning include having conversations that stay on a single topic, providing children opportunities to talk, encouraging analytical thinking, and giving information about the meanings of words.

For teachers, key considerations for instruction include the fidelity of the implementation (an extremely important aspect); teaching children letter names and sounds by performing phonological awareness tasks; and understanding that there is no link between curricula with a systematic and explicit focus (i.e. teacher-directed) and negative social-emotional outcomes for children.

Response to intervention in preschool holds promise for successful early language development but several key issues must be considered. For one, preschools often serve disproportionate numbers of children who need Tier 2 or Tier 3 services, which causes staffing concerns. Also, more research is needed on the effect of interventions for children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English language learners, and children from underrepresented ethnic groups. The NELP report, along with other studies of children’s early language development, suggests that early oral language has a growing contribution to later reading comprehension — a contribution that is separate from the important role played by the alphabetic code. As such, improving young children’s oral language development should be a central goal during the preschool and kindergarten years.

In the end, making strides in this area of a child’s educational development can begin with a very simple exercise-shared book reading. Although various approaches have been found to improve young children’s language, the approach of shared book reading has gained the greatest research support thus far, particularly when such reading is carried out dialogically, that is, with much language interaction between the reader and the child. Combining shared book reading along with other language activities with explicit decoding instruction in the context of a supportive and responsive classroom, can make the difference between a child whose literacy development is at or above standards or one who struggles with reading, writing, and literacy throughout his or her K-12 education.

References Catts, H.W., Fey, M.E., Tomblin, B.J., & Zhang, X. (2002). “A longitudinal investigation of reading outcomes in children with language impairments.” Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research , 45, 1142-1157. Catts, H.W., Hogan, T.P., & Adlof, S.M. (2005). “Developmental changes in reading and reading disabilities.” In H.W. Catts & A.G. Kamhi (Eds.), The connections between language and reading disabilities (pp. 25-40). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Justice, L.M., Mashburn, A., & Petscher, Y. (in press). “Very early language skills of fifth-grade poor comprehenders.” Journal of Research in Reading . Kintsch, W., & Kintsch, E. (2005). “Comprehension.” In S.G. Paris & S.A. Stahl (Eds.), Current issues in reading comprehension and assessment (pp. 71-92). New York, Routledge. Metsala, J. L., & Walley, A. C. (1998). “Spoken vocabulary growth and the segmental restructuring of lexical representations: Precursors to phonemic awareness and early reading ability.” In J. L. Metsala & L. C. Ehri (Eds.), Word recognition in beginning literacy (pp. 89-120). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. Perfetti, C.A. (1985). Reading ability . New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Stanovich, K.E. (1980). “Toward an interactive-compensatory model of individual differences in the development of reading fluency.” Reading Research Quarterly , 16, 32-71.

Timothy Shanahan , Ph.D., and Christopher J. Lonigan , Ph.D., are the editors of Early Childhood Literacy: The National Early Literacy Panel and Beyond, available from Brookes Publishing Co. They are two of the nation’s top childhood literacy experts and served on the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP).

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Literacy Development

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Assessment and Interventions for English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities

Esther Geva , Katherine Herbert , in Learning About Learning Disabilities (Fourth Edition) , 2012

This chapter has provided an overview of recent research on language and literacy development in typically developing ELLs and those who might have an LD. Due to the implications for assessment, special attention was given to a discussion of reading domains that are more closely related to L2 language proficiency, and those hard-wired, modularized aspects of word reading that are less closely aligned with language proficiency. Additional sections provided a review of other complementary factors that pertain to the development of language and literacy skills in typically developing ELLs and those with LD. These include the contribution of contextual and family factors, cross-language transfer and its relevance to L2 learning, the contribution of typological linguistic factors, and within-child, processing factors. We have shown that the cognitive and linguistic profiles of monolingual and ELL poor decoders (dyslexics) are rather similar to each other, as are the profiles of monolingual and ELL students who are “unexpected” poor comprehenders.

Recommendations for assessment and for students at-risk for decoding and/or reading comprehension problems include: taking a developmental approach that considers response to instruction, fine-grained error-analysis, the importance of assessing in both the L1 and L2 where possible, and of gathering detailed information about past academic performance in the L1. Other recommendations involve the need for caution in using standardized norms and intelligence testing, and the value of comparing students’ progress to that of students with similar backgrounds such as siblings. The available research on educational interventions for ELLs with LD suggests that research-based instructional programs work equally well for monolinguals and ELL.

Understanding the course of language and literacy development of ELLs in elementary and secondary school is important because recent research indicates that too many of the ELLs who have an LD are not identified and are therefore denied proper program adaptation and intervention. School staff who are hesitant to refer ELLs are likely trying to be sensitive to their students’ need for time to learn English and acculturate. However, as this chapter suggests, tools are available for sensitively assessing ELLs and ensuring they receive appropriate intervention if necessary. It appears that systematic, research-based teaching methods that work when applied to monolingual learners should also work when applied to ELLs. To minimize the drop-out rate of ELLs with LD it is vital that schools support students with LD, regardless of whether they speak English as a first or second language.

Information literacy advocacy and the public library landscape

Annemaree Lloyd , in Information Literacy Landscapes , 2010

Partnerships with other institutions

Public libraries are uniquely placed to partner with other institutions for information literacy development , given the librarian’s broad mandate of service offerings ( Skov, 2004 ). Commenting on the Danish public library situation Skov (2004) notes that public libraries have a strong role as a support institution in information literacy partnerships with schools, not only for information literacy skill development but in developing critical thinking, question formulation and information evaluation in the children of the community. Skov (2004, para 14) wrote, ‘If the concept of information literacy is taken to its fullest extent, the challenge of the public library is to get involved in the knowledge construction process of school children in collaboration with schoolteachers and school librarians’.

In describing an example from Denmark, Skov also highlights the outcomes of this partnership in terms of the development of shared values related to learning and student project work and a more collaborative approach between teachers and librarians where teachers are offered information searching courses. In return, librarians have been able to develop knowledge about new teaching methods. Citing the joint projects between public libraries and formal education in Arhus, Denmark, Skov (2004, para 14) suggests that the collaboration and knowledge sharing by both groups has also produced a range of intangible results, such as ‘an increased knowledge of how the library can support new teaching methods and assist students in their learning process, and a shared understanding of the concept of information literacy’.

In a national survey in New Zealand, Koning (2001) reports that partnerships were most often formed with schools (56% of public libraries). The example of schools is mirrored in the several examples given in Skov (2004) . Other institutions where partnerships were identified were training institutions (30%) and community organizations (26%). Interestingly though, there is little mention of efforts to form partnerships with local businesses, although Koning (2001) notes that larger libraries were more likely to partner with these groups.

Dyslexia: Diagnosis and Training

M.J. Snowling , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , 2001

7 Interventions for Dyslexia

There is now a considerable body of literature pointing to the benefits of phonological awareness training to subsequent literacy development (Toija 1999 ). Training in phonological skills is particularly effective when it is combined with highly structured reading tuition. However, it is also becoming clear that dyslexic children and children at risk of dyslexia respond relatively less well to these techniques than normally developing readers (Byrne et al. 1997 ). Indeed, initial phonological skill is one of the best predictors of responsiveness to intervention in such training regimes (Hatcher and Hulme 1999 ). For children who do not respond to such treatments, more intensive therapies may need to be designed and special school placement considered.

Developing a Community of Practice: The Newcastle Information Literacy Project

Moira Bent , ... Sophie Brettell , in Information Literacy: Recognising the Need , 2006

Pick and Mix approach

The Toolkit is based on the Sconul 7 pillars model ( SCONUL, 1999 ), setting benchmarks for information literacy development through university life. Work at South Bank University ( Godwin, 2003 ) has informed this development. Each pillar is divided into sub-topics that have been mapped to a range of activities designed to appeal to different learning attitudes and teaching situations, thus providing pick and mix opportunities for staff. For example, plagiarism activities include slides, ideas for group work, handouts, an online tutorial produced by staff in the Medical School, links to external tutorials, Blackboard quizzes with extensive feedback, examples of plagiarism in the news and examples of best practice, as well as suggestions for further reading. Suggested activity selections will be provided for each faculty, giving staff a contextualised demonstration of how to build sets of activities into modules and across programmes to ensure all 7 pillars are covered. We believe this practical and pragmatic approach will be crucial to the success of the toolkit. We have been influenced by Bruce Ingraham's work on readability ( Ingraham, 2004 ) and are currently wrestling with the need to ensure that the Toolkit is transparent and usable for staff whilst at the same time maintaining its complexity. Versions of the Toolkit will be available on the Information Literacy website ( Newcastle University Library, 2005 ) from summer 2006.

School Readiness

F.J. Morrison , A.H. Hindman , in Encyclopedia of Infant and Early Childhood Development , 2008

Language/literacy skills

One of the most important discoveries of the past two decades has been the critical role that language plays in early literacy development . Several language skills independently contribute to reading acquisition, and there may be interactions among these components over the course of learning to read. Of particular focus has been the role of phonological skills (particularly phonemic awareness) in learning to read. Increasing competence at consciously manipulating the component sounds in the speech stream facilitates the child’s task of ‘cracking the code’, that is, learning the symbol-sound correspondence rules and utilizing them in ever more sophisticated ways to derive accurate word pronunciations. Locating the smallest units, phonemes, within a word seems to be the most critical level of segmentation for early word decoding. Children who have difficulty at this level, for whatever reason, experience significant problems progressing in word decoding. Vocabulary, both receptive and expressive, has also been shown to predict early reading skill. The number of different words a child understands, as well as the number s/he speaks, helps word decoding efforts and may facilitate growth of phonological awareness. Finally, children’s knowledge of the alphabet when they enter kindergarten is one of the best predictors of learning to read. Letter knowledge predicts more advanced phonological awareness and better word decoding skills throughout elementary school.

There is some uncertainty at present about how and when each of these component skills exerts its influence. Some studies have demonstrated that vocabulary uniquely predicts early reading skills only through kindergarten, after which it contributes indirectly via its association with phonological processes, which continue to predict reading well into early elementary school. Other recent studies appear to find an independent contribution for vocabulary and other oral language skills through third grade. There is agreement, though, that development of early oral language facility, including vocabulary, is essential to later comprehension skills.

Conceptions of Technology Literacy and Fluency

O. Erstad , in International Encyclopedia of Education (Third Edition) , 2010

Future Perspectives

Although there are many approaches to literacy, there is now a consensus that literacy is a social phenomenon as well as an individual characteristic. Literacy development is to a large extent linked to economic growth and the development of civic consciousness and political maturity. The literate person lives within the literate society:

Literacy is no longer exclusively understood as an individual transformation, but as a contextual and societal one. Increasingly, reference is made to the importance of rich literate environments – public or private milieux with abundant written documents (e.g. books, magazines and newspapers), visual materials (e.g. signs, posters and handbills), or communication and electronic media. ( UNESCO, 2005 : 159)

An important driving force today is the processes of convergence. This relates to how technologies merge, how production of content changes, how new text formats are developed, and how the users relate to information as part of communication networks in different ways. All this brings about new challenges for how we conceptualize technology literacy and fluency. As this article shows, the different perspectives reflect the complexity of skills, competencies, and literacies for being a citizen in the twenty-first century.

Issues of literacy and fluency in relation to different technologies also raise some key issues about how our education system is tuned to the challenges of the knowledge society. Conceptions of technology literacy and fluency in a future perspective would then be just as much about knowledge development and the educational framework as about using specific technologies.

Literacies in Early Childhood: The Preschool Period

M. Fleer , B. Raban , in International Encyclopedia of Education (Third Edition) , 2010

Using Appropriate Pedagogy

The Preschool Literacy Project ( Raban and Ure, 2000 ), conducted in 40 preschools in Australia, aimed to increase preschool teacher understandings of young children’s early literacy development . Resources and activities designed to stimulate interest were introduced to give children literacy experiences that would promote their preparedness for school. Typically, primary school children in these areas of the state failed to achieve acceptable levels of literacy to support their further learning at school. However, by working with these preschool teachers over a 2-year period, supporting them in their growing understanding concerning young children’s early literacy development, providing them with resources, discussion, and feedback high levels of student literacy were noted. Follow-up data reported by Raban and Coates (2004) revealed that children from these project centers achieved higher scores on measures of both spoken and written language after 2   years in their primary schools.

In a study reported by Fleer and Raban (2006) , undertaken in a childcare center to examine staff awareness of the literacy and numeracy concepts embedded in everyday center practices, it was found that the teachers could identify broadly based concepts, but many admitted that they did not actively stimulate or support literacy or numeracy learning through mediation. Rather, they assumed the resources alone would provide the learning. Evidence supporting the active role of adults has been shown in the UK Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) longitudinal study ( Siraj-Blatchford et al ., 2002 ). The learning outcomes were linked to interaction strategies including sustained shared thinking time where teachers engage and extend the chilD’s thinking, giving formative feedback during the activities in real time.

In the Harvard Home-School study, 74 young children from low-income families were followed through their preschool years from age 3 to high school. In synthesizing this study, Dickenson (2001) argues that preschool teachers who spent more time listening than talking supported children’s superior language development. Successful preschool teachers were those who inclined to speak to children in ways that extended children’s comments. Conversations around shared books that addressed issues such as the setting of the story, the attributes, and motivations of the characters, the order of events, and the like, also were found to be supportive of children’s literacy development. The extent to which preschool teachers engaged children in intellectually challenging conversations around ideas and the meanings of new words were strongly related to measures of early literacy.

The study also found that preschool teachers were identified as of paramount importance – how they viewed their role, how they conversed with children, and the supports they provided for the children using language and literacy in varied ways. In line with the findings of Siraj-Blatchford (2004) , successful preschool teachers exhibited a deep understanding of what children needed, they were skillful in providing appropriate experiences for children throughout the day, and they illustrated a willingness to expend the energy needed to support children’s development. This UK research group identified these characteristics as the qualities of intentional and deliberate conceptual interactions for the early years. However, the preschool teachers in this study revealed little understanding of the developmental nature of early literacy development, of the place of oral language in supporting literacy, or of the critical role they as teachers played in fostering children’s long-term language and literacy growth.

Employability, informal learning and the role of the public library

John Crawford , in Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning , 2013

Funding is a difficult and perhaps confusing topic to discuss but it is certainly true that it often comes from nonrecurrent sources outwith library budgets which in turn contributes to the sustainability issue which bedevils information literacy development as a whole. For example, at Leeds Library and Information Service the Library is a delivery partner for a Skills Funding Agency contract managed by the council’s Adult Learning Department and libraries are funded to deliver ICT learning sessions to learners from deprived areas ( Tutin 2012 ). The employability training programme at Inverclyde Libraries receives funding from the Fairer Scotland Fund ( Crawford and Irving 2012 : 80). Many of the staff working in community learning and development are part-time, hourly paid or seasonal workers which implies a wide range of contractual agreements.

The institutionalising of IL

Andrew Whitworth , in Radical Information Literacy , 2014

Yet Harris shows how IL standards pay little attention to the collective (2008, 249):

The discussion of community is almost completely removed from the IL standards. The only direct mention of community as an influence in information literacy development appears in Standard Four: ‘The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.’ The conscious inclusion of ‘as a member of a group’ in the standard (it is not included in the competency standards or performance indicators to follow) does little to suggest that the group vs. individual situation does not completely change the information literacy event in and of itself. It turns the collaborative and social character of the event into an option instead of a requirement of any situation involving communication. Furthermore, placement suggests that it is only in the process of using information that groups of individuals, communities, are involved in the information literacy event.

Assessment Conversations: Reading and Writing Conferences with Students and with Parents

M. Barrs , in International Encyclopedia of Education (Third Edition) , 2010

History of this Practice

There are a number of antecedents that may have contributed to the development of assessment conversations in literacy:

Case studies in literacy research. The use of case study in qualitative research in literacy has demonstrated how much can be learned about students' literacy development by observing them and talking to them about their reading and writing. Important studies such as Fry's (1985) Students Talk about Books: Seeing Themselves as Readers , Inquiry into Meaning by Chittenden et al . (2001) , and Hugh and Crago's (1983) Prelude to Literacy have documented students' individual paths of literacy development and revealed their personal constructs of literacy.

The analysis of reading strategies. Miscue analysis was developed by Goodman (1973) in the late 1960s as a way of looking inside students' errors or miscues in the oral reading of a text. The Running Record, developed by Marie Clay in 1972, is essentially another type of miscue analysis, but is more suitable for younger children beginning to read. Both of these assessments involve teachers in listening closely to students' reading and recording/analyzing their errors as a guide to their characteristic behavior as readers; they are sometimes followed by conversations with the student about the text or about their reading in general.

Classroom observation or kid watching. Assessment conversations form part of a general approach to assessment in the classroom that includes the informal observation of children's reading and writing behavior. Teachers in the early years have been at the forefront of using child observation as a means of understanding and documenting students' learning. In the 1980s, teachers of older students began to observe students more systematically, recording their observations and reflections on what they were finding out about students' patterns of learning. Yetta Goodman coined the term kid watching to describe this kind of informal observation in 1978, and has written extensively about it since ( Goodman and Owocki, 2002 ).

Writing conferences. A writing conference is a face-to-face discussion of a text between the student author of the text and their teacher. The term first came into general educational use through Graves'(1982) work in the late 1970s on students' writing processes, detailed in his book Writing: Teachers and Students at Work . Graves and his associate Lucy Calkins (1994) , author of The Art of Teaching Writing , developed the use of writing conferences as a way of moving students on in their writing. This kind of interaction can be viewed as formative assessment; it allows teachers both to evaluate students' progress and to help them to develop their writing.


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