In this post, we’ll be reviewing some common myths about early literacy instruction. Decide whether each of the following statements is a myth or a fact and then review the answers below!
Myth or Fact? Read each statement and decide whether it is a myth or a fact.
- Recognizing all of the letters in the alphabet is the most important predictor of future reading success.
- Four-year-olds should be able to read fluently.
- Human brains are primed to learn how to read and write.
- Children will pick up reading by being read to.
- Most children will naturally learn how to talk.
- Infants are able to recognize the speech sounds (phonemes) of their caregivers’ primary language.
Let’s see how you did!
1. Recognizing all of the letters in the alphabet is the most important predictor of future reading success.
This statement is a MYTH. There are actually multiple predictors of future reading success, and research doesn’t identify any one single factor as being most significant. Letter recognition is important, particularly when it comes to how quickly they can be identified (i.e., rapid automatic naming), but so is phonological awareness and the amount of general knowledge students have about different topics, which can increase their comprehension.
2. Four-year-olds should be able to read fluently.
This statement is a MYTH. Many preschool students memorize their favorite stories and “read” them to others, which is a great starting point for realizing that text conveys meaning. However, children typically learn how to blend sounds to form words at about age five or six and need several years to master the skill. The end goal, which is sophisticated reading comprehension, takes eight to sixteen more years of schooling.
3. Human brains are primed to learn how to read and write.
This statement is a MYTH. Humans are primed to learn how to talk, not read! We have been talking for hundreds of thousands of years, so that skill is well developed in our brain. In comparison, reading and writing are relatively new processes.
4. Children will pick up reading by being read to.
This statement is a MYTH. Since our brains aren’t evolutionarily trained to read, students need explicit instruction in reading. Even students who learn how to read early will benefit from explicit instruction because they are sometimes just memorizing words or “reading” by matching words to pictures. When that support goes away, they struggle. This is why explicit instruction is important.
5. Most children will naturally learn how to talk.
This statement is a FACT. Because humans are naturally wired to talk, any child — unless neurologically impaired or hearing impaired — will learn how to talk without explicit instruction in this area.
6. Infants are able to recognize the speech sounds (phonemes) of their caregivers’ primary language.
This statement is a FACT. There have been studies that show this develops as early as 4 months of age.
7. Listening to sounds such as a door slamming or a vacuum cleaner can help students learn how to read.
The jury is still out on this one! Although phonemic awareness, which is the awareness of individual sounds in spoken language, is one of the strongest predictors of reading success, it can help if students first develop an awareness of sounds in general. This tends to develop naturally, as infants need to be able to differentiate between environmental sounds in order to feel safe. Because of this biological need, most students come to PreK already having an awareness of general sounds. For students who have difficulty with the more basic levels of phonological awareness, there is research which suggests that playing short games with simple sounds can help with auditory discrimination. For example, before leaving for recess, ask students to close their eyes and count how many sounds they hear as you snap your fingers, stomp your feet, and clap your hands, and see if they can repeat them. Later in the day, use the same instructions with phonemes: “Close your eyes and count how many sounds you hear in the word big. Now, tell me each sound you hear.”
How’d you do? If you’d like to learn more about early literacy, click here to check out our self-paced courses on phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, alphabet knowledge, and emergent writing!
Mampe, Friederici, Christophe & Wermke. 2009. Sounds of Language. Before Their First Words. beforefirstwords.upf.edu/precursors-of-language/sounds-of-language/.
Moats, Louisa, and Carol Tolman. 29 August 2019. Speaking Is Natural; Reading and Writing Are Not. Reading Rockets. www.readingrockets.org/article/speaking-natural-reading-and-writing-are-not.
National Research Council. 1998. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/6023.