What is it?
Early literacy approaches aim to improve young children’s skills, knowledge or understanding related to reading or writing. Common approaches include:
- storytelling and group reading;
- activities that aim to develop letter knowledge, knowledge of sounds and early phonics; and
- introductions to different kinds of writing.
Early literacy strategies may have components in common with Communication and language approaches and may also involve Parental engagement.
How effective is it?
Early literacy approaches have been consistently found to have a positive effect on early learning outcomes. The early literacy approaches evaluated to date led to an average impact of four additional months’ progress, with the most effective approaches improving learning by as much as six months.
All children appear to benefit from early literacy approaches, but there is some evidence that certain strategies, particularly those involving targeted small group interaction, may have particularly positive effects on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, early literacy approaches should not be seen as a panacea. Though long-term positive effects have been detected in some studies, for a majority of strategies these benefits appear to fade over time, suggesting that a single intervention is unlikely to be enough to close the achievement gap.
There is evidence that a combination of early literacy approaches is likely to be more effective than any single approach. For example, some studies suggest that it is possible to develop certain aspects of literacy, such as knowledge of the alphabet or letter names and sounds, without improving all aspects of early literacy. It is likely to be beneficial to put a range of activities in place, and to use these in combination with regular assessments of early literacy skills across both reading and writing capabilities.
Studies indicate that involving parents in developing early literacy strategies can be beneficial, and ensuring that training and professional development is provided for staff when new approaches are introduced is likely to increase impact.
How secure is the evidence?
There is moderate evidence related to the impact of early literacy approaches, including a number of meta-analyses and high quality individual studies. The majority focus on reading. One challenge with the evidence base is that early literacy approaches are often only one part of multi-component interventions or curricula, which can make it hard to attribute changes to the early literacy approach, or to identify which aspects of that approach are most important.
In common with a number of areas of early years education, the most robust evidence collected to date has been collected in the USA.
What are the costs?
The majority of programs reviewed do not require additional costs for tuition (e.g. employment of extra staff to work directly with children), but instead are limited to professional development costs for existing staff (e.g. teachers and early years educators) who are working with children. Thus, the costs of early literacy approaches are estimated to be relatively low. For example, the cost of materials and professional development sessions required to implement a commercial literacy program in early education settings range from approximately $1,000-$3,000 per staff member.
What should I consider?
How will you ensure that your early literacy strategy is well-balanced, and combines approaches that will support the development of skills, knowledge and understanding?
Do you use assessments to identify children’s current level of development, and monitor learning?
When you introduce new early literacy approaches, do staff receive sufficient training and professional development?
How do you use targeted small group support to help areas of challenge for disadvantaged children?