The Implications of Emergent Literacy Research for Children with Developmental Disabilities.

David A. Koppenhaver
Patsy P. Coleman
Sophia L. Kalman
David E. Yoder
The Carolina Literacy Center, Department of Medical Allied Health Professions
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Summary and Response:

This article discusses research in emergent literacy as a continuous process that begins at birth.  Thus, there are critical implications for children with developmental disabilities as it suggests that the potential for written language learning is inherent in everyone.  This parallels Chomsky’s theory on language acquisition in which language is innate and language acquisition occurs during critical development stages.  The authors’ research in emergent literacy draws four conclusions:

  1. The process of learning to read and write is a continuum that begins at birth, and perhaps before.
  2. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening abilities develop concurrently and interrelatedly, rather than sequentially.
  3. The functions of literacy are as integral to literacy learning as the forms.
  4. Children learn written language through active engagement with their world.

The article also suggests several activities that parents and practitioners can perform with children to integrate print and opportunities to write or draw to support emergent literacy.

Some ideas for parents included:

  • Making out a shopping list with the child and then pointing out names of items on signs and labels in the store.
  • Reading labels of cereal boxes, juice bottles, or canned foods to a child while preparing the meal or feeding the child.
  • Pointing out and reading road signs or billboards to the child while driving in the car.

Some ideas for practitioners include:

  • Using thematic experiences such as storybook reading with related art, drama, and cooking activities to help the child understand and integrate concepts.
  • Reading a variety of types of children’s literature and nonfiction to increase the child’s exposure to different types of language and experiences.
  • Providing opportunities for children with developmental disabilities to interact with nondisabled peers, especially during story reading, so that they may have models for asking questions, providing answers, commenting, and story retelling.

Emergent Literacy Intervention for Vulnerable Preschoolers: Relative Effects of Two Approaches

Laura M. Justice
Sy-Miin Chow
Cara Capellini
Kevin Flanigan
Sarah Colton
University of Virginia, Charlottesville


Summary and Response:

This article details a summary conducted to determine the relative efficacy of an experimental explicit emergent literacy intervention program for preschoolers experiencing multiple risk factors.  The program entailed two 6-week waves of intervention in small groups.  The first wave featured the experimental program, whereas the second wave featured a comparison program.

The experimental program consisted of twelve 30-minute small-group sessions that engaged children in activities that promoted their attention to orthographic features of written language and the phonologic features of oral language.  Each session included name writing, alphabet recitation, and phonological awareness games.   Some examples of games were:

  • Sharing names and asking students to point out whose names start with specific letters;
  • Singing the alphabet song while pointing to the letters depicted on laminated cards;
  • Rhyme detection, rhyme production, sentence or syllable segmentation, and etc.

The comparison program also consisted of twelve 30-minute small-group sessions that actively engaged children in literature-based activities featuring an implicit focus on oral and written language.  Each session included adult-to-child shared storybook reading and a story retelling activity.  A variety of storybooks were used in several different genres and formats.  Children were asked to predict what might happen in the story, were asked open-ended questions about the story, and were led through a retelling activity.

The results of the study showed significant widespread gains in emergent literacy knowledge over the entire 12-week intervention program.  Growth was significantly greater during the experimental program (or first wave) compared to the comparison program (the second wave).

My dream classroom would be warm and inviting, with plenty of space for learning and creativity.  Flexible seating like couches, stools, carpets, and wobble chairs will give my students freedom and autonomy.  Designated areas such as a technology and device center, reading nook, small group center, and whole group carpet and whiteboard area will guide my students in all areas of learning.  Bulletin boards will house all necessary reference materials such as goals and objectives, schedules, word walls and alphabet, behavioral charts, student job designation, and displays of student work.

Daily Schedule

While a designated daily schedule will depend upon grade level, a typical elementary routine would proceed as follows:

Time Task
8:50 – 9:00 Morning Meeting
Morning meeting is an engaging  way to start the day in which students and teacher greet each other, share important events about their lives, read and interact with a short message for the day, and participate in a group activity that fosters group cohesion as well as helps students practice social and academic skills.
9:00 – 11:30 Daily 5
Daily 5 is a structured literacy block that fosters a lifetime love of reading and writing.  This block of time allows students to rotate through five core activities including  read to self, writing work, computer work, listening to a story, and reading a story to a peer.  Reading and Writing Workshop is also part of this block.  Other activities may be included or omitted.
11:30 – 12:00 Extra: Music / PE
Special classes such as music and physical education are part of our year-long curriculum.
12:00 – 12:45 Lunch / Recess
12:45 – 1:00 Afternoon Meeting
Much like with morning meeting, the afternoon meeting is a time to regroup and prepare for the second half of the day.  This time may also be used for a read-aloud or other calm activity following the fun and excitement of lunch and recess.
1:00 – 1:30 Science
I believe in including STEM subjects for all grade levels.  Science is a part of our every day lives, and thus, is an integral part of our curriculum.  Science work is an excellent time to provide hands-on activities, create projects, and simply explore.  When necessary, this time slot may be used for other subjects.
1:30 – 2:00 Social Studies
Social studies is all about making real-life connections and discovering the world around us – from culture to geography, history to economics, and everything in between.  When necessary, this time slot may be used for other subjects.
2:00 – 2:15 Recess / Brain Break
2:15 – 3:15 Math
Our math block begins with a focus lesson via whole group instruction.  We use hands-on materials to support understanding of math concepts.  I endeavor to include as many fun activities and math games as possible to make math less daunting and fun!
3:15 – 3:30 Miscellaneous Activity
The end of the day is left open to accommodate the day’s activities.  We may  use this time to complete any unfinished work, elaborate on earlier topics, or as time to reflect  upon the day.  I also like to throw in some games and extra recess now and then!

Movement breaks, brain breaks, and snack times will also be inserted throughout the day.  Some minor subjects may rotate or be omitted for further instruction.

Personal Reading Philosophy

Reading is the foundation of all learning.  Therefore, I deem reading instruction the most important task of an elementary school teacher.  I believe in the concept of universal grammar by Noam Chomsky: that we are born with a set of language rules that are innate to humans; it is our experiences thereafter that shape our linguistic abilities and, subsequently, our reading abilities.  I also believe that all children have the ability to read through the provision of effective literacy instruction.  In order to provide effective literacy instruction, I intend to incorporate reading, writing, and word work in a Reading Workshop literacy block.

Reading Workshop begins with a 20 minute teacher-led read aloud.  The subject matter for this read aloud may shift from fiction to nonfiction, alternate genres, or include poetry.  I will discuss and demonstrate relevant reading strategies during the read aloud that students will take note of and later apply in their own reading.  Strategies include rereading text, activating prior knowledge, using context clues, think aloud, summarizing, locating key words, using graphic organizers, and much more.

The next 20 minutes will be spent on guided reading and independent reading.  Independent readers will read their selected texts chosen from a selective offering of materials, dependent on the theme for the week (i.e. fiction, non-fiction, and etc.).  This is the time for application of the strategies learned from the teacher-led read aloud session.  Students will journal in their Reflection Journals as they read and use sticky notes to track their observations and reflections in their texts.  Throughout the week, students will alternate meeting with me to show me their reflections so that I may assess and document their understanding.

Meanwhile, guided reading will be conducted with rotating small groups.  Students are grouped by instructional needs and/or by level.  Students will alternate reading their texts aloud within the small group, concluding with a discussion or Q and A of the text.

In the final 10 minutes of Reading Workshop, we will meet as a class to share what we have read and what we have learned during independent reading.  We will revisit the reading strategies discussed earlier and students will share how they were able to apply the strategy, what they discovered, and any other relevant connections that can be drawn.

Daily Word Work is used to supplement Reading Workshop.  Spelling lists and sight words are studied weekly and tested on Fridays.  Word Work consists of a variety of activities and worksheets such as games, personal dictionary, word tracing worksheets, word sorts, word banks, and worksheets.

Content area reading will extend from the reading strategies discussed each day.  These strategies will be applied as we approach other subjects and drawn upon as applicable.  This method will help students to quickly memorize strategies as they consistently revisit them throughout the day.  We will discuss as a class how to best tackle subject learning (for example, a social studies lesson on branches of government) and which strategies to use (for example, a graphic organizer).

To continue learning, I will utilize the Raz-Kids website and application.  Raz-Kids is an interactive tool for literacy instruction which includes thousands of books for every reading level.  Each book can be read via the website, app, or can be printed.  Students must complete three levels in order to earn points for each book read: first, the book is read aloud to the student; then, the student reads the book to themselves; last, the student completes a reflective quiz on the book.  Points accumulate as students complete their quizzes in order to advance to the next reading level.  Teachers, students, and parents each have their own gateway to monitor progress and provide feedback.

Reading Workshop requires several imperative materials:

  • A large “meeting carpet” for students to sit upon when we meet as a class.
  • An extensive library of books varying in levels and genre.
  • A Raz-Kids subscription.
  • Devices and/or netbooks/laptops to access Raz-Kids.
  • A printer to print worksheets and Raz-Kids books.

These materials, combined with the methods elaborated above, will provide a comprehensive literacy block to foster reading and reading strategies that can be applied to all learning.

Reading Approaches


Approach Description Advantages Disadvantages
Basal Teaches reading by employing books, workbooks, and activities in a sequence that progresses by building upon previously learned skills. Books coordinate with grade-level standards

Sequential program

Assessment materials included

Lack of variety

Lack of differentiation

Typical, repetitive assignments

Literature-Based Teaches reading through exposure to literature and the analyzation of text. Higher level thinking skills

Authentic literature

Improves and increases vocabulary due to variety and range of literature

Less structure

Takes more effort on teacher’s part to plan/develop

Method varies depending on literature used; inconsistent across schools

Reading Workshop Teaches reading through teacher-led mini lessons in which students learn a skill or strategy through demonstration and direct instruction, then proceed with work time to apply the lesson. Students develop independence in reading


Differentiated instruction

Challenge with sustaining silent reading

Does not teach foundational skills

May be a struggle keeping students on task

Language-Experience Promotes reading through the use of personal experiences and oral language by combining all four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Individualized instruction

Easily integrated into other subjects

Time consuming

Lacks structure and vocabulary control

Requires leaving the classroom


Reading Program

My reading program would incorporate a combination of the each of the four following reading instruction approaches: reading workshop, literature-based, basal, and language-experience. I believe there are advantages that can be pulled from each of these approaches and, when combined, produce a high quality and enriching reading program.  Therefore, my program would pull qualities from each.

A facet that I find beneficial from the reading workshop approach is the opportunity for independent reading and scaffolding.  Students are given time to read for themselves on their own, followed by peer-to-peer opportunities in which students share what they have read, thus fortifying their analytical and presentation skills.

I think it’s important to primarily focus on leveled reading materials from the reading workshop approach.  However, whenever possible, literature should be introduced alongside corresponding levels.  This is so students may learn and practice their text analyzation skills as well as read for fun rather than just for sake of progress.  I believe this crucial factor will encourage a love for reading.

The basal approach inspires the sequential aspect of my reading program.  Reading materials should proceed sequentially as it pertains to grade and skill level.  Students can proceed as they need, at their own pace, building upon the skills they obtain from previous, completed levels.

Lastly, my reading program would also incorporate the language-experience approach by including all four language skills in the instruction and implementation.  Just like with the reading workshop approach, students will read their selected materials, speak of what they’ve read with their peers/reading buddy, listen to their peers/reading buddy’s retelling, and integrate a coordinating writer’s workshop.  Whenever possible, personal experiences from multiple sources would be incorporated in effort to support and celebrate diversity on top of the existing reading instruction.

Tale of Two Schools

  1. Jill Todd had just completed a degree in elementary education, yet she didn’t know how to teach reading. Who is responsible for making sure teachers are ready to teach?

The teacher him- or herself, as well as the administration for supplying the teacher with any required program training and materials they may need.


  1. Even though Bearden had purchased a comprehensive, research-based reading curriculum, the children there weren’t reading well. What are other elements that go into creating a successful reading program? What could your school do to improve its reading program?

A successful reading program should address phonemic awareness, letter distinction, print concepts, decoding, comprehension, spelling, written expression, and more.  Currently my children’s school has a reading intervention program that focuses mostly on comprehension, as that is the area in which most students that enter the intervention program struggle.  I think more attention should be spent on comprehension during regular reading instruction.


  1. Todd experienced great improvement in her teaching skills over the course of the year, but she felt bad about not being better trained for the first part of the school year. What yardsticks can teachers use to gauge their own success?

Ways to gauge success as a teacher would include following the progress of your students.  Test students in the beginning of the year and then, frequently test them as they progress throughout the year so that their skills can be regularly compared.  Student progress is often a direct reflection of a teacher’s success, barring any unaided learning disabilities or roadblocks a student may possess/encounter.


  1. Jill Todd seems to struggle with teaching reading until she receives training from the Project Read team. Louisa Moats, former National Institutes of Health reading researcher, tells us that teaching reading is rocket science. What makes teaching reading such a challenge?

Teaching reading is a challenge because there are so many different ways students learn, and so many different levels students may be.  Also, reading is not a natural, innate ability.  While language is an innate skill we as humans are born with, it is the spoken form and not written language.  Therefore, written language is a learned ability, and the speed and ease of learning reading varies greatly from student to student.

Double Journal Entry assignments required a full reading and comprehension of assigned texts, outline of key points from those texts, and accompanying personal reflections of those key points.  Entries are derived from the following textbooks:

Creating Literacy Instruction For All Students, by Thomas G. Gunning
Phonics They Use: Words for Reading and Writing, by Patricia M. Cunningham

Entry 1
Chapter 1: The Nature of Literacy (Gunning)
Chapter 15: The Theory and Research (Cunningham)
Chapter 16: Phonics Terminology for Teachers (Cunningham)

Entry 2
Chapter 4: Fostering Emergent/Early Literacy (Gunning)
Chapter 2: Phonological and Phonemic Awareness (Cunningham)

Entry 3
Chapter 5: Teaching Phonics, High-Frequency Words, and Syllabic Analysis (Gunning)
Chapter 3: Concrete Words, Letter Names, and Sounds (Cunningham)
Chapter 10: Rhyme-Based Decoding and Spelling Activities (Cunningham)

Entry 4
Chapter 7: Comprehension (Gunning)
Chapter 4: Making Words in Kindergarten (Cunningham)
Chapter 9: Making Words to Learn Spelling patterns (Cunningham)
Chapter 12: Decoding and Spelling Big Words (Cunningham)

Entry 5
Chapter 2: Teaching All Students (Gunning)
Chapter 11: Approaches to Teaching Reading (Gunning)
Chapter 5: Fluency Activities (Cunningham)
Chapter 6: High-Frequency Words (Cunningham)

Entry 6
Chapter 12: Writing and Reading (Gunning)

Entry 7
Chapter 3: Assessing for Learning (Gunning)
Chapter 11: Assessment (Cunningham)

Entry 8
Chapter 13: Creating and Managing a Literacy Program (Gunning)

I conducted a 3rd Grade Case Study in which I designed a series of lesson plans in order to implement and demonstrate learned content from the Theory and Principles of Reading Instruction course.

The “Baker School” assignment entailed designing lesson plans to accommodate various reading levels and literacy needs across the elementary grade levels.  I collaborated with two fellow aspiring teachers to create the below lesson plans.

Group 1: Your lesson will involve 5 students who do not know all of their letters and sounds.
Group 2: Your 5 students know their letters and sounds but can only recognize initial sounds.
Group 3: Your 5 students can only rhyme with the word families –at and –it. You need them to rhyme with –op and –ot.
Group 4: Your 5 students know their letters and sounds but cannot recognize similar initial sounds
Group 5: Your 5 students know all letters and sounds; can rhyme; can count syllables; can produce and recognize initial, medial, and final sounds; and can substitute sounds when asked.