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The 6 Key Components of a Childhood Literacy Program

A child getting speech therapy.

Language literacy in its many forms is fundamental for the childhood developmental process and children’s later success in life. Moreover, directives from the U.S. department of education show that children are expected to know how to write at younger and younger ages to keep up with classmates and peers around the United States. For this reason, childhood literacy programs can be a great help for both students that are struggling with literacy and those who do not struggle but have room for improvement

In this article, we will discuss in general terms what a childhood literacy program is, and then we will go on to explain the 6 key components of a childhood literacy program. Upon reading this article, you will have a much better idea of what a childhood literacy program is and whether or not a childhood literacy program would be a good fit for your child or children.

What Is a Childhood Literacy Program?

A basic definition of a childhood literacy program is a program that aims to help children master a form or multiple forms of literacy skills through support and important resources. Of course, there are adult learning programs and adult education programs for adult literacy, as well as programs for all grade levels. However, this article will focus specifically on childhood literacy programs.

Some childhood literacy programs partner with schools, training classroom teachers to better help their students achieve literacy goals. Others provide tutors for individuals or groups outside of the classroom, though these can still be partnered with schools. Some programs focus on helping young children with literacy disabilities through speech, reading, and writing therapy, often assisting children to succeed in life where they may have otherwise struggled to thrive in a world so dependent on speech, reading, and writing.

For childhood literacy programs, researchers and practitioners have identified 6 key areas of literacy that cover what a child needs to achieve full literacy. These are sometimes referred to as the ‘Big Six,’ and they include phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and writing.

In the following, we will talk about what each of these components means, why they are important for literacy, and how childhood literacy programs can help children master the ‘Big Six.’

Why Early Childhood and Childhood Literacy Matters

When a child learns a love of reading at an early age, they will have greater general knowledge and expanded vocabulary. In addition, reading builds improved attention spans and better concentration skills. Literacy opens opportunities for academic success. This allows your child to pick up necessary knowledge and information by mastering effective literacy strategies.

Moreover, self-confidence and independence become rooted in your child when they learn to read. It promotes maturity, increases discipline, and lays a basis for moral literacy. Satisfy their curiosity with explanations of how things work while exposing them to problem-solving techniques. Your child’s creativity and imagination will bloom, as well as their curiosity about people, places, and ideas.

Finally, exposure to literacy at a young age leads to improved linguistic skills, a richer vocabulary, improved grammar, higher quality writing, better spelling, and more precise oral communication, ultimately carrying over to elementary school, middle school, high school, and beyond to professional development.

A child getting speech therapy.

Childhood Literacy Programs: The Six Key Components

1. Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear that a spoken word is made up of a series of discrete sounds. This is not just important in English, but phonemic awareness is critical for any language that has an alphabetic writing system. Phonemic awareness is an important component of a good literacy program for a few reasons:

(1) Teaching phonemic awareness allows for greater printed word recognition; (2) Teaching phonemic awareness teaches children to identify, understand, and manipulate sounds in spoken words; (3) Teaching phonemic awareness helps teachers recognize if students will have trouble with reading and spelling.

Research from the National Reading Panel suggests that the more phonemic awareness a child has before school is a good determinant factor of how well that child will learn to read. The National Reading Panel also asserts that phonemic awareness is the precursor to phonics instruction.

Phonemic awareness is a necessary component for phonics instruction to be effective because the students need to connect the units of the written word to the sounds in the spoken word. Phonemic awareness is also a vital component in a child’s success in learning how to read. The NRP suggests that including phonemic awareness is a necessary component in the process of teaching children how to read. The NRP states that those who promote the use of phonemic awareness believe that including phonemic awareness as a component in literacy programs may finally prevent the massive rehashing that English instruction goes through every five to ten years.

2. Phonics Instruction

The next step for students is to learn phonics or the actual letter-sound correspondences. As these understandings fall into place, students can decode. Initially, they may recognize familiar words on sight, but gradually they should apply what they know about letter-sound correspondences to decode words as they read and to encode words as they write. Thus, besides learning letter-sound patterns, beginning readers must become fluent in decoding—the process of segmenting letter-sound patterns within words and blending them back together to access that word in their lexicon.

According to Dorthey Strickland, a veritable powerhouse when it comes to writing about phonics instruction, strong teachers teach these skills explicitly with detailed explanations, modeling, and practice. In these ways, teachers demonstrate the utility of the sophisticated concepts and skills students are working on mastering.

Students should also be encouraged to try the skills out themselves by reading simple text or writing on their own. This mixing of explicit instruction and practice activities strengthens students’ understanding and confidence as beginning literacy users. Students can also practice phonics skills by taking dictation from teachers; the resulting products give teachers valuable informal data about students’ understanding of letter-sound correspondences and letter formation.

3. Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary can be defined as the knowledge of words and their meanings. The purpose of teaching vocabulary is for children to understand words and to use them to acquire and convey meaning. Vocabulary is an important component of a literacy program because the more words that a child knows and understands the more the child will comprehend when reading.

Vocabulary is an important component in a successful literacy program because: (1) Vocabulary knowledge increases comprehension, which is vital to a child’s ability to do well in school; and (2) A greater vocabulary increases a child’s ability to read and write with fluency.

A few ways to increase a child’s reading vocabulary is to have them learn high-frequency words and have them read from a wide range of sources of both fiction and non-fiction.

4. Fluency

Practice in reading simple texts and reading their writing contributes to students’ development of fluency or reading smoothly with accuracy and expression. When students’ word identification becomes fast and accurate, they have freed up some “cognitive space” to draw on their broader knowledge of the language and comprehend what they are reading.

Teachers model fluent reading when they read aloud to students, especially as they pause for punctuation or change their voice to show expressiveness. Teachers also model prosody, a component of fluency that is most prominent in reading poetry with inflection and rhythm. Prosody also refers to how the tone of voice and inflection conveys meaning in oral language—for example, the way one expresses sarcasm or irony. Teachers demonstrate prosody in their oral reading and can explicitly explain what they are doing as they read by asking how the change in inflection changes the meaning implied by the words on the page.

As teachers help students become fluent readers, they need to reassure them that fluency means reading with comprehension, not merely saying the words as quickly as possible. Teachers model this distinction in their oral reading by pausing to question the meaning of words, the implications of word choice, or other aspects of the texts they are reading.

It's important to recognize that fluency is critical to a student’s motivation to read. When students struggle to sound out letters and words, reading can become an exhausting task and students may begin to think of reading as a negative activity. Thus, much attention and hard work should be put into this stage. Here are some examples of ways to help increase fluency:

1. Modeled reading instruction: hearing teachers read connected to reading materials and poetry is one of the best ways to learn how fluent reading sounds.

2. Oral Reading: either students read together or they practice with a more experienced reader and echo what the experienced reader says.

3. Digital Software: Digital software can offer students a great resource for hearing fluent reading or facilitating fluency practice through instructional materials.

5. Comprehension Instruction

Comprehension is the ultimate goal of learning to read. Even beginning readers benefit from instruction that introduces them to various strategies to help them understand different kinds of texts and their text structures.

Part of beginning comprehension instruction is a teacher “externalizing” or modeling the comprehension strategies mature readers use automatically. The daily read-aloud period is ideal for this instruction—so long as teachers remember that merely reading aloud isn’t enough. Students need to be actively involved in asking and answering questions, making predictions or explaining characters’ motivations or other actions in what they are hearing.

Comprehension instruction is most effective when teachers have access to high-quality children’s literature in various genres, representing different cultural backgrounds and experiences. One of the great advantages of introducing students to reading comprehension skills through independent reading is that the experience reinforces that the students can become successful readers.

Some useful methods for comprehension instruction are as follows:

1. Using text structure: teachers can introduce students to the “clue words” used to show the structure of different types of texts; for example, the clue words both, alike, and different are often found in compare and contrast texts.

2. Engaging students in discussion: during read-alouds, teachers can periodically ask students to summarize what has happened and to predict what will happen. English language teachers should also ask higher-level questions, such as those addressing the motivations for characters’ actions.

3. Careful selection of texts: rich narratives with clear plots and character development and informational texts that are accurate and well-structured make comprehension instruction easier and make it easier for students to feel invested in improving their reading skills.

6. Writing Instruction

Most young students will—if given opportunities—become writers. Initial efforts may be part drawing and part writing, with words spelled as students “hear” them while subvocalizing what they want to say. These early efforts also demonstrate young learners’ understanding of orthography and syntax, for example, that writing flows from left to right across a page.

Gradually, students’ writing becomes more complex and expressive–their writing skills increase– especially if students receive explicit instruction on the writing process, that is, the recursive steps a writer uses to compose text. The steps in the writing process include initial planning, drafting, sharing with the teacher or peers to get feedback, revising per the feedback, editing for clarity and mechanics, and evaluating the final written product. As students learn to evaluate their own and others’ writing, they look for clarity of expression, thoroughness of ideas, and other features of good writing.

As with reading, explicit writing instruction that draws on and builds students’ understanding of language will be most effective. Students benefit from instruction on handwriting, spelling, sentence structure, grammar, and other skills. Still, teachers also need to model writing for their students and point out the features of good writing during read-alouds and other instructional interactions. For example, pointing out how dialogue in a story is punctuated reinforces explicit instruction on using quotation marks in writing conversations.

The *7th* Component of a Literacy Program

This seventh component, though not on the list of topics covered in a literacy program, is just as important as the preceding six components mentioned. This seventh component is high-quality instruction. High-quality instruction is absolutely essential for many children to achieve literacy and go on to become well-equipped readers and writers.

At the California Scottish Rite Foundation, we have for many years been dedicated to providing the highest quality literacy development education programs to children all over the United States, and in particular, California. Through our literacy programs and providers, students will move through the six key components, taught by highly trained and competent instructors and tutors specializing in developmental literacy.

Moreover, our RiteCare Learning Centers across the state of California offer our services absolutely free of charge, because we believe that children deserve eligibility for the best education and empowerment no matter how much their parents are able to pay. Additionally, we have partnered with universities to support teacher training in literacy instruction, as well as speech-language pathology.



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