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Age and schooling effects on the development of early literacy and related skills

By Anna Julie Cunningham


There is evidence to suggest that age (natural maturation and informal\ud experience) and schooling (formal instruction at school) have differing effects on the\ud development of cognitive skills between the ages of 5 and 7. There is also evidence that\ud children who start learning how to read later in childhood make faster progress than\ud those who start earlier in childhood. However, previous studies on reading development\ud have typically confounded age with length of schooling. The current thesis investigates\ud the separate role of each on the development of early literacy and related skills by\ud comparing matched groups of children differing in either exposure to formal reading\ud instruction or chronological age. Two longitudinal studies are presented, with seven key\ud findings.\ud Chapter 2 presents a cross-sectional study (n = 93) comparing a group of later-schooled\ud 7 year olds with two control groups at the beginning of their first year of\ud reading instruction (earlier-schooled ‘reading controls’ and earlier-schooled ‘age\ud controls’). First, it was shown that vocabulary and short-term verbal memory skills\ud developed with age, not schooling. Second, it was found that phoneme awareness can\ud develop in the absence of formal reading instruction, and that this was more likely to\ud happen in older than younger children.\ud Chapter 3 presents a longitudinal study (n = 61) following the progress of the\ud first two groups from chapter 2; a group of Steiner-educated 7 years olds (later-schooled\ud group) and a group of standard-educated 4 year olds (earlier-schooled group) during\ud their first two years of formal literacy instruction. Results showed that the older age and\ud superior reading-related skills of the first group did not lead to faster progress in\ud reading, and in fact this group showed worse progress in spelling. The good progress of\ud the earlier-schooled group was attributed to more consistent and high quality phonics\ud instruction.\ud By comparing the predictors of reading and spelling in the two groups presented\ud in chapter 3, chapter 4 showed that the skills underlying literacy development were\ud similar in older and younger beginning readers, but that instructional emphasis on letter-sound\ud knowledge in the earlier-schooled group reduced its power as a predictor.\ud Chapter 5 used mediation analyses to show that letter-sound knowledge led to\ud phonological awareness, which in turn led to reading in the earlier-schooled children, an\ud effect which was attributed to the method of synthetic phonics instruction administered\ud to these children. No significant mediation was shown in the later-schooled group.\ud Chapter 6 presents a longitudinal study (n = 45) of the first two years of\ud schooling in a standard school using the cut-off design. Results revealed that a dynamic\ud measure was more effective than a static measure for measuring phoneme awareness in\ud young children. Finally, there was an effect of both age and schooling on the\ud development of phoneme awareness and early reading and spelling skills.\ud These studies demonstrate that age-related factors in addition to schooling play a\ud significant role in the development of reading-related skills. However, although there\ud was evidence of an age effect on literacy skills during the first year of standard\ud schooling (chapter 6), there was only limited evidence of such an effect over a larger age\ud range (chapter 3). In conclusion, it is suggested that concerns that age 4-5 is too early to\ud learn to read are unfounded, and that a delay in school entry age will not necessarily\ud lead to benefits in the acquisition of reading

Topics: BF, LB1501
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:3901

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