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December 2020


What research has been conducted on emergent literacy?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on emergent literacy. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed emergent literacy. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Bailet, L. L., Zettler-Greeley, C., & Lewis, K. (2018). Psychometric profile of an experimental emergent literacy screener for preschoolers. School Psychology Quarterly, 33(1), 120-136.
    From the abstract: "Home literacy activities influence children's emergent literacy progress and readiness for reading instruction. To help parents fulfill this opportunity, we developed a new Emergent Literacy Screener (ELS) and conducted 2 studies of its psychometric properties with independent prekindergarten samples. For Study 1 (n = 812, M[subscript age] = 54.4 months, 49.4% male, 46.1% white) exploratory factor analyses (EFA) supported a 5-factor structure. EFA and item calibration supported the removal of 10 items from the original 30 test items. The resultant 20-item ELS demonstrated good reliability (Cronbach's alpha = 0.83) and significant positive correlation, r = 0.50, p < 0.001 with a standardized emergent literacy measure, Get Ready to Read-Revised. For tudy 2 (n = 959, M[subscript age] = 53.5 months, 52.3% male, 60.3% white), confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) supported a bifactor model, which captured direct effects of 5 specific subfactors and an overarching emergent literacy factor. Using a cut score of 15, the ELS demonstrated moderate sensitivity (0.71) and specificity (0.61). Negative predictive value was high, whereas positive predictive value was low. Overall the ELS demonstrated acceptable psychometric characteristics for use by parents of prekindergarten children, providing a promising new tool for universal emergent literacy screening and an opportunity to identify where children are in their emergent literacy development. Implications for further research and practice are discussed."
  2. Carroll, J. M., Holliman, A. J., Weir, F., & Baroody, A.E. (2019). Literacy interest, home literacy environment and emergent literacy skills in preschoolers. Journal of Research in Reading, 42(1), 150-161.
    From the abstract: "Purpose: Children's literacy interest is positively associated with their literacy attainments. However, interest in literacy activities, particularly for younger children, is likely influenced by their home literacy environment (HLE), which may also be bound up with socio-economic factors, such as parental education levels. Method: In the present study, we examine whether literacy interest, HLE and socio-economic status (SES) make independent contributions to emergent literacy skills. Fifty-five preschoolers aged 4 to 5 years completed a self-report measure of interest in literacy and three emergent literacy tasks. The parents provided information on SES and HLE. Results: Children's literacy interest explained nearly 25% of the variance in emergent literacy skills after controlling for HLE and SES (which also made significant contributions). Conclusions: The findings underscore the importance of literacy interest, independent of HLE and SES, and highlight the role that children themselves play in choosing their literacy environments."
  3. Hannon, P., Nutbrown, C., Morgan, A. (2020). Effects of extending disadvantaged families' teaching of emergent literacy. Research Papers in Education, 35(3), 310-336.
    From the abstract: "Intervention to raise the literacy achievement of disadvantaged groups in society has focused on preschool literacy development because it is predictive of later educational achievement and because research has shown that key strands of literacy emerge very early in childhood. Intervention programmes to promote emergent literacy are likely to be more effective if they involve families rather than children alone but meta-analyses reveal effect sizes for family-based programmes are variable and generally lower for disadvantaged families. This article suggests reasons for limited effectiveness and reports a study of a preschool intervention programme that used a particular conceptual framework, and approach, in working with families to extend their facilitative (rather than instructional) teaching of several strands of emergent literacy. Disadvantaged families with three-year-olds were invited to join a long-duration, lowintensity programme before school entry. Home visiting was a core component of the programme, alongside community based and centre-based activities, supplemented by other means of communication. A randomised controlled trial, involving 176 families, was used to investigate effects on children's literacy at the end of the programme and two years later. The intervention was found to be effective; effects persisted at follow up for children of mothers with low educational levels. Practice, policy and future research implications are discussed."
  4. Heilmann, J. J., Moyle, M. J., & Rueden, A. M. (2018). Using alphabet knowledge to track the emergent literacy skills of children in head start. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 38(2), 118-128.
    From the abstract: "Having strong alphabet knowledge early in life is a powerful predictor of long-term reading and academic outcomes. Upon tracking the alphabet knowledge of 172 children enrolled in their first year of Head Start, we identified that most of the children could name fewer than 10 letters at the beginning of the academic year. Approximately, one third of the children with low alphabet knowledge in fall made significant progress and demonstrated mastery of 10 or more letters in spring. For the children who started the year knowing fewer than 10 letters, receptive vocabulary was the best predictor of who would make gains in alphabet knowledge throughout the year. In addition, most children who entered Head Start knowing fewer than 10 letters knew letters from their first names and the letters A, B, or O. Implications for the management of emergent literacy skills for children at-risk for academic difficulties are discussed."
  5. Neumann, M. M. (2018). The effects of a parent-child environmental print program on emergent literacy. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 16(4), 337-348.
    From the abstract: "Young children are surrounded by ubiquitous environmental print (e.g. signs, product labels) on a daily basis in their homes and communities. Parent-child interactions with environmental print has the potential to foster emergent literacy. A randomised controlled pre-posttest study was conducted to examine the effects of a parent-child environmental print programme on emergent literacy skills (letter knowledge, letter and name writing, print concepts, environmental print reading, numeral name knowledge). Parent-child dyads (N = 32, M child age = 3.63 years) participated in an 8-week (30 minutes per week) programme that used multisensory strategies to identify, trace and write letters and words embedded in environmental print. At post-test, the environmental print group showed improvements across all measures, making significant gains in letter knowledge and environmental print reading. These findings highlight potential benefits of coaching parents to use environmental print to support aspects of young children's growth of emergent literacy skills."
  6. Neumann, M. M., Neumann, D. L. (2017). The use of touch-screen tablets at home and pre-school to foster emergent literacy. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 17(2), 203-220.
    From the abstract: "Young children living in technology-based communities are using touch-screen tablets (e.g. iPads) to engage with the digital world at an early age. The intuitive touch-screen interface, easily downloadable apps (applications) and mobility of tablets drive their increasing popularity with pre-schoolers. This review examines research to date on tablets, apps and emergent literacy in young children in the home and at pre-school. Evidence is building that suggests tablets have the potential to foster emergent writing and letter knowledge. Although the impact of tablets on emergent literacy is not yet fully known, developing themes highlight potential benefits and hindrances of tablets for emergent literacy. Two important considerations are the quality of emergent literacy apps and the importance of scaffolding young children's use of tablets at home and pre-school to support emergent literacy development. Directions for future research and recommendations for parents and teachers are discussed."
  7. Özkür, F. (2020). Analyzing motor development and emergent literacy skills of preschool children. International Education Studies, 13(4), 94-99.
    From the abstract: "Children start to gain basic literacy skills during preschool that they will constantly be depended on for their academic activities in primary school. Through learning shoulder girdle strength, fine motor skills, and eye-hand coordination, the foundation of motor skills is developed. Examining the effects of motor skills on emergent literacy skills could provide helpful information on the associations among motor and, reading and writing development. The purpose of this study was to analyze 5 years old children's motor development and emergent literacy skills. The sample of the study consisted of 160 preschool children from main district of Istanbul. Dumans TMB scale and OYHB scale was used for data collection purposes. Results showed that majority of the preschool children (68%) participated in the study had insufficient level of emergent literacy skills. This group's motor development score was also significantly lower than instructional group. Pearson correlation analysis showed that there was a positive and medium level correlation between the scores of motor development and emergent literacy in both groups. It has been suggested that preschool children's motor skills should be taken into account for their emergent literacy skills development."
  8. Piasta, S. B., Groom, L. J., Khan, K. S., Skibbe, L. E., Bowles, R. P. (2018). Young children's narrative skill: Concurrent and predictive associations with emergent literacy and early word reading skills. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 31(7), 1479-1498.
    From the abstract: "Narrative skill is included in emergent literacy frameworks and believed to be important for children's early reading development. Yet, empirical evidence concerning associations with other emergent literacy skills and later word reading skills is limited. We comprehensively assessed the emergent literacy skills of 3- to 5.5-year old children (n = 243), along with their word identification and decoding skills 2 years later. Narrative skill was modestly associated with all measures of emergent literacy. Narrative skill predicted word reading skills in univariate models but not after accounting for other emergent literacy skills. Further analyses showed that associations between narrative and word reading skills were fully mediated by other emergent literacy skills. When considered in light of prior work indicating associations between narrative skill and reading comprehension, these indirect associations between narrative and early word reading suggest a second pathway by which narrative skill may support reading development."
  9. Piasta, S. B., Soto Ramirez, P., Farley, K. S., Justice, L. M., & Park, S. (2020). Exploring the nature of associations between educators' knowledge and their emergent literacy classroom practices. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 336, 1399-1422.
    From the abstract: "Educators' content knowledge is considered a key determinant of classroom practices and thus children's learning. In this study, we examine the nature of associations between early childhood educators' literacy content knowledge and their classroom emergent literacy practices. Specifically, we apply generalized additive modeling to consider three hypotheses regarding the functional form of these associations: (1) educators' content knowledge must reach a threshold before demonstrating associations with practice, (2) educators' knowledge is associated with practice until reaching a plateau, or (3) educators' knowledge is linearly associated with practice. We measured educators' (n = 437) content knowledge using an adaptation of the Moats (1994) knowledge survey, observed their classroom practices in the fall and spring of one academic year, and applied standardized coding schemes to code the latter with respect to the quality and quantity of emergent literacy practices. In general, results indicated positive, linear associations between educators' knowledge and classroom practices. We discuss findings relative to prior work and conjectures concerning these associations as characterized by thresholds or plateaus. We also discuss implications for future research, preservice educator preparation, and inservice professional development. [For the corresponding grantee submission, see ED602573.]"
  10. Rohde, L. (2015). The comprehensive emergent literacy model: Early literacy in context. SAGE Open, 5(1).
    From the abstract: "The early skills of Emergent Literacy include the knowledge and abilities related to the alphabet, phonological awareness, symbolic representation, and communication. However, existing models of emergent literacy focus on discrete skills and miss the perspective of the surrounding environment. Early literacy skills, including their relationship to one another, and the substantial impact of the setting and context, are critical in ensuring that children gain all of the preliminary skills and awareness they will need to become successful readers and writers. Research findings over the last few decades have led to a fuller understanding of all that emergent literacy includes, resulting in a need for a new, more comprehensive model. A new model, described in this article, strives to explain how emergent literacy can be viewed as an interactive process of skills and context rather than a linear series of individual components. Early literacy learning opportunities are more likely to happen when teachers have a solid knowledge base of emergent literacy and child development. Research has shown that preschool teachers with limited knowledge about literacy development are significantly less able to provide such experiences for children. Teachers will be better able to facilitate all of the components of emergent literacy if they have access to, and understanding of, a model that describes the components, their interactions, and the importance of environmental factors in supporting children."
  11. Strang, T. M., & Piasta, S. B. (2016). Socioeconomic differences in code-focused emergent literacy skills. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 29(7), 1337-1362.
    From the abstract: "In the present study, we examined patterns of code-focused emergent literacy skill growth for children from lower and higher socioeconomic (SES) families enrolled at a high-quality early childhood center. Measures of letter name knowledge, letter sound knowledge, alliteration, and rhyming were collected at three time points over the course of the year. Additionally, standardized measures of print knowledge and phonological awareness were collected at the end of the year. Growth curve analyses indicated SES-related differences in initial status, but no differences in rate of growth. Initial status predicted end-of-year print knowledge. Both initial status and SES predicted end-of-year phonological awareness. These results suggest that gaps in code-focused emergent literacy skills exist earlier than previously documented with no evidence of compensatory or Matthew effects."
  12. Terrell, P., & Watson, M. (2018). Laying a firm foundation: embedding evidence-based emergent literacy practices into early intervention and preschool environments. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 49(2), 148-164.
    From the abstract: "Purpose: As part of this clinical forum on curriculum-based intervention, the goal of this tutorial is to share research about the importance of language and literacy foundations in natural environments during emergent literacy skill development, from infancy through preschool. Following an overview of intervention models in schools by Powell (2018), best practices at home, in child care, and in preschool settings are discussed. Speech-language pathologists in these settings will be provided a toolbox of best emergent literacy practices. Method: A review of published literature in speech-language pathology, early intervention, early childhood education, and literacy was completed. Subsequently, an overview of the impact of early home and preschool literacy experiences are described. Research-based implementation of best practice is supported with examples of shared book reading and child-led literacy embedded in play within the coaching model of early intervention. Finally, various aspects of emergent literacy skill development in the preschool years are discussed. These include phonemic awareness, print/alphabet awareness, oral language skills, and embedded/explicit literacy. Results: Research indicates that rich home literacy environments and exposure to rich oral language provide an important foundation for the more structured literacy environments of school. Furthermore, there is a wealth of evidence to support a variety of direct and indirect intervention practices in the home, child care, and preschool contexts to support and enhance all aspects of oral and written literacy. Conclusions: Application of this "toolbox" of strategies should enable speech-language pathologists to address the prevention and intervention of literacy deficits within multiple environments during book and play activities. Additionally, clinicians will have techniques to share with parents, child care providers, and preschool teachers for evidence-based literacy instruction within all settings during typical daily activities."
  13. Thomas, N., Colin, C., & Leybaert, J. (2020). Interactive reading to improve language and emergent literacy skills of preschool children from low socioeconomic and language-minority backgrounds. Early Childhood Education Journal, 48(5), 549-560.
    From the abstract: "Children with low socioeconomic status and language-minority backgrounds generally have weak precursory skills (language and emergent literacy) for learning written language. These skills can be stimulated through interactive reading sessions. Our innovative study for French-speaking Belgium aimed to evaluate the effects of an interactive reading intervention in kindergarten classes, including children with a low socioeconomic status and a language-minority background. The convenience sample consisted of eight schools with differentiated teaching in Brussels city-center. The treatment group, which benefits from interactive reading sessions, include 11 classes (N = 194) and the control group was comprised of eight classes (N = 91). The teachers of the treatment group worked with their class during 30 sessions of interactive reading (3 sessions/week). Pre and post-intervention language and emergent literacy measures were conducted. Children from the treatment group evolved significantly better in postintervention for language (vocabulary, morphosyntax) and emergent literacy skills (print awareness, letter knowledge and phonological awareness), compared to the control group. The implications for kindergarten curricula are discussed."
  14. Westerveld, M. F., Trembath, D., Shellshear, L., & Paynter, J. (2016). A systematic review of the literature on emergent literacy skills of preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Special Education, 50(1), 37-48.
    From the abstract: "A wealth of research has been conducted into emergent literacy (i.e., precursors to formal reading) skills and development in typically developing (TD) children. However, despite research suggesting children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at risk of reading challenges, limited research exists on their emergent literacy. Thus, we aimed to systematically review emergent literacy research with this population. Database searches from 1995 to 2015 yielded three articles that met inclusion criteria. Results suggested both strengths and challenges in emergent literacy skills in children with ASD. Significant links between emergent literacy skills and both oral language and nonverbal cognition were also found. The findings highlight the need for further research; future directions and implications are discussed."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Emergent literacy

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.