The study took place in five elementary schools in a suburban school district in the western United States. Each school had one full-day preschool classroom and two half-day preschool classrooms. All classrooms were taught in English only.
The mean age for the 132 children randomized into small groups was 4.11 years. There were 74 females, and 48 children were identified as dual language learners (DLLs) as indicated by their parents. Enrollment in the preschool classrooms was determined by low-income eligibility thresholds.
The decontextualized alphabet instruction and contextualized alphabet instruction differed in that decontextualized instruction only included letters while contextualized instruction included letters with an associated word. Decontextualized instruction included the following components: Introducing a new letter on a card by pointing and saying the letter, asking children which letter they have and what the letter sound is, playing an animal game where children had to feed an animal that started with the letter on the card, a cumulative review of letters, and a speed practice where children were given 10 seconds to say and stamp 12 letters. Contextualized instruction included the following components: daily review of letters taught with a word (e.g., B, Bear), introduce the new letter as story reading where the instructor displays a letter card with a target letter from the book, find the new letter in children's name cards, little word book cumulative review, and speed practice and a review day. In all of the components, students partook in activities in which reference was made to single letters that were presented in the context of a name or word and a series of tasks involving the letter names and/or letter sounds took place. Letters were never presented in isolation.
In both conditions, instruction focused on 10 letters (A, B, D, F, H, I, K, M, S, and T), with one new letter taught per week over the course of 10 weeks during 12-15 minute lessons. In both conditions all letters were taught in the same order, presented in uppercase, and letter names and letter sounds were taught. In both conditions children were prompted to say the target letter name and sound 16 times, plus additional times during review and book reading.
Contextualized instruction included the following components: daily review, introduce the new letter as story reading, find the new letter in children's name cards, little word book cumulative review, speed practice and a review day. In all of the components, students partook in activities in which reference was made to single letters that were presented in the context of a name or word and a series of tasks involving the letter names and/or letter sounds took place. Letters were never presented in isolation.
Support for implementation
Instructors were hired by the study and were provided with a one-day, eight-hour training on the implementation of the conditions, which was presented by the first author. Training stressed the importance of eliciting accurate responses from children, providing explicit models of precisely articulated letter names and letter sounds, and providing correct responses with child repetition on errors. Prior to instruction, all of the instructors visited the preschool classrooms in which they were assigned to teach, met the children, and introduced procedures for transitioning into small groups and participating in activities. Treatment integrity was determined via live observations of small groups in each condition.