Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Researchers examining how reading aloud to young children helps them become better readers have found that children develop stronger literacy skills when adults insert small references to printed words. These references include pointing out specific words on the page, showing capital letters, and showing how sentences move from left to right on the page.

“Preschool children whose teachers used print references during storybook reading showed more advanced reading skills one and even two years later when compared to children whose teachers did not use such references. This is the first study to show causal links between referencing print and later literacy achievement,” Science Daily reports. (See also “Small Change In Reading To Preschoolers Can Help” from National Public Radio and “An Easy Trick that Helps Preschoolers to Read” from the Atlantic.)

“’Using print references during reading was just a slight tweak to what teachers were already doing in the classroom, but it led to a sizeable improvement in reading for kids,’ said Shayne Piasta, co-author of the study and assistant professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State University. ‘This would be a very manageable change for most preschool teachers, who already are doing storybook reading in class.’”

Researchers from Project STAR (Sit Together and Read), based at Ohio State University, divided 300 children in 85 preschool classrooms into three groups as part of their randomized clinical trial to examine the impact of reading aloud to children in preschool classrooms. Teachers in two groups were trained to make specific references to print during story time. One group, the high-dose group, used this technique in four sessions a week over 30 weeks. A low-dose group used the technique in two sessions per week. The control group continued to read aloud without the specialized training. All teachers read the same books to the children, most of whom were from low-income families and entered the study with below-average language skills.

One and two years later, children in the high-dose classrooms showed greater decoding, spelling and comprehensions skills than children in the comparison group. Children in the low-dose group had only slightly better skills than children in control group classrooms. The study appeared in the journal Child Development.

“Piasta said it was particularly notable that students in the high-dose STAR classrooms scored higher on tests of reading comprehension,” Science Daily reports. “‘If you’re getting kids to pay attention to letters and words, it makes sense that they will do better at word recognition and spelling,’ she said. ‘But the fact that they also did better at understanding the passages they read is really exciting. That suggests this intervention may help them become better readers.’

“How do print references help preschoolers become better readers? Piasta said research suggests it helps children learn the code of letters and how they relate to words and to meaning.”