As I’ve discussed in this blog before, our brains are hard-wired for speech, but learning to read and write means cracking the code that links all the meaningless (at first) squiggles on a page to the spoken word. The printed word proves to be quite a challenge for many children, especially those who are dyslexic or at risk for future reading difficulties.
Project STAR — which stands for Sit Together And Read — involved 550 at-risk four-year-olds from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes (income under $25,000, and mothers with a high school diploma or less). The students came from 85 classrooms, and each participating teacher was provided with 30 books to use during group reading with the class.
What was the small change in reading technique? While reading to the preschoolers, the teachers specifically pointed out individual letters, words, and capital letters and demonstrated that we read from the top of the page down, and from left to right.
It seems quite simple, even intuitive, doesn’t it? Maybe for adults, but we are already readers. These concepts are new to four year-olds, and helping them become familiar with these patterns of reading before they are able to read makes an impressive difference.
How much of a difference? The follow-ups at 1 year after the program were inspiring: kids who had four sessions of targeted reading per week scored significantly higher on word reading, comprehension, and spelling ability.
Two years after the program, the benefits were still noticeable: kids who had four sessions per week scored over 30% higher on spelling, comprehension, and word reading skills than the control group.
The takeaway here is that by demonstrating how the printed word works to our preschool children, we can help them crack the code and lay a solid foundation for reading that is the cornerstone of education. The sooner our kids can learn to read, the sooner they can read to learn.