Early Literacy Instruction As A Tool to Increase Equity

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 1 in 3 American children start Kindergarten without the skills they need to learn to read. Children introduced to reading early on tend to read earlier and are more likely to excel in school than children who are not exposed to language and books at a young age. Reading, rhyming, singing, and talking, beginning at birth, profoundly influence literacy and language development, which are the foundations for all other learning. Intentional early literacy instruction is critical for all students, but even more for those who enter school lacking fundamental skills. In fact, intentional early literacy instruction is a lever for future academic success for all students.

In October 2019, Tennessee’s LIFT Network released their annual report titled Sustaining Our Progress in Early Literacy which referenced baseline data from 2016 that indicated that observed literacy programs and classroom practices were not providing K-5 students with high-quality literacy programs that were aligned to the demands of Tennessee’s rigorous standards. It also revealed that teachers and leaders had not yet made the instructional shifts that support students in becoming proficient readers, writers, and thinkers. In response to LIFT’s work, districts must expand and support the use of standards-aligned instructional materials through thoughtful curriculum adoption and ongoing professional development in order to build the capacity of teachers and leaders to deliver standards-aligned literacy instruction. This is important for students to not only meet the more challenging literacy standards in the earlier grades, but also for giving them the skills they need to excel across content areas throughout their entire academic career.

High-quality instructional materials and professional capacity serve to optimally support early literacy when they co-exist and are given equal merit. Standards-aligned instructional materials must be leveraged to meet the needs of diverse learners while supporting all students in reaching the rigor of the standards, and the capacity of teachers must be built through professional learning and development. As a result of dual curricular and instructional supports, student ownership of the cognitive work of making meaning and demonstrating understanding of complex ideas, information, and arguments in high-quality text is fostered and realized.

As a Kindergarten teacher with 26-year tenure in a community embracing a steady increase of English Language Learners, I have found that strong, intentional, systematic, and thoughtful instruction for English Language Learners is simply high-level teaching rooted in research-based best practices. Planning for diverse learners does not require implementation of progressive strategies, but rather reliance on sound practices. Subsequently, sound practices result in positive learning outcomes for ALL students.

As Tennessee educators continue to strive to educate our students to become 21st century learners, there is a stronger focus than ever on real-world skills. Our standards focus on ensuring students can analyze, think critically, explain their reasoning and support a position. In other subject areas, students must describe how they solve complex equations, or create and test a scientific hypothesis. In order to understand and carry out all of these tasks, students need to have a strong foundation of literacy and writing skills in place. As educators, we cannot do that without ensuring that we are equipped with the training and materials we need to provide intentional early literacy instruction.

Christy Grubb currently serves as a Kindergarten teacher in Sevier County in East Tennessee. With a tenure of twenty-five years as an early elementary educator, Christy is dedicated to the development of early literacy as a foundational lever and predictor of reading success. While serving as a Model Classroom teacher within her home district and as an EPP (Educator Preparatory Program) evaluator for Colleges of Education across the state, Christy has influenced teacher training and helped to build knowledge capacity for educators at various levels of professional experience.