Rural Early Literacy Initiative

Each year, approximately four million young children across the nation make an enormous transition, one that will affect the rest of their lives. Most of these children make the transition at the age of five, some wait until they were six or seven. This transition is, at the same time, monumental and completely ordinary, worthy of research and accomplished with little fanfare.

These children make the transition to school. They leave the routines of their homes and early learning programs and join their peers at school. Some of these children have spent full days in early learning environments from infancy, others have experienced part-day early learning programs during the pre-school years. Still others have never experienced a classroom or learning environment outside of their homes. In all their variation and uniqueness, they arrive at school.

Why This Matters

Important research from the fields of child development and early education make it clear: Children’s successful transition to school creates a firm foundation for lifelong learning and achievement. When schools and classrooms are ready for students, student learning is supported and enhanced, and the foundation for achievement is established.

Factors that Influence Success

The tasks of kindergarten and first grade build from and enhance children’s social and cognitive development.

In the area of social development, school provides opportunities for children to communicate effectively with others and build relationships with peers and adults. Also, school invites children to participate in scheduled and structured activities. Children’s ability to work independently, follow directions, work well with others and attend to teacher talk requires self-regulation that maximizes their potential for responding to the opportunities and invitations at school.

In the area of cognitive development, children are learning so much in the early years, and more importantly, children are learning new ways to learn. One of the most important ways that children and adults in our society learn is through language and literacy. Consequently, one of the major tasks for kindergarten and first grade is to prepare children to be communicators at school and to acquire the skills to become successful and fluent readers who can comprehend what they read.

Professional Development Activities

In partnership with rural school districts, we are identifying the specific needs of rural educators in helping struggling learners succeed. Initial feedback indicates that rural teachers face several obstacles in helping these children: location, time, opportunity.

To combat these obstacles, we are creating professional development activities that can be delivered during summer workshops and throughout the school year, in face-to-face settings and/or through technology (e.g., telephones, computers, internet).

Additionally, our model of professional development balks at the frequent practice of “dump and run” where teachers are given a set of written materials during a training session with no subsequent support to ensure successful application. Instead, we combine teacher in-service training with ongoing collaborative consultation in the schools.

Central to our professional development activities is a model for consultation that reduces teacher isolation and increases teacher efficacy, in using strategies for struggling learners. Our model for consultation with rural teachers is called LEEP (Listen, Empathize, Encourage, Problem-Solve).

Based on this model that includes diagnostic teaching as central to problem solving we have developed a set of strategies that teachers can use to help struggling learners.

Rural Early Literacy Initiative Staff

Dr. Lynne Vernon-Feagans - Principal Investigator

Dr. Kirsten Kainz - Project Coordinator

Dr. Peg Burchinal - Investigator

Dr. Kate Gallagher - Investigator

Dr. Steve Knotek - Investigator

Dr. Joe Sparling - Investigator

Dr. Barbara Wasik - Investigator

Dr. Pam Winton - Investigator

Pledger Fedora - Staff

Marnie Ginsberg - Staff

Jason Rose - Staff

Tim Wood - Staff