The Path to Reading Success or Reading Failure: A Choice for the New Millennium

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Contribution to Book

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Literacy in African-American Communities


Joyce L.. Harris, Alan G. Kamhi, & Karen E. Pollock


Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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The path to proficient reading begins well before children receive formal reading instruction in school and continues until they can recognize words accurately and with little effort. Most normally developing readers develop accurate, effortless word recognition skills in the first few years of elementary school. The period of time before formal reading instruction has come to be known as the period of emergent literacy. From birth until the beginning of formal education (age 5 or 7 in the United States), children growing up in literate cultures accumulate knowledge about letters, words, and books. How much literacy knowledge children acquire during this period depends on how much exposure they have to literacy artifacts and events as well as their interest and facility in learning. At one end of the continuum are children from low-literacy hoes who have little exposure to literacy artifacts and events, as well as children who have language-learning problems. These children begin school without much literacy knowledge. At the other end of the continuum are children from high-literacy hoes who have the linguistic and cognitive skills to soak up knowledge about spoken and written language. Particularly precocious children may enter kindergarten with relatively proficient word recognition skills. In this chapter, we begin by considering the types of knowledge children from high-literacy homes acquire during the emergent literacy period. In the second part of the chapter, studies are reviewed that compare the early literacy experiences of children raised in high- and low-literacy families. In the final part of the chapter, we consider other factors that contribute to reading failure, as well as the kinds of programs and changes in teacher education necessary to prevent and reduce reading failure in this country.


Originally published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. (now Routledge). Limited preview available through remote link.