Ministries of education around the world have recently increased efforts to improve early grade reading instruction. Many of these efforts are supported by donor-funded programs. In order to improve reading skills, these programs typically target four levels of reading instruction: classroom learning, teachers, the institutional systems, and the community.
1. Classroom Learning
Early grade reading programs work to ensure that the classroom provides a safe environment for children, one that makes them want to learn language, reading, and writing skills. First, language is at the heart of reading, and the choice of the language that children first learn to read in is important. In multilingual environments, children come to the classroom with different levels of familiarity with the different local languages. But regardless of the language, children must develop their vocabulary and ability to express themselves by speaking (or orally) and to understand others’ speech (or listening comprehension). Children need an abundance of quality reading materials to read to support the development of these skills.
For languages that use alphabetic writing systems like English or Filipino, early reading begins with the development of:
- Concepts of print—the awareness that books and texts carry meaning and represent language.
- Sounding out words—the awareness of the distinctive speech sounds in the language as well as learning the relationships between those sounds and letters in order to decode or recognize words.
For languages that do not use alphabetic writing systems, such as Chinese, Khmer, and Hindi, early reading skills still involve mapping sounds to symbols. Children learning to read in these languages must also learn the concept of print, sounding out words or phonological awareness, and how to the decode symbols of the writing system.
EGRAs can be modified to address the unique characteristics of different writing systems. In Nepali, for example, the assessment measures children’s ability to identify matras. Matras are units of two letters that are combined with a symbol (such as an accent or other mark) to change the sound of the vowel. Two or more matras form a word.
Early grade reading programs also focus on helping teachers use effective and inclusive teaching techniques to help all children learn and to monitor the children’s progress. Programs help teachers refine their teaching skills by ensuring that courses on teaching reading and writing are included in the teacher’s pre-service or in-service training. Such training can include teaching and learning materials, such as teacher’s guides with structured lesson plans.
Recognizing that teacher professional development is an ongoing process, many programs also support teachers through regular classroom visits by coaches or mentors. Teachers are encouraged to support and learn from one another by meeting together regularly in “teacher circles” to focus on improving their teaching.
3. Institutional Systems
Teachers and classrooms do not operate in a void. Effective early grade reading programs also may focus on changing institutional education systems by supporting policies and procedures that affect reading instruction. These include policies and procedures related to the language(s) of instruction; teacher training, certification, assignment, and supervision; curriculum standards and benchmarks; national assessments (including in some cases, EGRA); book provisioning; budgeting and expenditure; and monitoring and accountability, among other things. Programs also support the administrators at various levels, including the school leadership, to implement these policies and procedures effectively.
Finally, early grade reading programs recognize that the family and community play a vital role in supporting children’s literacy. They often include initiatives aimed at promoting a general “culture of reading” (where reading is widely practiced and valued), increasing children’s access to opportunities to read outside of school, raising community awareness about the literacy progress and needs of children, and encouraging family involvement in the achievement of literacy goals.