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Action Step and Orientation

E2. Provide a language- and literacy-rich environment in early childhood settings.

In this lesson, you and your site/campus-based leadership team will learn about the components needed to create language- and literacy-rich learning environments in early childhood settings.

In Part 1, you will learn how to consider and review the components of a language- and literacy-rich environment.

In Part 2, you will learn how to begin implementing the components of a language- and literacy-rich environment.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—Considering the Components of a Language- and Literacy-Rich Environment

By providing a language- and literacy-rich environment in our early childhood classrooms, we are preparing young children to have strong literacy foundations that will serve them well during elementary school. To build these foundations, we must include key components and take action steps. These key components must be understood by leaders and staff in order to be implemented in early childhood classrooms.

The domains that support early literacy include oral language vocabulary development, early reading that includes listening and responding to a variety of stories, letter knowledge, phonological awareness, and early writing. In literacy-rich classrooms, teachers and staff know how to respond consistently to the needs and interests of children, show excitement and interest in the characters and situations in stories, and have conversations with children daily to model and scaffold language.

Teachers skilled in creating literacy-rich environments do the following:

  • Read a variety of appropriate and engaging books daily, including both fiction and nonfiction
  • Display books and other literacy materials in the classroom in appealing and accessible locations (e.g., arrayed on a shelf at the children’s level rather than out of reach or piled in a messy heap)
  • Teach children book-handling skills, such as how to orient a book correctly, open and close a book, turn pages gently, and put a book back in its proper place when finished
  • Remember that building vocabulary is a daily responsibility for teachers of young children
  • Keep books in good repair and model how to care for and fix books that need repairs (e.g., taping ripped pages)
  • Find ways to model writing and assist children in developing early writing skills (Note: This is appropriate for preschoolers but not for infants or young toddlers.)
  • Include phonological awareness activities and games in the daily lesson plan and schedule
  • Talk about the letters in the alphabet, discuss the characteristics of letters, and help children play games to learn the names and sounds of the letters (Note: This is appropriate for preschoolers but not for infants or young toddlers.)
  • Provide time and space for children to explore literacy materials (e.g., books, child-friendly magazines, etc.), and support children as they discover and ask questions about what they experience with the materials

In addition, teachers in language- and literacy-rich environments routinely observe, record, and assess children’s behaviors and skills. They plan their instruction based on these observations, the state guidelines, program requirements, and the interests and needs of their children.

As leaders, you want to be aware of what the youngest children in your communities need in order to develop high levels of literacy. This will allow you to create a detailed plan to meet these children’s needs. The following two documents will be helpful: the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015) and the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines. Both documents give detailed information about what should be provided in your classrooms to develop early language and literacy. They suggest appropriate and engaging activities that will help children develop literacy and leave prekindergarten ready for kindergarten.

By being aware of and educated about these guidelines, you will be able to share the information with your instructional staff. Having a systematic plan to deliver this professional development will ensure that all your staff complete initial training and have a basic understanding of early literacy. At the training, all staff members will need a copy of the guidelines for the age of the children they are teaching. This will better prepare them when returning to the classroom. Armed with the appropriate professional development and a copy of the guidelines, your staff will possess basic knowledge of what is appropriate for early literacy development.

You might include the following steps as part of your professional development plan:

  • List all the staff working with children 0–SE.
  • Consider a plan for professional development for both the 0–3 and prekindergarten staffs to introduce the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines and the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines. (See the To Learn More section for links regarding professional development on these documents.)
  • Decide when and where you can provide the professional development for both groups.
  • Plan to give all early childhood staff a copy of the appropriate guidelines/documents for the age group they work with in their classrooms.
  • Create a checklist to record all staff who have received the training.
  • Consider how you will provide professional development for any new staff who enter your program after the start of the year.
  • Plan to discuss with your site/campus-based leadership team how to use the guidelines and how the guidelines can be incorporated into lesson plans.
  • Plan to provide follow-up support in the classrooms on how to implement the ideas in the document.

Although having the guidelines is helpful, you need to make sure your classrooms have strong curriculum that provides literacy activities and ideas. Several curricula that align with the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines appear on the state-adopted list. There are also many other manuals, magazines, books, and websites that can help with curriculum ideas and activities. These curricula and other resources will contain hands-on ideas to make learning pre-literacy skills fun for children. These materials also contain ideas to support growth and learning in all the key literacy components. As leaders, you will need to create a plan to inventory your early childhood classroom curriculum and resources so that you know what supplies and materials are available at your sites or campuses. As you review available materials, you can also begin thinking of how you will fill the gaps. The attached sample checklists of materials for both prekindergarten and infants and toddlers might help you determine what you need to build a strong early literacy foundation.

Another important component that will help your staff succeed in delivering early literacy lessons is a very specific schedule. Your schedule needs to allow time for various teaching strategies across the day, including time for all the literacy domains. Your schedule, based on the age and needs of the children in the classroom, should also include time for one to three large-group lessons daily; small-group, pre-literacy lessons for all children daily; individualized instruction; and exploring classroom materials in centers each day. Your schedule will be influenced by whether you have a half- or whole-day program. It is a good idea for your staff and site or campus leaders to discuss and review the schedule together, as well as the expectations for the schedule, before the school year begins.

As you consider what is needed in early childhood classrooms to support early literacy development, you will find that an easy-to-use lesson plan is another important component. As leaders, you need to create or locate a lesson plan template that is easy to understand and use and then provide your staff with the necessary professional development on how to use the lesson plan template.

A lesson plan template can be unique to your center or site. Whatever format you develop, you should include space for these important elements in any early childhood lesson plan:

  • Current literacy objectives and skills
  • How literacy domains will be addressed
  • Books to be read to children
  • Vocabulary words to be introduced and used during the week
  • Writing children will see or do
  • Letter names, characteristics, or sounds that will be taught or reviewed (for preschoolers)
  • Phonological awareness skills to be introduced or reviewed
  • Transition games, songs, or finger plays to be included
  • Thematic connections
  • Fine and gross motor activities
  • All other domains in the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, including math, science, and social development
  • Current observations, portfolio entries, or assessments
  • Suggestions and opportunities to build family partnerships
  • Grouping format for each activity (large or small group)

You will want to be aware of all the components of early literacy and how you can best support the teaching staff in building early literacy foundations in your classrooms. State guidelines, a carefully chosen curriculum, early literacy resources, professional development, well-thought-out schedules, and clear and well-designed lesson plans are tools that will help you and your program.

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TO LEARN MORE: The resources below provide many literacy ideas to use with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

ZERO TO THREE: Early Literacy and Language Tips and Tools contains circle time and transition songs, rhymes, and finger plays in both Spanish and English.

The Texas Early Learning Council contains professional development modules for the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines.

The Children’s Learning Institute contains professional development for the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines. This development was produced for the 2008 version of the guidelines; however, it will be equally helpful in understanding the updated, 2015 version of the guidelines as well.

ZERO TO THREE: Early Experiences Matter offers tips for encouraging literacy in your infant and toddler programs.

Part 2—Supporting the Components of a Language- and Literacy-Rich Environment

After you have reviewed your program to evaluate which components are in place, you will be ready to take your next steps. You will consider what curriculum, materials, or professional development is needed to create and provide a language- and literacy-rich environment for your early childhood classrooms. You will then begin to order the materials you need to fill gaps and provide the needed professional development to support early literacy at your site or campus.

As leaders, another important step is making sure that your expectations are clearly stated and shared with your teaching staff so that they know what to include in their weekly and daily schedules. These expectations should include teaching the five main components of early literacy on a daily basis: oral language and vocabulary development, letter knowledge, phonological awareness, early writing, and experiences hearing and responding to a variety of books.

Your leadership team needs to send a clear message regarding how instructional time should be spent in supporting the development of the five components of early literacy. As leaders, you may need to have initial and/or ongoing staff meetings to explain or clarify your expectations about scheduling. To accomplish high levels of pre-literacy, children need appropriate schedules, including enough time to practice all five components of early literacy daily.

After you determine your schedules and share them with staff, you will be ready for the next step: to create a comprehensive lesson plan template that supports your schedules and pre-literacy skills components. This template will need to be thoroughly explained and modeled for your staff through appropriate professional development. By providing a comprehensive template and professional development to explain its use, you will be more likely to receive complete and appropriate lesson plans that demonstrate a strong focus on early literacy. As leaders, you will need to follow up by evaluating and providing feedback to teachers regarding their completed weekly lesson plans and then by visiting classrooms regularly to observe the level of implementation and children’s language and pre-literacy development.

The feedback may include discussion about how effectively children are learning, how engaging the language and pre-literacy lessons are, how well prepared staff is, how effectively materials are being used, how consistently the five pre-literacy components are incorporated each day, and how regularly the staff consult data to help them plan instruction. After visiting the classroom, effective leaders help staff set goals and follow up on the progress and attainment of those goals. These leaders also remember to document, validate, and praise their staff’s efforts toward achieving the current goals and objectives.

Outstanding leaders take many steps to support early language and literacy development. As we have discussed, supporting early literacy encompasses not only purchasing state-adopted curriculum and supportive materials but also providing professional development and supporting staff as they receive training and knowledge about the following key elements:

  • Effective instruction in pre-literacy skills. Professional development and teacher support should strengthen teachers’ knowledge of effective instructional practices for children aged 0–SE. These practices include creating a stress-free and responsive learning environment and delivering well-planned language and pre-literacy lessons that focus on the five components of early literacy. Teachers should also be skilled in deciding which pre-literacy skills to teach and in what formats (small vs. large group), as well as how to effectively conduct small-group activities with appropriate grouping strategies. Teachers should also develop their skills in choosing quality books and using appropriate formats for modeling writing (e.g., morning message, daily news, and various graphic organizers for preschool-age classrooms).
  • Using assessments to guide instruction. Teachers should be supported in learning how to use developmental checklists, observations, and assessments to help plan teaching strategies.
  • Classroom management. Teachers should be supported in arranging a print-rich learning environment that is organized and allows space for all students to participate appropriately. Also, professional development should support teachers in effectively establishing rules, routines, and schedules that support a literacy-rich classroom.
  • Knowledge of 0–SE development. Teachers should also increase their knowledge and familiarity with the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines and the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines.

As you continue taking steps toward implementing the components of early language and pre-literacy in the classroom, you will need to track your staff’s professional development. The attached document for early literacy with preschoolers may be helpful for recording the professional development that your staff receives. You and your staff may adapt the form for teachers of infants and toddlers.

The following scenario is an example of a literacy- and language-rich prekindergarten classroom in an early learning center. This is what can happen when a teacher receives excellent professional development and is supported by a knowledgeable administrator.

Scenario: Miss Morgan has received professional development and has had ongoing conversations with her site manager about pre-literacy skills, scheduling in the prekindergarten classroom, and appropriate lesson planning. She is currently doing a one-month theme on animals and has planned to do two weeks on a subtheme of birds.

Her director, Miss Rosario, reviews her lesson plans and notices strong thematic connections, reference to the curriculum, and focused literacy activities. The director observes that the lesson plan includes many of the core elements of a literacy-rich classroom, which were included in training that Miss Morgan received.

In her lesson plan, Miss Morgan includes both fiction and nonfiction books about birds that she plans to read and place around the room. Her lesson plan is focused on the components of early literacy and includes an activity to assess children’s learning of skills:

  • She has targeted and listed intentional thematic vocabulary words to teach her children.
  • She has a writing activity demonstrating the parts of the bird.
  • She has planned for the children to create a class book called All About Birds.
  • She will focus on the letter names and sounds “b” for bird and “c” for cardinal.
  • She has planned to do informal observations of the children’s ability to clap syllables during her small-group lessons.

Miss Morgan has designated small- and large-group formats for activities in her lesson plan as follows:

  • In small group, she plans to review syllables and have children practice clapping the syllables in the names of various birds, their body parts, and habitats.
  • She has preselected words for the letter wall and planned several letter wall activities that will occur during large-group circle time.

Miss Morgan also plans to incorporate effective and fun transitions throughout her lesson, along with planning for gross and fine motor skills. She also plans to use the bird theme in other areas such as math and science. She includes these components in her planning:

  • She has a song and a nursery rhyme about birds to use for transitions.
  • She plans to use a small stuffed cardinal as an attention getter.
  • For science, she plans for her children to record which birds visit the bird feeder.
  • For math, children will sort pictures of various local birds by type of bird.
  • She plans for her dramatic play center to be adapted into a bird store.
  • In the block center, she plans for children to create birdhouses.
  • She will include an art activity called “feather painting.”

Miss Rosario visits the classroom on Wednesday morning. She sees implementation of the lesson plan throughout the room and hears Miss Morgan doing a read-aloud from the book Owl Babies. There is an engaging exchange about owls and their habitats between Miss Morgan and the children and a review of the target vocabulary from the book. Two of the vocabulary words from the book are added to the letter wall, and Miss Morgan conducts successful letter wall activities.

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TO LEARN MORE: The following website contains guides for hands-on activities with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers that might be helpful in planning for language- and literacy-rich classrooms: Center for Early Literacy Learning.

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on your team’s progress in providing a language- and literacy-rich environment, you may want to consider some of the following next steps:

  • Become familiar with the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015) and Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines.
  • Assess the need for professional development and make a professional development plan.
  • Inventory and assess needs for language and literacy materials.
  • Develop, adopt, or adapt a lesson plan template.
  • Provide language and pre-literacy development instruction and opportunities related to the guidelines, lesson planning, and/or use of materials, and then document the professional development.

Assignment

E2. Provide a language- and literacy-rich environment in early childhood settings.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step E2 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings 0-SE

In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:

  • Refer to Part 1 for information about important components of a language- and literacy-rich environment.
  • Refer to Part 2 to learn about steps that leaders can take to implement and support a language- and literacy-rich environment.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your site or campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.

References

Batsche, G., Elliott, J., Graden, J. L., Grimes, J., Kovaleski, J. F., Prasse, D., & Tilly III, W. D. (2005). Response to intervention. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Inc.

Coleman, M. R., Roth, F. P., & West, T. (2009). Roadmap to pre-k RTI: Applying response to intervention in preschool settings. Retrieved from http://www.ncld.org/?attachment_id=1486

Greenspan, S. I., and Meisels, S. J. (1996). New visions for the developmental assessment of infants and young children. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.

McAfee, O., Leong, D. J., and Bodrova, E. (2004). Basics of assessment: A primer for early childhood educators. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).