Promising Findings on Preschoolers’ Emergent Literacy and School Readiness in Arts-Integrated Early Childhood Settings

Phillips, R.D., Gorton, R.L., Pinciotti, P., & Sachdev, A. (2010). Promising Findings on Preschoolers’ Emergent Literacy and School Readiness in Arts-Integrated Early Childhood Settings. Early Childhood Education Journal, 38, 111 - 122.

Abstract:

This quasi-experimental study examines the implementation of a performing and visual arts integrated arts professional development model (Art as a Way of Learning – AWL) within an integrated arts program (Promoting and Supporting Early Literacy through the Arts – PASELA) designed to improve literacy in three community-based early childhood education (ECE) settings. The arts integration approach was created to improve the school readiness and emergent arts and literacy skills of at-risk preschoolers in an impoverished area of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. ECE teachers were trained using the AWL model to facilitate an arts-based approach to learning, and each ECE setting was visited by two artists of different specializations (visual, theater, music, or dance/movement) for ten-week cycles. A community-based partner provided a theater-based literacy residency for each ECE setting for eight-week cycles.

Twelve artists and fifteen ECE teachers participated in the arts and literacy program over 13 months. The study sample was made up of 181 children of preschool age whose early reading skills were tested before and after their participation in the program. Results showed improvement on literacy and school-readiness skills that is comparable to other cited literacy-related interventions. Confounding variables (including range of ages at start of program, using several different art modalities, sample loss, and inconsistent length of program exposure) may have been a leading factor to the marginal results of this study. Researchers suggest an experimental design with control and/or comparison groups as a next step.

Key Findings:

  • ELSI (Early Learning Standards Inventory) - Most children significantly improved from pre to post-test on teacher-rated ELSI performances in Language and Literacy, Approaches to Learning, and Creative Arts.
  • GRTR (Get Ready to Read) - The majority (71%) of children improved on the GRTR. Pre-post improvement in this area was statistically significant. Pre-scores were just under the level of reading-instruction readiness, and post-scores were within the desired range.
  • PPVT (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test IIIA&B - Only 56% of children improved on this assessment. However, the almost two-point average improvement did reach statistical significance.
  • TERA (Test of Early Reading Ability III) - Only 40-50% of children improved on the TERA subtests. Nevertheless, improvements on the Alphabet and Meaning subtests were found to be statistically significant. There was also modest improvement on the Overall Reading score.

Significance of the Findings:

These findings suggest that integrating the arts in ECE emergent literacy programs may present promising effects on learning-related, emergent-literacy and school-readiness skills of high-risk preschoolers.

Methodology:

The preschoolers’ early reading skills were assessed by an independent assessor before and after their participation in the program. Four standardized assessments were used: the ELSI (Early Learning Standards Inventory), GRTR (Get Ready to Read), PPVT (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test IIIA&B, and TERA (Test of Early Reading Ability III). Results were then analyzed for statistical significance.

A private community-based childcare organization and Head Start program each accounted for 40% of the sample of 181 children. The remaining 20% of this population came from a private parochial school. More than half the students in this sample were Hispanic.

The teachers and artists participated in a 30-hour pre-service training, with ongoing training and supervision provided throughout the remainder of the program. A literacy/arts coach provided individualized mentoring and consultation to the ECE teachers and artists at least twice a month.

Limitations of the Research:

This study would have produced stronger results had the researchers included experimental and control groups to rule out confounding variables. It is unclear whether the improvements seen in the children’s test scores are related to their participation in the emergent literacy program or one of several alternative explanations (i.e., placebo effect or child maturation). Including ECE settings that are not predominantly Hispanic or in high-risk areas would also be ideal, as this program may produce outcomes related to the different cultures and socio-economic levels. Analyzing the different effects of the various art modalities would indicate which provides greater impact.

Questions to Guide New Research:

In the future, researchers can add depth to this research by conducting similar studies using an experimental design with control groups to rule out confounding variables. Moreover, including other races, ethnicities, cultures, residential areas, and socio-economic statuses may provide additional information on how this emergent literacy program could work for preschoolers across the U.S. Assessing the affects of specific art modalities may help narrow the effects of arts integration in emergent literacy programs.