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Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy

Landscape Report on
Early Grade Literacy
Landscape Report on
Early Grade Literacy
August 26, 2016
Suggested citation: Kim, Y.-S. G., Boyle, H. N., Zuilkowski, S. S., & Nakamura, P. (2016).
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy. Washington, D.C.: USAID.
Young-Suk Grace Kim,1 Helen N. Boyle,2 Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski,2 and
Pooja Nakamura3
1 School of Education, University of California at Irvine
2 College of Education and Learning Systems Institute, Florida State University
3 American Institutes for Research
The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reect the views of the
United States Agency for International Development.
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The authors of this report wish to thank the
Learning Systems Institute at Florida State
University, University Research Co., LLC–
Center for Human Services (URC-CHS), especially
Reading within Reach Community of Practice,
the “thought leaders” within the international
development and early grade reading worlds who
consented to be interviewed for this report, the
Landscape Report Advisory Board, and USAID.
The Learning Systems Institute is the leading
institution in Florida State University’s work in
international education and we are grateful for its
leadership and contractual management services.
We also want to thank Kaitlyn Hicks and Alexandra
Rosenbaum for their help with identifying and
compiling studies and documents. Gratitude is also
due to Dr. Marion Fesmire who contributed in the
initial stage of the work.
URC-CHS has provided invaluable support as the
contracting organization for this report with strong
leadership and unceasing advocacy for this work.
In particular, we thank Sakil Malik, Community
of Practice Director, for his skillful management
of this award. We are also grateful to Dr. Kim
Foulds, GRN’s Research Manager, Mary Ciambrone,
GRN Communication Coordinator, Newsha N.
Aboughaddareh, who worked on the graphics for the
report, and Kurt Mulholland, Director of Media at
URC, for his work in designing the report.
This report was enriched by the careful review and
feedback oered by our Advisory Board members:
Dr. Daniel Wagner of the University of Pennsylvania,
Dr. Catherine Snow of Harvard University, and Ms.
Norma A. Evans of Evans and Associates Education
Consulting. We are grateful for the careful and
thorough review of the report in its rst and second
draft stages.
We also thank the 15 “thought leaders” from various
parts of the international development/early grade
reading community for taking the time to participate
in interviews drawing on knowledge from their
hands-on experience in the eld. These interviews
were informative and in several cases led us to
additional reports and literature to examine.
Finally, we thank USAID, in particular, Dr. Penelope
Bender, Dr. Marcia Davidson, and Ms. Rebecca
Rhodes, for their critical and constructive feedback
at each stage of the process.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments ............................................................................................................................... iii
Executive Summary ........................................................................................................................... 1
Chapter 1. Introduction ...................................................................................................................... 3
Section A. Overview ...................................................................................................................... 3
Section B. Methods and levels of evidence ..................................................................................... 4
Section C. Situational and constraining factors to keep in mind ......................................................6
Section D. Organization of the report .............................................................................................6
Chapter 2. Key areas to successfully promote improved early grade literacy skills: Overview ................ 8
Section A. A framework for understanding reading development ...................................................... 8
Section B. Cross-cutting factors in literacy instruction .................................................................... 9
Chapter 3. Key areas to successfully promote improved early grade literacy skills: Content ................. 17
Section A. Emergent literacy skills: Foundations for word reading and spelling ................................ 17
Section B. Oral language skills: Foundations for reading comprehension ......................................... 25
Section C. Reading uency: Foundation for reading comprehension ................................................ 30
Section D. Reading comprehension ................................................................................................33
Section E. Writing for meaning .................................................................................................... 37
Chapter 4. Key factors and actors responsible for improving early grade literacy skills
in developing country contexts ........................................................................................................ 43
Section A. Promoting literacy in multilingual environments .......................................................... 43
Section B. Teacher knowledge and teacher education ..................................................................... 49
Section C. Parental and community engagement ........................................................................... 57
Chapter 5. Long-run considerations of literacy programs: Costs, nancing, scaling up,
and sustainability............................................................................................................................ 59
Chapter 6. Conclusion ....................................................................................................................... 61
References ......................................................................................................................................64
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 1
Executive Summary
The goal of this landscape report is to review
and summarize available empirical evidence
on early grade literacy acquisition and
instruction in developing countries. To achieve this
goal, papers with empirical data were searched,
identied, screened, and reviewed on topics that
included student-level factors (e.g., emergent literacy,
oral language), larger contextual factors within
which the student is embedded (e.g., home literacy
environment, language of instruction, and larger
system issues such as teacher education), and long-
run considerations (e.g., sustainability, costs, and
scaling up). The available empirical evidence was,
then, rated by topic as strong, moderate, emerging
or limited. The vast majority of studies reviewed
were project-based work with a comprehensive,
multicomponent approach, incorporating the 5Ts—
teaching, time, texts, tongue, and test. The Big
5 skills identied in the National Reading Panel
Report (National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development [NICHD], 2000)—phonological
awareness, phonics, reading uency, vocabulary,
and reading comprehension—were central in these
Our review of the evidence revealed that overall,
much progress has been made in the last decade.
However, the review also clearly indicated that
the vast majority of topical areas within the eld
of literacy in developing country contexts still
lack rigorous evidence, and there is much work to
be done. As shown in Table 1, the only area with
strong evidence was foundational literacy skills i.e.,
emergent literacy skills and word reading. A moderate
level of evidence is available at present about reading
uency and literacy instruction in multilingual
contexts. Although encouraging, this is not sucient
to inform the development community on how to
promote the higher-order, long-term goals of literacy
acquisition and instruction—reading comprehension
and writing (written composition).
Some directions for the future include a focus on
long-term perspectives and eorts. Although the
need to improve students' literacy skills is dire
and immediate, changing behavior (e.g., teachers’
instructional practices; student’s learning) takes
a long time (Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2005) and
therefore, requires sustained eorts. Furthermore,
reading comprehension and writing are high-order
Table 1. Levels of evidence for the various areas
reviewed in the this report
Topic Area Level of Evidence
Emergent literacy skills Strong
Oral language skills Emerging
Reading uency Moderate
Reading comprehension Emerging
Writing Extremely limited
Literacy in multilingual
environments Moderate
Teacher knowledge and
education Emerging
Parental and community
engagement Emerging
Long-run considerations
(costs, nancing, scaling up,
& sustainability)
“Once you learn to read, you
will be forever free.
— Frederick Douglass
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy2
skills that are built on the development of many
language and cognitive skills, which themselves
take time to develop. Thus, successful reading and
writing development to support students’ accessing
and producing complex ideas in written texts requires
quality instruction across multiple years, not just a
single year.
Another pattern that emerged in the review was the
need for greater standardization in the reporting
of international literacy improvement projects and
studies. We acknowledge that project reports often
serve dierent audiences and purposes. However,
from the perspective of reviewing evidence, certain
information is required to verify statements of
ndings. Consistency in reported information is
critical, especially for comparison and replication
purposes. Inconsistency was found in reporting
quality of measures (reliability1 and validity;
1 Reliability should be reported for survey measures, observation, and scores using rubric as well as direct student assessments. For
timed tasks, test-retest reliability or alternate form reliability are appropriate and internal consistency reliability such as Cronbach's
alpha is inappropriate (Anastasi & Drake, 1954). Inter-rater reliability should be reported for classroom observation and scoring using
rubric. Validity evidence includes correlations among measured skills.
2 In longitudinal studies or intervention studies, if dierent measures are used at dierent times (e.g., pre- and post-tests), equivalence
of measures in a construct (e.g., listening comprehension, reading uency) should be established. That is, if two forms of a listening
comprehension task are used in pre- and post-test, equivalence of those forms should be established prior to use.
equivalence of measures in longitudinal studies2),
process of assignment to conditions, sample attrition,
analytic approaches, basic statistical information
(means, standard deviations, bivariate correlations),
and eect sizes (e.g., Hedge's g or Cohen's d). Also
absent was description or reference to instructional
approaches in the treatment and comparison
conditions, which are necessary to understand the
context in which target treatment approaches work or
do not work.
Overall, this review substantiates the systematic and
systemic nature of literacy education. Promoting
successful early grade literacy instruction and
acquisition requires evidence-based, empirically
tested, and scientic approaches as well as eorts
of stake holders at multiple levels, from students,
parents, teachers, community members, and leaders
in the country.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 3
Chapter 1.
Section A. Overview
This Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy
takes stock of where we are, as a global
community of educators within the eld of
international development, in improving literacy
acquisition in the early grades in low-income
countries. Hence, the purpose of the report is to
review relevant, recent research coming principally
from developing country contexts on eorts to
improve early grade literacy learning and instruction.
The scope of this report includes reviewing evidence
from the eld on (1) what has worked in developing
countries; (2) what practices show promise at
this point even if the available evidence is not yet
denitive; and (3) what the gaps in the literature/
evidence base are. Within these large and overarching
goals, topics of examination and discussion include:
u Cross cutting aspects in literacy instruction:
Instructional time, assessment, and teaching and
learning materials, including ICTs
u Skill building in the following areas: emergent
literacy, oral language, reading uency, reading
comprehension, and early writing.
u Literacy acquisition in multilingual contexts
u Teacher knowledge, and teacher education practices
u Parental and community engagement
u Long-run considerations: costs, nancing, scaling
up, and sustainability of literacy programs
In this report, we dene literacy in a traditional
sense as the ability to read and write to gain and
produce meaning in context. This is aligned with
the UNESCO’s Aspects of Literacy Assessment
paper (2005) denition of literacy as “the ability to
identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate
and compute using printed and written materials
associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves
a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to
achieve his or her goals, develop his or her knowledge
and potential, and participate fully in community and
wider society.” (p. 21)
In 2010, the Early Grade Learning Community of
Practice3 published its landmark report “Early
Reading: Igniting Education for All” (Gove & Cvelich,
2010). The report, largely drawing on the National
Reading Panel’s Report (NICHD, 2000), laid out the
case for focusing on early grade reading and outlined
the extant evidence on how children learn to read.
The report synthesized existing research, much
of it from Anglophone and “developed” countries,
on teaching reading and highlighted the fact that
reading was not explicitly taught in many low-
income countries as a skill, much less a subject
in early grades curricula. The report presented
timely evidence from the application of the Early
Grade Reading Assessment tool (EGRA) showing
that children in many low income countries were
not learning the basics of reading. These ndings
catalyzed serious debate and action around the world
on the need to refocus basic education assistance
3 Early Grade Learning Community of Practice Members include educators, government ocials, and development practitioners,
all dedicated to improving learning in the early grades in low income countries. The report can be downloaded from:
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy4
programs on reading. Overall, the Gove and Cvelich
(2010) report galvanized much needed attention from
donors, INGOs, local NGOs and governments around
the issue of early grade reading. The international
development community took up the goal of
5Ts Framework
Many teachers in developing country contexts
have not had direct and explicit training in how
to teach literacy. Many curricula do not include
literacy as a discrete subject of instruction, hence
teachers are not trained to teach it.
The appropriate use of classroom time as well
as securing sucient time devoted to teaching
literacy is vital. Literacy needs to be taught
explicitly and directly, not as part of a larger
language lesson.
In countries all over the world, age- and level-
appropriate reading materials are lacking.
Children need texts to practice and develop
literacy skills.
Many children around the world do not learn to
read in a language they speak, much less their
mother tongue, and this situation can have
profound negative impacts on whether a child
learns to read in any language.
Instruction should be based on assessment
(testing) in order to identify those who are falling
behind and provide them ongoing support.
Tests—or assessments—allow policy makers,
teachers and others to keep the focus on student
learning and make adjustments in light of
students’ performance.
improving early grade reading as a prerequisite to
ensuring access to the knowledge that is a crucial
part of quality education for all children, especially in
developing countries.
In reviewing the evidence on early grade reading and
writing acquisition and instruction in the last decade,
it behooves us to discuss the 5Ts4 (Teaching, Time,
Texts, Tongue, and Test). Improving the acquisition
of reading and writing skills in the early grades
meant embarking on a steep learning curve for many
stakeholders. USAID, as a donor particularly active
in and committed to the improvement of early grade
reading and writing skills, developed the “5 Ts” as a
framework to use in scaling this learning curve and
producing sound, evidence-based policies, practices
and assistance programs (Gove & Cvelich, 2010). As a
framework, the 5Ts assist donors, governments and
NGOs to develop policies and direct resources toward
improving reading outcomes.
Section B. Methods and Levels of
The team reviewed a wide range of published
studies, including academic studies and
project-based research. Several data bases
such as ERIC and DEC were used, and a variety of
donors (e.g., GPE, DfID, USAID) and NGOs which
implement literacy projects worldwide were contacted
to obtain evaluation reports. We also asked for
recommendations from leaders (practitioners and
academics) in the eld regarding reports and articles
to review. Reviewed studies employed a mixture of
research designs in developing country contexts.5
Although randomized control trials are the gold
standard for causal inferences, it is not feasible to
implement randomized control trials on all topic
areas, and other types of studies (e.g., descriptive,
correlational, and quasi-experimental) are useful for
4 5Ts were adapted from Allington (2002).
5 The current review revealed many and deep gaps in the existing research in developing countries. Some topics have received minimal
attention in developing countries, but have been well studied in the US or Europe or other higher income countries and we make
reference to these as appropriate.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 5
varying purposes. It should be noted that articles
or papers without empirical data were not included
in the current review.6 In particular, in determining
strengths of evidence and evaluating the extent
of available evidence about improving early grade
literacy skills, only studies that employed designs
that allowed causal inferences (i.e., randomized
control and quasi-experimental studies) were
In addition to rigorously reviewing recent research
on early grade literacy, the team conducted a series
of interviews with “thought leaders” from donors,
INGOs, ministries, universities and others about their
experience as part of the international development
community working in and focused on early grade
literacy. These interviews were recorded, transcribed,
and analyzed. Hence, where applicable, we took
into account expert opinion, as long as they are in
line with defensible theories and interpretations of
The team used a framework for evaluating evidence
about early grade literacy adapted from the What
Works Clearinghouse standards, developed by the
Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department
of Education.7 Using this framework, evidence was
categorized into four levels: strong, moderate,
emerging, or limited. Strong evidence indicates
consistent, causal, and generalizable evidence in the
recommended practices. There is strong external
validity evidence with multiple studies employing
high quality causal designs for the given target
population.8 Moderate evidence indicates that
although evidence does exist about recommended
practices, strong causal conclusions cannot be
generalized to target population due to lack of
replication studies or causal ambiguity. Emerging
evidence indicates no clear evidence about causal
eects of the recommended practices due to lack
of studies, or conicting results. Limited evidence
indicates lack of evidentiary materials. When
determining levels of evidence, several factors were
taken into consideration including the number of
studies on the topic, the design and quality of the
studies, and target population (whether the studies
represent an appropriate range of participants and
settings so as to be generalizable in a given context
or with a given population), and expert opinions.
The level of evidence assigned to the ndings
represents the team’s judgment of the quality of the
existing research on the topic of improving early
grade literacy achievement in developing country
contexts. However, it does not represent a judgement
of the relative importance of the topic.
When reporting impact of an intervention or
instructional approach, we focused on eect sizes
for consistency and substantive reasons. Eect sizes
such as Cohen’s d or Hedge’s g are widely accepted
as standards of reporting. The following has been
widely used in the eld when interpreting the size
of eect sizes: small for eect sizes less than .3;
medium for eect sizes around .5; large for an eect
size larger than .8 (Cohen, 1988). However, this
guideline should be interpreted with a heavy dose
of caution because eect sizes should be interpreted
in the context of other studies and substantive
context (Cohen, 1988). For instance, many literacy
intervention studies in developing contexts have
reported large eect sizes (see below). This may be
due to improved literacy instructional approaches in
treatment versus control classrooms but may also
be due to extremely low levels of literacy skills at
6 Single case design studies were excluded due to limited generalizability.
7 Information about these standards is available at
8 Note that target population in this document refers to early grade children in developing countries. Although we acknowledge that
this is much broader than in typical studies including randomized control studies, this broad denition is in line with the goal of the
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy6
Section C. Situational and
Constraining Factors to Keep in Mind
Although the evidence base about eective
literacy instruction in developing contexts
is growing, gaps in our understanding
are large and many. This is likely due to unique
challenges in conducting rigorous research in some
developing country contexts. There is often lack of
research capacity, including trained researchers, data
collectors, statisticians, social scientists and the like.
Schools are often not accustomed to the presence
of researchers and are generally unfamiliar with
conducting site-based research. Ministries around
the world face challenges in terms of information
and data collection, human resource management,
nancing, tracking nancial ows, and assessment of
teachers, pupils and the system as a whole.
Likewise, the teaching and learning contexts in
many low income countries also present challenges.
Schools are frequently under-resourced (e.g. lack of
electricity, water, furniture, books, chalk, paper and
even buildings); teachers are generally untrained
or undertrained in eective teaching methods and
in the teaching of literacy specically; schools are
often remote and hard to reach; classrooms are often
overcrowded (especially in the early grades); and
incentive systems to motivate teachers and other
educators to do their work, to make extra eorts, and
in some cases to show up for work, are either weak
or nonexistent. Student and teacher absenteeism
is high. Curricula are often overcrowded with
content and facts to be memorized and skills are
not emphasized; national policies on textbooks and
readers often impede the selection or development of
appropriate materials. Conict and crisis situations
also impinge on students’ socioemotional health,
executive functioning, levels of stress and trauma
and ability to concentrate and learn in school. School
fees or the opportunity costs of schooling are often
too high for low income parents; corruption saps the
resources of the educational system; the culture of
reading in schools and communities is often weak
or nonexistent; and children often face challenging
home environments where parents do not have the
time, resources or expertise to devote to ensuring
school attendance, homework completion, reading
in the home or other appropriate reading support
activities; likewise, communities underestimate the
contribution they can make to children’s attainment
of literacy because so many members are illiterate
(Brombacher et al., 2012; Collins & Messaoud-Galusi,
2012; Gove and Cvelich, 2011; Harber, 2014; Rugh,
2012; UNICEF and UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2014;
UNESCO Policy Paper 23, 2016; Verger, Novella,
& Altinyelken, 2012).
We list this litany of challenges because it is
important to take factors such as culture and context
into account both in examining evidence on early
grade literacy and in evaluating a particular approach,
project, or intervention as eective. Although we
know that the 5Ts provide a framework for developing
literacy programs as well as for systematic and
explicit instruction of core skills (e.g., orthographic
symbol knowledge; see Chapter 2) that are benecial
across most languages (and certainly alphabetic
languages), we know less about how these ideas will
best take root and ourish in any given context—how
solutions are presented and implemented is critical.
The ndings and recommendations in this report can
be taken as starting points from which to build and
shape locally appropriate, eective literacy programs.
Section D. Organization of the Report
Figure 1 illustrates the scope and the layers
of literature examined in this report. There
are many more factors (e.g., socio-emotional
factors, learning in conict and crisis contexts)
that are important but beyond the scope of this
report. Education by nature is a systemic, long-term
endeavor. Although learning ultimately occurs at
the student level, it is embedded in and inuenced
by multiple layers of contexts (Bronfenbrenner,
1979), ranging from family context, school and
community, to system factors. Therefore, in addition
to understanding child level factors that contribute to
literacy acquisition, it is imperative to address issues
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 7
at family, community, and system levels to ensure
that all children learn to read in the early grades.
The chapters in this report address some of the
factors within this framework. In Chapter 2 we
provide an overview of key areas necessary to
successfully promote improved early grade literacy
skills. This chapter provides the framework for
understanding the development of reading skills
and then reviews important cross cutting factors
such as the level of instruction and materials,
instructional routines, time, achieving automaticity,
assessment, and information and communication
technologies (ICTs). In Chapter 3, we discuss key
areas to successfully promote improved early grade
literacy skills by area. Specically, we discuss student
level factors from developing country contexts—
evidence about the core skills of learning to read and
write such as emergent literacy skills, oral language
skills, reading uency, reading comprehension,
and writing. In Chapter 4, we focus on factors at
the teacher, school, community and system levels
that impact the process of learning to read and
write in many developing country contexts. Topics
include literacy acquisition in multilingual contexts,
teacher knowledge and education, and parental and
community engagement. In Chapter 5, we examine
factors related to long-term considerations for
governments and donors, including cost, nancing,
scale up, and sustainability. Finally, Chapter 6
concludes the report with an overall discussion of
recommendations moving forward and research gaps
to be addressed.
The structure of each chapter varies to some extent
depending on nature of particular content. However,
the following overarching structure was employed
where possible:
u What is the topic and why is it important to early
grade literacy?
u What evidence exists on the topic especially in
developing countries?
u What are the design consideration and challenges
related to the topic, including a discussion of:
– Instructional approaches
– Instructional materials
– Assessment
– The use of ICTs
u What research gaps exist with respect to the topic?
Figure 1. Factors contributing to literacy
System Level
Teacher education policy
Language policy
School & Community
Language context
Home & community support
Quality of instruction
Language & literacy
Language proficiency
Cognitive skills
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy8
Chapter 2.
Key Areas to Successfully Promote
Improved Early Grade Literacy Skills:
Listening comprehension is the “ability to
comprehend oral language at the discourse level—
including [multi-utterance] conversations, stories,
informational oral texts—that involves the processes
of extracting and constructing meaning” (Kim &
Pilcher, 2016, p. 160). Listening comprehension is
even more complex than word reading, and draws
on foundational cognitive skills such as working
memory (the ability to hold and manipulation
information during a short time period), inhibitory
control (the ability to suppress a dominant response
and initiate a subdominant response), attentional
control; and foundational oral language skills such as
vocabulary knowledge, and grammatical knowledge;
and higher-order cognitive skills such as inference,
perspective taking and reasoning, and comprehension
monitoring (Florit, Roch, & Levorato, 2014; Kendeou,
Bohn-Gettler, White, & van den Broek, 2008; Kim,
2015a, 2016a; Kim & Phillips, 2014; Lepola, Lynch,
Laakkonen, Silvén, & Niemi, 2012; Tompkins, Guo, &
Justice, 2013). In other words, listening comprehension
is an upper-level skill that requires a complex array
of language and cognitive skills (Kim, 2015, 2016a;
Section A. A Framework for
Understanding Reading Development
What does it take to read and comprehend
written texts? Reading development
involves highly complex language
and cognitive processes, requiring development
and coordination of multiple skills through a
developmental sequence. As shown in Figure 2,
reading comprehension—the ultimate purpose
of learning to read—requires, at minimum, word
reading or decoding (the word reading) and listening
comprehension (oral language comprehension at
the discourse level) (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Hoover
& Gough, 1990). Reading uency is also necessary,
acting as a bridge or a partial mediator, connecting
word reading and listening comprehension to reading
comprehension (Kim, 2015b; Kim & Wagner, R. K.,
2015). If word reading and listening comprehension
are two necessary skills for reading comprehension,
how do these skills develop? Each of these skill areas
is built on a complex set of foundational skills.
Foundations for word reading (and spelling) include
emergent literacy skills such as print awareness,
orthographic symbol knowledge, phonological
awareness, morphological awareness, and
orthographic awareness (see building blocks in Figure
2). These emergent literacy skills map onto the three
types of knowledge that need to be activated for word
reading: phonology (sound structure), orthography
(writing system), and semantics (meaning) (see
Adams, 1990; Seidenberg, & McClelland, 1989 for
further details).
Word reading and listening comprehension
are both vital to reading comprehension across
languages and writing systems.
(Adolf, Catts, & Little, 2006; Florit & Cain, 2011; Foorman, Koon,
Petscher, Mitchell, & Truckenmiller, 2015; Gracia & Cain, 2014;
Joshi, Tao, Aaron, & Quiroz, 2012; Kendeou, Papadopoulos, &
Kotzapoulou, 2013; Kendeou, van den Broek, White, & Lynch,
2009; Kim, 2011, Kim, 2015a; Lee & Wheldall, 2009).
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 9
see Figure 3). Given the complex set of
skills that contribute to the development
of listening comprehension, listening
comprehension takes a prolonged time
to develop, and is a much larger area
than word reading (Paris, 2005; Snow &
Kim, 2007). In fact, learning never ends
for some areas of oral language such as
vocabulary. Furthermore, these language
and cognitive component skills (e.g.,
vocabulary and reasoning) develop in
In summary, without appropriate
development of emergent literacy skills,
word reading would not develop properly.
Without appropriate development of
language and cognitive skills, listening
comprehension would fail to develop.
Consequently, children would fail to
develop reading uency and reading
Section B. Cross-Cutting
Factors in Literacy
The foundational skills of literacy
acquisition start developing rst in
the home and in the community.
However, the primary focus of literacy
instruction in many contexts is in the
formal school setting. Below are several
cross cutting factors that are applicable to
classroom instruction contexts in terms
of instruction, assessment, instructional
materials, and ICTs.
Instructional Considerations
instructional content
Learning occurs when instruction targets
the right content at the right level
for students' needs (Vygotsky, 1978).
Curriculum or instructional content
Figure 2. Component skills of reading comprehension and
their structural relations. Reprinted from Kim (2016b) with permission.
Oral language is a larger construct than word
reading, and takes a prolonged time to develop.
Figure 3. Language and cognitive skills that contribute to
listening comprehension (Kim, 2016a, reprinted with permission)
Listening comprehension
Higher order
cognitive skills
language and
cognitive skills
Inference, perspective
taking & reasoning,
comprehension monitoring
Vocabulary, Grammatical
knowledge, Working memory,
Inhibitory control,
Attentional control
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy10
in many low-income countries is too dicult and
ambitious for students’ skill levels (ASER, 2011; Piper,
2010a; Crouch, Korda, & Mumo, 2009; Pritchett &
Beatty, 2015). In such cases, there is a need to revise
the scope and sequence of early grade curricula to
align with evidence-based and scientically-validated
research on literacy development as well as national
assessment results.
Moreover, even when the curriculum content is
appropriate, the appropriate level of instruction
varies widely across students, as students dier in
where they start and how fast they learn the target
skill. Therefore, eective instruction should address
and meet the varying needs of students informed
by assessment results. This is often referred to as
dierentiated instruction (e.g., Connor et al., 2013).
Operationalization of dierentiated instruction
would vary across contexts due to dierences in
environments and resources (e.g., class size).
Instructional routines
The establishment of instructional routines has been
shown to help teachers (RTI International, 2011; EDC,
2013). The following sample instructional routine
(Rosenshine, 1995; Rosenshine & Stevens, 1995) has
been used successfully in developing country contexts
such as Kenya (e.g., RTI International, 2011).
u Review and check previous work
u Present new material
u Provide guided practice
u Provide feedback and corrections
u Provide independent practice
u Provide weekly and monthly reviews
The goal of this framework is to promote scaolded
instruction and gradual release of responsibilities
(Duke & Pearson, 2002; Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). In
scaolded instruction the teacher initially assumes
all the responsibility for performing a task, and
gradually and incrementally transfers responsibility
for performing the task to students, until students
are able to do the task on their own without teacher
assistance. The scaolded instructional model
has been operationalized widely as the “Three
Ps” (presentation, practice, and performance) or
the “I Do, We Do, You Do” models. These models
are applicable across target skills (e.g., emergent
literacy, oral language), although they must take
into account and be adapted to the local context. For
instance, monitoring students’ reading and providing
corrective feedback, essential components of the “you
do” or the ‘performance’ phases of the scaolded
learning model, are particularly challenging in
developing countries due to large class sizes. One
way of overcoming this challenge may be monitoring
students’ reading on a row by row basis (Abadzi &
Martelli, 2014).
In many developing countries, teachers have limited
or no education in literacy instruction (Akyeampong
et al., 2013; Piper & Korda, 2011b; Pryor et al., 2012).
In such contexts, scripted lessons and teacher guides
may be an important means as well as a starting
place for helping teachers to organize content
and establish instructional routines for literacy
instruction (Piper & Korda, 2011b). Although the
vast majority of extant randomized control trials
on literacy instruction in developing countries have
used scripted lessons, direct evidence on whether
scripted lessons are more eective than alternative
approaches—the eect of using scripted lessons
per se, separate from intervention content itself—
is limited. Recent studies, however, indicate their
potential eectiveness. In Malawi, teachers found
scripted lessons that provide explicit systematic
instruction on literacy instruction to be helpful in
implementing the lessons and integrating principles
of eective literacy instructional practices (Tilson,
Kamlongera, Pucilowski, & Nampota, 2013a). In Kenya,
student literacy skills were higher in classrooms
where teachers were provided with teacher guides
(with scripted lesson plans) compared to those who
had only student books and teacher training (RTI,
When provided, scripted lesson plans and
teacher guidebooks should include step-by-step,
straightforward instructions in a single volume per
semester or year (Piper & Korda, 2011b) and should
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 11
not be long or too wordy or complex (Tilson et al.,
2013a). Of course, teacher guides and lesson plans
are not eective by themselves; rigorous professional
development is needed to ensure eective use of
scripted lesson plans (Tilson, Allemano, Mereku, &
Marfo, 2013b).
Instructional time
Quality teaching requires dedicated instructional
time. However, in many developing countries, literacy
has not been taught as a subject and consequently
no separate time has been set aside for literacy
instruction (EDC, 2013). With the teaching of reading
and writing folded into the larger "language arts"
curriculum in many countries, direct and systematic
reading and writing instruction does not happen
in sucient quantity or depth (Bunyi, Cherotich, &
Piper, 2013). For instance, in most Arabic-speaking
countries, reading is taught under the umbrella of the
Arabic language curriculum, often without systematic
and organized instruction (Boyle, Al Ajjawi, & Xiang,
There are also several related factors that limit
students' opportunity to learn. In many countries the
school day and/or year is relatively short, and double
shift schools are prevalent, limiting instructional
time (Benavot & Amadio, 2004; Piper & Korda,
2011a,b). In addition, teacher and pupil absenteeism,
school closures, and a lack of time on task further
limit opportunity to learn. In Mali, actual number
of learning days was only 53% of mandated school
days (EDC, 2013). In Haiti, schools were closed 27%
of the time and student daily attendance rates
averaged only 77% (DeStefano & Miksic, 2007). Not
surprisingly, lack of opportunity to learn is related to
lower literacy achievement. The combination of lost
school days and student absenteeism explained 55%
of the variation in student performance on reading
skills in Haitian Creole (Gilles & Jester Quijada, 2008).
In Jordan, strong-performing classes had an average
observed absenteeism rate of 6.1%, compared to 14.8%
for lower-performing classes (Brombach, Collins,
Cummiskey, Kochetkova, & Mulcahy-Dunn, 2012).
Similar results were also found in Zambia (Falconer-
Stout et al., 2015) and Yemen (Collins & Messaoud-
Galusi, 2012).
Although a rough estimate of 850 to 1000 hours
per year has been recommended as the minimum
instructional time needed in reading over a school
year (Gilles & Jester Quijada, 2008), there is no clear
evidence from low-income countries about how
much instructional time is necessary or sucient
for successful literacy instruction. In the US context,
reading and language arts are typically taught for
approximately 90 minutes a day in elementary grades
(National Science Foundation, 2012). In developing
countries, the amount of instructional time devoted
to reading varies by intervention or project. For
instance, in Jordan, as part of a reading intervention,
teachers in Grades 2 and 3 were requested to teach
reading at least for 15 minutes per day (RTI, 2014a).
In other intervention projects, teachers in treatment
schools increased the amount of instructional time
devoted to reading instruction (e.g., 40 minutes vs.
25 minutes in comparison in Nigeria, RTI, 2016a; 45
minutes daily in Liberia, Piper & Korda, 2011a, and in
Mozambique, Raupp, Newmann, Reves, & Lauchande,
2015; 50 minutes per day in Zambia, Falconer-Stout
et al., 2015). In addition to increasing the amount of
classroom time devoted to reading, teachers in these
intervention classrooms were found to spend the vast
majority of that instructional time on literacy skills
whereas in control classrooms, much of instructional
time was spent on non-literacy and even non-
instructional activities (administration, discipline).
(RTI, 2016a).
Achieving automaticity
Accuracy in reading (e.g., accurately identifying
letters and reading words) is important. However,
in addition to accuracy, achieving automaticity and
eciency is important as it allows students to access
and retrieve relevant information eciently to
support reading and writing. Achieving automaticity
is relevant at all levels of literacy skills, including
sublexical emergent literacy skills (e.g., letter
naming and letter writing), word reading (word
reading uency) and spelling, and text reading
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy12
(reading uency) (Breznitz, 2006; Ehri, 2005; Piper
& Zuilkowski, 2016; Saiegh-Haddad, 2005; Wolf,
2001). Practice is key to developing automaticity,
and therefore, it is important to build in the time
and opportunities to practice taught skills in the
instructional routine.
Assessment Considerations
Assessment is an essential component of eective
instruction as it provides information about
students’ achievement levels and reasons for the
performance level. There are multiple types and
purposes of student assessments such as screening
(to identify some students who might be at risk
for literacy failure and require further diagnostic
assessment), diagnostic (to identify specic areas of
strengths and weaknesses), formative and progress
monitoring (to reveal whether students are learning
adequately), and summative (overall achievement
level). All these assessments can be conducted at
multiple levels such as classroom, local, national,
regional, and international levels (e.g., Learning
metrics by UNESCO, 2014).
Assessments should be aligned with theoretical
models and empirical evidence for literacy
development and with literacy curriculum, meet
psychometric standards (i.e., reliability and validity;
Sattler, 2001), and meet the needs of developing
countries (e.g., language context; Wagner, D. A., 2003,
2011). Most assessments on reading comprehension
provide important information about level of
performance, but do typically not provide information
about the reasons for poor performance. Further
or follow-up assessments are needed to determine
whether students’ poor reading comprehension is
due to weakness in either word reading or listening
comprehension, as well as their component skills (see
the framework and Figure 2 above). One important
feature that educators (teachers and evaluators)
should be aware is that if assessments are used for
comparison across times (e.g., beginning, middle,
and end of school year or an intervention), then
assessments of the same construct (e.g., reading
uency or comprehension) should be equivalent. For
instance, changes in students’ performance cannot
be accurately measured if diculty levels of dierent
forms of assessments (e.g., Form A is used at the
beginning of a school year and Form B is used at the
end of school year) are not equivalent.
Various language and literacy assessments are
available in many languages and contexts, generally
in the areas of emergent literacy skills (e.g.,
phonological awareness, letter naming uency), word
reading (word reading and nonword or novel word
reading), reading uency, reading comprehension,
and oral language (vocabulary and listening
comprehension): EGRA9 (Early Grade Reading
Assessment), developed by the World Bank and USAID,
Save the Children’s Literacy Boost Assessment,10
ASER11 (Annual Status of Education Report) in India
and other countries (Banerji, 2016; Vagh, 2016), Uwezo
(Nakabugo, 2016), UNICEF’s MICS (Multiple Indicator
Cluster Survey; Cardoso & Dowd, 2016), EDC’s OLA12
(Out-of-school Literacy Assessment), Young Lives
(Cueto & Leon, 2012), UNESCO's LAMP13 (Literacy
9 Gove & Wetterberg, 2011 and
12 n/
Automaticity refers to eortlessness and lack of
conscious awareness. Automaticity in reading
refers to the ability to recognize letters, sounds,
and word accurately and immediately upon
seeing them without expending attention or
eort. Automaticity in a particular construct is
typically assessed by timed tasks.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 13
and Assessment and Monitoring Programme, 2009),
and World Vision's Functional Literacy Assessment
Tool (FLAT) (see UNESCO Institute of Statistics,
2016 for more details). EGRA has been used in over
100 languages14 for a variety of purposes such as
providing information about baseline, instructional
target, a system-wide diagnostic of reading
diculties, and the evaluation of reading programs
(Dubeck & Gove, 2015; Dubeck, Gove, & Alexander,
2016; Gove et al., 2015; Gove & Wetterberg, 2011). Use
of any of the assessments above require adequate
training for reliable administration, scoring,
interpretation, and use (see UNESCO Institute of
Statistics, 2016 for a comprehensive review of various
aspects to consider in reading assessments). Both
paper and pencil tests and electronic data collection
options are available, depending on the context (see
the ICT section below for further details).
Instructional Materials Considerations
Literacy development requires exposure to and
practice with written texts. Therefore, access to
appropriate reading materials, including textbooks
and books for pleasure or for practice and building
a culture of reading, is an important issue in many
developing countries. A study in Mali reported that
across dierent school types (curriculum, classique
and medersas) book possession in class was below
the 50% mark and was markedly low in the earlier
grades in particular (RTI, 2009b). The most recent
EGRA baseline in Mali indicated that 50% of children
still do not have textbooks (RTI 2016c). While studies
in Arabic-speaking countries indicated that the
availability of textbooks was not an issue, a national
survey in Jordan in 2012 found that only half of
schools had a school library. In Morocco, only 10% of
schools in Doukkala Abda reported having a school
library (Messaoud-Galus, Mulcahy-Dunn, Ralaingita,
& Kochetkova, 2012). Indeed, non-textbook print
materials are often lacking, or lacking for developing
readers in many contexts. Lack of print materials
is even more severe in children’s mother tongue or
rst language. (Neuman & Celano, 2001; Paton-Ash &
Wilmot, 2015; Edwards & Ngwaru, 2011).
While provision of materials alone has a small
impact on improving student outcomes (McEwan,
2014; Tilson, 2013b), instructional materials are
eective when teachers have the necessary knowledge
to use them correctly as part of literacy instruction.
A recent study in Kenya demonstrated that impact
on students' literacy skills was much larger when
teachers had student books available, compared to
teacher training alone with no instructional materials
(RTI, 2015a). Indeed, the development community
has ample evidence of the important role that
instructional materials and books play (Edwards &
Ngwaru, 2011; Elley, 2000; Gilles & Quijada, 2008;
Heyneman et al., 1978; Rosenberg, 1998; Tilson et
al., 2013b). However, in addition to the availability of
reading materials, an important issue is how they are
provided to schools and homes, and how the materials
are used. For example, a randomized controlled trial
in India examining the impact of physical school
libraries on pupils’ language skills had no eect;
and the provision of visiting librarians actually had
a negative eect (Borkum et. al. 2013). These results
mirror those of Save the Children’s locally produced
Book Banks. Overall, Book Bank eects were not
consistent across studies and contexts for a variety
of reasons (research design issues, or null ndings).
However, its potential is reported in some studies.
For instance, in Ethiopia, Literacy Boost program
participants who could name their favorite book
from the Book Bank had higher literacy scores than
those who could not (Gebreaneia et al., 2014). Book
Floods, where a signicant number of high quality
books (about 100 titles per class) are introduced
into a system, were eective in the Pacic islands
in promoting the activity of reading and improving
reading acquisition in the 1970s and 80s (Elley,
2000). They were accompanied by training in how to
use the books. Therefore, challenges in developing
14 Extant EGRA versions are available at
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy14
countries include how to aordably and sustainably
get appropriate books into the hands of children,
how to promote borrowing and using books, and
how to encourage creating enriched home literacy
environments (Borkum, 2013; Elley, 2000; Gebreaneia
et al., 2014; Glewwe et al. 2009).
Books and texts provided to schools should be
engaging and culturally appropriate. However, in
many contexts, poorer schools receive donations
of old books, out of date books, or books that are
culturally or age inappropriate. (Paton-Ash & Wilmot,
2015). In many African countries, the publishing
industry is challenged to produce relevant books
for reading in local languages. In most cases the
market is simply not lucrative enough to justify
publishers’ investments (Edwards & Ngwaru, 2011).
Publications such as Writing in Nine Tongues and
the Catalogue of South African Literature, however,
signal growing awareness of the importance of
local language publishing, beyond textbooks. The
Rwandan Children's Book Initiative, for example,
recently worked directly with local publishers to
pilot strategies for increasing the availability of local
language children's books. The initiative resulted
in the development of forty-seven Kinyarwanda
children's books appropriate for Grades 1 to 3.
Moreover, interviews with authors, publishers and
illustrators trained to develop children's books
indicated an increase in their knowledge, skills
and even condence (Malik, Balfour, Nzabonimpa,
Cozzolino, Dib, & Dowd, 2015).
There are other initiatives as well to make the
creation and distribution of appropriate early grade
reading books in mother tongue, local language
and/or language of instruction more feasible. Some
provide a basic template to create books online, to
nd culturally appropriate stories, and to translate
stories. For example, the African Storybook Project
is used in many countries, with digital readers that
can be adapted to dierent languages and contexts.
Save the Children uses a Book Bank model to provide
Literacy Boost schools with locally developed
reading materials for the early grades (Save the
Children, 2012). Pratham’s low-cost books and
literacy instructional materials are likewise widely
used in India. The South African Book Development
Council actively encourages local publishing to
foster a culture of reading. The Global Book Fund
Alliance has looked at supply chain issues as well as
publishing and distribution issues across nations in
order to nd solutions to the book shortages. These
initiatives are all designed, using dierent strategies,
to address the critical shortage of culturally and
linguistically appropriate reading materials for early
grade learners.15 Finally, the Norwegian Development
Agency (NORAD), the UK Department for
International Development (DFID) and the US Agency
for International Development (USAID) funded
a global book fund feasibility study examining
whether such a mechanism could transform the
situation of low availability of textbooks and reading
books in low income countries by improving the
eectiveness of book chains, from publishing to
purchasing to delivery and dissemination (Results
for Development, 2016). In particular, the study
examined the potential use of models from the
health sector and concluded that there are lessons to
be learned, although the direct use of such models,
applied to the book problem, is not recommended.
The report further highlighted that the climate at
the governmental level is not yet as propitious as
it was for, say vaccinations, as the need for books,
especially those in mother tongue languages, has not
yet been actively adopted by governments (Results for
Development, 2016).
15 Information on these particular initiatives can be found at the following sites: African Stor ybook Project: http://my.africanstorybook.
Literacy Boost: Pratham: http:// or for Pratham India
South African Book Development Council:
Global Book Fund Alliance:les/documents/1865/GlobalBookFund_Two_Pager.pdf
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 15
School infrastructure environments in low-income
countries vary considerably. In some contexts,
instruction occurs outdoors and there are no walls
available to display print or instructional materials.
In other contexts, there are few instructional
materials to support learning and it is often necessary
for teachers, school directors, and even parents
to tap into creative and non-traditional methods
to create or procure instructional materials. For
example, the Madrasa Resource Center program in
Kenya, Zanzibar and Uganda focused on training
Madrasa Resource Center pre-school teachers to use
locally available materials to stimulate children's
interest in exploring and experimenting. Children
in Madrasa Resource Center classrooms where pre-
school teachers were trained to use these materials in
a child-centered way scored higher on assessments
of cognitive development than children in the
control group (Malmberg et al., 2011). Likewise, the
Rwanda Children's Book Initiative reported that
training teachers on how to use locally-produced
children’s books in the classroom (albeit from trained
professional local publishers) resulted in increased
reading frequency both inside and outside the
classroom, as well as a concomitant increase in the
richness and variety of locally made materials (i.e. by
teachers and students) inside the classroom (Malik, et
al., 2015). Teachers generally used the books in their
lessons and also allowed children to select books
for independent reading. Additionally, signicantly
higher percentage of teachers in the Rwandan
Children’s Book Initiative encouraged students to
read at home than those in the business-as-usual
ICT Considerations
ICTs are often very attractive to policymakers,
parents, teachers and school directors, as they
connote an advanced educational system and well-
resourced schools. The research is quite clear,
however, that ICT components should be aligned
with pedagogy (Trucano, 2005). In other words, if the
underlying approach to literacy instruction is weak,
it is unlikely that a limited, standalone intervention
with a mobile phone, computer, or e-reader will
produce signicant change. For example, in the One
Laptop per Child program in Peru, the software on
the laptops was not tailored to the curriculum and
teachers did not generally change their instructional
approaches when the computers were introduced
(Cristia, Ibarrarán, Cueto, Santiago, & Severín, 2012;
Villarán, 2010). Not surprisingly, an evaluation
of the program found no statistically signicant
improvements in achievement (Beuermann, Cristia,
Cueto, Malamud, & Cruz-Aguayo, 2015). This evidence
suggests that ICT alone is not a silver bullet—ICT
applications must be built upon the foundation of
a high-quality, evidence-based literacy instruction
The evidence for in-school, early-grade-reading
focused ICT programs in developing countries
remains relatively sparse (Trucano, 2005; Wagner,
D. A., 2014). In Kenya, one large study compared the
eects of three ICT interventions—student e-readers,
teacher tablets with lesson plans and support
materials, and instructional coach tablets, all layered
on top of the same literacy program—on second-
grade student reading outcomes in English and
Kiswahili (Piper, Zuilkowski, Kwayumba, & Strigel,
2016). While all three interventions were eective
in comparison with a control group, there were no
additional benets of the more ICT-intensive and
expensive approaches—the student e-readers and
teacher tablets—over the version that equipped only
the zone-level instructional coaches with tablets.
Other studies in Kenya (Abrami, Wade, Lysenko,
Marsch, & Gioko, 2014) and Ghana (Jae, Lowe, &
Mahesri, 2012) have found some positive eects using
computers and student e-readers, respectively. Radio
instruction has had a longer history, and evidence
from Mali, Zambia, Sudan, and elsewhere suggests
that this approach can be eective, particularly in
reaching rural areas (EDC, 2013; 2014b). We will
discuss specic interventions in greater detail as
relevant in each section of the report.
ICT devices and content must be targeted for the
contexts in which they will be used and the people
who will use them (Wagner, D. A., Castillo, Murphy,
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy16
Crofton, & Zahra, 2014). In general, programs
employing ICTs need to use devices that are durable
in developing country contexts and contain relevant,
age and culturally appropriate material. A tablet
that is considered sturdy in the United States may
not be a feasible option in extreme environments—
high temperatures, dust, and unstable electricity,
for example. In rural sub-Saharan Africa the
electrication rate is just 17% (International Energy
Agency, 2015), making devices that must be charged
regularly a poor t to the context. In Ghana,
Worldreader has reduced e-reader breakage rates in
its programs in sub-Saharan Africa dramatically by
working both with manufacturers to source reinforced
screens and with local stakeholders—students,
teachers, and parents—to improve care of the devices
(Tam, 2012). Despite their potential for assisting in
the instruction of students with disabilities (UNESCO,
2013), a recent review did not nd any ICT literacy
programs that were specically designed to meet the
needs of this population (Wagner, D. A. et al., 2014).
Program planners should not make assumptions
about teachers’ ability to use ICT devices (Pouezevara
& Khan, 2008) and should ensure that technical
support is available (Chigona, Chigona, & Davids,
2014). Extensive training is often necessary,
beginning with how to turn on devices and log in. In
settings where teachers are unfamiliar with devices,
teachers need time to build their own skills before
they can support others. Skipping this step may lead
to unused devices gathering dust rather than being
used as intended, as teachers who are uncomfortable
with new technology may simply ignore it (Chigona &
Chigona, 2010). School systems that currently do not
use ICT approaches intensively should therefore move
forward in stages, allowing teachers to become more
familiar with technology over time before expanding
to students. Beginning with technology that is widely
available and relatively inexpensive such as mobile
phones and text messaging is both more feasible
nancially and less intimidating to teachers.
Providing Ongoing Support for Teachers
and Schools
Literacy instruction in the early grades is generally
embedded within schools, and therefore, ecient
management of schools, including involvement of
principals and professionalism of teachers, enables
eective literacy instruction (EDC, 2013; Spratt et al.,
2013; Raupp et al., 2015). In Rwanda, schools receiving
books on time and making use of learning materials
had higher achievement (EDC, 2016). In Mozambique,
explicit reading instruction was implemented in two
contexts—one with attention to reading component
skills and the other with reading component skills
and school management. After a year of instruction,
students in the reading instruction with school
management condition achieved higher reading
skills (Raupp et al., 2015; also see Chapter 4 for
more information on teacher in-service professional
development and coaching).
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 17
Chapter 3.
Key Areas to Successfully Promote
Improved Early Grade Literacy Skills:
By Areas
Section A. Emergent Literacy Skills:
Foundations for Word Reading and
Background: What and Why Emergent
Literacy Skills?
Emergent literacy skills are foundational for word
reading and spelling (see Figure 2 in Section A)
and typically include print awareness, orthographic
symbol knowledge, phonological awareness,
orthographic awareness, and morphological
awareness. Print awareness is knowledge of how
print works and how it is dierent from other
symbols such as pictures. Orthographic symbol
knowledge is knowledge of shapes, names, and
sounds of orthographic symbols such as alphabet
letters. Orthographic awareness refers to the ability
to “visually recognize legal letter patterns and
sequences in printed words” (Kim, 2011, p. 179).
Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize
and manipulate various sizes of speech sounds (e.g.,
words, syllables, and phonemes; Stanovich, 1992).
Morphological awareness is sensitivity to word
structure and ability to manipulate morphemes
(smallest unit of meaning; Carlisle, 1995), and is
Figure 4. Language and print-related skills that contribute to word reading and spelling
Spoken Language
Written Language
of phonemes
(& morphemes) Chunks within
symbol names
& shapes
of syllables
(& morphemes)
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy18
particularly helpful for multisyllabic word reading and
spelling in languages with dierent writing systems
(Abu-Rabia, 2007; Cho, McBride-Chang, & Park, 2008;
McBride-Chang et al., 2008; Taha & Saiegh-Haddad,
in press). As shown in Figure 4, the student’s journey
to reading starts by learning to map orthographic
symbols to sounds, and progresses to accurately
sounding out words and to uently reading them.
Evidence from Developing
The evidence base for the
importance of explicit
and systematic instruction
on emergent literacy skills is
strong in developing country
contexts. The positive eect
of systematically teaching
orthographic symbol-sound
relations (i.e., phonological awareness, orthographic
symbol knowledge, and phonics16) has been clearly
demonstrated in low-income countries (Crouch,
Korda, & Mumo, 2009*;17 Davidson & Hobbs, 2013*;
DeStefano, Slade, & Korda, 2013*; Dixon, Schagen,
& Seedhouse, 2011; EDC, 2013*, 2014; Dunlop,
2015*; Falconer-Stout, Messner, & Wedekind, 2015*;
Mitton, 2008*; Gebreanenia, Sorissa, Takele, Yenew,
& Garjardo, 2014*; Karki & Dowd, 2013*; Mungoi,
Mandlante, Nhatubve, Mahanggue, Fonseca, &
Dowd, 2010*; Nag-Arulmani, Reddy, Buckley, 2003;
Pinto, 2010*; Piper, Jepkemei, & Kibukho, 2015; Piper
& Korda, 2011a; Piper, Jepkemi, & Kibukho, 2015;
Pallante & Kim, 2013; Plessis, El-Ashry, & Tietjen,
2016*; Pouezevara, Costello, & Banda, 2013; Raupp,
Newmann, Reves, & Lauchande, 2015*; Rolla San
Francisco, Arias, Villers, & Snow, 2006; RTI, 2014a,b*,
2015a, 2015b*, 2016a; Save the Children, 2013*; Sahin,
2006*; Spratt, King, & Bulat, 2013; Wagner, D. A.,
& Spratt, 1987; Wagner, D. A., Spratt, & Ezzaki,
1989; World Bank, 2016*). For instance, Nag-
Arulmani and her colleagues (2003) provided an
intervention in phonological skills to 7- to 9-year
olds with reading diculties in India. Those who
received interventions improved word reading and
spelling to a greater extent than those who did
not, and the intervention was particularly helpful
for students with very low initial word reading
skills. Eect sizes in these studies ranged from
small18 to large (e.g., 1.23; RTI, 2015a). Furthermore,
a study in Yemen showed cumulative eects such
that students who received explicit and systematic
instruction for two years improved reading to a
larger extent than those who received instruction
for one year (Pleiss et al., 2016).
Although highly encouraging, no signicant
impact were observed in many contexts including
Afganistan (Azami & Pava, 2014*), Burundi
(Rosenkranz, Jonason, & Kajangwa, 2014*), El
Salvador (Pisani & Alvarado, 2014*), Indonesia
(Guajardo, Hossain, Nath, & Dowd, 2013*;
Pisasni, Satyaning, Giri, Alesbury, & de Fretes,
2014*), Pakistan (Moulvi, Pisani, Dowd, Burki, &
Mithani, 2014*; Moulvi & Pava, 2014*), Philippines
(Badiable, Guardo, & Robism 2013*), Sri Lanka
(Wickramasekara, Navaratnam, & Guajardo, 2014*),
and Uganda (Guajardo et al., 2013*). Therefore,
further understanding is needed about factors
inuencing results. In addition, the majority of
these studies targeted multiple components beyond
emergent literacy skills, and therefore, specic
eects of each emergent literacy skill components
on reading often cannot be teased out.
16 Phonics refers to an instructional approach where the relation between orthographic symbols and sounds is explicitly taught (Adams,
199 0).
17 Studies with an * indicate that eect sizes could not be veried due to insucient information (e.g., standard deviation).
18 Quite a few studies did not report eect sizes.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 19
Table 2. Evidence-based principles for instruction of emergent literacy skills
literacy skill General principle
Considering variation across languages and writing
Teach directionality of text and features of
print. When reading books, point to each word
(print referencing) so that students develop an
understanding that print represents sounds. Create
print-rich environment where orthographic symbols
and other print (e.g., chart, student work) are
displayed and books are available in an organized
manner (see Fisher, Godwin, & Seltman, 2014 for a
negative eect of too much print in the classroom).
Directionality relevant to the target writing system should
be explicitly taught. In Arabic, written text is read from
right to left and from top row to the next row. In English,
written text is read from left to right and from top row
to the next row. In traditional Chinese texts, text is
read from top to bottom and right to left (text is read by
Teach shapes, names, and sounds of orthographic
symbols together. In many languages, symbol names
contain clues to sounds, which need to be explicitly
taught. Allot additional time for teaching visually
complex orthographic symbols and do not introduce
visually similar orthographic symbols together as
they cause confusion.
Some writing systems have greater number of
orthographic symbols than others (e.g., Hindi; Nag, Chiat,
Torgeson, & Snowling, 2014), or visually similar symbols
(e.g., Hebrew and Arabic; Treiman, Levin, & Kessler, 2007;
Levin, Saiegh-Haddad, Hende, & Ziv, 2008), or highly
visually complex orthographic symbols (e.g., Chinese;
Huang & Hanley, 1997; Zhou, McBride-Chang, & Wong,
2014; Akshara used in India, Nag, 2007).
Start with individual orthographic symbol-sound
patterns, followed by a short string of orthographic
symbols (e.g., 'at' pattern found in cat, hat, pat, that).
Then, introduce more complex letter groups (e.g.,
-ing, -igh).
Instruction should clearly lay out consistent and
inconsistent relations and teach them using appropriate
instructional approaches. For example, in English,
symbol-sound relations are explicitly taught for the vast
majority of words while for some irregular words, whole
word instruction is used.
Manipulating larger phonological units such
as syllables is easier than small units such as
phonemes. When teaching phoneme awareness,
identifying initial and ending phonemes is easier
than identifying medial sounds.
Phonological awareness activities vary in diculty.
Identifying an odd sound19 is easiest, followed by
blending and segmenting sounds. Deleting sounds
is the most dicult type of activity. Therefore,
initial instruction should progress from a larger
phonological unit (e.g., syllables) to a smaller unit,
using easier tasks (e.g., blending) in the beginning
and then moving to more demanding tasks (e.g.,
dele tion).
Languages dier in salient phonological units (Kim,
2007; Share & Blum, 2005; Saiegh-Haddad, 2007; Ziegler
& Goswami, 2005) and in the units of sounds that link
to orthographic symbols (English letters represent
phonemes; dels in Ethiopia represent syllables; Akshara
in India represent syllables and phonemes; Nag et al.2014).
In languages where symbols represent phonemes,
phonological awareness instruction should ultimately
target phoneme awareness in addition to other units
such as syllables. In languages where symbols represent
syllables, instruction targeting syllable awareness may
suce (Tilson et al., 2013a). Students in diglossic contexts
need instruction on literary or standard names and
pronunciations (Abadzi & Martelli, 2014).
Teach children how to recognize morphemes in a
word in oral language, and then recognize them
in written words (e.g., Apel & Diehm, in press).
For instance, unpredictable is composed of three
morphemes, un, predict, able; owers is composed of
two morphemes, ower and s (plural).
Morphological structures vary across languages. In some
languages, free morphemes are prominent (e.g., Chinese,
and West African languages) whereas in others words
are made up of both free and bound morphemes20 (e.g.,
Bantu languages, Turkish). Instruction should be aligned
with prominent morphological structures in the target
19 In an oddity task, students hear a set of words such as "sun, sock, and top." In this set, “top” is the odd word because it starts with
/t/ phoneme whereas /s/ is the initial phoneme in the other two words. In blending tasks, phonemes such as /k/ /a/ /t/ are blended to
a word, /kat/ cat. In segmenting tasks, /kat/ can can be segmented into /k/ /a/ /t/. In deletion tasks, when /k/ sound is deleted from
/kat/, only /at/ is left.
20 Bound morphemes are those that cannot stand alone and therefore have to be attached to the base word (e.g., -(e)s for plural or
axes such as pre- in English) whereas free morphemes are those that can be a stand alone word (e.g., horse in horsemen).
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy20
in developing countries hold a view that reading
should be taught before spelling because students
might "mix reading and writing" (EDC, 2014a,
p. 40). Teaching word reading and spelling
simultaneously is theoretically sound because
spelling reinforces the symbol-sound knowledge
and relations (Weiser & Mathes, 2011) and also
empirically validated. For instance, in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, students whose
teachers integrated reading and spelling (e.g., read
and write the words that contain target letters) had
higher achievement in reading (EDC, 2014a).
Consideration of Environmental
Characteristics and Resources
Phonological awareness is recognizing sounds
in words, and therefore, does not require print
materials. However, the other aspects of emergent
literacy—print awareness and orthographic symbol
knowledge—do require the presence of text and
the means to write and display letters and words.
Learning aids have to suit the context and they
do not need to be expensive. An example of a set
of durable, portable and inexpensive teaching and
learning aids is UNICEF’s School in a Box.21 UNICEF’s
School-in-a-Box kits are often distributed in crisis
and conict situations and their pros and cons
have been well debated. However, this model of
packaging resources for classrooms or schools can be
replicated in many contexts, using locally available
materials and the contents can be tailored to focus
on supporting emergent literacy skills. For instance,
students must see or be exposed to print to learn
Summary of Important Design
Considerations and Challenges
n Teach emergent literacy skills explicitly
and systematically, considering
characteristics of language and writing
Systematic instruction refers to instruction
in the appropriate scope and sequence (from
easy to dicult skills and activities). Table 2
shows guidelines and principles of instruction
in emergent literacy skills in general as well as
factors to consider to reect characteristics of
language and writing systems.
n Progress from high-frequency single
syllable words to multisyllabic words.
Initial phonics instruction should focus on one-
syllable, easy to decode words to teach the basics
of decoding. Initially, teachers should use one-
syllable words that students are familiar with in
oral language (e.g., at, cat, bag). Once students can
sound out a few simple words, decodable books or
texts can be used for further practice in connected
texts. When students can read single syllable
words with accuracy, teachers need to teach them,
explicitly, how to read multisyllabic words. The
basic idea in teaching multisyllabic words is to
break down words into manageable units such as
syllables or morphemes. As an example, teachers
can display the word cowboy on the board, point at
the cow part of the word and read it. The teacher
can then point to the boy part of the word and read
it. Finally, the teacher can blend cow and boy as
cowboy by sweeping the nger across the word.
n Teach word reading in conjunction with
Word reading should be taught in conjunction
with spelling. Word reading and spelling draw on
the same emergent literacy skills, and facilitate
each other (Ehri, 2000; Kim, 2011). Some teachers
Decodable books contain words that the
students have learned to decode. For instance, if
one-syllable words such as hat, cat, bag, pig have
been taught, then the decodable texts would
contain these and other already taught words.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 21
A Print Rich Classroom in a Resource-Lean Environment
In outdoor schools, where there is a lack of pencils and paper, students can draw letters with sticks in
the dirt or sand around them. While not ideal, there are strategies to ensure that children, no matter
the environment, have some opportunity to learn orthographic symbol knowledge. Additionally,
teachers can reach out to parents and communities to contribute things like bottle caps, small blocks of
wood, scrap paper, on which they can write letters to use in teaching (demonstration) as well as to have
children manipulate. Bottle caps, wood, shells are items that are found almost everywhere and they are
durable as learning aids for children to manipulate.
to read and educators must sometimes be creative
in ensuring students see print (e.g., using Bible or
Qur’an available in the community). Kits can include
things like chalkboard paint, chalk, letter cards,
letter blocks, slates, alphabet charts, and a canvas on
which to hang materials. Chalkboards are useful for
writing letters and words and even full texts; walls
are extremely useful to display all sorts of learning
aids. In the absence of walls, a canvas with some
hooks can also be hung from a suitable tree, and used
to display posters, maps, calendars, letters, and words
(Tilson et al., 2013a for Ndith Kuwrenga Readers; see
also Literacy Boost22). Slates for pupils are useful for
formative assessment as the teacher can circulate
to check what students have written down. With
all of these innovative ideas to get materials into
classrooms, training for teachers or facilitators and
supervision are required to ensure the materials are
used as intended (e.g., although useful, the School
in a Box is reported not to be widely used in some
Assessment Considerations
Phonological awareness can be assessed using
the same instructional activities described
above. For instance, blending or segmenting tasks
23 See, for example, The Use of Emergency Education and Recreational Kits in Aceh: A Review at http://wwles/the-
use-of-emergency-education-and-recreation-kit s-in-aceh.pdf
can be used targeting various phonological units
(e.g., syllable awareness or phoneme awareness).
Orthographic symbol knowledge can be assessed by
randomly ordering orthographic symbols, and asking
the student to identify their names and sounds.
Timed tasks can be used to assess automaticity. For
example, students can be assessed on the number of
orthographic symbols they can name within a minute
in a task where orthographic symbols are repeatedly
presented in a random order. Useful assessment
toolkits and videos are available for EGRA and ASER
in many languages at
eddata and respectively.
ICT Considerations
ICT approaches can be used for various instructional
activities, and many studies noted in this report
included ICTs applications to support the development
of literacy skills. For example, projects such as the
READ-TA project in Ethiopia have included brief
instructional videos on teacher tablets that scaold
the instruction of letter sounds, an approach which
may be particularly useful in contexts where teachers
are teaching in a language in which they are not fully
uent. These videos can be used by teachers as a
review, or directly with students. Student devices, as
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy22
used by Worldreader in Ghana, can also support print
awareness by providing access to a wide range of text
materials and encouraging pleasure reading. In South
Africa, the Bridges to the Future Initiative uses tablets
to display recorded literacy lessons in four languages
for children in grades one through three (Wagner, D.
A., 2014). As teacher’s ability with new technologies
increases in developing countries, the possibilities for
further use of student-focused applications to support
phonological and morphological awareness will grow.
Research Gaps
Compared to other areas of literacy skills, there is
relatively solid empirical evidence on approaches
to improve word reading. However, because the
vast majority of studies were multi-component
interventions (targeting phonological awareness,
phonics, vocabulary, reading uency, and reading
comprehension), our understanding is limited
about the overlapping and unique contributions of
various emergent literacy skills to word reading.
Furthermore, as previous studies primarily focused
on phonological awareness and phonics, little
is understood about the roles of orthographic
awareness and morphological awareness in word
reading, particularly in multisyllabic word reading.
Also remaining is a question about instructional
dosage—how much time and intensity is necessary
and sucient to promote word reading skills in
dierent contexts. Finally, better understanding
is needed regarding the instructional approaches
most eective and suitable for large classroom
environments, which is prevalent in developing
Illustrative Example on Emergent Literacy Skills Instruction
The following is an example of a scope and sequence to teach emergent literacy skills in
PRIMR (Primary Math and Reading) in Kenya (see Piper, Jepkemi, & Kibukho, 2015; RTI, 2015a
for further details and results). Target grades were students in Grade 1. Note that exemplars are
provided in English for illustrative purposes and do not necessarily indicate a need to provide
instruction in a second language.
Table 3. Example of scope and sequence of emergent literacy skills instruction
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
of /m/
Oral reading
of /m/
of /m/ /a/
Oral blending
of /a/ /m/
Oral blending
of /a/ /m/
Letter sounds mmM, a M, m, A, a M, m, A, a
Word reading am am
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 23
Day 1 Phonological awareness
(T = Teacher; S = Student)
T: We are going to practice our English sounds today. First, we will say the sound. Then, I
will say words one at a time and you will tell me whether or not the word begins with the
I do – Step 1
T: The sound is /m/.
T: The rst word is, mat. The word begins with /m/ so I show thumbs up.
T: The next word is at. The word does not begin with /m/, so I show thumbs down.
We do – Step 2
T: Let’s try it together. The sound is /m/. What is the sound?
T & S: /m/.
T: Now I will say a word. If it begins with /m/, show thumbs up. If it does not, thumbs down.
T: First word is mat.
T & S: Respond together.
Continue with examples: at.
You do – Step 3
T: Now you try. The sound is /m/.
T: Show thumbs up if the word begins with /m/. If not, thumbs down.
T: First word is mat.
S: Thumbs up.
Continue with examples: at, make, mother, cook, jam, market, bread, meat.
Sample Daily Lesson
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy24
Day 1 Naming Letters and Sounds
I do – Step 1
Put the small letter m on the blackboard/pocket chart. Point to the letter and say,
T: The name of this letter is m. This is the small letter m.
T: The sound of this letter is the same in English and Kiswahili. The sound is /m/.
T: I will write the letter while I say the sound.
We do – Step 2
T: Let’s do it together. The name of this letter is?
T & S: m.
T: The sound of this letter is?
T & S: /m/.
You do – Step 3
T: Now you do it alone. The name of this letter is?
S: m.
T: The sound of this letter is?
S: /m/.
T: Open your book to page 31. Point to the small letter m on the page.
Day 3 Word Reading
I do – Step 1
Put the word am on the blackboard/pocket chart.
T: Watch me: /a/ /m/.
T: The word is am.
We do – Step 2
T: Now, we shall do it together. We shall say the sounds, then we shall say the
whole word.
T & S: /a/ /m/.
T: The word is…
T & S: am.
You do – Step 3
T: Now you try it.
T: (Sweep your nger under the letters as the students say.)
S: /a/ /m/.
T: The word is …
S: am.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 25
engage in meaningful, rich language experiences to
develop their oral language skills (Hart & Risley, 1995;
Wells, 1986).
Evidence from Developing
Emerging evidence in
developing countries
suggests that instructional
attention to oral language
improves reading skills. In the
Democratic Republic of Congo,
teachers’ instruction in French
on vocabulary (e.g., discussing
illustrations and new vocabulary) was associated with
improved reading (EDC, 2014). Furthermore, students
who were exposed to spoken ‘literary’ Arabic—the
language used in reading and academic contexts—
during preschool had higher performance in reading
comprehension in Grades 1 and 2 than those who
were exposed only to the spoken Arabic dialect—
the language used in the home (Abu-Rabia, 2000;
Feitelson, Goldstein, Iraqi, & Share, 1993). Spoken
Arabic used in the home is diers from literary Arabic
in several ways, some of which can impact literacy
acquisition (Abu-Rabia, 2000).
However, evidence about the eect of multi-
component intervention on students' oral language is
mixed,24 with results ranging from no eect to large
eects. No eects were found in multicomponent
Section B. Oral Language
Skills: Foundations for Reading
Background: What and Why Oral Language
Oral language is a broad construct encompassing
various aspects such as phonology, morphology,
vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and discourse
(Kim, 2016a). As reading and writing are language
represented in print, these various aspects of oral
language skills are necessary for reading and writing
development. For reading comprehension, language
skills such as vocabulary, grammatical knowledge,
and listening comprehension are particularly relevant
(del Valle Catalan, 2016; Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Juel,
Grith, & Gough, 1986; Kim, Al Otaiba, Folsom, &
Greulich, 2011; Kim, Al Otaiba, Sidler, Greulich, &
Puranik, 2014). As illustrated in Figure 2, reading
comprehension cannot be achieved without language
comprehension skills even with procient word
reading. Despite its clear evidence, the importance of
oral language is often not recognized by teachers in
some texts (e.g., Friedlander, Gasana, & Goldenberg,
Discourse-level oral language skills such as listening
comprehension are higher-order skills (Kim, 2015,
2016a; see Figure 3) and built on lower-level oral
language skills such as vocabulary and grammatical
knowledge as well as a complex array of cognitive
skills, including working memory, inhibitory
control, attention, inference, perspective taking and
reasoning, and comprehension monitoring as well as
background knowledge (Florit, et al., 2014; Kendeou,
et al., 2008; Kim, 2015, 2016a; Kim & Phillips, 2014;
Lepola, et al., 2012; Tompkins, et al., 2014). These
skills develop when children are exposed to rich oral
language at home and school. Children need to hear
words, sentences, and stories frequently and need to
Oral language prociency is not just a concern
for children acquiring in multilingual contexts
or L2. Instead, children dier largely in their
oral language prociency in L1 (e.g., vocabulary),
and therefore, should be explicitly and
systematically taught in both L1 and L2.
24 In many studies, students’ listening comprehension was measured by a single story or passage followed by 5 questions. This is
limiting, given passage eect and the limited number of items. As noted below, greater attention is needed to accurately and reliably
measure students’ listening comprehension abilit y.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy26
interventions in Afghanistan (Azami & Pava,
2014*), Bangladesh (Guajardo, Hossain, Nath, &
Dowd, 2013*), Ethiopia (Friedlander, et al., 2012*;
Gebreanenia, Sorissa, Takele, Yenew, & Garjardo,
2014*), Haiti (RTI, 2015b*; Save the Children, 2013*),
Malawi (Pouezevara et al., 2013), Mali (Spratt et al.,
2013), Nepal (Pinto, 2010*), Philippines (Badiable et
al., 2013*; Dunlop, 2015*), and Zambia (Falconer-
Stout et al., 2015*).
Other studies found positive eects, but eect
sizes varied widely. Small eects were found in the
ApaL program in Mozambique, which provided 45
minutes of daily multicomponent instruction in
Portuguese for children in Grades 2 and 3. Students
in the treatment condition outperformed those in the
control condition in vocabulary and simple sentence
comprehension in Portuguese, the language of
instruction (Raupp, Newmann, Reves, & Lauchande,
2015*). Similarly, a positive, but small eect was
found on listening comprehension in Indonesia
(Brown, 2013*), Jordan (RTI, 2014a*), Nigeria (RTI,
2016a), Papua New Guinea (World Bank, 2016*),
and Yemen (Plessis et al., 2016*). On the other
hand, moderate eects were found for students
in Kiswahili in rural Kenya (RTI, 2015a), and large
eects were found in Liberia (DeStefano et al., 2013*),
especially for students who received intervention
with a school management reinforcement (Piper &
Korda, 2011a).
The large variability across studies might be
attributed to many factors, including language of
instruction (whether instruction was in students'
L1 or L2), nature of oral language instruction
and assessment, and the extent to which oral
language instruction was implemented. When it
comes to the nature of oral language instruction,
unfortunately, many reports did not provide
details about instructional approaches and
intensity, and therefore, it is dicult to accurately
gauge dierences across intervention projects.
Furthermore, in some studies, oral language
tasks were not equated in diculty such that
task diculty might have masked a potential
intervention eect to some extent (e.g., too dicult
at endline assessment; Spratt et al., 2013). Finally,
delity of implementation is an important factor.
For instance, in Zambia, although the intervention
included oral language instruction, classroom
observation revealed little actual instruction on oral
language (Falconer-Stout, et al., 2015).
One approach that has received initial evidence for
improving oral language in low-income countries
is book reading (Bekman, Aksu-Koc, & Erguvanli-
Taylan, 2011; Ntuli & Pretorius, 2005*). In particular,
dialogic reading, an interactive book reading
approach with a focus on oral language development
(e.g., Whitehurst, Arnold, Epstein, Angell, Smith,
& Fischel, 1994; Hargrave & Senechal, 2000), had a
large eect on children’s vocabulary for children
in Bangladeshi (Opel, Ameer, & Aboud, 2009). In
dialogic reading, the teacher reads a book multiple
times to students, asks and prompts students with
questions about target vocabulary and content of
the text, and engages students in conversations and
discussions during and after reading.26
Summary of Important Design
Considerations and Challenges
n Explicitly teach oral language both in L1
and L2 contexts.
Oral language instruction does not have to wait
until students develop reading skills, either for
students acquiring literacy skills in L1 or L2.
Instead, oral language such as vocabulary should
be taught explicitly as early as possible—children
dier greatly in their vocabulary knowledge
even in L1. Vocabulary instruction should include
providing opportunities for multiple exposures
to words, student-friendly denitions and
25 Language of instruction in the vast majority of these studies was L2 with exceptions of Falconer-Stout et al. (2015), RTI (2015a—
Language of instruction in this study varied depending on the condition), and RTI (2016a).
26 Seeective-way-read-preschoolers
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 27
explanations,27 and opportunities to engage in deep
processing of the words (e.g., multiple meanings
of a word; Graves, 2006). Teachers should choose
words that are used frequently across contexts (or
subjects)—words that are not too easy (e.g., baby)
or too dicult or specic to a certain subject (e.g.,
isotope), but are important in multiple domains
(e.g., comfort; Beck, McKeown, Kucan, 2002).
In multilingual contexts where students are
learning in L2, basic words have to be explicitly
taught. In addition, understanding morphemes in
a new word can provide clues to the meaning of
the word (e.g., the meaning of friendliness can be
inferred if the student knows that it is composed
of friend+li+ness). Exposure to oral language and
instruction in oral language should be provided
throughout the day across subject areas and grade
n Utilize book reading as an important
source to promote oral language
Book reading can be a highly eective tool, when
implemented properly, in improving children's oral
language and knowledge building because (1) books
typically contain more sophisticated language
than daily conversations or TV and therefore,
book reading provides important opportunities for
students to be exposed to sophisticated language
(Hayes & Ahrens, 1988); (2) books show language
(vocabulary and expression) used in context, which
is particularly helpful when the teacher is not
procient in the language of instruction;28 and (3)
books provide content which helps children develop
background knowledge. When reading books to
students, book reading should not be limited to
27 Dictionary denitions are often too dicult for students. Student-friendly denitions and explanations involves using common
language that students are likely to be familiar. For instance, a dictionar y denition of 'ally' (noun) is "a person, group... that is
associated with another or other for some common cause." When using student-friendly terms, an ally can be described as "someone
who helps you in what you are trying to do, especially when there are other people who are against you," (Beck et al., p. 36).
28 Though building teachers’ own language prociency may be an important requisite to promoting student's literacy acquisition (see
Chapter 4). Building teachers’ language prociency is, however, a long term process. Over the short or medium term, having teachers
read books to children can be an important tool for improving oral language prociency.
29 This recommendation is from a review of studies in developed country contexts for young children. However, the principle should
apply to developing countries as well.
simply reading written texts. Instead, selected
target vocabulary should be directly taught,
various questions should be asked, including
what (e.g., what is this?), where (e.g., where is this
story happening?), when (e.g., when did the event
occur?), why (e.g., why are the characters doing
something?), and how (e.g., how did the characters
do it?) questions. Dialogic reading is one evidence-
based approach to improve oral language in low
income countries (Opel et al., 2009). In order for it
to be implemented across low-income countries,
the availability of and access to quality books
would have to be substantially increased (see Malik
et al., 2015). The Rwanda Children's Book Initiative
is an example of one program that increased the
availability of high quality local language reading
books for children in Grades 1 to 3. Teachers who
had access to these books signicantly increased
the amount of time they devoted to reading
storybooks aloud compared to control schools.
They also explicitly asked their students to read
more and encouraged them to select books from
the classroom collection to take home to read
(Malik et al., 2015).
n Increase language learning opportunities
by using E3 strateg y. (Expose, Elicit, and
Extend; Kim & Yun, in press29)
One of the most important ways to learn a
language is to be exposed to good language
models—students need to hear quality language
being used every day. Teachers should use rich
vocabulary and expressions. Language is learned
through using it. Teachers should elicit students’
responses by asking dierent types of open-ended
questions—asking students to label objects, recall
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy28
information explicitly stated in conversations or
books, and infer information that is not explicitly
stated in conversations or books. Extending
students’ utterances is also an important way to
continue multi-turn conversations and provide
language input (e.g., Dickinson & Proche, 2011;
Justice, Mashburn, Pence, & Wiggins, 2008).
n Teach cognitively demanding questions
to promote higher-order thinking skills.
Inferencing is inferring meaning that is not
explicitly stated in the texts (oral or written texts).
Comprehension monitoring is the ability to think
about and evaluate one’s own comprehension
(Kim, 2016a). When students hear inconsistent
information or a story that does not make
sense, some students are better at detecting
the inconsistency than others (Kim, 2015, 2016).
To promote inferencing and comprehension
monitoring, teachers should ask “why” questions
when telling or reading stories (e.g., why did the
character do that? Does the character’s behavior
make sense? Why or why not?). As is the case with
other aspects of oral language, inferencing and
comprehension monitoring should begin as early as
possible, before students can read.
Consideration of Environmental
Characteristics and Resources
In order to use books and text materials as a
means to promote oral language (e.g., dialogic
reading), high quality books and text materials are
necessary. There are some examples of the successful
and low cost production of local text materials.
Madrasa Resource Center preschools in Uganda,
Kenya and Zanzibar, where teachers were trained to
use low-cost, locally available materials in a child-
centered way, had a positive impact on children’s
cognitive development, in comparison to a control
group (Malmberg, Mwaura, & Synva, 2011). Books
produced by local publishers can be too expensive
for widespread use, resulting in low demand and
a weak supply chain (Edwards & Ngwaru, 201;
Kruger, 2009). However, the Rwanda Children’s Book
Initiative, working with local authors, publishers and
illustrators did prove to be eective in increasing
the supply of books in Kinyarwanda for early grades
by about 33% (Malik et al., 2015), thereby creating
more avenues to expose children to oral language
through read-alouds and book reading. The Initiative
worked with publishers, authors and illustrators to
build their capacity in the children's book publishing
industry, while simultaneously working with
teachers to increase their knowledge and skills in
using book reading in classrooms. A similar project
in Malawi involved community members in making
books and these books, which are culturally relevant
and appropriate (FHI360, 2014).
In addition to the use of locally made and culturally
appropriate books, there are also international
initiatives to supply books to classrooms around
the world. For example, the educational publisher
Scolastic is known for creating classroom libraries
in a variety of languages (Arabic, English, French,
Spanish) on nonction topics like plants, animals,
dinosaurs, the universe, etc. that can be used across
many cultures. Room to Read’s libraries and high
quality books include decodable stories as well as
leveled books.
Example Use of E3 Strategy
Teacher: Tell me about what you are making.
Student: A tree.
Teacher: You are making a tree with trunk and
leaves. (Extension and Exposure—‘trunk’ and
‘lea ves’)
Student: Yes, I like my tree.
Teacher: I love it too. It is a great tree with strong
trunk and vibrant leaves. (Extension and Exposure
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 29
Illustrative Example: Dialogic Reading
In dialogic reading, teachers and parents do not simply read words in the book. Instead,
teachers ask various “wh” questions before, during, and after reading to promote students’
active participation (e.g., paying attention to stories and texts, and asking and responding to
Book selection: Select books that are age and
culturally appropriate, interesting, and contain
useful words to teach/useful ideas to think
about/knowledge to acquire and have some
illustrations. If the book does not contain
illustrations for target words, picture cards
can be used or teachers can draw on the
blackboard (Opel et al., 2009).
Procedures: Books are read multiple times
throughout the week. Each time, the book
is read, dierent types of questions are
asked. During the rst reading, a few
“what” questions are asked. During each
additional reading of the same book, other
questions (how, why) are asked and children
are encouraged to be more actively engaged in
the conversation.
During the rst reading, “what” questions are asked
while pointing to illustrations such as “What is that?” “What is he doing? The teacher evaluates
the student’s response (Yes, that is a soccer ball) while enunciating and stressing the new words,
soccer ball. Then, all the children repeat the new words (Everyone say 'soccer ball’). The teacher
asks more questions about the illustration such as “What is the color of the soccer ball?” “Who uses
a soccer ball?” “What do you do with a soccer ball?” More challenging questions are open-ended
questions. Examples include “What do you see here?” “What else do you see?” “What is happening
here?” “Can you tell me more about the soccer ball?”
During additional readings, the teacher asks higher-order questions that refer to the story plot
and to the student’s personal experiences. Examples included “What did he do next?” “Why was
he happy?” “What happened in the beginning?” “Did you ever see ?” “Where was it?” “What did
it do?” When responding to the students’ answers, the teacher expands each child’s response
by repeating back some part of what the student said, but adding more (e.g., He is kicking the
soccer ball during a game.”). The teacher also encourages the student’s participation and longer
responses and descriptions. Prompting is one way to invite the students to participate (e.g., The
boy is kicking .).
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy30
Assessment Considerations
In order to evaluate students’ needs for oral
language instruction, carefully designed language
assessments should be used. For instance, EGRA
listening comprehension assessment in developing
countries asks children to listen to a story and
then answer 5 related questions. This is limiting
in many aspects such as psychometrics (e.g., a
single story and associated 5 questions is not
sucient to provide reliable and valid information).
Furthermore, this format is not sucient to capture
variation in children’s ability in oral language
comprehension. For instance, although students
might score a zero in a listening comprehension
task (listening to passages), they may be able to
understand some words or sentences. A well-
constructed oral language assessment would assess
children’s comprehension at the word (vocabulary),
sentence (sentence comprehension), and discourse
(listening comprehension) level, using both receptive
and expressive tasks. In receptive tasks, students
primarily hear vocabulary, sentences, and stories
and identify correct responses. Expressive tasks
require students to produce oral language (e.g.,
vocabulary, sentence, and stories). Finally, listening
comprehension assessments at the discourse
level should carefully consider balancing literal
and inferential questions. Literal comprehension
questions require students identify information
that is explicitly stated in the given text whereas
inferential comprehension questions require students
to infer information that is not explicitly stated (Kim
& Petscher, in press).
ICT Considerations
While there is little evidence of eective ICT
usage for the promotion of oral language skills
specically, e-readers and mobile phones can be
used to provide wide access to electronic books and
text materials in a variety of languages, as discussed
further in sections 4a below. Software could also be
designed to read text aloud to children, enhancing
their oral language development.
Research Gaps
Evidence is sparse about eective approaches
to promote oral language skills (see Chapter 4
for the latter). It is a grave mistake to consider the
importance of oral language prociency only in the
context of literacy acquisition in L2. Studies have
consistently shown that students vary widely in oral
language prociency in their L1 and the language of
instruction (e.g., Falconer-Stout et al., 2015; Piper et
al., 2015; RTI, 2015a, b; 2016). Research evidence is
needed to examine what instructional approaches are
eective to improve children's oral language in what
contexts. In particular, we need more information and
evidence about what kind of language comprehension
curriculum is simple enough for teachers to
implement on a daily basis, yet powerful enough to
make a dierence in oral language, and subsequently
in reading comprehension and writing. Furthermore,
there is a great need to develop a richer set of reliable
and valid tools for measuring children’s oral language
skills such as vocabulary, sentence comprehension,
and discourse-level comprehension (i.e., listening
Section C. Reading Fluency:
Foundation for Reading
Background: What and Why Reading
Reading uency refers to the accurate and rapid
reading of connected text with expression
(reading prosody (NICHD, 2000). Reading uency,
also widely referred to as oral reading uency or
text reading uency, is a text level, not a lexical
(word) level, skill, and is strongly related to reading
comprehension across languages (del Valle Catalan,
2016; Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, & Jenkins, 2001; Hudson,
Pullen, Lane, & Torgesen, 2009; Jenkins, Fuchs, van
den Broek, Espin, & Deno, 2003; Kim, 2015; Kim, Park,
& Wagner, R. K., 2014; Kim, Petscher, Schatschneider,
& Foorman, 2010; Piper & Korda, 2011a; Pouezevara
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 31
et al., 2013). Reading uency promotes reading
comprehension by allowing attention and working
memory to be used for comprehension processes
rather than decoding (Jenkins et al., 2003; Kim,
2015; Kim & Wagner, R. K., 2015; LaBerge & Samuels,
1974). Although reading uency has received much
attention in developing countries and it is important
to assess reading uency, reading uency itself is
not an end goal of reading instruction. As one of
the experts interviewed for this report put it: “We
all know that we get quick results with decoding.
But decoding is not reading. We need to put a lot
more emphasis on comprehension.” Indeed, reading
uency is important because of its role in reading
Evidence from Developing
There is a moderate
evidence base that explicit
instruction on multiple
components improves students’
reading uency. In studies
explicitly focused on the big
5 identied by the National
Reading Panel Report (NICHD,
2000; phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary,
reading uency, and reading comprehension),
students were able to read connected text more
accurately and rapidly in various L1 and L2 contexts
such as Bangladesh (Jonason et al., 2014*30), the
Democratic Republic of Congo (EDC, 2014a), Ethiopia
(Friedlander et al., 2012*; Gebreanenia et al., 2014*),
Indonesia (Brown, 2013*), Jordan (RTI, 2014a), Kenya
(Piper, Jepkemi, & Kibukho, 2015; RTI, 2014b*, 2015a),
Liberia (DeStefano et al., 2013*; Piper & Korda, 2011a),
Mali (Spratt et al., 2013), Malawai (Pouezevara et
al., 2013), Mozambique (Mungoi et al., 2010*; Raupp,
Newmann, Reves, & Lauchande, 2015*), Nigeria
Insert Evidence barometer here – evidence
level: moderate
(RTI, 2016a), Papua New Guinea (World Bank,
2016*31), Philippines (Dunlop, 2015*), Sri Lanka
(Wickramasekara et al., 2014), and Zambia (Falconer-
Stout, Messner, & Wedekind, 2015*). However, eect
sizes varied largely from small (e.g., .14, Brown,
2013*) to large (.73, Piper & Korda, 2011a).
Other studies, on the other hand, produced no
discernable eects in reading uency (Azami & Pava,
2014*; Badiable et al., 2013*; Guajardo, 2012*; Karki
& Dowd, 2013*; Moulvi et al., 2012*; Moulvi & Pava,
2014*; Pisani & Alvarado, 2014*; Pisani et al., 2014;
Rosenkranz et al., 2014*; RTI 2015b*).
Summary of Important Design
Considerations and Challenges
n Build in instructional time and
opportunities for text reading.
Automaticity in reading does not develop
automatically. When students can start decoding
words accurately, opportunities to practice
reading approximate texts (i.e., instruction
level or just slightly challenging texts; Kuhn
& Stahl, 2003) should be explicitly built in the
reading curriculum. Teachers should include
time to reread the words taught in isolation
or in connected texts. Students need daily
practice reading the same texts several times,
with attention to accuracy and speed (repeated
n Model uent reading.
Students need to hear and internalize uent
reading (Rasinski, Homan, & Biggs, 2009).
Teachers should demonstrate reading with
accuracy, at a conversational rate, and with
expression (pausing and varying pitch at
appropriate places).
30 Description of language context was not explicitly provided in some documents, and thus, the authors’ best judgement was used
inferring from documents.
31 The report did not provide results by language or grade.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy32
Consideration of Environmental
Characteristics and Resources
For the purpose of practicing reading uency with
timed repeated reading, relatively short passages
are useful so that students can nish the passage
within a reasonable time. Texts for repeated reading
should be either at the instructional level (students
can read 95% of the words independently) or slightly
challenging (students can read 90% of the words
independently) (Kuhn & Stahl, 2003). Supporting
the development of reading uency in print-poor
environments is challenging in part due to the
lack of texts to read. In these instances, teachers
can use local songs, poems, proverbs and short
folk tales written on a chalkboard to give students
the opportunity to practice reading uency. It is
important, however, to make sure that children are
reading, not just memorizing.
Repeated reading in a large class can be
implemented in the order of echo reading,
choral reading, partner reading, and whisper
reading (Brooker et al., 2010). In echo reading,
the teacher reads clauses or sentences and the
students repeat after the teacher. In choral
reading, the teacher and students read the same
texts together. In partner reading, students
are paired and take turns reading. In whisper
reading, students are asked to read the same
text to themselves in a quiet voice that has been
practiced through echo reading, choral reading,
and partner reading. Across all the readings,
students should be encouraged to point to the
text using their nger, and teachers should walk
around the class monitoring students’ reading.
When pairing students for partner reading,
uent readers should be paired with less uent
Assessment Considerations
EGRA and other similar assessment batteries
include reading uency tasks. When developing
and using reading uency tasks, texts used for
reading uency assessments should be grade and
age appropriate (see RTI, 2016b for EGRA tool kit).
In addition, multiple passages should be used
because texts vary in diculty and text diculty
is an important factor for determining reading
uency. Even very carefully developed texts that
have equivalent readability values can result in
signicantly dierent text reading uency (rate)
among children (Francis et al., 2008; Petscher &
Kim, 2011). To account for the passage eect, an ideal
approach is equating passages in terms of reading
rate. An alternative, widely-used approach, however,
has been using multiple texts (e.g., 3 passages) and
using either the mean or median (middle) scores (see
the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills
[DIBELS] approach; Petscher & Kim, 2011).
ICT Considerations
Empirical evidence examining the use of ICT
approaches to improve reading uency is limited.
A study in Kenya, discussed in greater detail in
section 3b above, did not nd additional benet to
more ICT-intensive interventions in terms of reading
uency outcomes (Piper, Zuilkowski, Kwayumba, &
Strigel, 2016). A number of possible applications of
ICTs to improve reading uency exist, however. When
students have e-readers, tablets, or mobile phones,
they can be given a range of texts with which to
practice reading. Devices can also time students as
they read, and allow for the easy gathering of data
on progress over time, which is a challenge in large
classrooms. Teachers may be able to use software
such as Tangerine to collect student uency data and
examine class-level trends. However, such approaches
are not feasible in all settings, as they require a
relatively high level of technical skill among teachers
as well as centralized infrastructure and support.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 33
Research Gaps
Reading uency is widely assessed as a measure
of reading prociency in developing countries,
and has been shown to be related to reading
comprehension in developing countries in L2
contexts (Draper & Spaull, 2013; Piper & Korda,
2011a). The wide use and focus on reading uency
in assessment and instruction in developing
countries assumes it has the same mediating
role in developing countries that it has in high-
income countries (Kim, 2015; Kim & Wagner, R. K.,
2015; Kim, Park, & Wagner, R. K., 2014). However,
empirical examination of the mediating role of
reading uency from developing countries and
various orthographies has been limited. For instance,
in some writing systems (e.g., Thai & Khmer)
word boundaries are not visually marked and the
development of reading uency in these writing
systems would be informative. Furthermore, many
developing countries have developed reading uency
benchmarks. Although benchmarks are useful for
monitoring progress and are set in dierent ways
(e.g., using normative information about reading
trajectory data or a desired rate of progress), the
normative performance level itself is a moving
target. In many low-income countries, students
were not able to read any words in connected texts
(i.e., zero score in reading uency) at baseline (e.g.,
EDC, 2013; Falconer-Stout et al., 2015; Piper, 2010b;
RTI, 2016a), but improve their reading skills with
evidence-based instruction. It is important, then,
that benchmarks are continuously evaluated or
adjusted as more empirical data become available. It
is also important to reiterate here that improvement
in reading uency itself is not the end goal, but an
important skill to improving reading comprehension.
Finally, although reading uency assessments
including benchmarks provide useful information,
reading uency should be used as one of the several
indicators of reading prociency.
Section D. Reading Comprehension
Background: What is Reading Comprehension
and Why is it Important?
Reading comprehension is “the process of
extracting and constructing meaning through
interaction and involvement with written language”
(RAND study group, 2002, p. 11), and is the ultimate
goal of reading. As shown in previous sections,
reading comprehension draws on both word reading
(decoding printed words) and listening comprehension
(understanding meaning), and complex processes on
which each of these draw (see Figure 2). Therefore,
without appropriate development and coordination
of these multiple processes, reading comprehension
cannot be achieved.
Evidence from Developing
The evidence on approaches
that facilitate reading
comprehension in developing
country contexts is emerging. In
contrast to relatively consistent
eects on building-block reading
skills such as decoding and
reading uency, interventions
have yielded limited impact or mixed results in
reading comprehension skills. Many studies in L1
and/or L2 found no eect in reading comprehension
(Azami & Pava, 2014*; Badiable et al., 2013*; Dunlop,
2015*; Friedlander et al., 2012*; Guajardo et al., 2012*,
2013*; Jonason et al., 2014*; Karki & Dowd, 2013*;
Moulvi et al., 2014*; Moulvi & Pava, 2014*; Mungoi et
al., 2010*; Pallante & Kim, 2013; Pinto, 2010*; Pisani
& Alvarado, 2012*; Pisani et al., 2014*; Rosenkranz et
al., 2014*; Wickramasekara et al., 2014*). For instance,
in Haiti, children were provided multicomponent
reading instruction in Haitian Creole for a year, but
this yielded no eect on reading comprehension for
students in Grades 1 and 2 (RTI, 2015b).
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy34
When positive eects were found, most of them were
small or varied. Small eects were found in Ethiopia
(Gebreanenia et al., 2014), Haiti (Save the Children,
2013), Indonesia (Brown, 2013*), Jordan (RTI, 2014a),
Kenya (RTI, 2014b*, RTI, 2015a), Malawai (Pouezevara
et al., 2013), Mozambique (Raupp et al., 2015*), and
Zambia (Falconer-Stout et al., 2015*). Varying eects
were reported for students in dierent grades: Eect
sizes ranged from .05 to .58 for students in Grades
1 and 2 in Kenya (Piper et al., 2015); a positive eect
for students in Grade 4 but not in Grade 2 in Malawi
(Dowd & Mabeti, 2011*); and inconsistent results
across grades 1, 2, and 3 in Mali (Spratt et al., 2013).
Exceptions were a few studies where moderate to
large eect sizes were found—Liberia (DeStefano et
al., 2013*; Piper & Korda, 2011a32), Nigeria (RTI, 2016a),
and Papua New Guinea (World Bank, 2016*). In the
study in Liberia, students were assigned to control,
light treatment, and full treatment conditions.
Children in the control condition did not receive
multi-component systematic instruction whereas
children in the full treatment condition received
reading instruction and teachers were supported
with instructional materials, training, and coaching.
Parents and communities were also informed of
students’ performance. The light treatment condition
consisted of parents and community being informed
of student performance, but without direct instruction
in reading. Results showed consistently that children
in the full treatment condition outperformed those in
the control and light treatment condition. There was
practically no dierence between control versus light
treatment condition.
Summary of Important Design
Considerations and Challenges
n Ensure solid foundations in word reading
and listening comprehension.
Prociency in word reading and listening
comprehension is necessary for reading
comprehension—both are necessary and one
cannot compensate for the other (see Figure 2).
Therefore, for children who are struggling with
reading comprehension, whether the child’s
struggle is due to word reading and/or listening
comprehension should be determined, followed
by systematic instruction on the identied areas.
Many of the reviewed studies reported little to
weak eects on listening comprehension, compared
to word reading (see Sections B and C). Therefore,
a logical next step is to expand our understanding
about eective instructional approaches to improve
oral language prociency (see Section C), and
consequently reading comprehension. This applies
to literacy acquisition in both L1 and L2 contexts.
n Directly teach reading comprehension
strategies. (Shanahan et al., 2010)
Reading comprehension strategies include
questioning, visualization, text structure (how
information is presented), summarizing, and
retelling. Teachers should ask what, when, where,
why, and how questions, and encourage students
to raise questions as they read texts. Teachers
should verbally express their own comprehension
processes as they read passages. For instance,
when the teacher reads a sentence that does not
make sense, the teacher pauses and says, “This
part does not make sense to me. Let me reread this
n Secure daily designated and extended
time for literacy instruction.
Instructional time needs to be allotted for teaching
reading comprehension and for students actually to
engage in reading. Because reading comprehension
draws on a host of skills such as word reading and
listening comprehension as well as language and
cognitive skills that support word reading and
listening comprehension, development of reading
comprehension takes prolonged time. However,
classroom observation studies for students in
Grades 2 and 3 in Zambia (Falconer-Stout, 2015)
as well as those in Grade 2 in Nigeria (RTI,
32 Only for full implementation condition, but not for light condition.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 35
2016a) revealed that only a small proportion of
instructional time was spent on teaching reading
comprehension than teaching word reading and
related emergent literacy skills (Falconer-Stout,
2015). For example, teachers in a treatment group
in Nigeria spent, on average, 2.4 to 4.8 minutes on
vocabulary and comprehension instruction out of
a total of 45 minutes of reading instruction (RTI,
n Consider language and cultural
One way to promote reading comprehension is
raising questions while reading texts. However,
cultures vary in terms of raising questions about
content presented by perceived authority gures
such as authors (e.g., Dixon, Graber, & Brooks-
Gunn, 2008; Iyengar & Lepper, 1999). In this
context, it is important to inform students about
the purpose of the questioning strategy—to better
comprehend the author’s intended meaning.
Furthermore, cultural variation should be taken
into consideration for text structure instruction.
Dierent cultures develop their own ways of
presenting stories and information, and it is
critical that teachers and educators analyze texts
to determine how texts are structured in their
specic cultural contexts (Heath, 1983). Studies in
the US have shown that reading comprehension
suers when texts do not follow expected
structures (Baker & Stein, 1981).
Consideration of Environmental
Characteristics and Resources
The “Book Flood” approach in Niue, Fiji, Singapore,
Sri Lanka, South Africa, the Solomon Islands
and other countries consisted of “ooding” about
100 high interest books per classroom into resource
poor environments (Elley, 2000). Results from
dierent contexts suggested that the eect of the
presence of books alone was negligible. Instead, when
accompanied by simple training for teachers, children
spent more time reading (Elley & Mangubhai, 1983;
Haz & Tudor, 1989) and achieved higher reading
skills than those in control schools (Elley, 2000).
Pratham’s Story Weaver (an online, open source site
to develop books) and the Children's Book Project
for Tanzania are additional examples of eorts to
expand the supply of engaging and appropriate
books for children, to support a culture of reading. In
contrast, the Improving Quality of Primary Education
Program in Ethiopia did not result in increased EGRA
scores (Kraft & Epstein, 2014). This might be because
although the Improving Quality of Primary Education
Program provided mother tongue supplementary
storybooks, mobile library shelves, slates, alphabet
sorts, chalk and stationary to school-based reading
centers, there were still too many students per class
and too few actual teaching and learning materials to
have an impact. These studies indicate that although
availability of suitable books is critical and necessary
to promoting reading development other factors such
as class size and student to book ratios can impede
comprehension and frustrate these eorts.
Strategies employed to sustain progress in ensuring
all children have access to books include: 1) the
development of national book policies, 2) the
establishment of a Children's Book Forum to network
book development professionals and raise awareness
of the importance of books, and 3) the formation of a
purchasing consortium to increase economies of scale,
especially for government book purchasing in the
future. However, it will take more time to determine
if supply chain and demand issues have been
addressed such that local book production sustainably
increases supply. Finally, donor groups such as
USAID, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Aairs,
UKAID and the Global Partnership for Education are
supporting the development of a Global Book Fund
Alliance. The goal of the Global Book Fund Alliance
is to transform the development, procurement and
distribution of books, leveraging nancing strategies
built on experience from the health sector to lower
costs while increasing distribution and quality.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy36
Assessment Considerations
Typical reading comprehension assessment informs
us about students’ performance levels. However,
important for instructional purposes is information
about why students performs at a particularly level.
Therefore, in addition to reading comprehension,
assessment on word reading (including reading
uency) and oral language prociency should be
conducted. Extant studies have been highly uniform
in the format of reading comprehension assessment—
asking children to read a passage and then asking
ve comprehension questions. This is limiting in
many aspects, including the fact that the children are
generally only asked to read one passage and answer
a single set of questions. This has implications for
reliability and validity (see above for similar issues
for listening comprehension assessment in Section C).
In addition, these tasks may not be sensitive enough
to accurately capture reading comprehension for
students with low reading prociency. For instance,
a sentence-level reading comprehension task (e.g.,
the student hears a sentence and identify veracity
of the statement) might be able to capture students'
emerging reading comprehension more accurately for
students with low reading prociency.
Illustrative Example: Reading Comprehension Strategy Instruction
The following activity, Thinker’s Spinner, contributed by Save the Children, is designed to
promote use of reading comprehension strategies (see above).
Predict: What do you think will happen next? What do you think will happen ve years from now?
Explain: What are the dierent steps in this process? What are the causes behind this event?
Summarize: What were the main characters? Where did the story happen? What were the main events
in the story? What is the author’s main idea? What are some ideas used to support the main idea?
Evaluate: Do you think the author used good evidence or argument to support the main idea? Why or
why not? What do you like/not like about the story and why?
Use the spinner to ensure a variety in the types of questions students get to respond to about
a given text.
Create a spinner out of a paper plate
or card stock. Divide and label the
spinner into four segments: predict,
explain, summarize, and evaluate.
When rst using the spinner, explain
each thinking task and demonstrate
each task in the context of a story or
text just read.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 37
ICT Considerations
ICT applications for literacy oer numerous
possibilities for enhancing and assessing
comprehension. For example, students reading a text
on an e-reader, mobile phone, or tablet could answer
a series of on-screen comprehension questions. The
multilingual Bridges to the Future software, used in
South Africa, uses a game approach to test children's
comprehension of reading material (Wagner, D.
A., 2014). Using software such as Tangerine (Kipp,
Strigel, & Pouezevara, 2016), student responses
could be collected by teachers for quick assessment
of reading comprehension, even in a large class. In
Tangerine, teachers can build assessments aimed
at the specic skills their students are working on,
and observe changes over time. However, despite
the existence of such applications, teacher usage in
developing countries is often limited due to lack of
comfort and faculty with the technology and lack of
the facilities, infrastructure, and sta to support its
use in this manner.
Research Gaps
Much of the extant research in low-income
countries consists of randomized evaluations
of multicomponent interventions. Although this
approach is highly informative and might make sense
for cost-eectiveness purposes, more ne-grained
information is necessary. As reviewed above, there is
large variation in the multi-component intervention
eects, ranging from no eect to a large eect on
reading comprehension. However, it is unclear what
explains such large variation. Therefore, systematic
eorts are needed to elucidate factors that contribute
to dierential eects and the conditions under which
literacy interventions do or do not work. Studies
have shown that the literacy achievement levels
of multicomponent interventions vary by location
(urban, rural), school types, gender, language
backgrounds, and socio-economic backgrounds
(Falconer-Stout et al., 2015; Piper et al., 2015; Raupp
et al., 2015). Additionally, intervention eects may
vary as a function of students’ initial skill levels
and desired instructional approaches and dosage
(intensity) that meet students’ varying needs—for
students at dierent developmental levels (e.g., for
students in the initial phase of development), greater
intensity on decoding might pay o whereas for
students beyond the initial phase, increased intensity
in oral language would be more benecial. Evidence
about feasible and eective instructional approaches
to dierentiated instruction is also needed.
Section E. Writing for Meaning
Background: What is Writing for Meaning
and Why is it Important?
Writing is producing texts in print at sublexical
(e.g., writing orthographic symbols), lexical
(spelling words), and discourse levels (writing
sentences and paragraphs, also called written
composition). Written composition refers to the
ability to express one’s ideas in written texts in a
coherent and organized manner, and is one of the
most challenging learning tasks. As such, written
composition takes years to develop and goes through
various phases (Kellogg, 2008). Written composition
occurs in various genres including narrative and
informational texts. Writing is an increasingly critical
skill in daily lives including developing countries.
Also, although evidence is not available from
developing countries, evidence from the US indicates
that writing development has a positive eect on
reading development (see a review by Graham &
Hebert, 2010). Therefore, writing instruction should be
an integral part of early literacy instruction.
What Does it Take to Develop Writing?
Early writing develops in phases from scribbling
and drawing, writing strings of orthographic
symbols, writing simple words to complex words,
sentences, and passages. Figure 5 presents these
skills necessary to develop written composition,
and the structural relations among skills. Written
composition depends on students’ transcription
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy38
skills (spelling and handwriting) and expressive
oral language (Berninger et al., 2002; Juel, Grith,
& Gough, 1986; Kim et al., 2011, 2015; Kim &
Schatschneider, in press), both of which, in turn,
rely on a complex set of language and cognitive
skills (Kim & Schatschneider in press). For written
composition, students need to develop prociency in
transcription skills and text generation. Transcription
skills include spelling and handwriting (McCutchen,
2000). Spelling skills rely on development of the
emergent literacy skills, and require an explicit and
systematic instruction (see Chapter 2 Section B).
Written composition also requires generation of ideas
on a given topic. Therefore, oral language skills as
well as background knowledge are essential because
generated ideas cannot be expressed without using
words, phrases, and sentences (Berninger et al., 2002;
Kim et al., 2011, 2014, 2015; Kim & Schatschneider, in
pr e ss).
Evidence from Developing Countries
Evidence is extremely
limited. Even the few
extant studies were about
emergent writing (i.e., copying;
Falconer-Stout et al., 2015)
and spelling (RTI, 2016a; Taha
& Saiegh-Haddad, in press)
with virtually no studies on
written composition. Classroom
observations in Nigeria
revealed time spent on writing
instruction (handwriting and spelling) was extremely
limited, ranging from 1.6 minutes to 4.5 minutes
(RTI, 2016a). Despite this, with a multicomponent
intervention, Grade 2 students' letter writing and
spelling improved with a small eect (RTI, 2014a) and
moderate eects (RTI, 2016a). In Taha and Saiegh-
Haddad’s (in press) study, elementary grade Arabic
readers were provided instruction on phonological
awareness and morphological awareness, and their
spelling skills improved compared to students who
did not receive instruction in phonological awareness
and morphological awareness. The development of
morphological awareness was particularly eective
for poor readers in Grades 4 and 6. Furthermore,
there was a transfer eect of phonological and
morphological awareness such that the development
of phonological awareness facilitated the development
of morphological awareness and vice versa. Although
these studies are promising, there is a dire need for
research in written composition in developing country
environments across dierent writing systems (e.g.,
what factors inuence writing development, what are
eective instructional approaches).
Summary of Important Design
Considerations and Challenges
n Explicitly teach transcription skills
(handwriting and spelling).
Handwriting instruction should include how to
hold a pencil or chalk for ecient writing, guided
practice about how to write orthographic symbols
from memory (e.g., see Berninger et al., 1997).
Systematic spelling instruction should progress
from one-syllable words to multisyllabic words
with attention to orthographic symbol knowledge,
phonological awareness, morphological awareness,
and orthographic awareness (Berninger et al.,
1998; Graham, Harris, & Chorzempa, 2002; Taha
& Saiegh-Haddad, in press; Wanzek et al., 2006).
Importantly, in systematic spelling instruction,
words for spelling instruction should be carefully
selected by considering patterns of words (e.g.,
Invented spelling is the student’s best guess or
attempt, but incorrect spelling of a target word,
utilizing his or her knowledge of phonology,
orthography, and morphology of the language.
For example, DRD for dirty is a good, but
incorrect attempt, using phonetic and letter
knowledge. The student used letter sound
knowledge for /d/ and /r/ sounds. The syllable
nal /d/ is also a reasonable attempt because –ty
sounds very close to name of the letter d.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 39
Figure 5. Component skills of writing and their relations
based on the model (in Kim & Schatschneider, in press)
words that have the same pattern or principle; e.g.,
cat, pat, bat, mat contain at).
Beginning spellers across writing systems should
be encouraged to attempt their best spelling,
called invented spelling. In contrast to the widely-
held belief in many developing countries that
students should not be allowed to make mistakes
in spelling (EDC, 2014a), evidence is robust that
invented spelling facilitates reading and spelling
development by drawing students’ attention to
sequence of sounds and their connection
to orthographic symbols (Frith, 1985;
McBride-Chang, 1998; Senechal,
Ouellette, Pagan, & Lever, 2012). In the
Democratic Republic of Congo, teachers’
corrective feedback in invented spelling
was related to students’ improved
reading performance (EDC, 2014a).
n Teach writing for meaning
(written composition), not just
copying, as soon as students can
start representing sounds using
orthographic symbols.
Many teachers in developing countries
believe that it is not appropriate for
children to write until they can write
properly (typically in Grade 4 and
beyond, EDC, 2013*, 2014a). However,
sentence and paragraph writing
should not wait until students develop
conventional spelling skills. When
students can write using invented
spelling, they should be given daily
opportunities to write in sentences for
authentic purposes. For instance,
Figure 6 is a sentence written by a four-
year old child using invented spelling.31
Although this child’s spelling is not
conventionally accurate yet, by using
invented spelling, she has learned that
writing is a means of expressing her
Figure 6. An example of emergent writing
(I love to eat candy)
31 One approach to promote writing for beginning writers is the interactive writing approach (see Roth & Guinee, 2011)
thought in print, and actively practiced sound-
symbol associations.
n Secure time for daily writing, integrated
with reading and other subject areas.
Writing should be taught on its own and also
integrated with reading instruction across all subjects
and content areas. This increases opportunities to
practice writing and also promotes authentic writing
for dierent purposes and content areas.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy40
n Model how to express ideas using various
vocabulary words and sentences (G r a ham
et al., 2012).
Teachers should model how to use interesting
and precise vocabulary words in writing for
authentic purposes. For example, the teacher can
demonstrate writing a letter, memo, or stories.
During writing, instead of nice, the teacher might
use fascinating, excellent, stupendous, gorgeous,
delightful, and pleasant, depending on the context.
Teachers can demonstrate word choice by
describing their thinking process (e.g., "I am going
to use the word, delightful, instead of nice because it
is a more interesting word). Teachers may display
frequently used, sophisticated words on the word
wall or the class may have ‘a word bank’ which
lists synonyms and antonyms of high frequency
words so that students can use them up during
various processes of writing.
Teachers should also model how to compose
sentences that express intended meaning
accurately. Teachers can start with simple
sentences and progress toward more complex ones.
Sentence expansion and sentence combining are
useful activities. For example, the two sentences,
“My brother is tall. My brother is fast.” can be
combined to My brother is tall and fast. This can
be also combined with “He won the race” and
expanded to My tall and fast brother won the race.
Instruction on combining sentences should be
integrated into writing, and should not be an
isolated drill (e.g., using worksheets). Teachers can
demonstrate and model the process of combining
and modifying sentences during various processes
of writing such as drafting and revising.
n Demonstrate how to use multiple writing
strategies during various phases of
writing process (Graham et al., 2012).
Writing involves an iterative process of various
phases including planning (what to say and how
to say the content), drafting (initial, rst draft),
revising (making changes), editing (changes in
writing conventions such as punctuation), and
publishing (sharing) (see Figure 7). Good writers
typically do not follow this sequence linearly or
spend the same amount of time in each process.
Instead, they go forward or backward depending
on needs. Dierent writing strategies are relevant
and useful in each phase of writing. For instance,
during the planning phase, students need to select
and organize ideas. During the drafting process,
students need to nd ways to express ideas using
precise vocabulary and sentences, and appropriate
text structures (see Graham, 2006, Graham et al.,
2012; Harris, Graham, Mason, & Fridlander, 2008;
Limpo & Alves, in press for further research-
validated writing strategies). During revision
process, students revise their writing, paying
attention to expressions, organizations, and others'
feedback. Then, the composition is read with a
focus on spelling and punctuation and writing
conventions (i.e., editing). Finally, nished product
is shared with peers in the class, school, and
com munit y.
Consideration of Environmental
Characteristics and Resources
Writing for meaning and various purposes is
not a commonly taught activity in schools in
developing countries. In addition, materials to write
on are often scarce. Even workbooks for children are
generally reused from year to year, and students jot
down answers in their own copy books if they have
them. In fact, disposable materials are generally
Figure 7. Iterative writing process
Initial draftPublishing
Editing Revising
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy 41
frowned upon as not cost eective. Some options to
mitigate the cost of new workbooks for writing every
year include having students write down their own
stories or having older grade students make books
with stories for lower grade students. This sort of
practice with writing—for expression and not for
form—is critical. Story Weaver, from Pratham Books,
and the African Storybook Project, oer opportunities
for nascent writers (including students) to write their
own stories. However, the online interface that both
programs demand could be an obstacle to getting
students to write in contexts where electricity and
internet connectivity are an issue.
Assessment Considerations
Spelling is typically assessed through dictation
tasks. An important aspect of spelling assessment
is the analysis of spelling errors—whether
student’s misspelling is due to lack of phonological,
orthographic, or morphological understanding.
Careful examination of spelling errors reveals much
information about what students know, and know but
confuse (e.g., see spelling error analysis in Arabic,
Abu-Rabia & Taha, 2006), and instruction should
target areas that students know but confuse (see
Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnson, 2012). In
general, spelling words with consistent sound-symbol
correspondences on the syllable initial and nal
position develops rst, followed by medial vowels,
and then words with inconsistent sound-symbol
Written composition is typically assessed by asking
students to write about a given topic or prompt,
which may or may not accompany illustrations
or reading materials (writing after gathering
information from the assigned reading). Compared to
reading, evaluation of writing (written composition)
is relatively more complex, and there are multiple
approaches34 (Espin, Weissenburger, & Benson, 2004;
Kim et al., 2014). In general, ‘quality’ of writing is
evaluated using a rubric. Table 3 shows an example
of a writing quality rubric, which can be modied to
dierent scales such as 1-5 or 1-7, for instance.
Another widely used evaluation approach is writing
productivity (amount of writing) as indicated by the
number of words written.35 Although the amount of
writing is not an end goal of writing, quality writing
requires certain amount of writing and elaboration.
Not surprisingly, writing productivity has a moderate
to strong relation with writing quality, particularly
for beginning writers (Abbott & Berninger, 1993;
Kim et al., 2014, Kim, Al Otaiba, Wanzek, & Gatlin,
2015; Wagner, R. K. et al., 2011). Therefore, writing
productivity may be used as one indicator of writing
prociency for beginning writers.
Whichever evaluation approach is employed, there
are some important guidelines to keep in mind. First,
establish clear and consistent evaluation criteria.
When looking for quality of writing, various aspects
are considered such as idea development, organization
of ideas, use of vocabulary and varying sentence
structures. Then all these dierent aspects (ideas,
organization, vocabulary, and sentence use) have to
be consistently considered across the rating scale. If
quality of writing does not include judgements on
handwriting and spelling, then the raters or teachers
have to be careful not let these writing conventions
inuence their scoring of writing quality. Second,
consistently apply evaluation criteria. When teachers
evaluate students’ writing quality based on the
rubric, it is important to apply the rubric consistently
across times so that students receive consistent
scores regardless of when student’s writing was
evaluated (i.e., within-rater reliability). If multiple
34 Most widely used in school settings in the US are quality rubric similar to what is shown in Table 3. Other approaches include writing
productivity (amount of writing) and curriculum-based writing. The latter has been typically used in special education in the US.
Although reliability and validity evidence exists for curriculum-based writing (see McMaster & Espin, 2007), it requires further study
for its utility in school settings.
35 When counting number of written words, recognizable words with invented spelling are counted. Excluded are nonsensible string of
words or multiple repetition of the same words.
Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy42
Criteria 1 2 3 4
Little evidence of
ideas is present.
A sense of a main
idea is emerging.
Ideas are overall coherent
but lacks focus. Details are
Main are coherent, focused,
logical, and novel. Details
are appropriate.
Organization No evidence of
Emerging evidence
of organizational
Logical organization but
some mishaps
Logical and eective of
and sentence
Little evidence
of eect use of
vocabulary and
sentences (few words
and sentences)
Vocabulary words
are mostly common
words and sentence
structure is simple.
Some interesting and
descriptive vocabulary
words are used, and
attempts to use varied
sentences are made.
Vocabulary words are
precise. Sentence structures
are appropriate for
expressing the main idea
cle arly.
Spelling Few words are spelled
co r rectly.
Many high frequency,
one-syllable words
tend to be spelled
co r rectly.
Many words are spelled
correctly, but many errors
are found for multisyllabic
Spelling is mostly correct.
Punctuation Punctuation is not
Punctuation use is
Commonly used
punctuations are correctly
Various punctuations
are attempted and used
co r rectly.
people are involved in evaluation, consistency
across raters (inter-rater reliability) needs to be
established. Establishing consistency or reliability
requires rigorous training (Kim et al., 2014; Kim,
Schatschneider, Wanzek, Gatlin, & Al Otaiba, under
review). Three, collect multiple samples of writing
(Graham, Harris, & Hebert, 2011; Kim et al., under
review). Assessing students’ writing on a single task
or genre does not provide a full, clear picture about
the student’s writing skill. Therefore, it is important
to assess students’ writing skill using multiple
prompts or tasks.
ICT Considerations