Improving communication, language and literacy in the early years
- Embed opportunities to develop self-regulation
Self- regulation is defined by the EEF in their Early Years Toolkit as;
“Self-regulatory skills can be defined as the ability of children to manage their own behaviour and aspects of their learning. In the early years, efforts to develop self-regulation often seek to improve levels of self-control and reduce impulsivity”
This guidance acknowledges the role of self-regulation in enhancing children’s early literacy skills; highlighting specifically the correlation between well developed self-regulation skills & later success in school. His leads me to consider the reasons behind this correlation’ particularly role self-regulation plays on supporting literacy skills.
As included in the guidance, there are many strategies which are offered as a way of supporting children to use their self -regulation skills (plan-do-review type activities, shared modelled conversations with adults) but it is being able to delve deeper into the research referenced in this recommendation which may shed light onto the ‘why’ as a way of understanding the ‘how’. This study by Barnett, W. S., Jung, K., Yarosz, D. J., Thomas, J., Hornbeck, A., Stechuk, R., & Burns, S. (2008) showed if a planned experiences to develop children’s self-regulation skills (using a specific curriculum called ‘Tools’) was implemented with 3 & 4 year old children; there was measurable difference made to how much children were able to navigate their own levels of motivation & also use a variety of strategies to continue learning.
The model included in this recommendation (as can be seen below) offers further opportunity to consider the shift in balance between adult led directed towards more child independent learning. When using this in terms of literacy skills, it offers food for thought in what activities are purely adult directed & whether there are more opportunities for the balance to shift in order for children to use their self- regulation skills. Another useful reflection tool….I have added a 2 way arrow to the side of this tool as I would like to be able to move backwards & forwards between the different stages to represent the more fluid nature of delivery.
The 2 strategies discussed in this recommendation (plan-do- review & modelling) are certainly approaches which many early years practitioners use & have proved to be useful in supporting, consolidating & challenge all children regardless of their level of confidence & competence in literacy skills.
Plan-do-review approaches have a vital role to play not only in fostering a sense of security & independence but also provide a familiar & memorable experience where the child can strengthen connections between an experience & literacy. I have seen this used effectively in a range of settings; in very different ways- with the best of them showing a secure understanding of the ‘why’. For example; in one setting, plan-do-review is developed with objects which act as a symbol for key provision areas in the room. (a spade for the sand area for example). Children are invited to choose an object from the basket & start to think about what they may like to do in the area the object represents. This may be modelled sensitively by the adult or it may be a shared conversation. The review time then repeats a similar process with the objects acting as a reminder/hook for the children to recall the experiences they have been involved in. Lots of talk happening with key words being shared in a written form & where appropriate being modelled through writing.
- Support parents to understand how to help their children learn
This recommendation highlights the fundamental role that families have in promoting enjoyment & excellence in literacy skills; discussing that the most effective approaches have facilitated families in supporting their children’s literacy skills & involvement ( for example; knowing how to share books together) & supporting specific families in further developing their own skills or understanding of key literacy approaches. (for example; the way that phonics is taught)
“Promoting shared reading should be a central component of any parental engagement approach” EEF Guidance page 18
Box 10 includes shared reading tips which provide a useful collection of achievable ideas with the intention to raise family & child interaction which in turn could have a further impact on children’s outcomes in reading.
In addition to this guidance, the EEF have also developed in their ‘Big Picture’ publications a specific guidance document ‘Parental engagement: helping parents to support their children’s learning’ which offers more evidence based ideas around 4 themes:
critically review how you work with parents
provide practical strategies to support learning at home
tailor school communications to encourage positive dialogue about learning
offer more sustained and intensive support where needed’
Key recommendations include having a plan for parental involvement, providing play based activities which are accessible for both families & children ( letter & sounds activity bags for example), communications with families which meet their needs & not just the schools’ needs ( online communications for example) & planning family workshops which could be focused on a specific area of learning or a specific skill.
Both guidance’s also acknowledge the challenge of successful parental engagement; particularly being able to engage & sustain engagement with families who may need the most support. From my conversations with practitioners there seems to be a consensus that involving families in shaping the parental engagement plan makes the most impact. Rather than developing a plan which includes what could happen; rather include activities which have been initiated by the families for the families. Such examples I can offer include: ‘play & stay’ type sessions where families are invited in to watch teaching & how adults support children through play. This has proved successful as it offers families a less threatening opportunity to find out about specific strategies as well as providing another opportunity for quality adult-child interaction. Many settings; particularly in areas where Children Centre provision have reduced or completely disappeared are operating a similar approach for families. Sessions like PEEP https://www.peeple.org.uk/peep-groups, Little Explorers or Learning Together take place with part of the session modelling effective support with children & part of the session discussing specific with aspects with parents.
There is also a wealth of information which can be accessed from various communication based agencies which offer supportive resources for families which can be incorporated into the setting parental involvement plan. I particularly like the information included on the ‘Communication Trust’ website www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/resources/resources/resources-for-parents/
Resources include top tips booklets for promoting quality talk & ideas for communication based activities which families & children can participate in together.
The National Literacy Trust Early Years section https://literacytrust.org.uk/early-years/ shares ideas to share books with children or using IT reading resources to support literacy. Their ‘Talk to your baby’ section & ‘Small Talk’ resource includes information in a wide range of different languages too.
- Use high quality assessment to ensure all children make good progress
This recommendation firstly outlines the importance of using assessments to plan for future experiences which are developmentally appropriate for children. It then further explains the distinction between using assessments to monitor progress & those assessments used to help identify a specific literacy difficulty. The latter being discussed with a focus on the importance of upskilling practitioners in understanding the purpose of such assessments & then using this information to identify the most effective targeted intervention approach as necessary.
‘the available assessment tools range in quality, purpose, and ease of use. The EEF’s Early
Years Measures Database is a free online resource that provides an overview of different
measures that can be used with young children.’ page 20
This database outlines the wealth & range of targeted assessments tools currently available
to practitioners with their impact also being identified. The aim of this database is to again build up practitioners understanding of the ‘why’ to inform the ‘how’ in their own settings.
The guidance then goes on to state;
‘The results of diagnostic assessments can be very useful, however, they should be used to
supplement, not replace, professional judgement about a child’s current capabilities and the
best next steps.’ page 20
Box 12: assessing phonological awareness is included in the guidance as an example of how targeted assessments could be beneficial to help practitioners identify specific strengths & areas for further development in order to make the most impact to literacy outcomes. It suggests that by breaking down phonological awareness into smaller components enables practitioners to really focus on potential barriers to success; which subsequently should then be included in future experiences offered to the children either in universal provision or more targeted small group or individual activities).
One of the tools I have found very useful in providing very targeted information to then inform continuing support are the ‘Every Child a talker’ monitoring tool which was originally part of The National Strategies led ‘initiative. As ECaT Lead for Lincolnshire this monitoring tool was invaluable in informing practitioners of the importance of focusing their observations & assessments on the distinct but connected elements of speech, language & communication in order to build up a picture of strengths & areas for further development. This tool was particularly useful in ensuring conversations with speech & language therapists or other agencies in developing targets which are personalised, achievable & promote progression.
The EcaT monitoring tool can be found here on the Foundation Years website
Another tool which I have used with practitioners who support children & families where English is an additional language is a really useful document & can be found here:
www.londonsigbilingualism.co.uk/pdf/gosh.pdfAs well as providing a framework for practitioners to use to build up an account of how the child uses their home language and/or English, this document also offers extremely useful strategies, ideas & approaches to support children in developing their communication skills. Where practitioners have used this, they have been able to build up a more focused understanding of difficulties which may be based on a communication need or difficulties which may be based on the acquisition of English as a language.
- Use high quality targeted support to help struggling children
This recommendation follows on from the previous by discussing in more depth, the type & value of targeted interventions for children who are not yet meeting developmentally related expectations.
The guidance suggests:
‘It can be helpful to think about targeted support through a tiered model of ‘waves’ whereby
high quality initial teaching is supplemented by small group support and subsequently individualised support as necessary.’ page 22
Key elements to ensure that any intervention is successful include ensuring that practitioners are supported effectively by investing in specific training to ensure confidence of the delivery of the intervention, implementing a little & often process so children have regular opportunities to learn & rehearse key skills & also to use an intervention which has shown to improve outcomes (a level of credibility based on research).
‘It is also important that explicit connections are made between targeted interventions and
everyday activities or teaching.’ page 23
In my experience, where children have the opportunity to use their new knowledge & skills developed through the targeted work, learning is more sustained, new ideas are more deeply secured & attitudes to learning are fostered. For example, programmes developed by ‘I can’ (Early Talk Boost for example) provide practitioners with a range of play based structured activities which children participate in in small groups. Also integral to this programme, are links which can then be included in whole class activities; including adult led activities & more child initiated opportunities.
‘After Early Talk Boost, children make statistically significant progress in their early language. On average they make 6 months progress after a nine week intervention helping them to catch up with other children their age. This is twice the amount of progress of children not having the intervention.’ ‘I Can’ evaluation
The guidance also highlights the resource developed by the EEF. Their ‘Promising Programmes List and the Evidence 4 Impact database’ https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/promising/
provide guidance on the existing evidence for different programmes. This list will continue to grow as more interventions are researched & evaluated. One of the interventions included in this database is the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI).
The Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) is designed to improve listening, narrative and vocabulary skills. Three to five weekly sessions are delivered to small groups of children with relatively poor spoken language skills. The 30-week programme starts in the final term of nursery and continues in reception year
Finally…..the guidance concludes with exploring the importance of developing a robust, structured improvement plan to ensure success.
‘Inevitably, change takes time, and we recommend taking at least two terms to plan, develop,
and pilot strategies on a small scale before rolling out new practices across the setting.
Gather support for change across the setting and set aside regular time throughout the year
to focus on this project and review progress.’ page 24
Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Preparing for Literacy: Improving Communication, Language and Literacy in the Early Years’, London: Education Endowment Foundation.’
‘Why Closing the Word Gap Matters: Oxford Language Report’ by Oxford University Press (2018)
‘Simple View of Reading’ as developed by Savage, R., Burgos, G., Wood, E., & Piquette, N. (2015)
Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press
Development Matters in the EYFS (2012) The British Association for Early Education
Language & Literacy in the Foundation Stage (2000) CCEA Northern Ireland Curriculum
Mark Making Matters (2008) The National Strategies
Intervention for a child with persisting speech and literacy difﬁculties: A psycholinguistic approach: Advances in Speech–Language Pathology Stackhouse & Wells (2006)
Barnett, W. S., Jung, K., Yarosz, D. J., Thomas, J., Hornbeck, A., Stechuk, R., & Burns, S. (2008) http://nieer.org/journal-article/educational-effects-tools-mind-curriculum-randomized-trial