Doctoral Student Fellowship

Katie Schmidt Raher, School of Education

Preschool Teacher Practices and the Prevention of Reading Difficulties

Raher

Abstract

The reading achievement gap appears to have its roots, at least in part, in the emergent literacy disparities that already exist between low-income and wealthier children in the early years of their lives. With the goal of assuaging low-income children’s risk for reading difficulties on a broad scale, this study is focused on refining our understanding of which preschool teacher practices have the most significant relationship with the development of emergent literacy skills most predictive of future reading success. Using factor analytic techniques and ordinary fixed-effects regression models, I will analyze the Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research (PCER) national dataset which includes over 300 preschool teachers and nearly 3,000 children. Teachers' practices and educational backgrounds were captured via observational protocols and surveys. It is hypothesized that evidence-based emergent literacy instructional practices, use of differentiated instruction, and teacher-child social interactions will each have a significant and positive effect on emergent literacy growth. This study will also include an investigation of the interaction of such practices and the relationship with emergent literacy growth. Further, due to the developmental nature of emergent literacy, I will examine the hypothesis that children at-risk for reading failure (i.e., due to below average emergent literacy skills upon preschool entry) whose teacher employs optimal practices will experience even more positive benefits in emergent literacy than children not at-risk. The final goal of the study is to examine the relationship between teachers’ general and specialized educational backgrounds and those classroom practices related to emergent literacy growth. This study will provide many implications for those charged with determining curricula for preschool teacher education and generating policy about teacher quality and certification requirements.