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How Preschool Teachers' Experience Informs Early Literacy Instruction

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Myra G. Crouch, Ph.D.

May 5, 2020

For more than 2 decades to now, there has been very little agreement among researchers and educators in the American education system for instruction for teaching young children to read. There has been a growing concern from educators and policymakers to improve the process of literacy acquisition of preschool children, especially in their transition from instruction across the preschool and the early school years. Head Start and pre-k programs are expected to utilize an evidence-based core curriculum based on the philosophy of the whole-child, which promotes children’s learning through classroom interactions versus content-specific curriculum. While school readiness is a central aspect of children’s development in childcare programs, education outcomes are less regulated and follow an eclectic curriculum versus a published curriculum.

With the emphasis placed on the quality of preschool programs and teacher qualifications, only a modest amount of evidence has emerged indicating how the quality of teaching practices in preschool affects child outcomes, specifically as it relates to emergent literacy (Neuman & Cunningham, 2009). Based on a dissertation research study conducted by Crouch (2020) was designed to address the gaps in research that currently exist related to preschool teachers' content knowledge in early literacy instruction and the differences that may exist in instruction across different preschool program settings (Head Start, childcare, and pre-k).The findings from this study were the first of its kind in examining preschool teacher content knowledge in early literacy to the emergent literacy assessment of preschool children before entering kindergarten. Furthermore, the findings supported the notion that the more knowledgeable preschool teachers are in phonemic awareness, the greater the likelihood that preschool-age children will move into kindergarten with the early literacy skills they need. The results from this study showed that public school pre-k teachers were more knowledgeable in early literacy instruction compared to Head Start and childcare preschool teachers. Based on the teachers’ survey results, public school pre-k teachers had received training in concepts of phonemic awareness and phonics. This result further suggested their greater understanding of instruction for developing the emergent literacy skills preschool-aged children needed as they transitioned to kindergarten.

The education level of pre-k teachers when compared to their Head Start and childcare counterparts, was at a higher level, implying a close association of their knowledge in phonemic awareness and phonics as it relates to early literacy instruction. The results from this study also suggest that preschool teacher requirements and credentials vary across different preschool program settings, which has implications for the quality and delivery of instruction (Pianta, Barnett, Burchinal, & Thornburg, 2009). For example, the variability among the education requirements, such as, state licensure requirements that apply to public school pre-k teachers; whereas, Head Start federal regulations require lead teachers to have a Bachelor’s degree (Early et al., 2007), and childcare teachers are not required to have a degree (NICHD, 2005).

Preschool teachers’ content knowledge in phonemic awareness frames the context for how young children acquire emergent literacy skills before they enter kindergarten. The key variations that exist in different preschool program settings were also at the heart of this study. For more than 2 decades, research has focused primarily on reading problems. However, the gap in the literature has persisted as to how to gauge what teachers know about early literacy instruction. Still missing from the discourse is language and literacy professional development, which translates to improved early literacy teaching practices in the classroom, which ultimately leads to successful readers throughout the early grades.


Crouch, M. G. (2020). The relationship between preschool teachers’ knowledge and experience to emergent literacy assessment. Walden University. Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies.

Early, D. M., Maxwell, K. L., Burchinal, M., Bender, C., Henry, G. T., Iriondo-Perez, J., ... Zill, N. (2007). Teachers’ education, classroom quality, and young children’s academic skills: Results from seven studies of preschool programs. Child Development, 78(2), 558-580.

National Institute of Child Health Human Development (NICHD) Early Child Care Research Network. (2005). Child Care and Child Development Results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Washington, DC. Author.

Neuman, S. B., & Cunningham, L. (2009). The impact of professional development and coaching on early language and literacy instructional practices. American Educational Research Journal, 46(2), 532-566.

Pianta, R. C., Barnett, W. S., Burchinal, M., & Thornburg, K. R. (2009). The effects of preschool education: What we know, how public policy is or is not aligned with the evidence base, and what we need to know. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 10(2), 49-88.

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