may provide a big boost to their reading skills later on, a new study
That small change involves making specific references to print in
books while reading to children – such as pointing out letters and
words on the pages, showing capital letters, and showing how you read
from left to right and top to bottom on the page.
Preschool children whose teachers used print references during
storybook reading showed more advanced reading skills one and even two
years later when compared to children whose teachers did not use such
references. This is the first study to show causal links between
referencing print and later literacy achievement.
"Using print references during reading was just a slight tweak to what
teachers were already doing in the classroom, but it led to a sizeable
improvement in reading for kids," said Shayne Piasta, co-author of the
study and assistant professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State
"This would be a very manageable change for most preschool teachers,
who already are doing storybook reading in class."
Piasta conducted the study with lead investigator Laura Justice,
professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State, as well as
co-investigators Anita McGinty of the University of Virginia and Joan
Kaderavek of the University of Toledo. Their results appear in the
April 2012 issue of the journal Child Development.
The study is part of Project STAR (Sit Together And Read), a
randomized clinical trial based at Ohio State to test the short- and
long-term impacts associated with reading regularly to preschool
children in the classroom.
The study involved more than 300 children in 85 classrooms who
participated in a 30-week shared reading program. As a group, the
children came from low-income homes, started with below-average
language skills and were at substantial risk for later reading
The children were separated into three groups: high-dose STAR (four
reading sessions per week), low-dose STAR (two reading sessions per
week) and a third comparison group who also had four reading sessions
per week. All teachers in the three groups read the same 30 books to
Teachers in the two STAR groups were trained to make specific print
references while reading the books. Teachers in the comparison group
were told to read as they normally would, and were not prompted to
make print references.
Results showed that both one and even two years later, preschoolers in
the high-dose STAR classrooms had higher word reading, spelling and
comprehension skills than did children in the comparison group. The
benefits were not as clear for those in the low-dose STAR classrooms,
although they did seem to have slightly better skills than those
children in the comparison classrooms.
Piasta said it was particularly notable that students in the high-dose
STAR classrooms scored higher on tests of reading comprehension.
"If you're getting kids to pay attention to letters and words, it
makes sense that they will do better at word recognition and
spelling," she said.
"But the fact that they also did better at understanding the passages
they read is really exciting. That suggests this intervention may help
them become better readers."
How do print references help preschoolers become better readers?
Piasta said research suggests it helps children learn the code of
letters and how they relate to words and to meaning.
"By showing them what a letter is and what a letter means, and what a
word is and what a word means, we're helping them to crack the code of
language and understand how to read," she said.
While this study shows the value of using print references with
preschoolers, research suggests very few teachers and parents do this
systematically, according to Piasta.
An earlier study by Justice and her colleagues showed that untrained
teachers reference print about 8.5 times per reading session –
compared to up to 36 times for those who were trained.
Parents are even less likely to make print references while reading to
their children. One study suggests that parents use such references
only about once during a typical 10-minute reading session.
"One of the best things about the power of print referencing is how
easy it would be to implement during shared reading in the classroom,"
"Compared to a lot of interventions, this only requires a small
adjustment to teachers' typical reading style. But it pays large
dividends in reading skills."