During the Covid-19 pandemic, not every child had access to structured teaching. In the period of confinement, throughout two weeks, an introduction to literacy program was put into practice with online sessions aimed at five-year old children. The project, developed by the prestigious researcher Patricia Kuhl and a team from the universities of Washington and Stanford, stands out as the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of a totally online project targeting this age group.
Participants received a package at home containing the equipment and materials necessary to daily undertake one hour of activities fostering phonetics (phonologic awareness exercises, letter-word identification, reading words, etcetera) and an hour of teacher guided reading. This involved two teachers leading small groups (with a total of six members) for 2.5 hours per day (including intervals). On each day, the teaching would include letter learning sessions, phonologic awareness, activities integrating a group dynamic and always ending the session with the reading of a story.
There were normally two to three children and one teacher participating in these activities (through platforms such as Zoom) but also including exercises that joined all of the group together (six children and two teachers). The basic reading skills program incorporated evidence based practices, adapting the contents to be integrally online. This also extended to the multimodal learning activities through games and thick and fine motor movements. Through these sessions, the children learn two new letters per day, resulting in the learning of 20 letters by the end of the program. The teacher would introduce the letter on the screen alongside the picture of an object beginning with the corresponding sound. Afterwards, the teacher would encourage the participants to repeat the name of the letter, the word and the sound. They would also engage in games structured and led by the teacher and with the activities organised into levels of difficulty that would rise over the course of the program.
The 83 children in the experimental groups and 33 in the control group carried out four sessions of online evaluation, two pre-tests and two post-tests, in order to measure their progress in reading and thereby generating metrics for the program’s results. The two groups did not differ according to their socioeconomic levels or the education qualifications of their parents, representative of lower level contexts.
The results convey how five-year old children may benefit from well-structured reading instruction programs, even when short in duration and in synchronous online formats in which teachers and students interact simultaneously in a virtual space. In comparison with their peers not receiving any online education, the participants displayed a significant increase in their evaluated capacity, especially as regards their phonologic awareness.
Another interesting aspect is how the children who participated in the online sessions also registered significant improvements to their capacities to decodify the sounds of capital letters and pseudo-words even while these were not directly taught by the session materials. This outcome reflects a transfer of learning to other reading related cognitive capacities.
Weiss, Y., Yeatman, J. D., Ender, S., Gijbels, L., Loop, H., Mizrahi, J. C., Woo, B. Y. & Kuhl, P. K. (2022) Can an Online Reading Camp Teach 5-Year-Old Children to Read? Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 16:793213. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2022.793213
NRP. (2020). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf