Common roots of problems in literacy and mathsPublications
In the last decade researchers examined relatively independent from each other the developmental pathways of literacy and numeracy competencies as well as their specific precursor skills which emerge before school enrollment and predict corresponding later school performance. Nevertheless there is some evidence that the developmental pathways of literacy and numeracy competencies do not proceed independently. Therefore it was the aim of this study to analyze the interrelations and potential mutual impacts on the development of these two domains.
With a longitudinal research design we wanted to examine how these two competence domains develop and whether there are early interactions. To which extend diagnostic tests administered to children in preschool are appropriate to predict later emerging isolated or combined learning difficulties or disorders was another important question of our study.
In our longitudinal study nearly 220 children took part. At the beginning of the assessment study in October 2010 the participating were children four years old and visited their penultimate year of preschool. In order to display their development we visited the children two times a year; so there have been taken four measurements in preschool. At each time we measured their literacy and numeracy precursor skills as well as other cognitive and non-cognitive aptitudes important for acquisition of academic competencies. At 1st grade reading, writing and math performance of the children were assessed also semiannually. This first project phase ended with an assessment of academic achievement of the children at the end of their second year at school. So we can analyze the growth of academic performance over six very determining years in the lifespan.
The parents got extensive feedback on the development of their children over the four years duration of the study. Furthermore the kindergarten and school teachers got information on the performance of their group of students.
According to our current results the hypothesized early interaction between literacy and mathematical precursor competencies becomes apparent. Existing deficits in phonological awareness in a broad sense assessed in preschool seem to influence basic quantity-number-competencies like counting abilities and therefore do not have only impact on early literacy but also numerical development. Beyond we could confirm in SEM the relevance of phonological awareness in a narrow sense, which is knowledge of language being constructed out of single phonemes, and higher quantity-number-competencies, such as the linkage between numbers and the corresponding quantity, as direct predictors for domain specific performances in reading, writing, and mathematics at the end of 1st grade. Difficulties in the precursor competencies of both domains lead to a higher risk for combined learning difficulties in reading, writing, and mathematics in the school enrollment phase. Moreover processes of working memory have a domain unspecific influence on precursor competencies and academic achievement and reveal to be another important factor for risk classification of learning difficulties. To which extend low precursor competencies may predict outlasting learning disabilities is a central question for the second phase of this project in which we will monitor the academic achievement of the children until the end of 5th grade.
Common roots of problems in literacy and mathsPublications
This study is the direct continuation of the longitudinal study started in the first project phase; it is based on the same theoretical assumptions as the first phase and on the so far gained empirical results: We hypothesized that there might be an interaction of mathematics, reading and writing precursors very early in kindergarten which are predictive for later comorbid learning difficulties. Results of the first project phase displayed that phonological awareness in the broader sense was associated with basic numerical skills (counting abilities). We therefore assume that phonological awareness in the broader sense has influence on literacy as well as on numerical development. SEM showed additionally that especially phonological awareness in the narrow sense and higher quantity number competencies (quantity to number-word linkage) predict achievements and difficulties in reading, writing and mathematics at end of grade 1.
We aim to answer the question whether diagnostic tests of numerical and literacy achievement of 4- to 5-year-old children are adequate to differentially predict isolated or comorbid learning difficulties in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of primary school. We want to further observe if the association of phonological awareness in broader sense and basic numerical skills explains that deficits in basic literacy precursors not only yield deficits in reading and writing but also lead to comorbid deficits in mathematics. In contrast children with difficulties in higher precursors like phonological awareness in the narrower sense or higher quantity number-word competencies are assumed to show isolated learning difficulties in the specific domain.
We are also interested in sensitive timeframes for risk factors of comorbid learning difficulties. It is possible that comorbid learning disabilities only emerge if basic precursors are already deficient at an early age (4-5 years). This age might be the time of the starting point for comorbid learning disabilities because it is the period in which higher precursors emerge for the first time under the influence of the basic precursors.
The longitudinal design will be continued. About 220 children were already tested repeatedly during the first phase of the study (from kindergarten to end of second grade) and they will be tested at the end of each school year during third to fifth grade. Test instruments are curricular school achievement tests in reading, writing and mathematics as well as test for specific precursors (phonological awareness and quantity number-word competencies).