Regarding the April 12 story, “First ‘Japanese’ international school debuts“: Maria Montessori wrote, almost a century ago, that 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers will learn to read spontaneously if they get “sufficient” practice forming alphabet letters. Although boldly claimed in her book, “The Montessori Method,” I found that this possibility had, strangely, never before been subjected to a scientific test.
In 2002-2004 I conducted an experiment over the Internet that utilized five kindergarten teachers who provided data on 106 kindergarten students (who formed the experimental group) as they practiced printing fluency and we monitored their reading ability. In addition, I used five other first-grade teachers who did not make the effort of inducing printing practice, but who only measured how much of the serial alphabet students could print in a timed, 20-second period of time, and the correlation with reading skill. These 94 students formed a control group.
The correlation was very obvious in all 10 classrooms. We found that all but a very small percentage of students read well, and with good comprehension, shortly after the point in time when they were able to print at least the first 13 letters within 20 seconds. Multiplied by three, this equates with a fluency rate of 39 letters per minute.
The children enjoyed the practice sessions and observing their gradual increase in fluency as the weeks passed. No apparent stress was noted, and it was found that the median kindergartner, after spending five minutes daily of each school day to practice printing, was “printing fluent” after a mere three months. (But printing fluency didn’t correlate with reading skill among older students, according to our results with a group of 50 fourth-graders.)
The kindergartners wrote and read with about the same skill as the first graders at the end of the winter of school. The fact that kindergartners were reading and writing at a level of children a full grade ahead shows that the early acquisition of literacy in the experimental kindergarten group was caused by the dedicated attempt to induce practiced fluency in printing, and not just a coincidental marker of some third, and unknown, causative factor.
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