The Importance of Effective Early Intervention
Dorothy S. Strickland
The Case for Prevention and Intervention
Few would argue that learning to read is the most important accomplishment of a child's early elementary school experience. Fortunately, by the time most children enter fourth grade, they have learned to read with sufficient comprehension and fluency to approach new material with confidence. For these children, learning to read and write follows a relatively predictable pattern. Their success can be traced to a variety of attributes and experiences, some of which preceded their formal schooling: (a) They have normal or above average language skills, (b) they come from homes that provide them with a fair amount of motivating and pleasurable experiences with books and literacy, and (c) the schools they attend offer experiences that help them understand and use reading to make meaning with print and offer frequent opportunities to read and write. Although some of these children may have periodic difficulties with specific aspects of literacy learning, their overall progress is steady and sure. As they encounter the more formal and complex tasks involved in conventional reading and writing, influences at home and school help these children build successfully on their early experiences with literacy (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).
For some children, however, learning to read can be difficult and unrewarding. The reasons for this vary widely. Acquiring literacy may be especially challenging for children with a history of preschool language impairment (Scarborough, 1998), children with limited proficiency in English (August & Hakuta, 1997), children whose parents had difficulty learning to read (Gilger, Pennington, & DeFries, 1991; Vogler, DeFries, & Decker, 1985), children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Shaywitz, Fletcher, & Shaywitz, 1995), children who lack motivation to read (Snow, Barnes, Chandler, Goodman, & Hemphill, 1991), and children from poor neighborhoods (Teddlie, Kirby, & Stringfield, 1989). However, although one or more of these factors are often present when children are experiencing difficulty learning to read, none is an automatic barrier to literacy development. For example, although low achievement is a widespread problem among poor children whose first language is not the language of instruction, it is likely that neither linguistic differences nor poverty alone is solely responsible for the high degree of risk faced by these children.
One important reason for the current emphasis on early intervention (i.e., programs designed to positively influence the course of language and literacy development in children age 0–8) is the research evidence indicating that a pattern of school failure starts early and persists throughout a child's school career. Longitudinal studies (Juel, 1988) show that there is an almost 90% chance that a child who is a poor reader at the end of grade 1 will be a poor reader at grade 4. These children grow to dislike reading and, therefore, read considerably less than good readers both in and out of school. This is an important finding, because time spent reading is highly correlated with achievement in learning to read (Allington, 1980; Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988; Stanovich, 1986; Stanovich & Cunningham, 1998).
Another compelling reason to promote early intervention is the realization that supplementary remedial programs such as Title I and “replacement” programs that substitute for regular, in-class instruction have had mixed results (Johnston, Allington, & Afflerbach, 1985). Some researchers suggest that such programs complicate the process for the struggling reader by offering approaches to reading that are philosophically different from those offered in the classroom (Santa & Hoien, 1999). Regardless of the reason for a child's failure in reading, educators recognize their responsibility to provide programs that preempt potential problems early and thwart the potential for a chain of failure throughout the school years.
Strickland, D.S. (2002).
The Importance of Effective Early Intervention.
In A.E. Farstrup, & S. Samuels (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (pp. 69-86). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.