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Discuss Why It Is Important to Identify and Intervene With Young Children Who Experience Early Language Delays and Poor Emergent Literacy Skills

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Almost all children learn the rules of their language at an early age through use, and over time, without formal instruction. Thus one source for learning must be genetic. Humans beings are born to speak; they have an innate gift for figuring out the rules of the language used in their environment

The environment itself is also a significant factor. Children learn the specific variety of language (dialect) that the important people around them speak.

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During the first years of life, children undergo major developmental changes across a range of domains. In particular, the entry into “formal language” is one of the most heralded achievements of early development

Language enables children to share meanings with others, and to participate in cultural learning in unprecedented ways. Moreover, language is foundational to children’s school readiness and achievement. For these reasons, a vast body of research has been dedicated to understanding the social-contextual factors that support children’s early language and learning. This work is also central to practitioners, educators and policy makers who seek to promote positive developmental outcomes in young children. Developmental scholars have long been interested in documenting the social experiences that help explain within- and between-group variation in children’s early language and learning. This work is anchored in the writings of scholars such as Bruner and Vygotsky, who posited that learning occurs in a socio-cultural context in which adults and primary caregivers support or “scaffold” young children to higher levels of thinking and acting. According to this view, children who experience sensitive, cognitively stimulating home environments early in development are at an advantage in the learning process. Research into the factors that promote positive language growth and learning in young children is central to addressing achievement gaps that exist in children from different ethnic, language, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Children enter school with different levels of skill, and these initial differences often affect children’s subsequent language growth, cognitive development, literacy and academic achievement. Children who exhibit delays at the onset of schooling are at risk for early academic difficulties and are also more likely to experience grade retention, special education placement, and failure to complete high school.

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An alternative approach to screening and assessment pioneered in the US is ‘response to intervention’ (RTI; see Fletcher et al., 2007 for a review). This method, as its name suggests, involves monitoring the progress of a group of children through a programme of intervention rather than undertaking a static assessment of their current skills. Children with the most need are those who fail to respond to effective teaching, and they are readily identified using this approach. Indeed, such a strategy was advocated by the Rose (2009) Review on identification and teaching of dyslexia and other literacy difficulties. Ideally, each child in wave 1 receives ‘quality first’ teaching in mainstream classes, perhaps adapted for the slower learners in the class. Following this, at wave 2, a small group or catch-up programme is offered and at wave 3, an individualised intervention. Within this approach, a child need not wait to fail sufficiently to fulfil diagnostic criteria but will be offered support as soon as they are dropping behind

In the UK, at the time of writing, most children are recipients of a National Curriculum, and reading is taught using systematic phonics instruction. More importantly for present purposes, a considerable amount of data is routinely collected on individual children by teachers, schools and local authorities. An important question concerns whether these data be used to identify children ‘at risk’ of underachievement.

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In either case, emergent literacy instruction is most beneficial when it begins early in the preschool period because these difficulties are persistent and often affect children's further language and literacy learning throughout the school years. Promoting literacy development, however, is not confined to young children. Older children, particularly those with speech and language impairments, may be functioning in the emergent literacy stage and require intervention aimed at establishing and strengthening these skills that are essential to learning to read and write.

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Fletcher J, Reid Lyon G, Fuchs L, Barnes M. Learning Disabilities: From Identification to Intervention. Guildford Press; New York: 2007.

Rose J. Identifying and teaching children and young people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties. 2009.

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