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Ep: 116: What are key elements of early literacy: A conversation with Professor Susan Neuman

Jan 23, 2024

Susan B. Neuman is a specialist in early literacy development; whose research and teaching interests include early childhood policy, curriculum, and early reading instruction for children who live in poverty. In her role as the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Neuman established the Early Reading First program, developed the Early Childhood Educator Professional Development Program, and was responsible for all activities in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Act. She has written more than 100 articles, and authored and edited eleven books, including the three-volume Handbook of Early Literacy Research (Guilford Press), Changing the Odds for Children at Risk (Teachers College Press, 2009), Educating the Other America (Brookes, 2008), Multimedia and Literacy Development (Taylor & Francis, 2008), and Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance: Poverty, Literacy, and the Development of Information Capital. (Teachers College Press, 2012). Her most recent book is All About Words: Increasing Vocabulary in the Common Core Classroom, Pre-K Through Grade 2 (Teachers College Press, 2013). She received her doctorate from University of the Pacific, Stockton, California.


In this episode, Professor Susan Neuman shares how we can support young children in their literacy development. She discusses essential aspects of early literacy development, the changing landscape of teaching reading, and practical advice for parents navigating the complexities of school selection.

The Shift to Science-Based Reading:

Susan emphasized a paradigm shift in early literacy education towards the science of reading. This shift is informed by cumulative research, ensuring that children are equipped with the foundational skills crucial for becoming successful readers. Parents are encouraged to look for certain features of instruction that align with this approach, even in the early years of a child's education.

Key Skills for Early Literacy:

We explored critical skills children need for successful reading. Susan highlighted the importance of phonological awareness, where children understand the sound structure of language. She recommended activities like regular conversations, singing the Alphabet song, and reading stories to enhance language development. Additionally, she stressed the significance of play, allowing children to represent one thing for another, fostering abstract thinking.

Choosing Schools with Strong Reading Programs:

In light of the evolving landscape in education, Susan provided guidance for parents evaluating reading programs in schools, particularly in places like New York City. While structured reading programs are beneficial, parents should be cautious of excessively long sessions focused on specific skills. Attention to the balance between foundational skills and engaging content areas like science and social studies is crucial.

The Home-School Connection:

Our conversation extended to the vital home-school connection. Susan emphasized the importance of not being overly prescriptive with parents, encouraging them to engage in activities that align with their child's interests. She advocated for activities that enhance the child's experiences and learning outside the school environment, fostering a two-way relationship between home and school.

Parent-Teacher Communication:

Susan discouraged prescriptive homework requirements and suggested that teachers learn about the culture of each child's home. During parent-teacher conferences, she recommended parents ask open-ended questions about their child's experiences in the classroom and how they can support their learning at home, maintaining a fluid connection between the two environments.

As parents and educators, understanding and embracing the evolving landscape of literacy education is crucial for nurturing the next generation of successful readers.

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