Three key literacy skills for primary schools in priority areas

November 25, 2013

What types of skills do first-year primary school children in education priority areas need most to learn to read? To find out, a team of researchers at CNRS and the universities of Grenoble, Paris Descartes and Aix-Marseille conducted a study of 394 children in e Zones d'Education Prioritaires administered by the Académie de Lyon at the end of their first year of school.

In the French educational system, primary and in the Zones d'Education Prioritaires (priority education areas, or ZEPs) are given additional resources and greater autonomy to deal with exceptional academic and . They were created by the French Ministry of Education in 1981 following an inter-ministerial order and were aimed at lowering dropout rates. While the ZEP program was officially discontinued in 2006-2007, replaced by other measures under different names (APV, RAR, CLAIR, ECLAIR, etc.), the acronym is still widely used within the French educational system.

The results show that, of all the factors involved in their , three played a predominant role: decoding ability, oral comprehension and vocabulary. Published in the November 8, 2013 issue of PloS ONE, these findings were obtained in collaboration with the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the University of Geneva. The report also underlines the importance of evaluating and cultivating these skills starting in the first year of school in order to improve 's .

Learning to read is a long, complex, difficult process that requires both teaching and systematic, in-depth guidance. In France, 5% of the children in any given class will have difficulties learning to read and write in their first year of school, but this percentage can exceed 25% in certain underprivileged areas, identified as priority education areas or "ZEPs." It is therefore very important to identify the skills that directly influence first-year primary school children's reading comprehension in order to propose exercises that can optimize the process of learning to read, especially in ZEPs.

Researchers from the Laboratoire de Psychologie et Neurocognition (CNRS / Universités Pierre Mendès France and Joseph Fourier / Université de Savoie), the Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive (CNRS / Aix-Marseille University) and the Laboratory Psychologie de la Perception (CNRS / Université Paris Descartes), in collaboration with the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences in Geneva, surveyed 394 first-year elementary school children at the beginning and end of the school year to determine their level of acquisition of the three basic skills that influence reading comprehension:

  • "Decoding": the speed and precision with which they can recognize written words (familiar or invented),
  • Oral comprehension,
  • Vocabulary.

At the end of the school year, the pupils were tested for reading comprehension in order to compare all the factors and determine the role of each skill in the understanding of written language.

The results obtained with these 394 children at the end of their first school year reveal for the first time that, of all the factors that can affect reading comprehension (e.g. spoken language characteristics, attention span, memorization capacity, etc., adding up to 100%), decoding ability accounted for 34%, oral comprehension 8.9% and vocabulary 4.5%. These figures are significant, showing the importance of these three skills for children to understand what they read.

These unprecedented results have far-reaching implications in the field of education. They show that evaluating these three abilities (decoding, oral comprehension and vocabulary) could help teachers identify children who are likely to have reading difficulties and give them specific training at an early stage.

Explore further: Literacy depends on nurture, not nature, education professor says

More information: "Reading Comprehension in a Large Cohort of French First Graders from Low Socio-Economic Status Families: A 7-Month Longitudinal Study." Edouard Gentaz, Liliane Sprenger-Charolles, Anne Theurel, Pascale Colé, Research Article, published 08 Nov 2013, PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078608

Related Stories

Literacy depends on nurture, not nature, education professor says

November 14, 2013
A University at Buffalo education professor has sided with the environment in the timeless "nurture vs. nature" debate after his research found that a child's ability to read depends mostly on where that child is born, rather ...

Textured images help tactile recognition for the blind

October 2, 2013
The use of different materials with varied textures improves the recognition of tactile images by young blind people, researchers from the Laboratoire de psychologie et neurocognition (LPNC) (CNRS/Université Pierre Mendès ...

Recommended for you

Researchers crack the smile, describing three types by muscle movement

July 27, 2017
The smile may be the most common and flexible expression, used to reveal some emotions, cover others and manage social interactions that have kept communities secure and organized for millennia.

Even babies can tell who's the boss, UW research says

July 27, 2017
The charismatic colleague, the natural leader, the life of the party - all are personal qualities that adults recognize instinctively. These socially dominant types, according to repeated studies, also tend to accomplish ...

Ketamine for depression encouraging, but questions remain around long-term use

July 27, 2017
A world-first systematic review into the safety of ketamine as a treatment for depression, published in the prestigious Lancet Psychiatry, shows the risks of long-term ketamine treatment remain unclear.

DREAMers at greater risk for mental health distress

July 27, 2017
Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as small children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, more commonly known as DREAMers, are at risk for mental health ...

Negativity, be gone—new online tool can retrain your brain

July 27, 2017
Anxiety and depression can have devastating effects on people's lives. In some cases, the mental disorders lead to isolation, poverty and poor physical health, things that often cascade to future generations.

Research aims to shape more precise treatments for depression in women

July 27, 2017
Among women in the United States, depression is at epidemic levels: Approximately 12 million women in the U.S. experience clinical depression each year, and more than 12 percent of women can expect to experience depression ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.