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Sprig takes a holistic approach to early childhood education. This approach considers all places where a child learns, including school, at home and in the community. It considers the viewpoints of everyone who adopts a teaching role for the child.

Holistic assessments are one part of the holistic approach. They help uncover the unique needs, strengths and challenges of each student.

Holistic learning is extremely conducive to assessing early literacy. In the course of this article, we explain why.


Significance of Early Literacy

Early literacy has a strong claim to being the silver bullet when it comes to academic and non-academic achievements.

Being able to read and write is a remarkable predictor of success later on in life. Just look at these emphatic early learning numbers that corroborate the value of early literacy. 

There are five major early literacy practices suggested to educators and parents. These are singing, talking, reading, writing and playing. 

Early literacy is also broken down into its component skills. There are many versions of this, but they all touch on oral language, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

But beyond skills and practices at a granular level, are there other immediate things that can be done to help influence change?  Some advice to act on, as a matter of strategy?


Early Literacy Recommendations

For both recommendations below, holistic learning is suitable as it focuses on the coordination and collaboration of all to provide the best learning experience for the early learner.

Need for Greater Parental and Community Involvement

For preschool children, increased exposure to listening to stories and reading at home is positively associated with boosting semantic language processing. 

It is clear that kids at an early stage of development have to be exposed to oral and written words in school, and at home as well. It’s why holistic learning emphasizes participation of parents and the larger community in teaching the child. 

Holistic approaches not only achieve a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of the child, which is absolutely essential, but the active inclusion of both parental and community involvement can accelerate student literacy skills. 

Parent involvement is crucial for early learning.  Children whose mothers speak more frequently to them learn close to three hundred more words than children whose mothers rarely speak to them.

Holistic learning not only focuses on academic (cognitive) development, but also on mental, physical and spiritual development. The greater community is a big aspect of early literacy as well. Children learn grammatical syntax and social nuances of communication in their community.

By interacting with people, inside and outside the classroom, children have the ability to enhance their literacy skills as well as other social-emotional skills.

Learning is not so compartmentalized at a young age, making different types of skills work in tandem with each other and bolster each other. For example, motor skills help develop speech and thus oral language skills. Oral language in turn fast tracks the path to strong reading and writing behaviours. Total vocabulary size and lexical composition at age 2 is a significant predictor of later language literacy skills from ages 3 to 11.

Need for More Reading Practice

Before actually starting to read books, it is still important to be familiarized with books to develop print awareness. In a study of almost 100,000 schoolchildren in the US, access to printed materials was found to be the single most important predictor of reading acquisition. 

With access to storybooks, the challenge from there on is to read frequently. Children who are read to at least three or more times a week double their chances of scoring in the top 25th percentile. 

Encouragement and demonstration is required both in the school at the home. Without special help, students experiencing reading difficulties at the end of grade 1 find it extremely difficult to gain average reading proficiency by the end of elementary school. It’s helpful for any child if their parents, other family members, and caregivers all read to the child.


How Holistic Learning Imbibes Early Literacy Assessments

Beyond the collaboration aspect of holistic learning, the holistic approach is also a good fit for different types of early literacy assessments.

Curriculum-Based Assessment—Also known as Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM). CBM directly assesses targeted reading skills over a period of time. In this time, reading fluency and comprehension are assessed repeatedly. 

Similarly, holistic learning does not replace the existing school curriculum, it only supplements it with personalized activities that are meant to develop and assess reading fluency and comprehension, among other things. 

There are annual holistic assessment screens that collect data to initiate and personalize the student’s learning journey. These are followed by more regular formative assessments. 

Portfolio Assessment—Portfolio assessment is a running record of all behaviors, activities and tasks that help us understand how much the child knows and understands about the process of reading. It’s a case of formative assessment, which happens on an ongoing basis.

It’s important to keep track of all formative assessments, and a portfolio dashboard of all activities provide educators a platform where they can monitor their students to see if they are progressing based on the specific recommendations from the holistic assessment. 

Concepts of Print—This is a very particular type of assessment that captures knowledge about how books and print work. It assesses concepts of how letters and words portray ideas, and how illustrations correspond to those ideas. 

Holistic learning includes learning resources such as storybooks. Yes, there are many classroom activities designed to enhance early literacy concepts, but storybooks are a mainstay feature of any holistic education program, given their enormous impact on early literacy development. 

Jennifer Serravallo, the author of The Reading Strategies Book, states that students are at their peak level of engagement during independent reading, and allowing them the freedom to choose what they read boosts engagement. 

But she forewarns that children are not good at monitoring their own reading comprehension. This is where the CBM and portfolio assessment of holistic learning comes into play. They help educators to understand when and how true proficiency has been gained.


Holistic Learning Matches Early Literacy General Assessment Guidelines

Holistic learning follows the general guidelines recommended for implementing assessment into any early learning program. 

1. It aligns well with instructional goals and approaches. As it includes everyone as a part of the holistic assessment process, the viewpoints of educators are also required. 

Sprig Learning’s AI engine recommends the best learning activities based on information provided by all parties, including the teachers. These activities change and grow with the child as learning continues throughout the school year.

2. The teachers familiarize the child with the concept of assessment and conduct the assessment themselves. This builds trust. It is highly recommended that the educators have some degree of involvement in the assessment process. 

With the Sprig Language program, teachers do the assessments themselves. Furthermore, the  assessment is conducted in the child’s usual environment so the setting and context is familiar for the child. 

3. The assessment is a cycle, not a summation. 

Indeed the annual holistic event is not a one time event at Sprig Learning. It builds on information from grade to grade, so any prior learning gaps can be addressed which could be holding back certain students from progressing. New information is also pumped into the engine, which provides a more accurate assessment.


Assessing for Literacy Becomes Fun with Holistic Learning

Literacy assessment does not always mean a high-stakes standardized test that is used for screening purposes. But some form of assessment is necessary. Without it, there is a risk of children progressing without a strong understanding of certain concepts. In Canada, one in four schoolchildren who enter grade 1 are poorly prepared to learn in comparison with their peers or are reading below their grade level. 

With holistic learning, early literacy assessments help teachers assess a student’s progress. It helps them understand how to best support every  student in their classroom. It doesn’t feel like a chore to administer them as can be the case with standardized tests. They are formative in nature, align with the daily routines of the classroom and are seamlessly  integrated into the daily lesson plans.

From the student’s perspective, this removes anxiety and the fear  of taking assessments. It is woven into the system as a means for educators to offer differentiated instruction, and not focussed on comparing students with their peers. 

With greater personalized support, students can advance quickly and not be penalized at a stage of development where every day counts!

To learn more about the holistic approach that can be used to assess students, contact us.