Maria Montessori wrote, almost a century ago, that three- and four-year-old preschoolers will learn to read spontaneously if they get "sufficient" practice forming alphabet letters. Although boldly claimed in her "The Montessori Method" this possibility has strangely never before been subjected to a scientific test.
In 2002-2004 I found five kindergarten teachers on the Internet who provided experimental data on 106 experimental kindergarten students as they practiced printing fluency and we monitored their reading ability (and also five other first-grade teachers who did NOT make the effort of inducing printing practice, but who only measured how much of the serial alphabet students could print in a timed, twenty-second period of time, and the correlation with reading skill. These 94 students formed a control group).
The correlation was very obvious in all ten classrooms. We found that all but a very small percentage of students read well, and with good comprehension, shortly after the point in time when they were able to print at least the first thirteen letters within 20 seconds. Multiplied by three, this equates with a fluency rate of 39 letters per minute.
The children enjoyed the practice sessions, and observing their gradual increase in fluency as the weeks passed. No apparent stress was noted, and it was found that the median kindergartner, after spending five minutes daily of each school day practice printing, was "printing fluent" after a mere three months. But printing fluency didn't correlate with reading skill among older students, according to our results with a group of fifty fourth-graders.
The kindergartners wrote and read with about the same skill as the first graders at the end of the winter of school. The fact that kindergartners were reading and writing at a level of children a full grade ahead shows that the early acquisition of literacy in the kindergarten (experimental) group was caused by the dedicated attempt to induce practiced fluency in printing, and not just a coincidental marker of some third, and unknown, causative factor.
At the present time (May, 2008) I have collected another group of kindergarten and first-grade teachers on the Internet. Fourteen K-1 teachers have already submitted correlations of the printing fluency and reading skills of their pupils. In each case the correlation has been obvious and strong. Anyone wishing to join and monitor (or participate on) this free list need only send any email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Returning the automated "confirmation message" to the computer will result in automatic list membership.
Printing practice and fluency training in the early grades has completely gone out of style during the twentieth century, though it is still practiced (though not specifically tested) in India and China. This rediscovery of this important principle offers an inexpensive and effective means toward ensuring reading and academic success from the earliest grades for children of all races and ethnic backgrounds.
It has also been found that second-graders able to give correct answers to simple addition facts more fluently than 40 answers per minute rarely have problems with math or science thereafter.
Bob Rose, MD (retired), email@example.com
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