Dr. Sonia Cabell is Associate Professor in the School of Teacher Education and the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University. She has previously worked as a second grade teacher and literacy coach. Dr. Cabell’s research, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, investigates best practices in early language and literacy instruction. She has authored over 50 publications and has served as PI or co-PI on grant projects totaling over $9 million dollars.
The roots of beginning writing ability can be traced to the preschool years, as children start to develop essential oral language and early literacy skills that lay a foundation for later literacy success. Indeed, studies indicate that language and literacy skills acquired during preschool are significantly predictive of writing ability a few years later. Yet, prediction from a single point in time represents only a snapshot of early performance and cannot fully describe dynamic aspects of early development that might affect children’s later writing achievement. Examination of growth trajectories may more accurately capture the nature of children’s skill development over time. Specifically, the rate of growth of early skills (i.e., amount of change in a given period of time) may have a meaningful influence on children’s later writing ability, particularly growth during the early childhood period when skills are generally more malleable. This study examined the extent to which children’s development and growth in oral language and literacy skills during the early childhood period predicted writing ability in the primary grades. Participants were 313 children who were tested on a battery of oral language and literacy measures at four time points, beginning during preschool (M age = 4.2 years) and spaced approximately 6 months apart over 1.5 years. Results demonstrated that both children’s early skill levels and rates of growth in oral language and decoding skills predicted later spelling and written composition when children were in kindergarten or first grade. Findings suggest that in addition to having a stronger starting point (i.e., higher initial skill level), the more quickly children can further develop these skills, the more they are able to use them to write productively.