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Code-Focused Interventions

Page history last edited by Kelli Bippert 13 years, 1 month ago

Established & edited by Kelli Bippert, Jessica Chaffee, & Sandra Villagomez

Extended by Jessica Becerra, Elizabeth Esparza, & Brenda Román 


Impact of Code-Focused  Interventions on Young Children's Early Literacy Skills



Table of Contents 




The following legend provides a color code to relate to the skill sets used throughout the page:

  Alphabetic knowledge
  Phonological awareness
  Early decoding skills



NELP Report Findings   


The NELP analyzed 83 studies that measured the effectiveness of code-focused interventions used with young children.  The following skill sets were measured and compared:


Phonological awareness   Alphabetic knowledge  Early decoding skills 


Most of the children in the studies were receiving Pre-school or Kindergarten instruction, and received interventions in addition to their regular curriculum.  Students’ progress was compared to those children who did not receive the code-focused interventions.  It is important to note that all interventions in the studies were administered either in small groups or one-on-one with the student. 



Various types of interventions were used with the children.  

 The intervention types were:

  • Phonological awareness only
  • Phonological awareness with alphabetic knowledge
  • Alphabetic knowledge only
  • Phonological awareness training with phonics training


Overall Impact of Code-Focused Interventions


The following areas were measured in order to calculate the effectiveness of code-focused interventions in the study:

  • Alphabetic knowledge
  • Print knowledge
  • Cognitive ability
  • Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN)
  • Memory
  • Reading readiness
  • Oral language
  • Reading
  • Phonological awareness
  • Spelling
  • Writing



The meta-analysis indicated that code-focused interventions showed moderate to large effects on student abilities in most of the above areas.  The greatest impact was on students’ phonemic awareness.

Cognitive ability was measured in only two of the studies indicated which resulted in a negative average effect.  However, the panel stated that lack of sufficient data made the results inconclusive. 


Positive impact was significantly higher for phonemic awareness than for alphabetic knowledge, reading readiness, memory, and oral language.    However, effects of code-focused interventions on phonemic awareness was not significantly higher than print knowledge, reading, spelling, writing, and RAN. 

stick figure reading

Impacts on Characteristics of Interventions and Populations


First, an analysis was done comparing intervention types: Randomized Control Trial (RCT) or Quasiexperimental Design (QED).  The study showed no significant difference in gains made by students based on the type of intervention. 


Analyses were also done to show comparisons of students based on age and developmental level.  The meta-analysis showed that when comparing the achievement gained using code-focused instruction with pre-school children and with kindergarten children, there was no statistically significant difference.  In simpler terms, the interventions used with kindergarten students have very similar affects on children at the pre-school age. 


Another analysis was done comparing students literacy development prior to code-focused interventions.  The three groupings used for comparison were:

     *students who had little letter knowledge

     *students who had letter knowledge but were non-readers

     *students who were readers. 


Estimates did not vary statistically, except in the area of alphabetic knowledge.  Students with little letter knowledge showed tremendous growth as compared with the students with letter knowledge and the students who were readers.  This difference could be attributed to the limited opportunity for growth due to a ceiling effect inherent with alphabetic knowledge in children.  This analysis shows that gains can be made with students regardless of prior literacy skills.

girl saying "I know"

Analysis on Type of Intervention


Intervention types were analyzed to help show significant differences in growth attained by students.  Intervention types, as mentioned above, were:

  •   Phonological awareness
  •   Phonological awareness and alphabetic knowledge
  •   Alphabetic knowledge only
  •   Phonological awareness and phonics


The following chart shows the above intervention types, and their measured effectiveness based on outcomes:





Types of Interventions


Phonological Awareness

Alphabet Knowledge

Oral Language

Reading Outcomes

Spelling Outcomes

Phonological awareness  only

High (.91)

Low (.04)

Low (.09)

Low (.19)

Med (.59)

Phonological awareness and alphabetic knowledge

Low (.04)

Med (.37)

Low (.13)

Low (.31)

Med (.50)

Alphabetic knowledge only

Med (.37)


High (.83)

Low (-.52)


Phonological awareness and phonics

High (.74)

High (.57)

High (.68)

High (.66)

High (.59)


Alphabetic knowledge as a type of intervention showed either much lower or much higher average effects than other types of interventions.  Since there was only one study from which to base the findings, the results were not conclusive as noted by the NELP.


As you can see from the above table, most of the other interventions resulted in medium to large results with young children.  What is important to note is that those interventions which were not print focused did not result in very high print-outcome effects.  For example, phonological awareness alone resulted in a comparatively lower effect on alphabet knowledge


The nature of the phonological awareness interventions were also compared.  The levels of linguistic complexity was broken down by the intervention as either phonemic focus (phoneme level units), subphonemic focus (syllable or word level units), or both.  The study found that the level of complexity did not make a statistically significant effect on students’ learning. 


The cognitive operations used by the different studies was also compared, and grouped as either analysis, synthesis, or both.  It was found that the cognitive operations used did not have a significantly different effect on student learning and achievement either.  


Effects by Demographics

Three areas related to student demographics were studied:  Socioeconomic status, ethnic classification, and population density.  


For many of the measures comparing socioeconomic classification of students, the estimates of student learning did not vary significantly (for alphabetic knowledge, oral language outcomes, and reading outcomes).  Spelling outcomes for students grouped as low socioeconomic level were smaller than the grouping for students who were non-low socioeconomic level.  Likewise, for phonological awareness the mixed socioeconomic level group had a smaller effect score than those students classified as non-low socioeconomic level.  The findings were based on a small number of studies, however, and the results were not to be given much interpretive weight.


Studies were analyzed for ethnic classification, and the following classifications were used: Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and mixed/ unspecified.  Most studies were listed as mixed or unknown ethnicity, so finding studies that could be used for comparing outcomes among ethnic groups was limited.  However, the studies which did include data needed for this analysis showed no significant difference in gains using code-focused interventions based on ethnicity.


Population density was also analyzed.  The density groupings were identified as being rural, urban, suburban, mixed, or unknown.  Similarly to the analysis of ethnicity among students, the majority of studies were grouped as unknown population density.  Using the studies that did exist, however, there was no significant difference shown based on the population density.  


From Panel to Practice


The panel's findings indicate that code-focused interventions are effective in promoting young children's early literacy skills. None of the studies used commercially available programs, so we have gathered a few examples of approaches teachers can use to implement some of the interventions described in the original studies.


Alphabetic Knowledge



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                                                                               **More Alphabetic Knowledge Activities**


Phonological Awareness


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                                             **More Phonological Awareness Activities**



Early Decoding and Encoding Skills

 One of the many approaches to helping students learn decoding and encoding skills is through shared reading. Students are often introduced to a big book or poem which is read by the teacher. During reading, the teacher models left to right, top to bottom reading by using a pointer. They look at pictures and text to gain meaning from the text and talk to students about elements such as rhyming words and word families. The text is revisited daily until students become familiar with it enough to analyze text in different ways such as identifying known words and word patterns.

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                                   Another example can be found at http://www.hubbardscupboard.org/shared_reading.html.


In this age of technology it is common practice to provide students with computer-based interventions, as in one if the studies cited in the meta-analysis, which used Daisyquest. Lonigan, et al, found that there were significant gains made by students in the area of phonological awareness when provided with eight hours of intervention using this software (Lonigan, 2003). While the program cited was not available for sampling, we have added a link to a commonly used web-based application here: www.starfall.com. The high color graphics and interactive features of computer-based interventions were found to stimulate interest and learning in young children and made the program popular among parents, teachers and administrators.


Professional Development Resources 



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Additional Research


Phoneme segmentation training:  Effect on reading readinesss


This study looked at the importance of phonological awareness and its implications in reading ability.  The results reinforced the significance of phonemic awareness skills in Kindergarten but acknowledges this alone will not guarantee reading success.  Activities that make children aware of sound structure were shown to potentially increase early reading ability.

(Ball, E. W.,& Blackman, B. A., 1988) 


Measuring Progress and Having Fun!


This article provides an array of fun activities that can be used for assessing reading.  It specifically focuses on the elements of:  reading comprehension, decoding skills, background knowledge, letter knowledge, letter knowledge, phonology skills, syntax skills, phoneme awareness, knowledge of the alphabetic principle, and knowledge of print.

(Instructor, 2009) 


Early Decoding Skills


This article examines the relationship between the development of children’s oral language skills and decoding skills from the pre-school years to the elementary years. (Kendeou, P., LynchSaginaw, J., Van den Brock, P., & White, M., 2009) 


Letter names, letter sounds and phonological awareness: an examination of Kindergarten children across letters and of letters across children 


This study evaluated letter-name and letter-sound knowledge and its effects on later phonological awarenss.  The results indicated a emhasis should be given to orthographic knowledge and cognitive skills.  Acquisition of these skills have the ability to lead to alphabetic knowledge.  (Evans, Bell, Shaw, Moretti, & Page, 2006)


The Contributions of Phonological Awareness


This article focuses on the contribution of phonological awareness to facilitating letter-sound acquisition from letter names and the probabilities of letter-sound acquisition as a function of letter characteristics.

(Foorman, B., Kim, Y., Petscher, Y., & Zhou, C., 2010) 



The primary limitation the NELP found was that there were too few quantitive studies addressing the effects of code-focused instruction on early literacy to determine which variables were affected by the interventions. The majority of studies used in this analysis examined the impacts of interventions on phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge, reading, spelling, and oral language. This leaves very little data to verify the effects of the interventions on print knowledge, rapid automatic naming, reading readiness, and writing.


Similarly, the data acquired included studies that involved children working in small groups or individually.  There were no studies that indicated that the same type of activities would be as effective if used in whole class or large group settings. Further, they were unable to determine the effects of code-focused intervention based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or population density because there were not enough studies that identified these variables. In identifying these limitations, the NELP did express that the success of code-focused interventions in mixed populations would lead to the recommendation that such instruction be made available to all young children.  



The study found that phonological awareness was the area that received the greatest impact as a result of code-focused interventions. These interventions, despite type and variation, will lead to improved reading and writing development in children.  They also found that the effects by age and developmental level showed "strong, positive, and statistically significant impacts of code-focused interventions on children's skills." This is particularly important because it demonstrates that code-focused interventions can help pre-k and kindergarten students become better prepared to embrace reading and writing skills regardless of their existing literacy skills.   




Ball, E. W., & Blachman, B. A. (1988). Phoneme segmentation training: effect on reading readiness.  Annals of Dyslexia, 38, 208-225. 


Evans, Mary Ann, Bell, Michelle, Shaw, Deborah, Moretti, Shirley & Page, Jodi. (2006). Letter names, letter sounds and phonological awareness: an examination of kindergarten children across letters and of letters across children. Reading and Writing, 19, 959-989.


Foorman, B., Kim, Y., Petscher, Y., & Zhou, C. (2010). The contributions of phonological awareness and letter-name knowledge to letter-sound acquisition—a cross-classified multilevel model approach. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(2), 313-326.  doi: 10.1037/a0018449


Jurey, R. A. (n.d.). Make a rhyme : advance ability. Welcome to AdvanceAbility : Advance Ability. Retrieved July 28, 2010, from http://aability.com/parhyme.php


Jurey, R. A. (n.d.). Blend and segment : advance ability. Welcome to AdvanceAbility : Advance Ability. Retrieved July 28, 2010, from http://aability.com/pablendsegment.php


Kendeou, P.,  LynchSaginaw, J., & White, M.  (2009). Predicting reading comprehension in early elementary school: the independent contributions of oral language and decoding skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(4), 765-778.  doi:  10.1037/a0015956


Lonigan, C., Driscoll, K., Phillips, B., Cantor, B., Anthony, J., & Goldstein, H. (2003). A computer-assisted instruction phonological sensitivity program for preschool children at risk for reading problems. Journal of Early Intervention, 25(4), 248-262.


Metanalysis.  April 2009.  In Websters online dictionary.    http://websters-online-dictionary.org/


National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy. Available at http://www.nifl.gov/earlychildhood/NELP/NELPreport.html

Quasiexperimental Design. (ND).  In United States Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences Clearinghouse. Retieved from   http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/help/glossary/#gq.


Randomized Control Trial In United States Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences Clearinghouse. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/help/glossary/#gq.


Reading Rockets: Meet the Word Families. (n.d.). Reading Rockets: Reading Comprehension & Language Arts TeachingStrategies for Kids. Retrieved July 28, 2010, from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/13750


Shared Reading. (n.d.). Hubbard's Cupboard. Retrieved July 20, 2010, from http://www.hubbardscupboard.org/shared_reading.html


Teaching Resources, Children's Book Recommendations, and Student Activities | Scholastic.com. (n.d.). Teaching Resources, Children's Book Recommendations, and Student Activities | Scholastic.com. Retrieved July 28, 2010, from http://www2.scholastic.com


YouTube- Elkonin Boxes. (2009, October 16). YouTube- Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved July 28, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbje8uwZYdQ&feature=related


YouTube- Free-Reading Lesson: Egg Carton Game      . (2007, July 27). YouTube- Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved July 28, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxqZKSA-tgM&feature=related


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