Effective Methods for Teaching Native American Students – Part III

Murray, Stahl, and Ivey (1993) explored whether using alphabet books had an impact on the phonological awareness of a group of students in a high minority, low income pre-k classroom. Phonological awareness is defined as the ability to understand that there are different sounds in spoken words, and the ability to manipulate these sounds.

The researchers (Murray et al., 1993) cite a conclusion from an earlier study conducted by two of their members which links a child’s knowledge of the alphabet with their phonological awareness. In that study, children who could recognize a majority of letter forms also had basic understanding of phonological awareness, and could identify onset and rime. This study (Murray et al., 1993) searched to find if using alphabet books could help students with familiarity of the alphabet and increase their phonological awareness.

Forty two children participated, and most were four years old, with only a few had turned five years old (Murray et al., 1993). Most of the students (86%) were African American, and all the students were low income. Genders were split with the majority of boys (63%) and only 37% girls. The preschools were located in a small city in the Southeastern region of the United States. The children came from three separate classrooms that were located in three different public elementary schools. Two students who were already reading were dropped from the study, as they already had phonological awareness covered. Another two were dropped because they refused to respond to tasks.

Children were pre-tested using Concepts About Print, in which students knowledge of print conventions are discovered through an assessor reading the story to the child and asking them questions. Next, an alphabet recognition exam was given where children attempted to identify capital and lowercase letters. The last assessment was the Test of Onset-Rime Awareness (Murray et al., 1993).

All three classes were focused on exploration at centers, but took time each day to share a story, read by the teacher (Murray et al., 1993). Each class randomly received a different type of books to read with their classes. One group had regular picture books, one had traditional alphabet books, and the other had alphabet only books. Each group was provided with four different books in their assigned genre, and the teachers or their aides were asked to read one of the books each day for three weeks. Most classes spent about ten minutes a day with the book. No instructions were given to the teachers as to how the books should be read.

The control condition (Murray et al., 1993) read regular picture books, which included Have You Seen my Cat? by Eric Carle, The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, The Gunniwolf by W. Harper, and Caps for Sale by E. Slobodkina. The traditional alphabet book group read books with the letters of the alphabet and words that started with these sounds provided. Their choices include From Apple to Zipper by Nora Cohen, Dr.

Seuss’s ABC by, of course, Dr. Seuss, Alphabears: an ABC Book by K. Hauge , and The Z was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg. Alphabet only books consisted of books which had the letters of the alphabet, but did not have words with the sounds the letters made, only the letters themselves. Their books included The Gunnywolf by A Delaney, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back! by Dr. Seuss, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin and J. Archambault, and an adaptation of The Z was Zapped dubbed The Z was Struck by Lightning in which children provided their own captions.

One of the researchers (Murray et al., 1993) observed in each classroom once a week. Field notes were taken during the readings. All classrooms had the children sitting on the floor around the teacher’s chair. In all classes, the students listened and participated.

The study (Murray et al., 1993) found that most of the children scored very low in both the pre and post test in of Concepts About Print, students overall had an only 0.91 point gain, a score of 3.64 to 4.55 in all groups. The group that gained the most was the storybook group, which gained 1.4 points. While alphabet gained .93 and alphabet only lagged behind at a .31 gain. An ANOVA showed significant gains in Concepts About Print across the treatment groups of f= 6.14 (p<05).

Letter recognition showed an improvement in all groups (Murray et al., 1993), with a score of f=5.98 (p<.5). All groups learned approximately the same number of new letters, which is surprising since one of the groups had books that did not emphasize the letters of the alphabet, but could be due to factors outside the scope of the study.

Phonological awareness improved in some of the study groups as well, with an f value of 14.2 (p<.1) (Murray et al., 1993). The group/time interaction was significant for this measure, with an f of 3.78 (p<05). This showed the subjects differed in the improvement of their phonological awareness between groups. The alphabet only group made no improvement between their pre and post tests. The conventional alphabet book gained 1.86 points, and the storybook group gained 1.27 points. The researchers conclude that that these similarities may be due to the fact that the teacher in the traditional alphabet condition did not emphasize the sounds of the letters, rather she read these books like any other book and emphasized the meaning of words, not the fact that the word started with a certain phoneme, for example the m sound in mouse. The teacher in the regular story book class was a former student of one of the authors, and knew the importance of phonological awareness. The improvements of her class might not even have been a result of the storybooks, but other activities held in the class.

The fact that one of the teachers was a former student of one of the researchers (Murray et al., 1993) could pose some objectivity problems. The personal relationship between researcher and, in some way, the subject, could be a problem. The teacher was not being tested here, but the teachers were not given instruction on how to read the books or conduct their class, and it seems the researcher had a major impact here. Also, information on the relationships or lack thereof between researchers and the other teachers was not given.

Variables in teaching style, as in the normal storybook classroom, could also have caused the changes attributed to the story reading by the researchers (Murray et al., 1993), causing some issues in reliability. Because there were three different teachers, the reader can’t know what to attribute the changes to, the variable the researchers put in place or the multitude of other variables that existed between the three classrooms. The study could be repeated, with possibly very different results if different teachers were used. If there was a chance to conduct this research in classrooms that had the same curriculum, or even a morning and afternoon session with the same teacher, it might be more valid.