Early Literacy

A research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Lead for Literacy, is publishing a series of simple, one-page memos to address current pitfalls in literacy education and propose solutions to these pitfalls. One of the memos ("Literacy Unpacked: What Do We Mean by Literacy?") simply defines what we mean by the term literacy and the educational implications for that understanding. A key component of their explanation is that literacy is not simple; it requires a very complex set of skills and knowledge.

The skills involved in literacy are:

  • Concepts about print
  • The ability to hear & work with spoken sounds
  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Word reading
  • Spelling
  • Fluency

The knowledge required for literacy includes:

  • Concepts about the world
  • The ability to understand & express complex ideas
  • Vocabulary
  • Oral language skills

The biggest educational implications of this understanding is that most of the literacy skills are acquired by 3rd grade and these skills are heavily influenced by relatively short periods of instruction. However, the knowledge component of literacy is acquired throughout a lifetime; infancy to adulthood. This component requires "sustained instruction, beginning in early childhood".

While it's never too late to learn to read, this deconstruction of the components of literacy make a very strong case for early literacy education to help prevent future reading difficulties.

To see all of the memos, visit the Harvard Graduate School of Education Language Diversity and Literacy Development Research Group at