Date of this Version
Published in The Reading Teacher, Vol. 76, No. 6 (May/June 2023), pp. 664–672.
Errors are a natural part of children’s knowledge building and learning experiences in early childhood (EC). Importantly, errors can be a powerful tool for tailoring instruction to children’s specific needs and supporting learning processes (Seifried & Wuttke, 2010). The leveraging of errors to support children’s emergent literacy learning became apparent to us when we examined data from a recent observational study of teachers’ practices in EC classrooms with children 3–5 years old. In our study of 400 classrooms, we identified the 30 classrooms in which children demonstrated the highest language gains and the 30 classrooms in which children demonstrated the lowest language gains across one school year. Details about the identification process for these classrooms, as well as additional information about the teachers and children in the classrooms, are available at https://osf.io/wkt7p. We applied a grounded theory approach (Corbin et al., 2014) to determine qualitatively what differentiated the two groups of classrooms, considering various characteristics, such as teacher practices, classroom activities, and children’s participation and engagement. One key finding that distinguished the higher language gains classrooms from the lower language gains classrooms was the way in which teachers responded to children’s errors during emergent literacy activities (Schachter et al., 2022). That is, teachers in classrooms with higher language gains were more responsive to children’s errors in ways that enhanced emergent literacy learning.
There is a relatively small body of research examining teachers’ error-handling practices in naturalistic classroom settings (for a review, see Li, 2020). Moreover, the existing literature is largely focused on students in elementary grades with relatively fewer studies focused on responding to children’s errors in EC contexts (e.g., Korkmaz & Şahin, 2020). This offers limited information for EC teachers about how to capitalize on children’s errors to support learning. As such, in this article, we describe a framework for responding to children’s errors that is informed by the findings of our study and provides evidence-based recommendations for enhancing children’s emergent literacy learning. We illustrate the application of this framework using examples from our study, provide concrete steps for how teachers can implement different strategies for responding to children’s errors in the context of emergent literacy activities, and conclude with recommendations for creating a positive classroom environment that both challenges children and welcomes their errors.