What Do Developmental and Cognitive Psychology Teach Us About Literacy?

Literacy could be considered the bedrock of the education process. Literacy is a fundamental set of tools for learning, understanding and reinforcing new ideas. It is also a means of expression, communication and inquiry. Therefore, developing reading and writing skills is essential for success in school, work, relationships and life in general.

The Eastern Washington University (EWU) Master of Education (M.Ed.) – Literacy online program aims to help teachers meet the literacy learning needs of all students. Woven throughout coursework is a focus on the intersection between literacy development and a child’s cognitive, psychological and sociocultural development and experiences.

This programmatic emphasis is vital to modern reading and writing education. Cognitive processes and development are central to how people form these skills. Cognitive and developmental psychology research offers crucial insight into how literacy learning happens and how literacy education can best support that learning.

What Are the Fields of Cognitive and Developmental Psychology?

The various branches of psychology differ in perspective. But, according to Verywell Mind, they all “share a common goal of studying and explaining human thought and behavior.” Cognitive psychology is “centered on the science of how people think, learn, and remember.” This field includes examining language, motivation, attention, perception and problem-solving. These factors underlie language development and play a vital role in effective literacy education.

Developmental psychology is concerned with how and why people grow and change. Intellectual, social and emotional development are important components that impact literacy development. Common specializations of developmental psychology include child and adolescent development. These fields of study provide insight into developmental influences on literacy, and EWU’s program highlights these areas.

In addition, the specialized field of developmental psycholinguistics focuses on linguistics and language acquisition. From this field, educators can gain critical insight into literacy education. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) notes that developmental psycholinguistics explores the “biological, neurological, and social factors that influence linguistic developments.” This understanding includes how those factors “can play a role in how children learn and socialize.”

How is Psychological Research Informing Literacy Education and Teaching Practices?

Research in these areas of psychology has shed light on many aspects of linguistic and literacy development. For example, cognitive psychology research is helping scientists uncover how children learn to read. By understanding these components of reading development, researchers can identify the sequence of literacy learning and guide literacy skill development in a scaffolded, developmentally appropriate way.

In this area of research, APS highlights the findings of a report titled Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert. This report results from a team of psychological researchers who gathered, aggregated and analyzed information from hundreds of sources focused on how children learn to read. One of the report’s authors, Kate Nation, explained to APS that her team wanted to “bring this knowledge together in one place to provide an accessible overview.” In this way, the report could have a real impact and be “useful to teachers charged with the vital task of teaching children to read.”

The authors emphasize that their findings support the importance of initial alphabetic skill development and phonics instruction in early reading education. Children must learn how to map abstract visual symbols to sounds before associating them with the meaning of words they know. This process involves a highly complex set of interconnected cognitive and sensory skills to develop and synthesize.

Yet, phonics is just the beginning. Next, the report details the sequential science of learning how to read. This dynamic set of developing processes spans from “children’s earliest alphabetic skills through to the fluent word recognition and skilled text comprehension characteristic of expert readers.”

This report provides a practical framework for early reading education. The researchers endeavored to overcome a longstanding divide between the wealth of research on literacy development and reading education in practice. They aimed to inspire systematic integration of evidence-based literacy education practices instead of the subjective, inconsistent instructional methods often used in schools.

Another research article, “How Reading Motivation and Engagement Enable Reading Achievement: Policy Implications,” explores the cognitive, behavioral and developmental factors of teaching and learning reading. The authors explain how motivation and engagement are essential for learners of all cultural and linguistic backgrounds to deepen literacy development. This article provides school administrators and teachers with a structure for applying motivation, engagement and assessment to reading education.

Psychological research surrounding the cognitive and developmental underpinnings of literacy learning is extensive. EWU’s M.Ed. – Literacy online program incorporates insight from this wealth of research to help educators apply informed knowledge to literacy learning. This level of evidence-based literacy education is crucial for ensuring today’s students are set up to succeed in school and beyond.

Learn more about EWU’s M.Ed. – Literacy online program.

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