Literacy Levels: Stages and Characteristics

Get to know the literacy levels, their stages, and their characteristics, in order to implement the appropriate learning strategies.
Literacy Levels: Stages and Characteristics

Last update: 26 March, 2022

Literacy levels are the stages that children go through to advance in the process of learning to read and write.

This learning is complex and requires that the proposed activities be adapted to the literacy levels achieved by each child. Hence the importance of their knowledge, both for parents and educational professionals.

Learning to read and write: What are the stages and what are their characteristics?

Literacy levels have been the subject of study in psychology and psychopedagogy for several years, and so there are various classifications.

One of the pioneers in this field was the Argentine psychologist and pedagogue Emilia Ferreiro, who based her work on the theories of Piaget and genetic psychology.

“Learning to read, understood as the questioning about the nature, function, and value of this cultural object that is writing, begins much earlier than the school imagines “.

-Writing systems in the development of the child, Ferreiro and Teberosky, 1979-

Based on the studies of said specialist, it was possible to define the different levels of literacy and their stages. However, we need to distinguish between learning to write and to read. This is because, although they’re simultaneous and interrelated processes, they have some differences.

The stages of writing

Learning to write begins before school and progresses based on cognitive development, fine motor training, and external stimulation of the child.

1. The concrete stage: Undifferentiated writing

A woman and a small girl drawing in a notebook on the floor.

This begins when the child begins to scribble on paper or make drawings in which they imitate their relatives. They’re spontaneous and irregular expressions, which are made without really knowing the meaning of what is “written”.

2. The pre-syllabic stage: Differentiated writing

At this point in the process, children can already write some letters, but they still don’t understand their meanings. By managing to represent these symbols, they can put together individual “words”, but they’re not yet clear about the relationship between them and their representation.

3. The syllabic stage

Children begin to associate written letters with the sound that represents them and can form simple syllables and pronounce them.

However, they still have some confusion. For example, if the name of the letter is “be”, then it’s pronounced only as “b”.

4. The alphabetic stage

In this instance, children discover the correspondence of each letter with a distinctive sound, and we can already say that they can read and write.

From now on, practice is started in order to achieve clear and legible handwriting. Likewise, children go on to learn the spelling rules and vocabulary that are needed to perfect written productions.

The stages of reading

Unlike what we mentioned with writing, here there are three reading levels.

1. The pre-syllabic stage

In this first stage, children aren’t able to read, but rather interpret the meaning of words through their imagination.

They also tend to make mental associations, so that words with many letters represent large objects and short ones, small objects. This is an arbitrary way of making sense of words, even if it’s not strictly logical thinking.

2. The syllabic stage

The child already understands that words can have different lengths, although they still don’t understand the meaning of each one of them.

At this point, they begin to strain to read the syllables and guide their finger through the words. The intention is to interpret what is read, rather than guess it.

3. The alphabetic stage

At this level, the process is well underway and the child’s able to clearly distinguish the letters, their sounds, and their meanings. Therefore, they can read the written words. Of course, first, they do it at a slow pace until they acquire more and more speed with practice.

A little girl reading to her little brother.

Why is it important to know about the literacy levels?

Knowing the levels of literacy and their stages helps us to provide children with good learning adapted to their rhythms. This is essential, as not everyone has the same speed when it comes to incorporating new skills.

In addition, this knowledge allows us to detect early learning or cognitive development problems and even language disorders.

Thanks to the understanding of this process, it’s possible to use the appropriate resources so that each child learns to read and write.

Finally, we must mention the fundamental role of the stimulation of the environment, both for the learning of literacy and for the other domains of the child.

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