Establishing Quality in Preschool Language and Literacy Environments.

Markussen-Brown, J.
Det Humanistiske Fakultet, Syddansk Universitet.


This dissertation is a sub-study of two large-scale research projects: SPELL (Structured Preschool Effort for Language and Literacy) and LEAP (Language and Literacy Educational Activities for Preschoolers). SPELL was an RCT study that investigated the effect of a 20-week continuing training programme that focused on enhancing children’s reading skills. Similar to SPELL, the LEAP project also focused on the effect of a continuing training programme that focused on developing children’s reading skills. Both projects involved approximately 7000 children and 600 preschool teachers.


The dissertation comprises three articles that each take a distinct approach to examining how children in preschools develop language and pre-writing skills. Based on the findings of each of the three articles, the dissertation aims to create new and relevant knowledge for decision-makers with regard to developing the quality of language activities in Danish preschools. In addition to conducting a quality analysis of language-related practices, the dissertation presents international research literature on the development of children’s language skills. Finally, the dissertation examines how continuing training of preschool teachers in the future can be optimised.


Overall, the dissertation indicates that there is great need for revising the practices and training of preschool teachers with a view to supporting children’s language and cognitive development. One way of doing this is by optimising the preschool teachers’ continuing education and training. The findings of the dissertation indicate that such training should be varied in form, should be offered at higher levels and should include longer training programmes.

The studies described in the first article show that Danish preschool teachers are skilled at creating warm and emotionally supportive environments, however, these standards are not upheld in interactions that support language and cognitive development. This indicates a potential for improvement in relation to the preschool teachers’ work and knowledge about tools and strategies aimed at developing language skills. The results of the second article show, among things, that the use of coaching in continuing education and training programmes has a positive effect. Moreover, the academic yield of the programme seems to increase when it is offered in combination with at least one other type of continuing education and training programme. Finally, the results from article 3 indicate that even after a three-day training programme, the teachers were still not good enough at observing and decoding each other’s practices. A clear tendency to overestimate their use of skills to support language development acquired from the programme was seen among the teachers. Thus, a three-day programme seems insufficient to create significant improvements in teachers’ practices that support language development.


The design of the dissertation’s first article aims at examining the quality of Danish preschools at teacher and school level. The measurement tool Classroom Assessment Scoring System is used to examine the quality at teacher level, thereby enabling assessment of the quality based on three sub-scales. The tool Classroom Literacy Assessment Profile is used to examine the quality at preschool level, e.g. to measure the number of language-stimulating materials readily available to the children. The second article of the dissertation is a systematic review. It includes a meta-analysis of international research literature on the effects of continuing training programmes that focus on language. In addition to the requirement that the preschool teachers had completed a formal training programme and that the children were aged between 3 and 6 years, inclusion criteria for the review included the requirement that the research aimed at measuring effects of interventions based on continuing training. Based on these criteria, a total of 22 studies were identified. The third article is a theoretical study of whether a three-day training programme heightened preschool teachers’ awareness of how often they used a specific teaching strategy. Based on previous research in the area, this study was initiated by a hypothesis that the individual’s awareness of a low performance level with regard to a specific skill inspires the individual to improve this skill.


Markussen-Brown, J. (2015). Establishing Quality in Preschool Language and Literacy Environments. Det Humanistiske Fakultet, Syddansk Universitet.

Financed by

The SPELL project was financed by the Danish Council for Strategic Research. The LEAP project was commissioned by the National Board of Social Services.