Pre-school children with a teacher

Pre-school screening for literacy difficulties: A new test of speech rhythm sensitivity


Nuffield Foundation
Grants for Research and Innovation

Total value of project


Project team

Dr Andrew Holliman

Duration of project

01/07/2012 - 01/12/2015

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Project objectives

The research objectives are:

  • to produce and validate an assessment of speech rhythm sensitivity that is suitable for pre-literate children in Reception year;
  • to administer this assessment along with a battery of emergent literacy measures – both concurrently and longitudinally – to examine whether sensitivity to speech rhythm is predictive of early literacy development.
  • According to national figures reading attainment in the UK has failed to meet government set standards for seven year olds in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Recent research has shown that children with reading difficulties have problems processing the rhythm of speech. This skill develops in early infancy, prior to the emergence of literacy. It is therefore possible that assessing young children’s sensitivity to speech rhythm may provide an early indication of potential reading difficulties. However, there has been little research on the longitudinal relationship between speech rhythm and literacy; this is especially evident in the period prior to reading instruction. Moreover, few existing measures of speech rhythm sensitivity are suitable for children of this age.

    This project will aim to produce and validate an assessment of speech rhythm sensitivity that is suitable for pre-literate children in Reception year and then examine whether sensitivity to speech rhythm can predict early literacy development. If sensitivity to speech rhythm is found to be predictive of early reading development then it might form the basis of an early screening measure and ultimately lead to improvements in literacy tuition. It may also inform the content of preventative reading intervention programmes. The findings will have clear and important implications for Education policy.

  • Holliman, A. J., Gutiérrez Palma, N., Critten, S., Wood, C., Cunnane, H., & Pillinger, C. (2017). Examining the independent contribution of prosodic sensitivity to word reading and spelling in early readersReading and Writing30(3), 509-521.

    Holliman, A., Mundy, I., Wade-Woolley, L., Wood, C., & Bird, C. (2017). Prosodic awareness and children’s multisyllabic word readingEducational Psychology37(10), 1222-1241.

    Holliman, A. (2016). Speech rhythm sensitivity in pre-readers: What role does it have in reading acquisition? Nuffield Foundation.

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