Longitudinal twin study of early literacy development: Preschool through Grade 1

Abstract

Grade 1 literacy skills of twin children in Australia (New South Wales) and the United States (Colorado) were explored in a genetically sensitive design (N = 319 pairs). Analyses indicated strong genetic influence on word and nonword identification, reading comprehension, and spelling. Rapid naming showed more modest, though reliable, genetic influence. Phonological awareness was subject to high nonshared environment and no reliable genetic effects, and individual measures of memory and learning were also less affected by genes than nonshared environment. Multivariate analyses showed that the same genes affected word identification, reading comprehension, and spelling. Country comparisons indicated that the patterns of genetic influence on reading and spelling in Grade 1 were similar, though for the U.S. but not the Australian children new genes came on stream in the move from kindergarten to Grade 1. We suggest that this is because the more intensive kindergarten literacy curriculum in New South Wales compared with Colorado, consistent with the mean differences between the two countries, means that more of the genes are “online” sooner in Australia because of accelerated overall reading development.

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Acknowledgements

The research was supported by the Australian Research Council (A79906201), the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (HD27802 and HD38526), the Research Council of Norway (154715/330), the Swedish Research Council (345-2002-3701), and Stavanger University. We are grateful for support from the Australian Twin Registry and the Australian Multiple Birth Association. We also thank our testers: in Australia, Frances Attard, Nicole Church, Marreta Coleman, Cara Newman; in Norway, Bjarte Furnes; in Sweden, Inger Fridolfsson; in the USA, Kim Corley, Rachael Cole, Barb Elliott, Kari Gilmore, Angela Villella, and Ingrid Simece.

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Correspondence to Brian Byrne.

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Byrne, B., Samuelsson, S., Wadsworth, S. et al. Longitudinal twin study of early literacy development: Preschool through Grade 1. Read Writ 20, 77–102 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-006-9019-9

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Key words

  • Environment
  • Genetics
  • Phonological decoding
  • Reading comprehension
  • Spelling
  • Word identification