The Role of Literature in Language and Literacy Learning

By Matthews, Lynley | Practically Primary, October 2011 | Go to article overview

The Role of Literature in Language and Literacy Learning


Matthews, Lynley, Practically Primary


Literature plays a pivotal role in supporting, sustaining and developing literacy and language learning. As teachers we know that it is impossible to separate language or literacy learning from literature. Students learn language that is relevant and meaningful for their current and future social interactions through talking, listening, reading and writing.

The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English (ACARA 2009) deines literature as:

"Understanding, appreciating, responding to, analysing and creating literature: an enjoyment in, and informed appreciation of, how English language can convey information and emotion, create imaginative worlds and aesthetic and other significant experiences."

Teachers, parents and the greater community promote varying aspects of language and literacy development through exposure to a range of texts. The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English (ACARA 2009) describes literature for students as inclusive of poems, films, stories, websites, plays and a range of other literature forms. Enthusiasm in literature is a crucial milestone, and is also one of the hardest to teach. Having a diverse range of items classed as literature ensures that the greatest possible range of students can find a type of literature that suits their personal, cultural and social needs.

Diverse forms of literature presented to students can engage and appeal to a vast range of learner types and levels of appreciation. In understanding how children develop an appreciation of and understanding of diverse forms of literature I looked to the children I work with. What I discovered was children were easily engaged in complex computer-generated, multimodal literature (including e-books). I also discovered that the 'love of books' exists for paper and electronic literature, even in very young children who were more than happy to share their thoughts about their favourite stories with me. Their literature included an array of visually appealing, bright, interesting, humorous and unusual forms of text that were well read and obviously well loved. Some texts focus on social issues and concerns, whereas others focussed on literacy development, numeracy, science knowledge and other key areas.

On the specific recommendation of one child I read Young's 1996 Big Dog and Little Dog Visit the Moon. I read the story with a view to analysing how this piece of literature played a role in developing language and literacy skills whilst being relevant to the reader. The story dealt with the idea that it's important to help someone who is sad. It dealt with complex ideas such as identifying when someone isn't happy, developing a method to approach the individual and a means to engage the individual to make them happy. Throughout the book the reader is presented with an array of cleverly chosen verbs and adjectives, supported by large, brightly coloured pictures with speech bubbles to reinforce text. About half way through the book I realised I had stopped trying to analyse language and I was engaged in the cute pictures and activities of Big Dog and Little Dog. It was at this point I realised that children (and adults) identify with characters, seeing them as aspects or individuals within their own lives and identifying and sharing their concerns, hopes, dreams and fears. Big Dog and Little Dog modelled problem solving skills that children learn as a side effect of enjoying the amusing antics of the pair. Literature can be used as a method to show, model, illustrate and outline key literacy skills, but in saying this, it is important to understand that children's literature is more than just reading text. Children can and should learn a portion of their literacy and language skills indirectly through literature. What is more obvious and apparent are the social and personal lessons that are learnt. Children's literature should be engaging, interesting, relevant and aim to improve or challenge the individual.

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