Scaffolding and Bilingual Shared Reading Experiences: Promoting Primary School Students' Learning and Development

Article excerpt

Introduction

Supporting children's literacy and language learning from a socio-cultural perspective has become increasingly appropriate in the current context of globalisation, complex migratory patterns and polarisafion between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. Sociocultural approaches to literacy emphasise the importance of integrating students' everyday life experiences and cultural practices into classroom pedagogies (Bloch, 1999; Breen et al., 1994; Heath, 1983; Toohey, 2001). In this regard, the shared reading context has particular pertinence because it offers a flexible arrangement that simulates an 'at home' storytime atmosphere, which enables learners to approach literacy through discussion and meaning-centred activities tailored to their needs. In relation to second language learning, whilst empirical studies have investigated the effects of shared reading, the methodology has generally been experimental or focused on participants who are learning the mainstream language of a community. Little is known about how students enhance their second language development via bilingual shared reading experiences. Furthermore, little is known about how children obtain information from both first and second language experiences, appropriate it and apply it to various contexts, such as peer--peer interaction in the home or community. As scaffolding takes place with different partners and contexts, the breadth and depth of the zone of proximal development can be affected. The purpose of this article therefore is to enrich our understanding of how middle primary students can construct, apply and appropriate knowledge gained from bilingual shared reading experiences. In particular, the article will examine how students become agents of change, who disrupt routine learning in a school community, as they are challenged in a diverse socio-cultural environment via a process referred to as multi-tiered scaffolding.

Shared reading in classrooms

Holdaway (1979) initially employed the term shared reading experience in classrooms to describe the interaction between teachers and students during reading as well as the social and literacy events surrounding the story. These events took place typically in early childhood settings characterised by developmental literacy programs. Since Holdaway's use of enlarged books to create a print-stimulated process, experimental studies aimed at promoting academic outcomes have investigated shared reading in classrooms (Aldridge, 1993; Morrow, O'Connor & Smith, 1990).

Involving students in classroom shared reading experiences can be especially significant for supporting second language learners. Strickland, Morrow, Fietelson and Iraqui (1990) examined disadvantaged Arab children who spoke a non-standard local Arab dialect before formal schooling where standard literate Arab was the norm. Individual tests of listening comprehension and a picture-story telling task demonstrated that children from the experimental class, who participated in shared reading everyday, outperformed their peers who participated in a structured language development program, in areas of listening comprehension and active language use. Carger (1993) observed that the rereading of two storybooks with ESL learners in class improved second language word count. As well as the quantifiable data, Carger noted affective results such as children's increasing self-confidence and communication abilities after repeated pretend readings. Yelland, Pollard and Mercuri (1993) examined the metalinguistic benefits of an Italian program that focused on stories, rhymes and pictures. Conclusions suggested that after six months of instruction, marginally bilingual children showed a significantly higher level of word awareness than their monolingual counterparts. In a junior-primary ESL classroom, Dansie (2001) utilised story reading and retelling within a curriculum cycle to scaffold oral language through processes such as modelling and joint construction. …

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