Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Literacy in Early Childhood Settings in New Zealand: An Examination of Teachers' Beliefs and Practices

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Literacy in Early Childhood Settings in New Zealand: An Examination of Teachers' Beliefs and Practices

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the past 20 years, there has been a phenomenal amount of research into literacy in the early years. Views have changed from a maturational perspective (e.g. Gesell, 1954), in which children would learn to read when they reached a certain mental age, to a developmental perspective (e.g. Durkin, 1966) in which children would learn to read when they were ready and as a result of certain pre-reading experiences. Under this model, teachers and parents were told not to teach children to read or write prior to school entry (Adams, 1990). During the 1970s and 1980s, research on emergent literacy indicated that reading and writing were related skills that emerged as a result of individual development and active participation in literacy events in the home, early childhood settings and community (Adams, 1990; Clay, 1982; Goodman, 1986; Teale & Sulzby, 1986). Recent sociocultural analyses argue that literacy is cultural capital resulting from participation in certain social and cultural contexts (Barratt-Pugh, 2000; Luke & Freebody, 1997; Reid & Comber, 2002), and that some children are advantaged in the school setting because their early experience is closely matched with the pedagogy and practice of school.

The early studies by Chall (1967) identified direct phonics instruction to be critical to the development of reading skills. Later, Adams (1990) identified that early core skills influence academic success and that direct instruction in phonics facilitates literacy development. Reviews by the National Reading Panel (2000) and Snow, Burns and Griffin (1998) showed that early deficiencies in core skills impede academic progress and that children who are academically successful have been building basic skills prior to formal school learning. The term 'emergent literacy' refers to this gradual process of becoming literate.

The preschool years are crucial for learning the diverse concepts and functions of literacy, which include listening, talking, reading, viewing, writing, visual and critical literacies (Clay, 1982; Martello, 2000; Teale & Sulzby, 1986). Clay (1982) argued that children start school with a knowledge of the 'concepts of print', a functional knowledge of literacy and an understanding of the purposes of reading and writing--a view supported by recent research (Purcell-Gates, 1996; Reynolds, 1997). The skills associated with emergent literacy are seen as behaviours such as knowing that, in English, words are read from left to right, that stories have a beginning and an end, that words are made of letters, and that letter names can be used for spelling. Other skills include understanding the functions and handling of literacy materials, using scribble forms and emergent forms of writing, using oral language to discuss written language, and having metacognitive and metalinguistic awareness about written language (Fillmore & Snow, 2000; Goodman, 1986; Makin & Whitehead, 2004).

Neuman and Roskos (1997) showed that children who are assisted to explore the meaning and use of print demonstrate legitimate reading and writing behaviours before formal instruction commences. Strickland and Morrow (1989) proposed that the ideal context to develop knowledge of literacy would be a 'literacy rich' and 'scaffolded' learning environment, in which children receive both access to and mediation of the literacy environment. Much research on print-rich environments has confirmed the importance of the classroom environment and teachers' actions within it for supporting children's emerging literacy (Wotfsberger, Reutzel, Sudweeks & Fawson, 2004). As Neuman and Dickinson (2002) argue, 'there is consensus, strikingly demonstrated by the degree of convergence in recent reports, that children are doing critical cognitive work in literacy development from birth through six and that quality instruction makes a vital contribution in these years to children's success as readers and writers' (p. …

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