Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Expanding Understanding of Emergent Literacy: Empirical Support for a New Framework

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Expanding Understanding of Emergent Literacy: Empirical Support for a New Framework

Article excerpt

Abstract: Emergent literacy in young children with visual impairments is examined using a conceptual framework proposed by Senechal, LeFevre, Smith-Chant, and Colton (2001). The utility of this framework for young children with visual impairments is illustrated using data from a field study of preschool classes for children with visual impairments.


Relatively little is known about the development of language and literacy in children with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision). The research that has been conducted suggests that these children are at risk of experiencing delays in the development of language and literacy (Bigelow, 1987; Fraiberg, 1977; Preisler, 1995; Urwin, 1984). From early ages, children who are visually impaired show delays or differences in babbling (Fraiberg, 1977); speaking in one- and two-word combinations (McConachie, 1990; McConachie & Moore, 1994); and in using language (Anderson, Dunlea, & Kekelis, 1984; Bigelow, 1987; Sapp, 2001; Urwin, 1984). Furthermore, differences have been found between children with visual impairments and other children with respect to the frequency of reading storybooks and engaging in other literacy learning experiences (Stratton & Wright, 1991), as well as general opportunities to explore the world (Wormsley & D'Andrea, 1997). It appears that limited incidental learning through pictures, television, print in the environment, or events that occur silently in learning environments (Koenig & Farrenkopf, 1997) influences the language and literacy learning of children who are visually impaired.

As interest in understanding emergent literacy for children with visual impairments continues to increase, it seems important to develop or adopt a conceptual framework to guide both research and practice. Starting with a well-defined conceptual model will provide researchers and practitioners with a common language and conceptual understanding from which they can develop a model that will best fit the characteristics of literacy and of language learners who are visually impaired. Whether the field of visual impairment and blindness eventually chooses to adopt a conceptual framework that is developed to explain the development of literacy for sighted children or to create one of its own will depend largely on the fit between these models and the growing evidence base. In this article, we describe a conceptual framework of emergent literacy that was developed for sighted children and provide initial evidence of its applicability to children who are visually impaired using data that were collected in a field study that investigated literacy practices for young children with visual impairments in preschool settings.

Emergent literacy

The conceptual framework described here was selected because it encompasses a holistic understanding of emergent and early literacy that incorporates all aspects of written and oral language (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985; Clay, 1966, 1979; Teale & Sulzby, 1986). Furthermore, it encompasses the extant definitions of emergent literacy for young children who are visually impaired (D'Andrea & Farrenkopf, 2000; Stratton & Wright, 1991) and the specific practices for promoting emergent literacy that have been recommended in the literature (Swenson, 1999; Wormsley, 1997). The conceptual framework was also selected because it provides a description of the constructs underlying emergent and early literacy, rather than of the behavioral indicators or components of emergent literacy that are described in other models (see Mason & Stewart, 1990; Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998). This distinction is important, given the likelihood that there will be substantial behavioral differences in the demonstration of an increasing knowledge of literacy by young sighted children and those with visual impairments, particularly those who will read braille. …

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