Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

A Case Study of Children's Literacy Development in a Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Classroom

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

A Case Study of Children's Literacy Development in a Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Classroom

Article excerpt

This article describes a year-long study, involving three teachers and 13 children (nine boys and four girls), that examined the impact of instructional practices on student achievement in a voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) class. A variety of data were collected: standardized measures, observations, and interviews. The qualitative data revealed several themes that were characteristic of the teachers, as well as the district mandates that affected the teacher, curriculum, and students. The quantitative analysis revealed the limited impact of the VPK program on the students' literacy development and achievement.

Keywords: literacy development, policy, student-teacher interaction, voluntary pre-kindergarten, qualitative research, early childhood

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Significant gaps in early vocabulary acquisition have been documented for preschool children from low-income families as compared to children from middle- and upper-income backgrounds (Farkas & Beron, 2004; Hart & Risley, 1995; Neuman, 2006). According to Hart and Risley (2003), differences between children from low-income homes and more affluent homes can be seen in receptive and expressive language as well as knowledge of letter names and sounds. Such resources as newspapers, magazines, and books are the primary resources associated with knowledge acquisition and vocabulary development (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; West & Stanovich, 1991), yet children from poor families typically lack disposable income to afford these resources (Neuman, Celano, Greco, & Shue, 2001). Not only are resources unaffordable, they may also be inaccessible. Children from poor communities may have fewer opportunities to access print resources than children from middle-income communities, due to fewer books in child care centers and shorter business hours at libraries in low-income neighborhoods (Neuman et al., 2001).

Diversity in cultural and linguistic backgrounds also contributes to differences in children's vocabulary and oral language development (Craig & Washington, 2004; Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, 2004). The discrepancies in vocabulary skill, evident in kindergarten, lead children from low-income homes to long-term gaps in reading and academic achievement as compared to students from mainstream, higher income backgrounds (Dickinson, Darrow, Ngo, & D'Souza, 2009; Hart & Risley, 2003; Leppanen, Niemi, Aunola, & Nurmi, 2004; Neuman, 2008; Wasik & Newman, 2009). Therefore, in this year-long study, we explored the oral language and literacy development strategies and opportunities available to at-risk 4-year-old children in a public voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK hereafter). The study was guided by the following research questions:

* What is the nature of the curriculum of one VPK classroom?

* What is the impact of the curriculum on VPK students' reading and language development?

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE, VOCABULARY, AND ACHIEVEMENT

Research has consistently indicated the role of vocabulary in academic achievement (Dickinson & Tabor, 2001; Senechal, Ouelette, & Rodney, 2006; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). Longitudinal studies of preschoolers' emergent literacy skills reveal concurrent and predictive relationships between vocabulary acquisition, phonological awareness, and code-based reading skills in primary grades (Dickinson, McCabe, Anastasopoulos, Peisner-Feinberg, & Poe, 2003; Dickinson & Tabor, 2001; Lonigan, 2007; Storch & Whitehurst, 2002). Moreover, development of content-area vocabulary and domain knowledge are crucial to long-term literacy achievement and academic success (Neuman, 2006). Because of the "far-reaching importance of oral language skill development" (Fishel et al., 2007, p. 495), education reform initiatives in the United States over the past decade have stressed early interventions for language and literacy acquisition during preschool and early primary grades (Snow et al. …

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