Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Supporting Young Children's Oral Language and Writing Development: Teachers' and Early Childhood Educators' Goals and Practices

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Supporting Young Children's Oral Language and Writing Development: Teachers' and Early Childhood Educators' Goals and Practices

Article excerpt

Introduction

Oral and written communication figure prominently in Australian (e.g. ACARA, 2009) and Canadian provinces' early years curricula (e.g. Alberta Education, 2000; Manitoba Education, 2011; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007; Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2010). Oral and written communication are viewed as 'crucial to belonging, being and becoming' (ACARA, 2009, p. 38), and oral language is viewed as 'the foundation of literacy' (Alberta Education, 2000, p. 2).

A parallel widespread valuing of written communication is found in the research literature and in the curricula of the two countries. Writing is viewed as an essential competency that not only supports academic learning and provides a means for demonstrating what has been learned, but also as being increasingly important in children's and adults' everyday lives as they interact with others through email and a wide range of social media (Alberta Education, 2000; ACARA, 2009; Manitoba Education, 2011; Myhill, 2011; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007; Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2010).

Research on teachers' knowledge and beliefs contributes to our understanding of how curriculum is enacted in classrooms. For example, in McIntyre and Hellsten's research (2008), pre-service and in-service teachers had low levels of knowledge about speech and language to support children's oral language development in their classroom. In a survey of Head Start teachers, Hindman and Wasik (2008) found high levels of congruence between participants' responses and research-based best practices for supporting young children's oral language and vocabulary. Similar findings were found in feedback on early childhood educators' participation in the Oral Language Supporting Early Literacy (OLSEL) initiative in Australia (Catholic Education Commission of Victoria, 2011). Through participation in the initiative, primary teachers talked of gaining confidence and knowledge about oral language and of gaining new teaching strategies supporting children's vocabulary and comprehension, among other learning outcomes.

Research examining teachers' beliefs about young children's writing and writing pedagogy consistently showed disconnects between teachers' beliefs and their practices. In her study of early childhood educators' writing instruction in the United Kingdom, Anning (2000) found that day care educators tended to focus more on children's overall development, creating portfolios of children's drawings and scribbling. Foundation teachers of five-year-old children tended to emphasise skills such as fine motor control, and developing conceptual understandings by asking children questions and providing opportunities for children to write and draw about their experiences. Teachers of six-year-old children, who were in Grade 1--the first formal year of schooling--tended to focus on overall literacy learning, often detaching drawing from writing, viewing the former as part of art classes and the latter as part of literacy classes. In another study of teachers' beliefs and practices, focusing on early years teachers of five-year-old children in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia, participants believed the highest priority of an early years writing program should be supporting children in their meaning-making and expression of ideas through writing (Mackenzie, 2014). For the most part, participants agreed that drawing plays an important role in children's meaning-making and self-expression, though they were mixed in views regarding the necessity of children's drawing to their writing beyond serving as an illustration of written messages. However, in spite of a focus on meaning-making in their responses to survey questions, participating early years teachers provided far more feedback to the five-year-old author of a writing sample on print conventions than on the communicated meanings, nor did they comment on the child's drawings. Similarly, in a study conducted in early learning centres and kindergartens in New Zealand (Foote, Smith & Ellis, 2004), teachers' views about the importance of authentic, holistic, play-based literacy pedagogy were not always congruent with observed didactic and formal teaching practices for teaching writing. …

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