Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

High Quality Early Literacy Programs

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

High Quality Early Literacy Programs

Article excerpt


The past few years have seen several important advances in early childhood education. Among these are increasing recognition of the importance of the first years of life in terms of learning (Newberger, 1997) and acceptance that literacy learning begins well before school age (ALLC, 1995; Sulzby, 1985; REA, 1999). It is timely, therefore, to review what we know of high quality early literacy programs. Some of the areas identified by various researchers as central to good quality include: development of oral language (Norton, 1996); frequent, interactive reading (Sulzby, 1985); a focus on phonological awareness (Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1995); a focus on metalinguistic awareness (Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1995); congruence between home and preschool experiences and values (Au, 1993; Cairney, 1994); and attention to the role of popular culture and information technology in children's emergent literacy (Freebody & Ludwig, 1995). The current concern with boys' literacy (Rivalland, 1994; McCulla, 1997) suggests that another feature of high quality early literacy programs is attention to gender differences.

As in many areas, however, the reality of early literacy programs is often different from the ideal; for example, Dunn and Kontos found that `teachers rarely elaborated on children's play or asked children divergent questions; instead they spent a great deal of time placing limits on children's literacy. Few activities or materials to promote literacy, a component of developmentally appropriate practice, were seen in these classrooms during play times' (1997, p.5).

Recent research by Makin, Hayden, Holland, Arthur, Beecher, Jones Diaz & McNaught (1999) investigated literacy practices in 79 early childhood services. This paper outlines characteristics of high quality literacy programs identified in this research and draws attention to areas that require further development. This review could be of assistance to those developing a stronger focus on literacy in early childhood programs.

Strengths in the overall program that services provided resided in:

* generally positive environments for care and learning;

* well-furnished learning centres;

* appropriate arrangements for play;

* a good balance of activities; and

* warm and sympathetic staff-child interactions.

Areas that needed attention were:

* congruence between home and the early childhood setting, including differing views on information technology and popular culture;

* literacy links across the curriculum and throughout the day; and

* phonological and metalinguistic awareness. This problem area has received much attention in recent years (Neuman, Copple & Bredekamp, 2000).

The project

Funded by the NSW Department of Community Services and the NSW Department of Education and Training, the project, `Early Literacy and Social Justice', has been operating since 1998. Stage 1 of the project, `Mapping literacy practices in early childhood services' (Makin et al., 1999), involved 79 prior-to-school services in urban and regional New South Wales. All of the services in areas selected by the departments as areas of social and economic disadvantage were invited to participate. This resulted in a range of service types--long day care and preschool, private and community-owned, and Aboriginal-specific. A range of service types meant staff had a range of qualifications and experience.

Current literacy practices in these settings, as well as stag and parental understandings of and attitudes towards literacy, were mapped and directions for professional and curriculum development were identified. The focus was on classrooms in which a significant number of the children were to enter school in the following year, with the majority of children being between four and five years old.


Because the researchers wanted to include the voices of families and teaching assistants as well as teachers, and to compare stated ideas about practice with observed program implementation, three data collection measures were used in mapping early literacy practices. …

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