Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Reading Early Childhood and Developing Literacy

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Reading Early Childhood and Developing Literacy

Article excerpt

Introduction

Education systems throughout the world focus on children's reading ability as a marker for educational success. Parents are anxious if their child is slow to start reading and proud if they read early. Major resources continue to be devoted to intervention programs aimed at accelerating children's reading achievement so they can take full advantage of schooling predicated on the printed word. Articles in the Australian Pre-School Quarterly during the 1960s and 70s were devoted to methods of teaching reading; for instance, the augmented alphabet (ita). There were indications of an underlying assumption that a `quick-fix' could be found, with the prevalence of a deficit model (Dunlop et al., 1974) and attitudes moving from remediation to prevention. More recently, attention has moved away from individual children as sources of failure to more general concerns of pedagogy and curriculum, especially for disenfranchised groups within the population as a whole. The papers reviewed here provide a glimpse into that journey.

This review spans the concerns and discourse, or ways of knowing, of Australian early childhood educators and researchers during the past 40 years. The focus of the particular concern reported here is reading, writing, and emerging literacy. I have read closely some 30 or more articles from the Australian Pre-School Quarterly and the Australian Journal of Early Childhood. This experience has been especially poignant because it matches exactly the years of my own teaching and research experience.

What I have found through the process of this review is that we shared very similar concerns over the years and from across the other side of world (Raban & Geekie, 1987; Raban, 1991). The impact of different professional preoccupations, different views of childhood and development, and different approaches to teaching are all to be found in this digest of documents. There are papers in this collection that I have found visionary and others that are icons of a point in time. Our current concerns in early childhood education are all echoed here, with their historical routes clearly indicated and the issues still familiar in current debates, myth, and folklore.

Fostering appropriate experience

As early as 1965, Phyllis Scott was drawing attention to intentionality on the part of adults working with preschool children. She suggested that we may need to foster experience of written language as well as spoken language during the preschool years. She argued that young children need to understand the purposes and functions of print first before any formal program was started. We should answer their questions about words and find other ways of offering intellectual stimulation to arouse their curiosity about print (not to be confused with explicit teaching), rather than wait for processes of maturation to take place first. Scott suggested that preschool programs may be guilty of some lack of provision. Her advice was to keep an open mind. In the following year, 1966, Swift reviewed, recounted, and reported information about early childhood literacy from around the world and she challenged the view prevalent at that time and proposed by Roberts (1965), that teaching reading below the age of six years could be both damaging and futile.

Meanwhile, practitioners were still finding their way and learning from close observation of the young children in their charge. Lanser (1963) observed how children paid close attention to material that had been pinned to the wall in their eye-line. This positioning of print material happened because the windows were so long, not because there was considered any worth in displaying material within children's sphere of vision. However, this observation gave rise to positive use of this resource, with the value noted through children's language and other interactions as they engaged with displays they could see. Similarly, Ashby and Deany (1973) noticed how children turned to the books that had been tape-recorded for the listening centre they introduced to their preschool. …

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