Gateway to Literacy
Chapter 5 extends our discussion of the classroom environment. In this chapter we demonstrate that effective literacy teaching is embedded in a classroom environment that arises from thoughtful, responsive dialogue between children and their teacher. We describe how to improve the quantity and quality of language interactions that occur during whole group activities and in more informal one-on-one conversations during center activities and other classroom events. We discuss issues that teachers need to consider when talking with children who come from diverse backgrounds—children whose home language is not English, children who speak a dialect of English different from the dominant dialect of their community, and children whose families represent a variety of cultures. At the end of the chapter we describe how children use their spoken-language competencies in their first encounters with written language, such as when parents or teachers read books aloud to them. We also discuss new language strategies that children need to acquire in order to become competent users of written language.
Classroom environments consist of more than just an arrangement of space and its materials. Instead, it is the interaction among people (children, teacher, aide, volunteers, parents) and the materials in the classroom that create environments (Roskos & Neuman, 2001). Some environments provide all children access to activities and resources that allow them to acquire new vocabulary, new strategies for using language to meet social and academic goals, and a new sense of competence (McGill-Franzen & Lanford, 1994). Other environments provide opportunities for some children to learn, but not all. One of the most constraining factors in an environment is whether children have access to a teacher who provides high-quality literacy activities and talks with them frequently. That is, a critical component of classroom environment is the quality of its language interac-