Early Literacy (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Critical Theory

Critical theory addresses the social and cultural backgrounds children bring with them when they come to school, and involves an understanding of the inequalities of certain groups in acquiring literacy (Freire, 1985; Gee, 1996). Young children from nonmainstream environments may have very different ways of “taking meaning” from the environment and from language than the mainstream population (Heath, 1983). Home literacy can take many forms that do not match the discourse of school communities (Taylor, 1997). Teachers who adhere to critical theory are sensitive to the ways some groups of children with diverse backgrounds “read the world” differently than mainstream children, putting them on an unequal footing in early literacy development (Freire, 1985). These teachers support a multicultural approach, address issues of social justice and nonviolence, and help children become critical thinkers and readers. Proponents of critical theory advocate social change and gender equality within the literacy curriculum (Shannon, 1998).

Emergent Literacy

The work of Marie Clay, a New Zealand educator, heralded changes in the way researchers and teachers viewed early reading. Her studies indicated that children know a great deal about reading and writing before they come to school, and they are able to experiment with and apply their knowledge in various ways (Clay, 1975). Reading readiness seemed to be an inaccurate term, since Clay’s research showed that there was not a specific sequence of skills children needed to master prior to reading and writing. The children she studied seemed instead to “emerge” into literacy—with writing, reading, and oral language abilities developing together.

Emergent literacy was recently defined as “the view that literacy learning begins at birth and is encouraged through participation with adults in meaningful activities; these literacy behaviors change and eventually become conventional over time” (Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp, 2000, p. 123). From a very young age, children who are exposed to oral and written language gradually gain control over the forms of literacy. Print-related knowledge develops similarly to the way children learn oral language (Morrow, 1997). When children are actively engaged with interesting and meaningful reading and writing experiences, they develop literacy knowledge early in their lives.


A Balanced Approach

In sum, current research reveals that “learning to read and write is a complex, multifaceted process that requires a wide variety of instructional approaches” (Neuman et al., 2000, p. 39). The debates over which method of teaching reading may be put to rest by the studies show that no single method is best for all children all the time. Many teachers now incorporate a “balance” of research-based strategies, believing this to be the most effective way to approach literacy development (Tompkins, 2003). There are three basic principles in a balanced approach to literacy: (a) developing skills and strategies while nurturing a love of literature, (b) varying instructional approaches to fit the needs of the children, and (c) immersing children in a variety of reading materials (Fitzgerald, 1999). The balanced approach to literacy instruction incorporates the best in research, stresses the role of the teacher as an informed decision maker, allows the teacher flexibility in building a literacy program, and is based on a comprehensive view of literacy that includes reading and writing (Spiegel, 1998). Cambourne’s Conditions for Literacy Development

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