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In this year's Distinguished Educator department, we feature six educators whose research has focused on the role of early literacy in early childhood education. Each Of the six addresses a Vitally important aspect of early childhood literacy teaching and learning.
Working with families as partners in early literacy
Dorothy S. Strickland
What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for its children.
The link between supportive parental involvement and children's early literacy development is well established. Snow, Barnes, Chandler, Goodman, and Hemphill (1991) and others have shown that children from homes where parents model the uses of literacy and engage children in activities that promote basic understandings about literacy and its uses are better prepared for school.
Parent education is an integral component of virtually all early childhood programs. However, its effectiveness varies widely. More and better research is needed to help us understand what kinds of parent involvement programs are most effective for target populations and what level of treatment intensity, training of providers, and attention to other program components is required (Barnett, 1998; St. Pierre & Layzer, 1998). The following are some considerations for planning the content and implementation of successful early childhood parent education programs.
Literacy learning starts early
Learning to read and write is an ongoing process. Contrary to popular belief, it does not suddenly begin in kindergarten or first grade. From the earliest years, everything that adults do to support children's language and literacy counts (Hart & Risley, 1995). Those who care for and educate young children should know the following. First, oral language and literacy develop together. What children learn from listening and talking contributes to their ability to read and write, and vice versa. For example, young children's ability to identify and make oral rhymes and to manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words is an important indicator of their potential success learning to read. Phonological awareness begins early with rhyming games and chants, often on a parent's knee. Second, children who fall behind in oral language and literacy development are less likely to be successful beginning readers, and their achievement lag is likely to persist throughout the primary grades and beyond (Juel, 1988). Third, it is not enough to simply teach early literacy skills in isolation. Teaching children to apply the skills they learn has a significantly greater effect on their ability to read (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). Young children learn the uses of print in their lives as they observe adults read, make lists, and make use of literacy as they go about their everyday lives.
Key implications for parents and educators
* Know that a child's capacity for learning is not determined at birth and there is a great deal parents and educators can do about it (National Research Council & Institute of Medicine, 2000).
* Be aware that there are many informal and enjoyable ways that language and literacy skills can be developed in the home.
* Provide opportunities for children to use what they know about language and literacy in order to help them transfer what they know to new situations.
Oral language is the foundation for literacy development
Listening and speaking provide children with a sense of words and sentences, build sensitivity to the sound system so that children can acquire phonological awareness and phonics, and are the means by which children demonstrate their understandings of words and written materials. Those who care for and educate young children should know the following three things. First, children reared in families where parents provide rich language and literacy do better in school than those who do not. Language-poor families are likely to use fewer "different" words in their everyday conversations, and the language environment is more likely to be controlling and punitive (Hart & Risely, 1995). Second, exposure to less common, more sophisticated vocabulary (i.e., rare words) at home relates directly to children's vocabulary acquisition (Dickinson & Tabors, 2001). Third, there is a strong relationship between vocabulary development and reading achievement.
Key implications for parents and educators
* Take time to listen and respond to children.
* Talk to and with children not at them.
* Engage children in extended conversations about events, storybooks, and a variety of other print media.
* Explain things to children.
* Use sophisticated and unusual words in everyday talk with children, when it is appropriate to the conversation.
Experiences with the world and with print influence comprehension
True reading involves understanding. What children bring to a text, whether oral or written, influences the understandings they take away. Those who care for and educate young children should know the following. First, the more limited a child's experiences, the more likely it is that he or she will have difficulty with reading. Second, there are two kinds of experiences that are highly influential to literacy development: background knowledge about the world and background knowledge about print and books. Both can and should be provided in the home (Neuman, 2001).
Key implications for parents and educators
* Keep in mind that interesting concepts and vocabulary do not emerge from a vacuum.
* Help provide interesting content to think and talk about.
* Involve children in trips to local points of interest and talk with them about what they see and do.
* Establish a habit of raising and responding to children's questions about things that occur at home or on local trips.
* Provide time for reading to children and talking with them about what is read.
* Share a variety of literature, including lots of informational books. Books stimulate conversations about ideas and concepts beyond everyday experiences.
* Make books accessible for children to return to on their own--to pretend read and reenact the read-aloud experience.
Connecting with families to promote children's literacy development
Successful parent education programs are sustained and consistent over time. They go well beyond specific program activities to include strong parent outreach in every aspect of home-school relations. Successful programs include parents and the entire staff in an effort to connect home and school. Everyone benefits from the sharing of information and an atmosphere of shared purpose.
Make special activities as specific as possible, focusing on one concept at a time with plenty of practical suggestions. Revisit key ideas and enlist input about parents' personal application of those ideas. Keep in mind that change takes time. Initially, some parents may not get the "big" picture. Little steps are important.
Make parent education highly accessible. Combine it with other services, such as health and social services, whenever possible. Many families are overwhelmed with the stress of balancing the daily demands of work and childrearing with limited resources. Be patient and flexible and keep in mind that parents have a great deal to contribute. Be sure to draw on their experience and background knowledge.
Strickland teaches at Rutgers University (10 Seminary Place, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA). E-mail email@example.com.
Developmentally Appropriate Practice in early literacy instruction
Lesley Mandel Morrow
Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) has been associated with early childhood education (pre-school through grade 2) for many years. DAP emphasizes the concurrent development of social, emotional, physical, and intellectual growth. DAP means that learning can happen spontaneously and that teachers deliberately plan for teaching literacy skills (International Reading Association & National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1998).
Developmentally Appropriate Practice should include intentional teaching of literacy in appropriate ways. The ability to read and write will develop with careful planning and instruction. Children need regular and active interactions with print at a very early age. This interpretation of DAP does not mean extensive whole-group instruction, intensive drilling, practicing skills in isolation, and high-stakes testing. DAP means making academic content meaningful. It builds on what children know and then provides additional knowledge. Reading is complex, and we need a variety of instructional approaches to meet the needs of our diverse population. The acquisition of reading is an active process between children and adults and other children. Teachers offer explicit instruction when they model activities. They provide guided practice when children try out what was taught and provide scaffolding when necessary. Finally, children engage in independent practice when they work on their own. DAP acknowledges that children have their own time schedule when it comes to acquiring skills (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).
What does DAP look like?
Developmentally Appropriate Practice in early literacy instruction means that literacy …