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Chapter 1 – Developing early literacy

Chapter Summary

Learning to read and write is developmental—but not in a lock-step, step-by-step progression. Each child’s experiences with language and literacy prior to school will have an effect on their later literacy development. This is because language and literacy are generative processes—the more children talk, read and learn, the more they can talk, read and learn.

In sociocultural theories of learning, adults and more able peers play a key role in supporting literacy learning. tplays an important role in intellectual development in that when children learn a new concept or new vocabulary this will accelerate their thinking. The learning children engage in will lead their development into new directions in the future. It is necessary to scaffold children’s learning if they are to move to the next step in learning. The zone of proximal development highlights the importance of finding out about the child’s current level of development and then scaffolding the learning to the next stage.

The developmental phases of beginning, early-emergent, emergent, early, transitional and extending show how reading, writing and word work complement and inform each other and develop in unison. There is, however, no one universal pattern that all children follow. Children’s experiences and abilities in the years before school have an impact on learning to read and write in the first years of school. Differentiated instruction—assessing what children can do and then planning an appropriate literacy program—is necessary to support all children to become readers and writers. No one program or approach works for all children and skilful teachers weave together activities and teaching strategies to fit the context and experiences of children.

Study Questions

Main ideas

What is your definition of literacy? What does your definition mean for your teaching practice?
What literacy theories underpin teaching children to read and write in your local state or region? Explain how the theories play out in policy and practice.
Great debates: whole language versus phonics. What is the great debate about? What is your opinion? Explain your view.

Application to a developmental stage

Think of a child that you know or have worked with in a preschool or school and explain the child’s developmental stage(s) in reading, writing and words/spelling.

Diverse learners

Read the case studies of Pete, Christianne and Sean who are all in the same class. What are their different experiences prior to school? What are their strengths? What are the different ways they approach reading and writing? How will the teacher adjust teaching strategies to scaffold learning for each child?