Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Role of Text in a Child's Life: How Do I Know What is Best?

There are so many options for children's books nowadays, it sometimes feels impossible to choose the best one for your child or student. Should we choose non-fiction, fiction, magazines? Rather than look at the types of books, looking at the authenticity of the text is more beneficial.

[Children Enjoying Reading]

So what makes up an authentic text? Authentic texts are simply texts that children can relate to and expand upon with their knowledge.

Some qualities of authentic texts are:
  •  Informational books that expand children's knowledge
  •  Gives the child the option to interpret the text in their own way
  •  Fosters a connection to the book and encourages conversation
What is an inauthentic text? Any book that focuses more on patterns, decoding etc would be considered inauthentic. They are meant to be taken one way and improve on a skill. For example, a book focusing on phonics may rhyme a sentence on each page. Inauthentic texts are beneficial because they can improve a certain skill for a child but can be repetitive and boring if used very often. It is best to have a good mix of both texts to read.

How does this look and affect writing? Children naturally explore the world around them and try to make sense of language and writing; inauthentic experiences with writing does not mesh well with the meaning making that children have learned through intense observation through their years before school.

Authentic writing activities have a large effect on motivation and satisfaction with writing. Activities that involve writing worksheets, copying text from a teacher, or writing letters repeatedly are not very meaningful and most of the time are very boring for a child. When a child is told to do a writing activity that has no meaning for them, they do not feel the satisfaction from doing something meaningful and therefore may not fully understand the concepts that are trying to be taught. To really cement important writing skills, it must be used in an authentic and meaningful way.

Some examples of authentic writing experiences:
  • Making lists and signs
  • Writing made up stories
  • Signing your name on a class attendance sheet
  • Writing notes to friends, family or special people
  • Choosing child-driven topics that they enjoy writing about
Happy learning! :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Environmental Print as a Tool for Literacy

Did you know that nearly 93% of children 3-5 years old can recognize the McDonald's brand? It is true, brands are all around us and young children just learning how to read are not excluded from absorbing the huge amount of ads that are constantly around us.

[Brands Targeting Children]

Many do not realize the role this recognition of brands play in early literacy. A child is making meaning out of their day and the things around them constantly. The brands they interact with and the things that their families expose them to on a regular basis become ingrained in their identity and forms a personal connection to that item. 

While association with brands in the classroom is usually frowned upon, easily recognized brands can be used to promote literacy and the ability to recognize symbols. At such a young age, recognizing brand names on products can be used to encourage exploration of text that they are familiar with.

Parents and educators can get creative and use subjects closely associated with brands to create different activities such as:
  • Upon recognition of brands related to food and restaurants, you can move onto a social activity such as pretending to be in a restaurant and store, and explore more types of literacy such as reading menus, ordering etc. 
  • Hygienic brand products may be used in activities highlighting healthy practices or during dramatic play. For example, a student pretending to be a dentist working on a patient may find a brand of toothpaste to give to their patient before leaving.
  • Any activity that can incorporate a well-known brand is beneficial by simply having the children recognize and explore the print.
With this knowledge in the back of your mind, think of creative ways to engage your child or student with the print around them. It is easy and convenient on the go, while building unique literacy skills.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Family-Teacher Relationships and Their Effect on Second Language Learners

Developing a rapport with families is an important step for any classroom teacher, but especially so with parents of students who are second language learners. Students are entering the classroom and combining their home experiences with school instruction to come up with their own third space; their own literate identity. To ensure they have all the tools available in the classroom to get the most out of their experience, teachers should work in a partnership with a child's family.

A family is a wealth of knowledge about their child, what practices they work on at home, and what things are important to them culturally. All of these are beneficial knowledge that is essential for a teacher to analyze to ensure abundant opportunities are had in the classroom.

Some great topics to explore with families are:
  • Find out which languages children understand, speak or are learning to be literate in. You can include materials in the languages provided and represent that part of the child's culture. 
  • Ask families for examples of songs, rhymes and jingles they share with their children and which children who are not yet interested in focusing on picture books at story times enjoy. This can be incorporated in the classroom to provide a familiar environment for the child, and to encourage interaction with the language being learned.
  • Keep families up to date with activity in the classroom. Many families want to be involved in their child's education but can not due to language barriers. If any written communication needs to be written in another language, make sure to have that available. Having a translator or assistant available in the school to mediate during conversations may also be beneficial.
  • Are any displays in the classroom stereotypical or uncomfortable for families to see? Evaluate what types of items would promote literacy in the classroom and connect culturally to the child.
When doing assessments or observations, keeping family input in mind can put a new perspective on your thinking. Supporting diversity in the classroom will promote a safe environment for the child learning a second language and allow them to enjoy their journey of becoming literate at school with the comforts of home. 

If you are interested in exploring this topic further, see the information below for a concise description of second language learners in the classroom and how families and teachers can work together to give children a richer literacy experience.

Further reading:
What the Children Tell Us: Policy Implications and Practical Strategies by Claire Kelly

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Exploring Literacy in Early Childhood

Welcome to a new school year! This year holds great potential for your child. Literacy is a big part of a child's life, and they will use it to navigate the world. Whether it be through reading books or signs, literacy is an important part of elementary curriculum. Throughout the school year, your child will be exploring literacy and what it means for them. To better prepare parents to foster this exploration, there are several things that may be useful to know.

[Cartoon courtesy of Ham]

1. Literacy is individual
Literacy is often though of just in the context of what a child learns in school. In reality, a child is learning to read and write from the moment they are born! Through trial and error, they experiment with language and writing to make sense of the world around them. Although that squiggle a two year old made doesn't look like language to an adult, it is actually an important part of literacy development. Writing for him/her isn't something that needs to be taught, they will seek it out themselves! As they become older, their experiences with making meaning of the literacy around them will allow them to develop sharper literacy skills.

2. Literacy is a cultural practice
Literacy is a wide topic, with no one child's literacy being the same as the next. As such, different cultures connect to different ideas and social structures. Many ethnic groups have forms of literacy that are not part of school expectations. Children will naturally connect with literacy forms that connect to their culture, status and other things that relate to their life. Exploring non-traditional texts may be beneficial to children.

3. Literacy is social
It is no surprise that developing friendships and interacting with peers is an important part of acquiring social skills, but did you know that social interactions also greatly influence literacy? When children interact with others they are sharing their experiences and adjusting according to new information. Storytelling and dramatic play are all forms of literacy that are not necessarily on paper. Dramatic play can also help a student understand a text better by giving them the opportunity to experience it. When exploring a text that a student may be struggling with, it can be beneficial to use dramatic play as a supplement.

I hope these three pieces of information has given some insight into literacy through a child's eyes. If you would like to learn more about literacy and its various forms, feel free to check the link below to an article that sums it up nicely.

Remembering Critical Lessons in Early Literacy Research: A Transactional Perspective by Kathyrn F. Whitmore, Prisca Martens, Yetta Goodman, and Gretchen Owocki.