This report presents the findings of ERO’s review of literacy teaching and learning in early childhood services. It includes information about how services value and promote literacy, what literacy teaching and learning is occurring in early childhood services, and how services know if literacy practices and outcomes for children have improved. The intent of the evaluation is to generate insights and understanding of literacy teaching and learning in early childhood education. This can then be used for improving and refining literacy programmes in early childhood services, and across the education sector as a whole (Chelimsky & Shadish, 1997; Patton, 1997).
When children can understand, enjoy, engage with, and use oral, visual and written language and symbols they are better able to express their individual identity and become active participants in a literate society (Hamer & Adams, 2003: p.13). Literacy learning supports children’s language development and their later achievement in other learning areas such as mathematics, science and social sciences. A 2008 Ministry-funded literature review identified that good quality literacy teaching practices in early childhood services contributed to later literacy success (Mitchell et al, 2008). Other New Zealand longitudinal research has identified that differences at school entry in ‘literate cultural capital’ may predict future reading achievement (Tunmer, Chapman & Prochnow, 2006).
Recent New Zealand research suggests that some children may be disadvantaged when they go to school, when their early literacy experience is not closely matched to the pedagogy and practice of school (McLachlan, 2006: p.33). Emergent or early literacy is very much a social practice that develops in social contexts rather than through formal instruction. Early childhood educators therefore need to consider and incorporate home and community literacy practices into their teaching and learning programme. When home literacy practices greatly differ from primary school literacy practices, children can experience difficulties (Martello, 2007). Effective literacy practices in early childhood services can help build a bridge between early literacy practices in the home and literacy practices at school.
New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, promotes a socio-cultural perspective, which informs literacy practices in early childhood services.
While Te Whāriki does not specifically advise educators how to promote or teach early literacy, Strand 4, Communication-Mana Reo, does state that the languages and symbols of children’s own and other cultures are promoted and protected in an environment where children:
In a broader sense, Te Whāriki promotes literacy learning through its principles, which seek to empower children to become literate through activities that are meaningful and engaging. It encourages a holistic view of literacy where infants, toddlers and young children engage with literacy in ways that reflect their growing expertise, and that incorporates their home literacy practices.
Te Whāriki briefly outlines the skills, knowledge and experiences that children are likely to have when moving from an early childhood service to school. These include:
Part C: The Strands of Te Whāriki, expands on how these are included in the teaching and learning programme, in particular, Goals 2 and 3 of the Communication-Mana Reo Strand.
The learning outcomes for Goal 2 of the Communication-Mana Reo Strand include children developing:
The learning outcomes for Goal 3 of the Communication-Mana Reo Strand include children developing:
In addition to these learning outcomes, three other strands of Te Whāriki also contribute to literacy teaching and learning. The Exploration/Mana Aotūroa Strand includes pretend, symbolic, and dramatic play, and using information; the Contribution/Mana Tangata Strand includes listening to and discussing others’ points of view, and empathy; and the Belonging/Mana Whenua Strand acknowledges the importance of home and community in children’s learning.
Kei Tua o te Pae (Books 16 and 17) (Ministry of Education, 2009b and 2009c) gives educators further guidance on developing and assessing literacy in the early childhood setting. Literacy is defined as a repertoire of oral, visual and written practices, including:
Kei Tua o te Pae places a strong emphasis on children establishing a sound oral foundation, arguing that this is essential to success in reading and writing (Ministry of Education, 2009b: p.2).
A socio-cultural approach embeds literacy learning in the meaningful activities children are involved in and acknowledges that children come to an early childhood service with knowledge about literacy learnt in the home and elsewhere.
One socio-cultural perspective promotes six elements of literacy:
Another socio-cultural perspective suggests that children encounter a variety of literacies and literacy practices from the different communities of which they are a part (Jones Diaz, 2007). This includes multi-literacies such as linguistic, visual, auditory, gestural and spatial forms.
A socio-cultural model of literacy acknowledges not only the context of the home and family, and the early childhood service, but also that of community and society. The curriculum, government policy, and cultural expectations all influence literacy practices (Hamer & Adams, 2002; Hamer & Adams, 2003). Hamer & Adams, authors of The New Zealand Early Childhood Literacy Handbook (2003), place children and their literacy knowledge and experiences at the centre of literacy learning. This learning is influenced by:
A socio-cultural approach to literacy sees literacy as including not only reading and writing, but also listening, talking, viewing, drawing and critiquing. The approach is also seen as a way in which people construct and communicate meaning by traditional means, through technology, critical thinking, and popular culture (Jones Diaz, 2007).
Te Whāriki, promotes a socio-cultural and holistic view of literacy teaching and learning. It encourages educators to consider the place of literacy in the physical environment, routines and planning, the role of the educator capitalising on learning opportunities, and the links between home, community, and the early childhood service (Hamer & Adams, 2002).
Children begin early childhood education with a wide range of literacy skills. Educators therefore need to be knowledgeable about socio-cultural processes involved in listening, reading, speaking, writing, and viewing, as well as about the pathways children take in developing these literacy skills (Tayler, 2006).
New Zealand and Australian research evidence suggests that children’s early phonological awareness and familiarity with books links to their later reading and writing skills (Hamer & Adams, 2003; Early Childhood Literacy Project, 1999; Nicholson, 1999). If these literacy and other practices are poorly developed or skills are missing prior to schooling, then this is an indicator of later reading difficulties (McLachlan, 2006; Tayler, 2006). ERO was therefore interested in the literacy practices that early childhood educators encouraged and promoted to support children’s successful transition to primary school.
New Zealand and international research indicates that particular literacy practices may help children in early childhood services strengthen their literacy competency so they can make a successful transition to formal schooling. These practices can be found in the range of literacy activities children engage in throughout the day. Table 1 shows the literacy knowledge and abilities that are enhanced through appropriate and meaningful literacy teaching and learning.
Literacy knowledge and abilities
- Unusual words
- Narrative competence
- Using decontextualised language
- Language play
- Informal phonemic awareness activities
- Storybook reading
- Sings songs/waiata and nursery rhymes
Sources: (Teale, 2003; Espinosa, 2008; McLachlan, 2007)
In particular, rich oral language experiences are important to early literacy development (Teale, 2003; Ministry of Education, 2009b:p. 2). The quality of interaction between and among educators and children fosters language learning. Furthermore, encouraging children to express their views encourages independent thought and expression. (Mitchell et al, 2008: 36).
Effective educators have a toolkit of knowledge and strategies that can help develop literacy skills in children. Research indicates that educators need strong and in-depth knowledge of children’s literacy development (Hamer & Adams, 2003) and, in particular, an awareness of the importance of oral language as a pre-cursor to reading development. This requires them to know about language structures and how language learning develops (Cunningham, Zibulsky & Callahan, 2009). Educators also need to have a range of strategies for promoting literacy, and understand what this means for their practice. This knowledge helps educators to identify when children need help to gain the skills to learn and achieve in the formal environment of school.