Language Arts in the Early Years Research Paper

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When Albert Einstein was asked late in life about schooling, he responded, “Accumulation of material should not stifle the student’s independence.” And he also believed that “advantage will come from how well [schools] . . . stimulate imagination and creativity” (Isaacson, 2007, pp. 6-7). The history of literacy learning and teaching in the early years reflects a struggle to address Einstein’s concerns.

Research and theories about young children’s literacy development have been evolving for well over a century. Language, literacy, and early childhood scholars have discovered how young children come to know what language, including literacy, is and what it does as a result of a range of diverse and social literacy practices in their homes, communities, and schools. Exploration of the controversies concerning literacy learning and teaching in the early years is essential to teachers, teacher educators, and researchers.

The teaching and learning of language and language arts are pervasive especially in preschool, kindergarten, and primary grades. Reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing (the language arts) are central to every subject. Written and oral language are the tools humans use to think about and to actively explore their worlds. Language forms are based on the functions language serves in society. Language development is taken for granted by the lay public. Since everyone uses language continually, it is easy for people to believe that they know how language works, how it is learned, and therefore how it should be taught.

Thus, recommended changes to language arts teaching and learning are often controversial, and innovative literacy practices are at odds with honored status quo practices.

To understand and take part in discussions about the controversies, teachers need to develop knowledge and understandings about the social, political, and historical contexts of young children’s literacy learning. As teachers appreciate the learning capabilities of young readers and writers and the influences of classroom contexts on learning, they build and expand on children’s literacy development and help young children become aware of their own contributions to their development.

The Nature of Language and Literacy Development

Oral and written language are symbiotic systems that humans use to communicate. Human language represents people’s thinking, knowledge, and emotions. Language is so necessary to human interaction that when people are deaf, they develop the language of signing. Although language and thinking are not the same, they are integrally intertwined and necessary to support each other (Vygotsky, 1978).

Both oral and written language are flexible and change over time to meet the needs of an ever-changing society. Some people bemoan changes in language, claiming that change damages the beauty and meaning of language.

Language change results in the dialects and language variations found within all communities and in the range of forms and functions of oral and written language. Text messaging and blogging are examples of the changing nature of written language at the present time. Young children often amaze adults with their abilities to use the newest language forms.

Language development is a “continuous process of learning how to mean through language” (Webster, 2004, p. viii). Humans from birth construct ways to use different language forms and functions as they interact with others to make sense of their world. As young children use language, they are learning language and learning about language (Webster, 2004).

Knowledge About Oral Language Development

Studies of children’s oral language development clearly document how young children construct oral language and their abilities to use language within their cultural contexts. Children’s language development has been studied in the authentic settings of homes and schools (Brown, Cazden, & Bellugi, 1969; Loban, 1967; Webster, 2004). Psychologists and linguists often conclude that young children are linguistic geniuses because of the ease with which they develop language to communicate. Research shows that as children learn the language of their family and community, they build control over the sounds, grammar, and meanings of their mother tongue usually by the age of 5.

Research illuminates these language inventions. Children show that they know women have higher pitched voices than men as they respond with coos and babbles in higher tones with females than with males during their first year. Five-year-olds use different language when they talk with younger siblings than they do with adults. English-speaking children in kindergarten demonstrate knowledge of grammatical relationships when they run to their teacher and say, “Bobby hit Mary.” The teacher understands the problem immediately and does not question who is hitting whom, assuming that children know subject-object relationships. When young children say, “I runned home,” they are overgeneralizing the regular form of verbs (the -ed form on past tense) because it is the most common. They overgeneralize by using the regular rules first and later develop control over the irregular forms (ran). Their thinking about language is not yet conventional. They are inventing the way language works, building on their language knowledge at the time. Over time, through many varied language experiences and opportunities, they evolve toward conventional uses of language.

Knowledge About Literacy Development

As teachers and researchers developed knowledge about the capability of young children to learn oral language, they began wondering about the kinds of contributions young children make to their literacy learning. Since the 1970s, researchers in psychology, linguistics, and education have provided an extensive body of knowledge about the variety of writing experiences in which very young children engage and have documented how these experiences influence children’s construction of knowledge about reading and writing (Teale & Sulzby, 1986). These studies involve in-depth and longitudinal analyses of children’s spontaneous writing and reading in various contexts, with different socioeconomic backgrounds and with families that spoke languages other than English, and provided insight into children’s social and personal literacy histories (Clay, 1979; Martens, 1996; Reyes, 2006; Taylor & Dorsey-Gaines, 1988). Young children, for example, invent wordings, spellings, punctuation, and spacings, and there is research on such discoveries in a range of languages including Chinese and Japanese as well as English and Spanish (Goodman & Martens, 2007).

Literacy learning and development in young children is highly complex. Yet in the cultural context of the home, literacy learning develops easily. Young children know how to hold pencils, pens, and markers and write on paper, note cards, and even walls. They know that certain marks they make are related to writing and others represent drawings. They know that numbers and the letters of the alphabet or characters in Chinese serve different functions and that books open and pages are turned in specific ways. Some children come to kindergarten and first grade reading conventionally.

Literacy is the social and cultural uses of reading and writing. The terms reading and writing often identify school subjects, and there are frameworks for teaching each separately. Literacy, on the other hand, is a cultural phenomena—a human invention that responds to the needs of a society. Literacy develops as members of society respond to authentic uses of reading and writing to record events, stories, histories, and business transactions.

One way to think about the literacy histories of young children is to consider the multiple roads to literacy (Goodman, 1997). Many children develop literacy concepts when they are read to by family members; they may finish the sentences in stories as they read along. They read to dolls or to friends who are willing to sit still long enough. Other children read by themselves, examining illustrations, pointing to the print, responding to pictures, or listening and following along in books with taped recordings.

Writing is another road to literacy learning. Young children write thank you notes, captions to accompany their pictures, and stories or letters to send grandpa and grandma, signing their names and using punctuation such as XXX and OOO to represent kisses and hugs. Parents rarely teach these in any direct way. Nor is the focus on correct form. Rather, caretakers focus on the importance of children participating actively in the social literacy experiences of the family. Another road to literacy is revealed during children’s play. They read cereal boxes as they play store or are preparing food in their play kitchens, they write prescriptions and in charts when they play doctor, and they write menus and take orders when they play restaurant.

Print environment on the streets and throughout the neighborhood provides another road to literacy where children learn that print labels stores and offices, gives directions, and controls traffic patterns. They ask questions about what signs mean, remind their parents that they need to drive SLOW, or ask to get ice cream when they pass a Dairy Queen. Many children are now engaged in technology that leads to literacy as they sit in their parents’ laps reading from or writing on a computer screen. They know that pushing certain keys (On, Enter, Print) results in specific operations. No literacy histories are exactly the same, but in these varied environments, children come to know what literacy is and what it does. Children experience literacy in various contexts (homes, communities, and schools) on their roads to literacy, and their experiences are influenced by the quality and length of time of their opportunities for literacy use and the accessibility and availability of literacy resources.

For at least a century, researchers and teachers have formulated theories about the nature of literacy development (Clay, 1979). Emilia Ferriero, an Argentinian psychologist, has gained international attention for the ways in which she illuminates young children’s literacy constructions. She posits that children around the age of 2 or 3 first learn to distinguish between drawing and writing; then they become aware that writing has specific relationships to oral language, but this relationship is first meaning based. Young children believe that what is written has characteristics that represent the object being written about. The word cow, for example, is longer than the word fly. The word mother or the mother’s name has more letters than the child’s name because she is bigger. Father’s name, as one child said, “has as many as a thousand” (Ferriero & Teberosky, 1982).

Children expand on their personally constructed knowledge of language as they actively participate in social literacy events and come to believe that written language is related to oral language syllables. Around age 5 or 6, young children who live in countries with alphabetic languages (English, Spanish) become aware that there is a relationship between sounds and specific letters, based on the children’s perceptions of the sounds. They represent their syllabic and alphabetic knowledge most clearly in their writing. In English, children invent spellings that use consonants to represent words such as HBR. They place three appropriate consonant letters to represent the three syllables of hamburger. In Spanish, on the other hand, children spell words like mariposa (butterfly) as AIOA, using vowels (Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1982).

Jeanne Chall (1967) used research to support beginning reading instruction that emphasizes codes in which the child relates letters and words to the sounds of the language they already know. Research on children’s spelling also adds to theories about literacy development, with rich information documenting how young children develop concepts about the ways written language represents the sounds of language (Read, 1975). Because they base their spelling on their knowledge of their mother tongue, teachers need to be knowledgeable about dialect and language variations of young children. All members of a language community speak a dialect form of the language; no one group has the correct form (Wolfram, Adger, & Christian, 1999). This discussion about language variation needs to also be considered in relation to the growing number of schoolchildren whose mother tongue is other than English or who grow up in bilingual homes (Freeman & Freeman, 2006). Young readers and writers need to learn how their oral language relates to written English (K. Goodman, 1993). For example, Spanish-speaking children may write the word letter as lera because they know the flap sound in Spanish is represented by r as in perro (dog). The same sound in English is represented with tt or d. A first-grade child from Brooklyn wrote under his picture: Mi cah is paktin the stret (My car is parked in the street), representing the way he hears the r in car and parked. His sentence also shows that he is using his knowledge of the names of the letters for i and e to spell Mi and stret.

Children’s early reading needs to be analyzed in a similar way. Children’s miscues often make sense because they are predicting and considering the context of the story. They may read, Dad’s gonna take me to the circus for Father is going to take me to the circus. They are anticipating a familiar voice in this story rather than the formal language sometimes used in basal readers. Careful analyses of children’s writing and reading shows they are problem solving as they represent what they believe is written (Owocki & Goodman, 2002). English spelling, grammar, and punctuation is quite regular, but the rules are complex, reflecting historical influences, dialect variations, and arbitrary decisions made by printers and publishers. It took thousands of years to develop a conventional writing system for English. Young children need time to develop conventions too.

Teachers need to understand that when children use invented forms in their writing or make miscues in their reading, they reveal their knowledge about phonics, grammar, and ways in which language makes sense. The teacher then helps children understand that their representations (invented written forms) show their knowledge. Children are not simply making random errors or being sloppy. With insights into children’s inventions, teachers are able to support children’s growth and consider the most effective ways to help young students develop writing conventions. The more children are immersed in reading and writing authentic materials, the more they see their language represented in print and grow in their use of language conventions.

Using literacy is not always pleasant. Filling out forms for a hospital or social services can cause families distress. Homework may interrupt family routines and cause emotional responses. The attitudes that accompany such experiences are also part of children’s literacy histories. The cumulated knowledge, attitudes, and emotions that children develop on their multiple and diverse roads to literacy become each child’s personal and social literacy history. Children bring these attitudes, emotions, and knowledge to school. The more teachers learn from their observations about children’s literacy histories, the more teachers are able to expand on children’s knowledge.

Teaching Language Arts to Young Children: Focus on Literacy

Teaching and learning are symbiotic constructs. They relate and influence each other, but teaching does not directly cause learning to happen. Children decide what to learn and construct their own concepts. To support children’s literacy learning, teachers organize a classroom environment that considers how children learn as well as the development of the curriculum. The teacher helps children make connections between what they know about literacy, their social and cultural history of literacy, and what is taking place in the classroom. The teacher considers district, state, and federal guidelines or mandates, but knows that the most effective teaching facilitates children’s learning. New teachers need to be patient as they develop the ability to orchestrate the thousands of classroom interactions that take place daily and result in learning.

Most of the controversies in teaching literacy to young children surround instructional practices and curriculum development. The models for teaching language arts are broadly based on two divergent views of learning: the behaviorist view and the constructivist view.

Educators and parents with a behaviorist view of learning argue that children need to know the letters and sounds of the alphabet before they are ready to learn to read and write. They insist that children must know oral English before they are introduced to reading and writing. In this view, preschool and kindergarten programs engage in readiness activities for children. There is a specific sequence for learning the prerequisite skills before children read. Children must master phonological awareness before knowing the ways in which sounds relate to letters. They are then taught the names of letters and use this knowledge to recognize words. In this word recognition or phonics model of teaching, young learners first are taught to read and later read to learn. The focus is on the transmission of knowledge from the teacher directly to the child.

Commercially published packages with booklets, work sheets, and tests in carefully controlled sequences become the reading program. Teachers are told in accompanying manuals how to teach the material, what to say, and what to expect the children to respond. The skills are related to behavioral objectives and suggest predetermined goals measured by tests. Children learn from the smallest unit of language (sounds and letters) to a whole word. Comprehension is not a focus of teaching until third grade. Writing instruction consists of copying and handwriting exercises with letters and words. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act mandates commercial programs based on readiness activities and continual testing of young children. Teachers follow scripted materials in response to administrative fiats.

Literacy researchers and educators with a constructivist view of learning argue that children must focus on making sense as they read and write from their earliest experiences. Comprehension and reading are synonymous and central to all learning experiences. Children are active learners who construct their own meanings and develop knowledge about phonics, grammar, and meaning simultaneously as a result of being immersed in authentic literacy experiences. Authentic experiences use materials that reflect how language is used in the real world. This view is based on in-depth observations of young children in homes and schools as they engage in reading and writing during play or as they learn about the important issues in their world with peers and adults (Whitmore, Martens, Goodman, & Owocki, 2004). Innovative teachers and schoolwide-developed literacy programs promote curriculum experiences based on constructivist principles.

There are also educators who believe in balanced literacy instruction. This focuses on teaching skills and readiness activities, but also includes meaning-making experiences. The learning experiences children have are not supported by a coherent philosophy about children’s literacy learning, but are based on instructional experiences that draw from different learning theories.

These controversies and differences make clear the importance of teachers’ need to articulate their own beliefs about literacy learning and the principles that inform the ways they teach reading and writing. Thousands of research studies have explored which theories and instructional programs are best suited for young children’s literacy learning, but the controversy continues. Different research studies produce confounding results; however, there is ample evidence that the role of the teacher is the most important factor in student achievement (Darling-Hammond, 2000).

Knowledgeable teachers build on the rich diversity of children’s cultures, backgrounds, and interests to organize a classroom program with spaces where individual or small groups of children are immersed in a variety of literacy experiences. Early in their careers, teachers may make greater use of commercially published reading and writing programs to help them plan instructional experiences for kids. With growing knowledge and experience, commercial materials become tools that professional teachers use selectively as they develop literacy programs to meet the needs of the young learners in their classrooms.

language Across the Curriculum

Classrooms should be places where young children have lots of time to inquire—to wonder and talk about their world, to participate in a range of opportunities, to answer their questions and solve their problems. Teachers document children’s conceptual and literacy development by listen seriously, taking notes, and adding their observations to children’s folders to document their growth for purposes of evaluation (Owocki & Goodman, 2002). They interview children and involve children in discussions about their own literacy development. Teachers take photos of children engaged in various learning experiences and display them on the wall. With a child or small group, the teacher reviews the pictures and discusses the learning that has taken place. The children become involved in self-evaluation.

There are spaces in classes in preschool and primary classrooms where young children experiment with growing plants; examine the globe; read with teddy bears or dolls; listen to books and music; play house, restaurant, and dress up to dramatize stories and songs: and build structures with blocks. The language arts—speaking, listening, reading, writing, and viewing—are emphasized during these experiences as children learn concepts in a wide range of subjects while they actively engage in read-ing, writing, and talking. The language arts are not ends in themselves, but tools for using language actively to expand on developing concepts. Such use of language arts teaching and learning is known as integrating the language arts with content areas, or language across the curriculum.

An example of such an integrated theme took place in the 1950s in that public school in which I was teaching in Southern California. The pregnancy of a mother volunteering in a kindergarten classroom stimulated a child to ask about how the mom’s stomach could keep stretching and not hurt. The children were encouraged to discuss their interest in human growth and development with their family. Pregnant animals were kept in cages in the classroom that the children observed and cared for. Doctors and nurses visited the classroom to answer questions, provide plastic models of human bodies, and share pamphlets and videos. The children recorded the food the animals ate, weight gain, and related information as the animals and the mother changed sizes. After its birth, the baby was brought to the classroom, and children shifted their attention to how they grew after they were born. It is easy to imagine the amount of conversation, reading, and writing that took place during these learning experiences.

Children’s themes also include explorations about language. As children sing songs and recite poetry, they explore the sounds of language and how those sounds correspond to writing. The children in one first-grade classroom wondered why boot and foot had different medial sounds. The teacher suggested that the children kept track of the various oo patterns they found in their reading and writing. They recorded their discoveries on the board for a few weeks and then wrote a set of rules they learned from their research. Teachers set aside time in the classroom regularly for lessons that focus on the study of language. (Y. Goodman, 2003).

The Importance of Writing

Writing supports the development of reading and occurs simultaneously with reading. Literacy development researchers believe that young children learn most about phonics, spelling, grammar, and the organization of compositions by engaging daily in writing (Graves, 1983; Smith, 1994).

In preschools and at the beginning of the year in kindergartens, the teacher may cover a table with white butcher paper and place a coffee can filled with a variety of writing implements within easy reach of the children. The children experiment with written forms and drawings, and talk with each other about the differences between their drawing and writing. There is a city phone book and a pad for messages by the play telephone or recycled cell phones in the house corner. There is a pad for writing receipts in the wheel toy area as tricycles line up for gas. Learning spaces in the room are thoughtfully designed and labeled. Cupboards are marked for snacks, different kinds of paper, blocks, and other supplies, and there are cubbies labeled with children’s names and photos. The teacher may have put up some signs before children arrived at the beginning of the year, but students do much of the labeling so they know the function that written language serves in the classroom.

Some kindergarten teachers start literacy activities on the first day of school by having a large sign-in board at the door with pens, pencils, and markers available. The teacher invites the children to sign their names and observes carefully to see how comfortable the children are with writing and the way they use writing implements. Such sign-in sheets become an evaluation tool over the course of the year as the teacher displays them and discusses children’s writing development with parents and administrators.

Language experience is an instructional approach involving both reading and writing experiences (Lee & Allen, 1963). Young children talk about and write about their experiences, which they later share with classmates, family members, and school administrators. Early in the year, some teachers act as scribes taking dictation. The children attend as the teacher writes, and they help the teacher make decisions about wording, spelling, and other language conventions. During selected teaching moments, the teacher thinks aloud to show the children the decisions he or she makes while writing. Language experience has its roots in teachers helping children talk, write, and later read about their experiences on class trips, with science experiments, with visitors to the classroom, in response to the reading of a good book, or as the result of completing a theme study. In addition to whole-class writing experiences, children are encouraged to write personal language experiences in journals daily and to share their journals with others. These are sent home to involve parents in their children’s development.

There are many ways innovative teachers involve children in authentic writing and reading experiences. Consider the following example of an authentic experience. The classroom, or even the whole school, has a post office with mailboxes for individual children, and time is planned for children to write to each other. This experience may have resulted from a thematic unit the teacher organized on the role of the postal service when some children asked questions about the mail carrier they saw in the school office. The teacher bought postcards for the children to write and address to themselves or their parents. When the cards were received at home, the children read them to their families and reported back to the class about their experiences. The discussion was recorded and became a historical document that the children wrote with their teacher and was posted in the classroom for future reference.

As soon as children dictate their stories and write their own, teachers involve children in bookmaking—another example of authentic writing experience. The books are shelved in the classroom or school library. Students are excited as they consider themselves authors like their favorites. Some teachers involve the students in publishing literary magazines or poetry anthologies. As the children move into second and third grade, they write their stories as drafts, read them aloud to the class, and receive ideas for revision as they sit in the author’s chair. They rewrite and illustrate their stories to be bound and placed in the classroom library. They learn about the conventions of story development, spelling, punctuation, and grammar as they engage in book publishing. Research studies of children’s writing document the importance of writing on the development of children’s literacy (Burrows, 1984; Dyson, 2003; Graves, 1983).

Reading and Literature

Teachers knowledgeable about the importance of children’s literature report that they read to their students more than once a day. There is general agreement that children who are read to at home have a leg up on reading achievement. It is ironic that in some schools reading to children is considered an extracurricular activity rather than central to the curriculum.

The classroom library should contain a minimum of 500 books written by professional authors for young children and include child-authored books as well. Teachers can obtain books for their libraries by having children join book clubs, suggesting that parents donate books to the classroom library in honor of their child’s birthday, or by using their own money to purchase books. City or community libraries may lend teachers a supply of books for classroom use for a specified time period. School librarians often work with teachers to gather books that support classroom theme studies and visit the classroom for special read alouds. When children are involved in organizing and maintaining the classroom library, they develop a range of literacy abilities such as alphabetizing, categorizing, and becoming knowledgeable about the variety of fiction and informational books and other written materials available for pleasure and informational reading.

Literacy learning has benefitted from the rich publications of children’s literature available online, in book stores, and in libraries for very young children. There are lists of informational books and material in all subject areas, easy books for beginning readers, biographies for younger readers, and boxed sets of children’s favorite authors. There are online bibliographies of children’s books arranged by themes, areas of interest, proficiency, and age level. The more knowledgeable teachers are about children’s literature, the more they are able to connect what children want to learn with opportunities for reading. Vivian Paley, a renowned kindergarten teacher, writes how Leo Leonni became the focus of a literature study in her kindergarten classroom (Paley, 1998). The discussions and insights of young working-class children in Chicago demonstrate clearly that the literature and the context teachers create have immense effect on learning.

Children must have a range of experiences with materials other than trade books. Telephone books, brochures gathered from travel agencies, banks, zoos and public libraries, menus, and a range of different encyclopedias and dictionaries provide reading opportunities that support inquiry and other classroom studies. Computers are a growing resource for expanding children’s literacy explorations. Newspaper publishers provide sets of papers to encourage interest in current news and encourage students to write their own newsletters. Teachers often encourage very young children to bring newspapers to class so they can share with peers information about good television shows, movies, and children’s book reviews. Children learn to find weather reports and sections of the newspaper that have articles that answer their questions about local issues.

The literacy experiences discussed here show that young children are learning and developing literacy continuously in the classroom. These experiences can meet the standards or objectives established by state or district guidelines, especially when facilitated by a knowledgeable and experienced teacher. These experiences provide evidence of the power of language in children’s literacy learning. Literacy is not empowering in and of itself. It is only empowering when it is nurtured in democratic settings where children are involved in choice and negotiation about their literacy experiences. Teachers who organize classrooms in these ways are courageous, willing to take the necessary risks to invite young children to bring their cultural backgrounds and language histories to the classroom to support equity and social justice (Edelsky, 2006).

Commercially Published Textbooks

There is an ongoing debate about the use of trade books (books written for young children by professional authors) and language arts textbooks (basal readers, and handwriting, spelling, and grammar books) written specifically for the purpose of direct instruction. Children’s literature in the United States and throughout the world provides a rich array of materials for knowledgeable and experienced teachers to use as part of a language arts curriculum without relying on commercial materials. And these fiction and nonfiction books become exemplars for a range of writing opportunities.

But there are still states and local school districts that mandate textbooks, which often become the reading program. There is a place for published commercial materials to be used selectively by teachers. What is troubling is when teachers are expected to slavishly use these materials—an expectation that stifles teachers who know their students, understand language and curriculum, and have the knowledge to select resources that support students’ literacy learning.

It has been common practice since the first part of the 20th century for states or school districts to mandate reading textbook series (basals) that often follow specific scope and sequences and include detailed directions for teachers and tests for children. The reason for using such materials and programs was the lack of quantity and quality of children’s literature and the perceived inability of teachers to make decisions about how to teach reading. Some administrators still use the same rationale for demanding teachers follow the organization of textbooks, even though teachers have degrees and certification. State departments of education show that they value the use of textbooks or basals over trade books when money is allotted for textbook selection but not for trade books.

Basals and other instructional materials are useful when teachers are in control of their selection and their uses. There are good stories and helpful suggestions in commercially published programs that add to the teacher’s reading program and save time in developing materials. But the teacher must control their use. Some teachers invite the students to be critical readers of their textbooks and to evaluate them with criteria such as whether they are culturally accurate, whether the characters are well represented, whether the information is historically and scientifically appropriate, and so forth.

Critics of public education often advocate for the use of basals and textbooks. Back-to-basics advocates often bemoan the demise of schools because of what they characterize as uninformed teachers and teacher educators. Rudolph Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read (1955) and his sequel 30 years later supported the use of commercial materials because of their focus on phonics and sequenced learning When textbooks are mandated and followed by the teacher, lockstep drill in teaching often results. The tests and questions at the end of book sections often imply an ideology in which the only questions worth considering have a single right or wrong answer. Basal readers are critiqued in Basal Readers: A Second Look (Shannon & Goodman, 1994).

Final Thoughts

Throughout this exploration of early years literacy teaching and learning, the focus is on teachers who must be knowledgeable about language, language learning and teaching, and the relationship of such knowledge to the development of curriculum in the classroom. Throughout their careers, such teachers take advantage of professional reading, advanced degrees, professional development, and teacher study groups to build their expertise. Teachers would benefit from thoughtfully planned courses in applied linguistics that focus on language study—language development; how language is used in society; the forms of language; the thinking processes individuals use to speak, listen, read, and write: and the power and politics of language in socioeconomic issues in a democratic and global society (Y. Goodman, 2003).

Teachers learn a lot from kidwatching (Owocki & Goodman, 2002)—observing children carefully with their growing knowledge, discovering the best practices that supports literacy learning, and knowing how to analyze data they gather from children’s literacy experiences to provide evidence of the concepts young children construct on their multiple roads to becoming literate.

Literacy programs for young children are enhanced when educators are involved in the new developments, concerns, and controversies that face the teaching and learning of literacy to young children. Schools, administrators, and teacher education programs should work with teachers to establish study groups that explore the development of curriculum with all its complexity. Such explorations are already the focus of professional language and literacy organizations that organize conferences, publish print and online journals and books, and provide a range of services to teachers including support for study groups. Through active participation in professional organizations, teachers sustain their own professional development as they stay current in their field and develop opportunities to write and present to their colleagues. Early years language arts teachers benefit from professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE; http://, the International Reading Association (IRA;, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC;

Understanding literacy learning and teaching in the early years is a serious and complex undertaking. There is always more to learn about how to develop a literacy pedagogy and curriculum that establishes classrooms where young children have safe places to develop literacy and learn the concepts of social justice necessary to be contributing members of a democratic society. Emilia Ferriero (2003) reminds teachers, publishers, and early literacy researchers that

Literacy is neither a luxury nor an obligation: it is a right. A right of boys and girls who will become free men and women, citizens of a world in which linguistic and cultural differences will be considered a wealth and not a defect. Different languages and different systems of writing are part of our cultural patrimony. Cultural diversity is as important as biodiversity: if we destroy it, we will not be able to recreate it. (p. 35)

See also:


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