Consulting 3- to 6-year-old children about their reading and writing concepts and practices




Shook, Sandra Ellen

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As members of a literate society young children construct their own literacy (Sulzby & Teale, 1991) and participate in literacy events from birth (Baghban, 1984; Taylor, 1983; Wells, 1986). They do so through social interaction, a reciprocal activity vital for the development of their thinking processes and literacy (Vygotsky, 1978). Children have specialized knowledge of their own literacy. Yet researchers have considered what children do in their literacy more often than what they say about their own literacy. This research was designed to consult children--to find out what they would say about the part that reading and writing plays in their lives. This literacy--reading and writing--is defined as the interpretation and construction of both illustration and text. The purpose of the study was to give children an opportunity to speak freely about their reading and writing to increase researchers' understanding of their literacy and children's understanding of their own literacy. Individual interviews were conducted with 107 middle class children, ages 3 to 6 years at school, usually within the child's classroom. In order to record the child's reaction to text each interview was prefaced by a book sharing activity that incorporated an adapted version of the Concepts About Print Test: Sand (Clay, 1972). The children were then asked open-ended questions designed to explore their understanding of reading and writing in terms of the children's literacy concepts and practices. Children's responses were handwritten and audiotaped by the researcher. These questions uncovered the definitions, descriptions, preferences, family involvement, and self-concept children have for both reading and writing. Age and gender differences in the children's responses were analyzed. Each child's response to each question was coded and subsequent Chi-square analysis of these categorical data revealed differences significant by age but not gender. A major finding of this study was that definite response patterns were evident for many questions. At different ages children gave different responses. The more global responses of the younger children became more specific as children got older. Transitions were evident between the ages, such that one age group might simultaneously offer responses typical of their own age and of children a year younger or a year older. It was clear from many of the children's responses that family literacy plays a vital role to the development of children's emerging literacy. Children made individual statements during the interviews that invited further inquiry beyond the statistical analysis. These were considered in conjunction with journal entries made during the interviews and at the time of transcription. Resulting reflections on the patterns found were presented. Children responded to the open-ended questions, willingly explaining their literacy concepts and practices. The wealth of information that children offered attests to the parental role in children's literacy development. Teachers are encouraged to question children individually and listen carefully to their replies knowing that to do so will benefit both child and teacher in their reciprocal relationship as literacy learners.



Reading (Primary), Children, Writing