This study examines in detail the early literacy experiences of one child in each of 30 families. The focus of the study was on the observable literacy behaviours of children and of the changes over time in parent and teacher perceptions. The conceptual process underlying the selection of what should be observed and how the data could be analyzed was derived after the examination of the literature and of practical issues arising from the decision to use a longitudinal design. There was also a need to find a balance between quantitative and qualitative data collection and identify measures that would remain relevant over the course of the study.
The children were separated into Group A, 9 boys and 5 girls about to start preschool in 1998 and 1 boy about to start a repeat year in preschool, and Group B, 7 boys and 8 girls about to start their first year of formal schooling (Year 1). The children's parents and class teachers were the other participants. The study was structured so as to provide observations across three years of schooling P to 2, with all children observed in their first year of formal schooling. The data were derived from observations at each of 9 Stages over 3 years of schooling. Comprehensive portfolios were developed and contained data from parent interviews, parallel parent and teacher questionnaires, videotaped parent child reading sessions, the artefacts produced by the children and the results of standardized testing.
After the group observations were completed an analysis of the data allowed for the identification of 8 case studies focused on: a) children who read with ease prior to Year 1, b) children who learned to read well in Year 1, c) children who were identified by their school as needing special support and d) children who learned at a slow rate. At Stage 12 the 8 case study children were reviewed for a final time and that data contrasted with that of the group.
In addressing the first research question which sought to examine the group and individual learning trajectories of normally developing children, the standardized data confirmed the group's normal progression over time. The data also identified the different ways and different rates at which individual children gained their early literacy skills over an extended period.
The second research question sought to identify the patterns of literacy-related activities of young children. The results show that the amount of time devoted to literacy-related activities at home, the number and the length of sessions remained relatively stable P to 2. In all but the literacy rich families, the changes seen after the beginning of formal schooling showed teacher directed activities displace rather than complemented home initiated activities. These results have implication for teachers and educational clinicians because an improved understanding of the dynamics of home literacy activities should result in more effective advice giving.
The third research question examined parent perceptions of their own child's early literacy development and the relationship between the changing perceptions of parents and teachers. The results show that parents made significantly accurate estimates of their own child's verbal and performance intelligence relative to the child's measured intelligence (WIPPSI-R). Parental judgments about overall reading and writing development revealed patterns of repeated positive development similar to the patterns seen within the results of the repeated standardized testing. The relationship between the perceptions of parents and teachers suggests parents base their perceptions more of the child's age and overall development, however teachers' perceptions appear to relate more to the expectations of each school year.
The final research question sought to examine in detail the learning experiences of children with specific learning profiles relative to the learning experiences of normally developing children. The data as presented within the case studies shows that how parents perceive and report on their child's early literacy provides a potent and relevant view of the child. The case studies also reinforce the importance of identifying, and monitoring in a detailed and informed way, children who learn at a slower rate. Teachers who understand, value and make use of the parent perspective will be better able to identify and support children who are different. Teachers and parents who share open and detailed portfolios about children will be in a better position to support learning and maintain continuity when inevitable and unexpected changes occur. Clinicians who support parents and teachers need to be aware of the different patterns of home literacy activities, of the learning trajectories of different students and of how those trajectories are reflected in the changing perceptions of teachers and parents.
25 May 2001
The inspiration for this study came from a personal need to better appreciate the parent perspective of young learners as a feature within clinical and school settings. The study thus conceived, sought to examine in detail the early literacy experiences of one child in each of 30 families. The focus of the study was on the observable literacy behaviours of children and of the changes over time in parent and teacher perceptions. Literacy as a concept was inclusive of a range of activities such as reading, spelling, writing and drawing, in addition to story telling, computer use, library visits, book handling, attention and behaviour characteristics.
Initial literature searches suggested that there was little detailed local information about what literacy-related activities young children were undertaking at home and how parents and teachers perceived the associated early literacy development over the critical period from pre-formal schooling until the end of Year 2. In this brief summary some of the key results I have drawn directly from the thesis, hence the Figure and Table numbering.
Sharing the results (also powerpoint presentation)
I have, from the start of the study aimed to inform the academic and educational community of the progress and outcomes of my work. To date I ?ave spoken at several conferences, contributed a chapter in a book (Learning disabilities advocacy and action, Westwood, P, & Scott, W. 1999), published papers and provided a poster presentation at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Dyslexia: Myth or Reality Symposium in October 2000. It is my intention to continue this work through conferences such as the forthcoming Educational Psychology Conference in Brisbane in July 2001.
In 2000 and 2001 I have had the opportunity in my part-time lecturing role, to share aspects of the results with post graduate students at The University of Queensland and elsewhere. I recently initiated a meeting with Education Queensland and at that meeting discussed the possibly of using the outcomes of the study to enhance Guidance Officer practices.
The thesis describing the study extended to over 300 pages of text, including 50 figures and almost 100 tables, as you can imagine there were many high and low points along the way before it was submitted for marking. The results of the study as detailed in the thesis fall into five distinct sections. The first part (Chapter 4.1) details the results of the standardized data collection reflecting how the children progressed in a range of non-academic skills (such as auditory comprehension, expressive vocabulary, receptive vocabulary and copying) on the one hand and academic skills (such as word recognition, reading comprehension and spelling) on the other. The second part described in Chapter 4.2 focuses on the patterns of literacy activities at home and show what the children did in terms of time, location and helpers a wide range of activities over three years. The third part Chapter 4.3 brings together the relative changes in the perspectives of parents and teachers and shows the pattern of difference over time through a series of thirty-six multidimensional scaling maps (MDS). The fourth part Chapter 5 is devoted to the detailed analysis of eight individual children and how they progressed and how their teachers and parents perceived their development. The fifth and final part Chapter 6 describes the implications of the study in terms of classroom and clinical practice. Given the length and complexity of the study it is not possible to summarize everything in a few pages, however below I have attempted to highlight some of the findings.
However as highlighted by the eight case studies, at the individual level the children learned at very different rates. The patterns of what happens at home help provide a view of the variety that is part of "normal" and of the differences that should signal to the classroom teacher and to the clinician that all may not be well. The analysis of this data provided an opportunity to compare the performance, activities and the perspectives of the teachers and parents relative to the group, to that of the four different learner types represented by the case studies. These results at the clinical diagnostic level have for the first time allowed for the development of recommendations by which parental and teacher perspectives can be included directly in the diagnostic model.
The recommendations arising from my research relate to a) home literacy activities and routines, b) the use of technology, c) the accuracy of parent and teacher perceptions, d) clinical history taking and, e) behaviour and learning assessment and diagnosis. It is clear that the ways in which parents perceive and report on their child's early literacy provides a potent and relevant view of the child. Teachers who can understand, value and make use of that information will be better teachers and be better prepared to support children who are different. Teachers and parents who share open and detailed portfolios about children will be in a better position to support learning and maintain continuity when inevitable and unexpected changes occur. Clinicians who support parents and teachers need to be aware of the different patterns of home literacy activities, of the learning trajectories of different students and of how those trajectories are reflected in the changing perceptions of teachers and parents. Education systems that encourage schools to be open to parents and to value the contribution parents can make in informing and supporting teachers will serve their communities better.
When children learn at a slower rate, their learning needs should be considered from a more detailed and informed perspective, so that those children, their parents and teachers will see that there has been progress. Those children who have learning trajectories typical of mild intellectual impairment or learning disability will not be cured by short-term interventions. There is also great potential for computers to assist struggling learners, however for most, ready access to technology in the classroom and the support of technologically aware teachers remains a goal rather than the reality.