Emergent Literacy: A Case Study Analysis of Implementation

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Abstract

Emergent Literacy is the educational concept that subscribes to the idea that young children should learn to read and write before entrance into primary school. Historically, American educators and parents generally have not placed significant emphasis on literacy before the age of six, besides a general introduction to phonetics and book reading. As education researchers continue to study the results of early childhood literacy, the inherent advantages of emergent literacy become increasingly apparent (Buyuktaskapu, p. 1, 2012). Buyuktaskapu further explains that a child’s ability to read and write at a younger age is a strong predictor of the child’s future success, scholastically and beyond (Buyuktaskapu, p. 1, 2012). This has encouraged researchers and educators to continue exploring the subject, in order to more accurately define the parameters of its effectiveness.

Recent developments in educational research for preschool-aged children have demonstrated the measurable advantages of early childhood education. These benefits resulted in a trend of increased preschool programs, and consequently, increased enrollment. (Invernizzi, Landrum, Teichman & Townsend, p.437, 2010). The recent rise of emergent learning implementation gives child educators and researchers more reason to study, test and prove the parameters of the effectiveness of emergent learning techniques, as the future effectiveness of national and global education now directly depends on the results and analysis of said research. This analysis of emergent literacy will address the impacts of emergent education as a precursor to future success and as a deterrent to inadequate stimulation. Second, variables that affect the rate of success of such programs will be discussed, learning environments as well as cognitive readiness of the child. A review of techniques specifically targeting the specific areas of variability will be assessed. Finally, a case study will be analyzed, and a personal analysis of the optimization of emergent learning in one specific kindergarten classroom will be presented.

Emergent Literacy as a Precursor to success

Before we begin to analyze the efficacy of specific emergent learning techniques, we should first understand the preceding research that demonstrates the efficacy of emergent learning as an overarching concept. There is a direct correlation between the implementation of emergent learning and future scholastic success, which has been quantifiably confirmed through countless individual research studies. The research suggests that the emergent literacy curriculum is successful because it caters more specifically to the natural learning process. Research demonstrates that learning occurs on a continuum that begins long before children actually start formal schooling and long before they acquire conventional literacy skills such as decoding, oral reading, reading comprehension, spelling, and writing” (Invernizzi, et al, p. 438, 2010).

Emergent Literacy as a Deterrent of Inadequate Stimulation

During the period of literacy development in preschool, it has been observed that inadequate stimulation in the crucial development years of learning has a significant negative impact on their future success. Between the ages of two and six years old. Specifically, the lack of stimulation demonstrates negative effects on cognitive development, academic success and social and emotional life of children. (Buyuktaskapu, p. 2, 2012). There is a growing focus on the literacy assessment for children in this age group that demands a closer look at the issues related to the data used in early literacy screening (Invernizzi, et al, p. 437, 2010). Understanding how children learn, among other data measurements will help to determine better, more innovative ways of teaching children.

Variables

Given the indisputable evidence that demonstrates the advantages of emergent learning techniques, as both a precursor to future success as well as a deterrent of inadequate stimulation, we can safely assert that the concept of emergent literacy is an effective learning tool in its ideal form. The details of what constitutes the 'ideal form' of emergent learning have been widely studied, yielding varying results. Despite the direct correlation to future success that emergent literacy demonstrates, there are a number of variables that affect the efficacy of such learning methods. These variables can be separated and categorized to an infinitesimal degree. For the purposes of this study, the specific variables which will be discussed are the physical environment, and the psychological environment, in an attempt to more closely identify the 'ideal' criteria of emergent learning in these respects.

Physical Environment

The physical environment refers mostly to the behavioral and organizational setting of the learning space. This is not to say that there is a specifically designated learning space, as opposed to a 'non-learning' space, as research clearly demonstrates that the natural home setting is equally as important to learning as is the designated classroom environment. As one researcher defined the environment, it is the "common content of everyday life" (Guo, et al, p. 310, 2010). In short, the learning environment is always present, because the young mind is always learning. The ideal external physical environment has been analyzed to a great degree. The most consistent and widespread quantifiable data that exists regarding the ideal physical learning environment addresses the atmosphere of the learning environment. More specifically, a highly organized, highly structured environment produces the best results for young learners.

A more recent development in terms of the physical environment is the use of technology in the classroom. The use of technology has become more widespread globally, and by this extension within the classroom setting as well. The reason for the increase is obvious -- that today's technology is specifically designed to make just about everything easier and more accessible. In the context of the classroom, this accessibility and ease have proven to yield exponential results in terms of learning improvements. According to research published in the Peabody Journal of Education in 1995, the marked advancements that technology has provided for business, medicine, research and the military could yield the same result for the future of education (Jackson & Deal, 1985). More specifically, he added, the key features of technology-intensive curriculum could feature:

" A principal who is able to monitor student progress on a daily or weekly basis, for individual classrooms, or different categories of students... A teacher freed from the drudgery and repetitious aspects of teaching who is able to concentrate on monitoring students needs for growth, or matching programs to needs or interests... Students able to receive immediate feedback on specific learning tasks... [and] District office personnel and school committee members provided with better information to keep them up-to-date with learning trends (Jackson & Deal, 1985)."

In short, a prediction and analysis made by Jackson and Deal proved true, to an exponential degree. The result of this is a trend that has increased learning efficiency, by where faculty and personnel are better able to concentrate on improving learning for the students overall.

Further research has demonstrated just how versatile the implementation of technology learning can be. According to one study conducted in 2012, technology can improve student interest and learning even within an unstructured environment. The study focused on the role of technology in the classroom demonstrated that a facilitative approach to teaching, as well as the addition of a moderate amount of technology, led to a significant increase in how much students were learning. This facilitative role taken by teachers is described as “minimal (verbal) involvement in children’s activity, providing children with the tasks and tools to elicit autonomous play (Cyiko, et al, pg. 51). This finding seemingly removes any limits to technology implementation in the classroom setting, as the study showed significant increases in learning even during the students' free "playtimes".

Psychological Environment

The physical environment and the psychological environment are inherently intertwined, so any attempt to completely isolate either one or the other is a futile endeavor. That understood, we will define the following aspects of the psychological environment as the purposeful strategies that are specific to emergent literacy, keeping in mind that the purposeful psychological strategies implemented could also be arguably construed as physical environmental adjustments. The separation in this context will occur when discussing the strategy of the implementation, rather than the physical manifestation of said implementation. the psychological learning environment refers to the implemented learning techniques of a learning environment. The psychological environment is every tool that is strategically implemented to enhance the learning environment for the child.

A cooperative environment is a proven effective method of learning, and is arguably the most effective learning method to date, according to at least three researchers in 1995, who stated the following:

"Investigations have almost invariably indicated that [cooperative learning] is a highly effective classroom intervention, superior to most traditional forms of instruction in terms of producing learning gains, student achievement, and higher order thinking (Johnson, Johnson and Smith, 1995)."

An encouraging environment is another aspect of student learning that is often overlooked. In a study conducted by Zoltan Dornyei, wherein he stated that a supportive learning environment characterized by strong cohesiveness among learners is the primary contributor to outstanding learning potential (Dornyei, 1997). The implementation of small groups is a strong factor in an encouraging environment and has shown to increase learning in the classroom.

An interactive environment is another key factor in improving the emergent literacy curriculum. Due to the relative inability of young children to retain attention for long periods of time, it is important that the students learn in an environment that encourages participation among all members. The implementation of an interactive learning environment forces students to ask questions in order to understand what is happening around them, while simultaneously creating the necessity for a response, which forces the attention of the responder. Regardless of the varying hypotheses regarding why or how interactive learning environments are effective, the long term data about interactive learning definitively prove that interactive learning simply works. (Aleven, Stahl, Schworm, Fischer and Wallace, 2003). The researchers also mention that the more that the interactive learning environment can encourage questions from the learners, the more effective its implementation will become.

Emergent Learning Characteristics and techniques

The variables that affect the efficacy of emergent literacy methods are well documented. In response to these variables, there is an increasing number of teaching methods that specifically target these variables in order to most efficiently implement the curriculum. Of these methods are the increased implementation of technology into the emergent literacy setting, increased cooperative learning and interactive activities, and continued encouragement of continuous learning in the classroom and the home, that target the variables of the external physical environment, external psychological environment, and internal cognitive development, respectively.

In the context of the continuous learning environment, parents play an equally important role in the development of these characteristics as their children’s educators. The experiences that young children have in relation to literacy are gained from their everyday experiences; the interactions that they have with adults and other children are very important during this stage and they are “a process whereby children construct meaning” (Cyiko, McKenney & Voogt, p. 32, 2012). There are several characteristics that young emergent learners should be practicing, including language development, writing, verbal communication, and the recognition of letters and words.

It is important to help children to learn to develop story structure, build comprehension of letters, words and reading; teach them to make personal connections and develop reading skills that including reading aloud. An appropriate introduction to reading is through picture books with the youngest children, as it creates a pathway to reading print books (Gunning, 2012). The more a parent encourages learning, the more a child will echo the same sentiment.

Parents support their children’s stage of early literacy skills and development by engaging them in reading, writing, teaching, learning letters, and any other simple, repetitive activities that help children to learn and retain literacy. The provision of books and learning materials in the home provides the resources for children to learn these skills which carry into their first day of Kindergarten (Farver, et al, p.777, 2013). Simply stated, any help is good help when it comes to parent involvement in their child's education. There a number of ways that parents can become actively involved in the emergent literacy education of their child at home. Books, print materials, and educational toys and games provide opportunities for meaningful adult-child interaction, and support the development of children’s early literacy skills, intrinsic motivation, and positive attitudes toward learning; the important predictors of later reading achievement and school success (Farver, et al, p. 778, 2013). In essence, the simple active engagement of the parent in the learning process aids the child in learning, and the introduction of learning tools and technologies can only help in this process.

Application of Emergent Literacy Techniques

The application of emergent literacy techniques was observed in a kindergarten classroom. Throughout the duration of the observation, a number of techniques specifically designed to target the physical and psychological environment of the classroom were noted.

The most readily apparent upon entering the classroom was the amount of technology that was used by the students. The school had a computer lab with over 60 desktops, with various installed programs and games that the students played to practice their reading and writing, along with other subject practices such as history, geography and math. The classrooms used less of this technology, although the classroom did have a few computers that were used specifically for spelling practice, which the students used with the supervision of a chaperone in small groups.

The teacher demonstrated a commitment to stressing a continued learning environment outside of the classroom in a couple of ways. The teacher told the children that their parents were always welcome to come into the classroom to help the students and to participate with them. The teacher would instruct the student to ask their parents for help with their homework if they had any questions, in a secondary effort to encourage parent involvement and learning outside of the classroom. In total, the teacher mentioned parent involvement or some variation of the term over 15 times during my short observation period in the classroom.

In terms of the psychological environment, the classroom observed utilized a highly cooperative method of study. In addition to group work previously mentioned throughout the ‘technology’ workstation used for spelling practice, the teacher structured the classroom in such a way that the seating arrangement easily facilitated small group discussion. The desks were organized into groups, to create “tables” of four to six students. This allowed for seamless integration of cooperative work, that promoted group encouragement and teamwork to facilitate group learning. As per my interpretation, this technique was highly successful in retaining the interest of the students and contributed to the productive classroom learning environment. This structure provided an encouraging and interactive psychological environment that research suggests is the most appropriate way to conduct emergent literacy techniques.

Analysis

Upon observation of the kindergarten classroom, I noted a number of specific techniques targeted to enhance the emergent literacy of the students. Of these, I took specific note of the practices that properly enhanced the learning environment. I also took note of some deficiencies, with the prospect of creating an awareness of these deficiencies, that they may be addressed and adjusted pending further study.

Research in the field of emergent literacy has demonstrated the significant quantifiable advantages associate with emergent literacy instruction, proving to be a key determinant to scholastic future success, while also actively deterring the negative consequences associated with inadequate mental stimulation at a crucial age for holistic mental development. The positive results in literacy and future scholastic success are practical and measurable and will help to alleviate the literacy crisis. The efficiency and rate of success can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors, including the child’s home and school environments. Finally, the implementation of certain school activities geared toward emergent literacy learners can improve the success of emergent learning programs. Upon final analysis of all aforementioned variables, emergent literacy is a positive step in the right direction for the future of education, so long as educators and parents alike make a concerted effort to optimize the learning environments of the children, as to create the most efficient emergent learning experience possible.

Limitations

Although this individual case study can be used as a resource for determining the efficacy of emergent learning, there are inherent limitations. An individual case study cannot generate the quantifiable data necessary to generate any new implementation to current practices, due to limited sample size. Qualitatively, the case study is an effective tool in terms of field observation, to monitor and record idealistic learning outcomes in a personal manner, albeit subjective to interpretation. nonetheless, the value of individual case study possesses the inherent validity and subjectiveness of the observer, which is open to further critique from peers in the field.

References

Aleven, V. Stahl, E. Schworm, S. Fischer, F. and Wallace, W. (2003). Help seeking and help design of interactive learning environments. Review of Educational Research, 73(3), 277-320.

Buyuktaskapu, S. (2012). Effect of family supported pre-reading training program given to children in preschool education period on reading success in primary school. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 12(1), 309-316. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ978445.

Cyiko, A., McKenney, S., & Voogt, J. (2012). Teachers enacting a technology-rich curriculum for emergent literacy. Educational Technology Research and Development, 60(1): 31- 54.

Dornyei, Z. (1997). Psychological processes in cooperative language learning: group dynamics and motivation. The Modern Language Journal, 81(4).

Farver, J. M., Xu, Y., Lonigan, C. J., & Eppe, S. (2013). The home literacy environment and Latino Head Start children's emergent literacy skills. Developmental Psychology, 49(4), 775-791.

Gunning, T. G. (2012). Fostering emergent/early literacy. In Creating literacy instruction for all students (8th edition), 123-183. Pearson Publishers.

Guo, Y., Justice, L. M., Kaderavek, J. N., & McGinty, A. (2012). The literacy environment of preschool classrooms: contributions to children's emergent literacy growth. Journal Of Research In Reading, 35(3), 308-327. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2010.01467.

Invernizzi, M., Landrum, T.J., Teichman, A., & Townsend, M. (2010). Increased implementation of emergent literacy screening in pre-kindergarten. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37 (6): 437-446.

Jackson, G., & Deal, T. (1985). Technology, learning environments, and tomorrow's schools. Peabody Journal of Education, 62(2), 93-113.

Johnson, D.W., Johnson R.T., & Smith K.A. (1995). Cooperative learning and individual student achievement in secondary schools. In J.E. Pedersen & A.D. Digby (Eds.), Secondary schools and cooperative learning, 3-54. New York; Garland.