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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Magazine Issue 55 Winter 2014
In this article I use the context of young children's language and literacy development to illustrate the effects of the readiness and preparation push on educators' work with young children. Over the years I have found myself having to justify to parents and educators why I teach the way that I do, to explain the importance of play-based learning and to identify how language and literacy development is enacted in my program. I have also observed a change in parental expectations about the introduction of formalised phonics programs as the 'right' way to help children become literate. At times parents have pressured me to adopt such practices. Considering the media interest in literacy results in schools, and the apparent failures of the education system to achieve positive literacy outcomes for all young adults, it is unsurprising that formalised commercial approaches to literacy are flourishing. It is also evident that some parents anticipate seeing them within prior-to-school programs. The process of talking with parents about such concerns has taught me invaluable lessons about how my personal and professional beliefs shape my thinking, influence the decisions I make, and the interactions I have with children and families. To be open and respectful in discussion, to recognise that different points of view do not equate with deficit or lack of parental understanding is key, because "the more teachers know about parents' beliefs and the activities in which they engage with children at home, the more they can help to build a bridge between home and school literacy " (Lynch et al, 2006). Equally importantly, I have learned the value of de-privatising pedagogical practice and developing the capacity to articulate clearly why I do what I do. When parents understand my professional perspectives and what shapes them, and I theirs, there is space for trust and collaboration to develop. Parents need to have trust in an educator's abilities to support and enrich their children's learning and development. It is hard to feel this way if an educator can't talk about practices in ways that resonate with parents and helps them to understand the educator's intent and focus. It's also frustrating for parents who raise questions about topics such as implementing commercial phonics programs (a query I have experienced most years) to be met with either a brick wall of disinterest or an educator who bombards them with a vision of the one true way to literacy, or takes the moral high ground as one who 'knows best'. Rather than adopting a polarising position that does more harm than good, it is crucial to listen, recognise and act on the priorities of families. This does not mean simple acquiescence to anything, or ignoring ideas that don't fit with professional experience or beliefs. Instead it means taking a critically reflective stance, and examining what underpins individual pedagogical practices used in everyday interactions with children. It also means thinking outside the box of what has always worked well and considering alternate points of view. Educators with the capacity to articulate a balanced approach to early language and literacy development can do much to facilitate children's learning and development. Recognising children's prior experiences, drawing on their interests, and strengthening relationships with families, helps allay parental fears and promotes continuity of learning experiences in children's lives. To talk with parents, families and broader community members about a balanced approach to language and literacy development, of which phonics is one part, first requires educators to have a clear conceptual framework of language and literacy development which informs and guides practice. The conceptual framework discussed here is grounded in socio-cultural theory drawing on the rich and diverse experiences children bring to kindergarten and preschool. This theory recognises the significance of social and cultural contexts in children's learning and the conceptual framework involves shifting from a technical view of language and literacy learning as discrete parts operating in isolation, to one that acknowledges the importance of social context. As Raban and Coates (2004) note, "the development of literacy is profoundly social and is being experienced and experimented with throughout children's daily lives." REFLECTIONS • GOWRIE AUSTRALIA • WINTER 2014 - ISSUE 55 5
Issue 56 Spring 2014
Reflections Magazine Issue 54