Sociocultural diversity and literacy teaching in complex times: the challenges for early childhood educators

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Author: Gillian Potter
Date: Winter 2007
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 84, Issue 2)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,211 words
Lexile Measure: 1370L

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With globalization, increased mobility of families, and the resultant changes to the social and cultural profiles of many countries, early childhood education is in an exciting, challenging, and, in some ways, uncomfortable position. For many years, teachers have been influenced by developmentalists as they have tried to respond to the diverse needs of individual children. They have been concerned with planning and implementing developmentally appropriate curriculum. While these goals are still important, we now face some harder questions in relation to children's sociocultural contexts and the many societal influences impinging on their lives and learning. Taking literacy learning and teaching in Australia as its focus, this article will examine the complexities of the contemporary contexts of teaching, explore what we know about the challenges of responding to sociocultural diversity, and suggest some pedagogical responses.

Emergent Literacy and the Sociocultural Context

Young children appear to learn implicitly, not necessarily explicitly, about written language within roughly three dimensions, each constraining and defining the other. Everything they learn about written language before school is constrained by what they learn about its functions and the values placed on its various forms, within their particular linguistic communities and cultures. (Purcell-Gates, 1995, p. 46)

Within this framework, children learn about the nature, characteristics, and forms of written languages used within their cultures. As they participate in literacy events, utilizing these forms of written language, they learn that print is a language signifier and that it carries meaning, and they learn about the ways in which print represents meaning.

All children in a literate society have-numerous experiences with language and literacy (Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1984; Heath, 1983; Taylor, 1983). They experience literacy as a social process, although their opportunities to engage with literacy differ. Children who are born into a world of print tend to have highly literate families who have literacy interwoven in the fabric of their lives. Harste et al. (1984) have shown how children as young as age 3 have indicated their understanding of print and its functions. Sulzby (1991) has demonstrated a clear developmental path from oral language to written forms produced by children re-reading their favorite storybooks. Thus, children in a literate, book-oriented home and community' learn literacy and participate in it, within their particular sociolinguistic culture.

Schieffelin and Cochran-Smith (1984) explain that while this is true, the print interests of children do not emerge "naturally." Rather, they emerge out of a particular cultural orientation in which literacy is assumed and children's early print experiences are organized in particular ways. The children are socialized to be literate and to use print to meet a variety of goals. Haas Dyson and Genishi (1994) contend that even when literacy plays a relatively minor role in a community, children are not isolated from written language; within the larger society, they are usually surrounded by environmental print. Those authors further argue that children who do not conventionally read and write may still take to pen and paper or participate in literacy activities with more skilled...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A172907397