27 SES 08 B, Literacy and Learning
This work is part of a research process that analyses teachers’ practices in Early Childhood Education. One of the curricular aspects studied here is the process of teaching initial literacy; in other words, an analysis is conducted of classroom practices involving pupils aged 3, 4 and 5. Our findings have enabled us to identify most of the tasks involved in the initial teaching of literacy in activities of a formal nature, with an academic focus, in which pupils and teachers are committed to the achievement of significant levels of competence in terms of learning how to read and write, with a lower presence of the communicational and functional aspects of the literacy process. These data may appear to contradict apparently shared assumptions regarding the teaching of culture at this stage. What we mean by this is that, generally speaking, the emphasis in early childhood education is on learning processes involving discovery, exploration and play. These learning processes take precedence over curricular goals or content because the actual processes in themselves constitute learning goals at this stage of schooling. One should therefore expect a more balanced distribution of the tasks involved in the early teaching of literacy in all the situations that arise during the school day, regardless of whether these are of a formal or informal nature. This explains why our aim here will be to assess whether there are tasks involving the early teaching of literacy to be found in patterns of activity that will be referred to here as “routines” (Yinger, 1980), with a less academic slant, in the classroom practices that make up our body of data and, above all, we shall seek to appraise the nature of the initial literacy tasks in those “routines”.
The study of teaching practices may reveal the different mechanisms used in the classroom that help teachers and pupils to play their parts in them. These “action schemas” (Leinhardt & Greeno, 1986; Leinhardt, 1990) or “activity structures/activity types” (Windschitl, 2004, p. 25) are identified with patterns of professional behavior that affect diverse types of academic activities, and especially classroom practices. These practices end up becoming professional routines that enable teachers to arrange their tasks around the structured behaviors of pupils and teachers through activities designed to achieve a purpose. A similar theory underpins the thinking by Putnam and Borko (2000, p. 13), whereby teachers’ knowledge is linked to the context, associated with the typical features of classes and the activities that take place within them, and organized around tasks that teachers arrange in the classroom, and which they use over and over again for similar situations. The term “routine” referring to classroom activities has been used by different authors. Yinger (1980) and Olson (2003) relate it to teacher planning, although they highlight the term’s action dimension in the sense there is a need in practice to repeat the activity in exactly the same way if it is to become a routine. This means a practical classroom activity becomes a routine when its features are repeated in a similar way every time they are applied. Routines have positive effects on both teachers and pupils. It makes planning easier for the former, improving the effectiveness of the assessment and management of teaching situations; while for the latter, the pupils, routines provide them with security in terms of what is expected of them and how they should behave.
In short, these ideas enable us to understand routines as schemas, patterns or recurring activities that facilitate classroom work in very different ways. Specifically, the teachers we are working with apply numerous routines during their practices. They thus tend to repeat activities in the classroom that serve similar purposes, and which are repeated daily in an identical manner. We are specifically referring to the following schemas: routines for starting the class, assemblies, clearing up, hygiene-food breaks, using the corners (learning centers) to complement classroom activity, or visiting the school library once a week. According to these premises, the following research goals have been formulated: - Describe the tasks related to initial literacy that the teachers organize within the activities we have classified as routines. - Analyze and evaluate the content of the routine tasks as regards the role they play in approaches to the initial teaching of literacy. This research has adopted an intensive study model of classroom practices that has permitted a systematic analysis to be made of the teaching activities of our cohort of teachers (seven teachers in total from five different schools). The following procedure was applied: a video and audio recording was made of three full sessions of classroom work (five hours per session, 21 classroom sessions, 105 hours in total) for each one of the cases. The recordings of the sessions were then transcribed with a view to analyzing the practices by identifying specific teaching tasks in order to subsequently classify each one of the tasks into a system of categories. The system of analysis is orchestrated around five main categories in the teaching of literacy (Authors, in press): Functional aspects, Symbolic/Representational aspects of the written alphabet, Teaching the code, Text comprehension and Writing. These dimensions are, in turn, subdivided into a detailed set of categories and subcategories for analyzing the complexity of practices that teachers may undertake in this educational process. The data analysis finally provides a task map of practices, highlighting those tasks of greatest importance in the initial literacy of the cases. It therefore allows analyzing the teaching of the written language in classroom. This work has analyzed those tasks related to the initial teaching of literacy, which take place within classroom activities that can be considered routines (they always appear in the same way, in the same order, with the same grouping, identical temporal organization, and the same kind of content).
Although this is still a work in progress, certain advance conclusions may be reached on the trends in the data: 1. The routines reveal a relatively balanced distribution of all the tasks associated with initial literacy. Nevertheless, the results suggest that the classroom routines of tasks linked to the teaching of the code to some extent prevail over the other dimensions. 2. The routines are not performed in the classroom according to the stage’s teaching culture, but instead to each teacher’s individual practice, with its use as such. This means that routines in our work have a specific nature, whereby only one of them, “routines for starting the class”, is used constantly by all the teachers. 3. There is considerable variability across the different teachers taking part in this study in terms of the routines’ content in initial literacy. This indicates each teacher has a fairly clearly defined profile; in other words, it seems that the teachers create their own individual teaching dynamics. 4. In temporal terms, the routines take up only a small part of the overall school day recorded. Nevertheless, they provide abundant material regarding the dimensions of the teaching of initial literacy. All this work on analyzing classroom practices allows, on the one hand, helping the teachers involved to reflect upon their practice and make minor changes to it, if they so wish. On the other hand, this reflection on routines enables us to formulate hypotheses on whether routines can improve the development of teaching processes that facilitate the work with all the pupils, making classrooms more inclusive settings. In the work we plan to undertake forthwith, we will have a chance to analyze this issue, as we will be studying initial literacy practices in classrooms with pupils with hearing disabilities.
Authors (in press). [Details removed for peer review] Leinhardt, G. (1990). Capturing craft knowledge in teaching. Educational Researcher, 19 (2), 18-25. Leinhardt, G. y Greeno, J.G. (1986). The cognitive skill of teaching, Journal of Educational Psychology, 78, April, 75-95. Olson, J.K. (2003). Information technology and teacher routines: learning form the microcomputers. In M. Kompf & P.M. Denicolo (eds.). Teacher thinking twenty years on: Revisiting persisting problems and advances in education (pp. 45-52). The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger. Putnam, R.T. y Borko, H. (2000). What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teacher learning? Educational Researcher, 29 (1), 4-15. Windschitl, M. (2004). What types of knowledge do teachers use to engage learners in “doing science”? Paper commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences. Washington, DC: Board of Science Education. http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bose/mwindschitl_comissioned_paper_6_03_04_hslabs_mtg.pdf. Yinger, R.J. (1980). A study of teacher planning. The Elementary School Journal, 80 (3), 107-127.
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