31 SES 10 A, Linguistic competence and capital: Education, policies and perceptions
From an international perspective, teachers across countries use a range of instructional strategies to stimulate and support children’s language development. Language is of great importance for children’s development (Hagen, 2016; Sheridan & Gjems, 2016). Language is the precondition for us to be able to express ourselves, communicate and interact with each other and for the overall learning. The research field concerning children’s language development in early childhood education and care ECEC is wide and complex, and researchers have approached the subject from different perspectives. Both teacher-oriented and learning-oriented research has been done. Therefore, there is a need to make an updated compilation of the research done within the field.
The aim of this current study was to conduct an international review on earlier research regarding language instruction in ECEC settings. Research questions to be studied was a) what language activities are used by teachers’ and b) what challenges are highlighted in previous research regarding teachers’ language instruction? This review study includes 200 studies from a wide range of countries across the globe.
Language development in early childhood has a great impact on cognition, academic achievement, social competence, and positive peer relationships. Research has shown that the language skills children develop through their years in ECEC, are important predictors of later reading and academic success. This means that the quality of ECEC settings and teachers’ professional knowledge are important factors for ensuring high quality and successful language instruction for children.
Due to migration, especially in countries like Sweden, Germany and Norway, a lot of children are taught through a second language (Wedin, 2010; Grøver Aukrust & Rydland, 2011; Ledin & Samuelsson, 2016). This places high demands on teachers’ professional knowledge to be able to meet the challenges and needs that arise in multilingual ECEC environments. Research show that it is especially important for L2-children to develop knowledge-related language skills and academic school language early on because they are less likely to meet this kind of language outside school. Teachers often have a positive attitude towards multilingualism and multilingual environments but lack adequate instructional strategies to support these children’s language development.
Several countries face issues regarding quality aspects in ECEC, for example teachers’ lack of education and professional knowledge, knowledge gaps between children and remarkable quality differences between different ECEC settings in different countries (see an overview Lennox, 2013). This is a concern for researchers, policy makers, educators, and parents. The issues and challenges that ECEC settings in different countries faces, are of course context-bound, but research has also been able to find common denominators.
Previous research reviews have often focused only on a specific part of ECEC regarding language development, such as literacy or various language programs such as language immersion. Therefore, it is important to compile a research review that provides a holistic picture of the language-stimulating work that teachers do in different countries. However, this is not a systematic review in that sense that the ambition would be to summarize findings from all available research. Instead, I have attempted to find a large proportion of studies, to give a fair view as possible of the research field, and in doing so a systematic analyze process was carried out.
This research review is a systematic analysis of the research field regarding language instruction in ECEC settings. The search began with trying out different keywords in different databases. Finally, the keywords that gave best hits were language development + preschool + instruction (N = 1064), language learning + preschool + pedagogy (N = 755), second language learning + preschool + instruction (N = 553), language learning + preschool + teaching strategies (N = 201), multilingualism + preschool (N = 636). The database used mainly was ERIC, but also other databases were used like Academic Search Elite and Nordic Base of Early Childhood Education and Care. Different databases were used to broaden the search. Even though databases were used, important studies were also found with the so called ‘snowball effect’. While searching for previous research different principles of inclusion and exclusion were used. Inclusion principles: studies conducted in preschool settings, children’s age range between 1-6-year, focus on instructional strategies, studies from inside and outside a European context, peer reviewed articles and written in English/Swedish/Finnish, both qualitative and quantitative research. Exclusion principles: Studies with focus on special education and language impairment, articles written in other languages than English/Swedish/Finnish. The first stage was to read the title and abstract of the study. Those studies that were of interest for the research questions of this current study, were saved for more in-depth reading. Those studies, where it was not possible in the abstract to find a clear connection to research questions, were removed, 200 studies were finally included in the study. When the selection was done, a manifest content analysis was made following the steps: decontextualization, recontextualization, categorization, and compilation (Bengtsson, 2016). In the first step, decontextualization, I did an in-depth reading of each article and noted the most important parts such as title, aims, research questions and theories/methods used. In the second step, recontextualization, I read all the articles once again to see that the content of the previous step was covered and if something needed to be added. In the third step, categorization, themes, and categories of the articles were identified. For example, I made notes on the international context, what language activity was in focus such as book reading or direct vocabulary training and if challenges were raised. In the final step, compilation, I analyzed all the themes and summarized common grounds.
The preliminary results of this review study show that ECEC play an important role for children’s language development. Those language skills that children develop early on in life, will impact later reading, literacy, and academic success. Teachers need to offer well-planned, engaging, and interactive language activities. Teachers also play a key role in being able to offer children a qualitative and varied language instruction. To be able to fulfill this mission, teachers need to have professional knowledge and need to have a language aware approach in their teaching. This review study shows that teachers in Anglo-Saxon countries, like USA, tend to have a more formal instructional approach in their teaching. This means that children are more likely offered ‘school like’ language instruction. In these contexts, it is common to have separate language and literacy blocks in the curriculum. In European countries, especially Nordic countries like Sweden, Norway, and Finland, teachers tend to have a more holistic approach in their teaching. This means that language instruction is most often embedded in other learning activities such as thematic work and aesthetic subjects. Teachers in ECEC settings across countries use different strategies for developing children’s language skills. Different forms of play are important for children’s language development. Shared book reading and inferencing are also highlighted in previous research. Daily conversations and interaction are highlighted as the most important form of language instruction. Challenges that teachers face in their language instruction are often linked to multilingualism. For a long time, it has been assumed that children become multilingual ‘automatically’. However, language development, especially multilingualism, takes time and is a complex process. In ECEC settings, teachers need to take into consideration every child’s individual language background.
Bengtsson, M. (2016). How to plan and perform a qualitative study using content analysis. NursingPlus Open, 2, 8–14. Grøver Aukrust, V., Rydland, V. (2011). Preschool classroom conversations as long-term resources for second language and literacy acquisition. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 32 (2011) 198-207. Hagen, Å. (2016). Improving the Odds: Identifying Language Activities that Support the Language Development of Preschoolers with Poorer Vocabulary Skills. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 2018, VOL. 62, NO. 5, 649–663. Ledin, P., Samuelsson, R. (2016). Play and imitation: Multimodal Interaction and Second-Language Development in Preschool. Mind, Culture, and Activity, DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2016.1247868 Lennox, S. (2013). Interactive Read-Alouds – An Avenue for Enhancing Children’s Language for Thinking and Understanding: A Review of Recent Research. Early Childhood Education Journal (2013) 41:381-389. Sheridan, S., Gjems, L. (2016). Preschool as an Arena for Developing Teacher Knowledge Concerning Children’s Language Learning. Early Childhood Education Journal (2017) 45:347-357. Wedin, Å. (2010). A restricted curriculum for second language learners: a self-fulfilling teacher strategy? Language and Education, 24(3): 171–183.
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