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Understanding Literacy Development: A Global View



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June 2007
Volume 11, Number 1
Understanding Literacy Development: A Global View
Anne McKeough, Linda M. Phillips,
Vianne Timmons & Judy Lee Lupart, Eds. (2006)
Publisher: Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pages ISBN Price
Pp. x + 248 0-8058-5115-1 (paper) $27.50 U.S.
Global statistics demonstrate the prevalence of low literacy rates, and despite the
financial efforts of international governmental agencies and the people-power of
non-governmental organizations, the number of illiterate children, adolescents, and
adults continues to rise worldwide. In a response to the lack of successful
international literacy reform, the editors of Understanding Literacy Development: A
Global View set out to further explore literacy in a global context. This
comprehensive book focuses broadly on the literacy issue, expanding upon debates
both inside and outside the classroom and raising critical questions about literacy
development from infancy to adulthood. The editors' purpose is to provide a global,
theoretical, and practical literacy resource for faculty, students, practitioners, and
administrators in literacy education. While the editors successfully present current
research on literacy development, they fail to define and to refine the notion of
"global," resulting in a volume that simultaneously tackles too many issues and
answers too few international questions.
The book is divided into three sections, each of which contains three to four chapters.
Part One focuses on young children's acquisition of literacy skills, Part Two examines
literacy development outside of school, and Part Three offers specific areas for
teacher development. Due to the wide range of topics covered, however, the chapters
do not fall neatly into these three sections. Instead, three key themes that transect the
parts unify the eleven-chapter volume: literacy reform, diversity in the literacy
classroom, and the importance of literacy research.
The first theme, literacy reform, is discussed in several of the chapters in the book.
Chapters Three and Seven in particular combine research and practical suggestions
for change. In Chapter Three, Nicholson, writing from the perspective of literacy
TESL-EJ 11.1, June 2007 McKeough/Bobrow Finn 1
education in New Zealand, argues for better initial phonemic awareness instruction
not limited by the school day, but also extending to after-school hours and into the
community. While he concludes with useful and detailed strategies to teach phonemic
awareness in the classroom, Nicholson does not directly address the parents' role in
teaching phonemic awareness. This point is especially critical when the complexities
of a family's cultural background and the diversity of attitudes towards literacy shape
the literacy practices in the home.
In Chapter Seven, Gosse and Phillips offer a useful discussion of family literacy in
Canada that includes country-specific information, theoretical background and a
clear overview of current challenges in the field. Similar to Nicholson, the authors
argue for reform in developing and implementing literacy programs. The authors'
six-year longitudinal study of a family literacy program produced valuable
conclusions, demonstrating that curriculum developed with the input of families for
whom the programs are designed will have more successful outcomes.
The second theme, learner diversity, is most apparent in Chapters Six, Nine, and Ten.
In Chapter Six, Alvermann views adolescent literacy through a cultural lens. She
argues that readers are often labeled as "struggling" because of culturally
constructed standards that are imposed upon all students. She maintains that a shift
away from these norms and an understanding about the ways in which learners
"develop competencies as literate beings will vary according to the demands of their
particular cultures" (p. 99). Alvermann engages readers in a lively discussion about
culture and literacy and lays the groundwork for later chapters that illustrate how
these assumptions play out in the classroom.
Comparable to the work of earlier researchers such as Purcell-Gates (2002) and
Harste, Woodward and Burke (1991), Seda-Santana's study in Chapter Ten shows
that conceptions of language are shaped by teachers' pre-existing assumptions. The
author's research with third grade students and teachers in Mexico provides a
concrete example in which to ground her argument. She concludes that to understand
the diversity of both literacies and identities in the classroom, teachers need to
recognize their own beliefs about literacy and also recognize how literacy is defined
within the culture of their school. Similar to Seda-Santana, in Chapter Nine, Ng finds
that learner and teacher roles and assumptions must be negotiated in order to create
a successful literacy learning environment.
While Ng's chapter presents the widest range of topics under the heading of diversity,
the author only delves deeply into a few of the issues introduced. The strength of this
chapter lies in Ng's presentation of the challenges in English acquisition programs in
Singapore, Brunei, and Hong Kong. Ng initially depicts the classroom environment as
entirely teacher-centered with minimal student-teacher interaction. However, once
teachers encountered diversity in the students' academic levels and ethnic
backgrounds, a more student-centered classroom became a necessity. Student
involvement in the learning process required a change in "teachers' fundamental
beliefs regarding their roles as teachers and their expectations of the children and of
classroom discipline" (p. 169). Based on these programs and others, Ng stresses that
while research in the area of diversity has been valuable, a stronger focus on the
relationship between research and practice is the key to facilitating educational
TESL-EJ 11.1, June 2007 McKeough/Bobrow Finn 2
The connection between research and practice is the third issue addressed by the
editors and is most prominent in Chapters Five and Eight. In the former, Anderson
and Li argue that research on the commonalities and differences in literacy
development across languages will better inform literacy education practice. Their
comparison of metalinguistic awareness in Chinese and English is fairly technical,
although their overall argument for greater cross-linguistic research resounds quite
clearly by the chapter's end.
Hamilton, in Chapter Eight, offers a more accessible chapter on the significance of
research in practice. She focuses on ethnographic research in Lancaster, England, to
better understand the social context of literacy and how learners engage daily in what
Brice Heath (1982) defined as "literacy events." Hamilton's chapter ends on a
realistic note: she does not claim to have the answers on how to improve upon or how
to develop adult literacy practices. Yet Hamilton does not leave the reader without
hope; she offers recommendations for future directions in the field, including
increased research on the multiple notions of literacy within groups of adult learners.
The three key themes discussed here are only a few of the concepts addressed in this
comprehensive look at literacy development. While the editors have collected studies
that offer a theoretical--and occasionally practical--perspective on literacy
development, the book's weakness is its claim to provide a global view of literacy
development. In the eleven chapters, only six elaborate on literacy research outside
the U.S.A.; and three out of these six chapters focus on countries where English is the
majority language. Also, due to its thematic organization, the book may best be used
by piecing out individual chapters depending on an instructor's area of interest or
practice. Despite these reservations, the book will certainly shed light upon the many
and diverse critical issues in literacy education and upon the multitude of areas in
which reform is needed.
Brice Heath, S. (1982). What no bedtime story means: narrative skills at home and
school. Language in Society, 11(1), 49-76.
Harste, J., Woodward, V., & Burke, C. (1991). Personal histories and professional
literacies. In B. Miller Power & R. Hubbard (Eds.), Literacy in process (pp. 39-48).
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Purcell-Gates, V. (2002). "... As soon as she opened her mouth!" In L. Delpit & J.K.
Dowdy (Eds.), The skin that we speak: Thoughts on language and culture in the
classroom (pp. 121-141). New York: The New Press.
Heather Bobrow Finn
New York University
© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
TESL-EJ 11.1, June 2007 McKeough/Bobrow Finn 3
This chapter addresses some of the assistive technology (AT) uses that have been developed to enhance literacy skills by children with communication difficulties (CD). The chapter addresses the importance of communication development and its essential role in a literacy-based society. The importance of AT and its impact on the development and use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) strategies are addressed. Results of studies that demonstrate the significant impact that AT and AAC have on the enhancement of literacy acquisition among children with CD are provided, as well as an understanding as to the scaffolding nature and impact graphic symbols may have on enhancing reading and writing skills. This chapter describes results of a study that implemented AAC and AT strategies using graphic and orthographic symbols for enhancing language and literacy in six schools for children with CD. Results of this study demonstrated a significant increase in language and communication skills measured across all schools. This chapter reflects on existing technologies and on the need to develop systematic instruction to enable skillful understanding of their potential.
Full-text available
The purpose of this study was to compare two different formal mentoring relationships based on the perceptions of beginning teachers regarding their dyadic interactions. Kram's mentor role theory and Byrne's similarity-attraction paradigm served as the theoretical foundation for the study. The specific variables of interest included psychosocial mentoring, dyad similarity, and dyad satisfaction. The time and place sample consisted of beginning agricultural education teachers (n = 40) paired with a mentor in the school where they taught (i.e., in-school), and beginning agricultural education teachers (n = 40) paired with an agricultural education mentor located in a neighboring school (i.e., in-profession). Data for this study were collected by using the Mentoring Relationship Questionnaire (MRQ). No statistically significant differences were found between the two mentoring relationships. Recommendations for further investigation are suggested, including the need to expand the understanding of relationship dynamics and predictors of quality mentoring.
Full-text available
The underlying components of reading comprehension were examined and compared in adolescents who spoke English as their first (L1) or second (L2) language. One-hundred and nine adolescents (55 L1 and 54 L2) completed measures of reading comprehension, decoding, vocabulary knowledge, working memory, comprehension strategy use, motivation and print exposure in English. Overall English L1 students outperformed English L2 students on measure of reading and language, with English L2 students performing below grade level on measures of comprehension and vocabulary knowledge. Examining models of reading comprehension between groups revealed that vocabulary knowledge is the best predictor of reading comprehension for both groups. In addition, decoding and working memory were significantly related to reading comprehension for English L2 students, while working memory and comprehension strategies were significantly related to reading comprehension for English L1 students. Furthermore, vocabulary knowledge mediated the relationship between motivation and print exposure with reading comprehension for English L1 students. For English L2 students, the relation between motivation and comprehension was mediated by comprehension strategies. For both groups comprehension strategies mediated the influence of decoding on comprehension. The applicability of using L1 models of reading with L2 populations, similarities and differences in the reading comprehension models, and implications for education instruction, are discussed.
Abstract “Ways of taking” from books are a part of culture and as such are more varied than current dichotomies between oral and literate traditions and relational and analytic cognitive styles would suggest. Patterns of language use related to books are studied in three literate communities in the Southeastern United States, focusing on such “literacy events” as bedtime story reading. One community, Maintown, represents mainstream, middle-class school-oriented culture; Roadville is a white mill community of Appalachian origin; the third, Trackton, is a black mill community of recent rural origin. The three communities differ strikingly in their patterns of language use and in the paths of language socialization of their children. Trackton and Roadville are as different from each other as either is from Maintown, and the differences in preschoolers' language use are reflected in three different patterns of adjustment to school. This comparative study shows the inadequacy of the prevalent dichotomy between oral and literate traditions, and points also to the inadequacy of unilinear models of child language development and dichotomies between types of cognitive styles. Study of the development of language use in relation to written materials in home and community requires a broad framework of sociocultural analysis. (Crosscultural analysis, ethnography of communication, language development, literacy, narratives.)
Personal histories and professional literacies
  • J Harste
  • V Woodward
  • C Burke
Harste, J., Woodward, V., & Burke, C. (1991). Personal histories and professional literacies. In B. Miller Power & R. Hubbard (Eds.), Literacy in process (pp. 39-48). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
As soon as she opened her mouth!
  • V Purcell-Gates
Purcell-Gates, V. (2002). "... As soon as she opened her mouth!" In L. Delpit & J.K.
The skin that we speak: Thoughts on language and culture in the classroom (pp. 121-141)
  • Dowdy
Dowdy (Eds.), The skin that we speak: Thoughts on language and culture in the classroom (pp. 121-141). New York: The New Press.
The skin that we speak: Thoughts on language and culture in the classroom
  • V Purcell-Gates
Purcell-Gates, V. (2002). "... As soon as she opened her mouth!" In L. Delpit & J.K. Dowdy (Eds.), The skin that we speak: Thoughts on language and culture in the classroom (pp. 121-141). New York: The New Press.