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Narratives as Learning Tools to Promote School Readiness

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This special issue presents quantitative and qualitative research on how narratives can be used as learning tools to promote school readiness. The articles focus on interventions investigating how families' oral narrating style impacts children's school readiness and how schools introduce children to narratives via teacher instruction, books, and testing assessments. The sample populations in the studies range in diversity from migrant Head Start families to Midwestern European American kindergartens to rural South African children living in Kwazulu-Natal. The issue contributes to the literature on children's narratives by sharing the work from researchers around the world who describe the implications of their studies in terms of family cultural traditions and early childhood education policies, practices, and intervention programs in various countries.
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Early Education & Development
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Narratives as Learning Tools to Promote School Readiness
Stephanie M. Curenton
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a
Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University,
Online publication date: 03 June 2010
To cite this Article Curenton, Stephanie M.(2010) 'Narratives as Learning Tools to Promote School Readiness', Early
Education & Development, 21: 3, 287 — 292
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/10409289.2010.485532
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2010.485532
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CURENTONINTRODUCTION
INTRODUCTION
Narratives as Learning Tools to Promote
School Readiness
Stephanie M. Curenton
Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University
This special issue presents quantitative and qualitative research on how narratives
can be used as learning tools to promote school readiness. The articles focus on inter-
ventions investigating how families’ oral narrating style impacts children’s school
readiness and how schools introduce children to narratives via teacher instruction,
books, and testing assessments. The sample populations in the studies range in diver-
sity from migrant Head Start families to Midwestern European American kindergar-
tens to rural South African children living in Kwazulu-Natal. The issue contributes to
the literature on children’s narratives by sharing the work from researchers around
the world who describe the implications of their studies in terms of family cultural
traditions and early childhood education policies, practices, and intervention pro
-
grams in various countries.
A young child is deemed “school ready” if he is prepared to succeed in formal
school, and this readiness is based on skills across multiple domains, including
cognitive/academic, physical, and social–emotional domains. Although there are
various theoretical models of how children become ready for school (see Snow,
2006), I adopt the ecology of school readiness view because I believe children’s
individual skills are developed over time through bidirectional interactions span
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ning three ecological levels (see Carlton & Winsler, 1999; Child Trends, 2001;
Zigler, Gilliam, & Jones, 2006) The inner-most level comprises the multiple di
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mensions of children’s individual skills; followed by the adult–child interaction
EARLY EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT, 21(3), 287–292
Copyright © 2010 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1040-9289 print / 1556-6935 online
DOI: 10.1080/104092892010485532
Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Stephanie M. Curenton, Bloustein
School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Ave., Room 548, New Bruns
-
wick, NJ 08901. E-mail: curenton@rutgers.edu
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level which consist of adult input that fosters school readiness, such as par
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ent–child literacy interactions or teachers’ instructional strategies; the final level is
the community-level entailing supports and resources for families, schools, and
neighborhoods as well as policies regarding the quality and accessibility of educa
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tion. The articles for this special issue address school readiness primarily at the
adult–child interaction level with studies specifically focusing on how families’
narrating style impacts children’s school readiness and studies of how teachers,
school personnel, and researchers can use narratives as learning tools during
teacher instruction, science concept development, and testing assessments.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF THIS SPECIAL ISSUE
This special issue was not just concerned with basic developmental research questions
of how children’s narrative skills develop because there is a plethora of research docu-
menting the developmental progression of narrative abilities. Instead, it was mainly
concerned with the applied educational questions of how narratives are associated
with (or cause) growth in those skills directly related to school success. Because the
studies sampled children, families, and teachers from diverse socioeconomic, ethnic
groups, and countries, the results from these studies highlight the universality of narra-
tive development as well as differences across sociocultural contexts.
Children are not born with the ability to create and understand stories; instead,
their narrative abilities are learned over time through culturally laden interactions
with family members, teachers, peers, and books/other forms of media. Several re-
searchers (McCabe, 1997; Peterson & McCabe, 1983) have studied children’s pro
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gression in narrative skills and found that, in general, children’s stories move from
brief, non-causally linked descriptions which are characteristic of young pre
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schoolers to the more sophisticated, evaluative, causally linked stories of older
children. Lai, Lee, and Lee’s work offers a glimpse into the developmental pro
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gression of Korean and Taiwanese children’s narrative abilities. As is found with
most developmental literature, there were universal age effects for all narrative
features, such as internal state terms, clauses, and conjunctions, which have been
found regardless of culture. Nevertheless, their study also revealed some interest
-
ing cross-cultural differences. First, Taiwanese children used more internal state
words than Korean children. Second, based on McCabe’s high point analysis, the
Taiwanese 3- and 4-year-olds told more sophisticated narratives than Koreans.
However, this sociocultural effect flipped once a cohort of 5-year-olds from each
country were studied: when children were 5 years old, the Korean children created
narratives that were more developed that the Taiwanese children’s. Lai et al. dis
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cuss these sociocultural differences in terms of early childhood education experi
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ences and family traditions within the respective cultures.
288
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Narratives at Home
As Schick and Melzi (this issue) explain, a large body of work on oral narratives at
home comprises research on adult–child conversations about the past. Some
mothers are highly elaborative (Reese, Haden, & Fivush, 1993) during these con
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versations, and consensus across a body of research reveals that being highly el
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aborative increases children’s vocabulary and narrative skills (Reese & New
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combe, 2007; Peterson, Jesso, & McCabe, 1999). This research on elaboration
style in oral narratives has been conducted with various cultures throughout the
world (Hayne & MacDonald, 2003; Melzi, 2000; Wang & Fivush, 2005), but spe
-
cific interventions designed to train mothers on how to become highly elaborative
have only been conducted with White mothers from various income levels (see
Reese, Leyva, Sparks, & Grolnick, this issue) even though correlational research
indicates no difference between Black, White, and Latino mothers in terms of
elaboration style (Levya, Reese, Grolnick, & Price, 2008). The intervention de
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signed by Reese et al. in this special issue adds to the literature on mothers’ elabo-
ration style during oral narratives because it samples a group of ethnically diverse
families who are enrolled in the Head Start program.
Another large body of research examining how families engage in shared read-
ing practices has focused on the language interactions during shared reading, such
as extra-textual comments and/or questioning styles. One particular research line
deals with dialogic reading (Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998) as a technique to be
used during reading. Dialogic reading is a strategy in which parents ask open-
ended questions on each page to get children involved and fuel reasoning. A
meta-analysis indicated that dialogic reading was most effective with younger pre-
schoolers, middle-class families, and European Americans, whereas it was less ef
-
fective with families from other older children, lower-income families, or families
from other cultures (Mol, Bus, De Jong, & Smeets, 2008).
One of the experimental interventions described in this issue (Reese et al.) jux
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taposes family conversations versus dialogic reading to examine which impacted
Head Start preschoolers’ school readiness. They designed an intervention in which
half of the mothers received training in how to conduct elaborate conversations
about the past (oral narratives) versus half who learned how to engage in a dialogic
shared reading (written narratives), and they found that training mothers to use
elaborate conversations about the past was more effective in boosting preschool
-
ers’ early literacy skills than training them to use dialogic reading.
In the other experimental intervention in the issue, oral versus written narra
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tives were not contrasted; instead, they employed a strategy in which oral narra
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tives were transformed into written narratives. Boyce and her colleagues em
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ployed an intervention in which they taught migrant Mexican Head Start families
how to transform oral narratives (family conversations) into written narratives
(books made of family pictures and text) by using the Storytelling for the Home
INTRODUCTION 289
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Enrichment of Language and Literacy Skills (SHELLS) program. In the interven
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tion condition researchers shared information with parents on how to increase their
elaboration strategies during conversations and how to convert these conversa
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tions into books, but the families in the control condition only received the usual
Head Start home-visit services. At the post-test, they found that SHELLS mothers
increased their elicitation and elaboration strategies and provided better home lit
-
eracy environments, and SHELLS children produced a greater number of words
and different words during an observed adult–child conversation.
Narratives at School
Because children are exposed to narratives so frequently at home, by the time they
enter school their cultural norms of storytelling are well developed , and they bring
a repertoire of narrative skills acquired through their previous social interactions.
Since social interactions are culturally laden, children’s stories reflect their cul-
ture’s values and systems of belief, and they must be interpreted in culturally spe-
cific ways. In Quintero’s qualitative review (this issue) of children’s exposure to
stories in the classroom, she provides numerous examples of the diversity of chil-
dren’s stories during symbolic play, shared reading, and writing in the classroom.
There were two studies in this issue that specifically examined written narrative
interactions at school. First, in regard to teachers’ instructional strategies in the
classroom, one study in this issue specifically focused on the strategies teachers
use to foster children’s critical thinking during storybook reading. The study by
Higham, Tönsing, and Alant provides an international perspective on how rural
South African preschool teachers facilitate higher-order reasoning during class
-
room shared reading. In their small-scale qualitative study they found teachers
were more likely to use lower-level cognitive strategies overall (e.g., requesting
information) to elicit discussion. The exception was after the story was complete,
teachers were more likely to use higher-level strategies (e.g., How would you feel
if that happened to you?).
The second study examining how written narratives can foster children’s criti
-
cal thinking pertains to the novel content information children can learn from in
-
formational narrative texts. Research has shown that even infants can learn novel
information from picture books (Ganea, Bloom, & DeLoache, 2008), and Man
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tzicopoulos and Patrick’s work examined how kindergarteners’ can learn novel
science-related information from books. They found that all children were inter
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ested in science texts and that both boys and girls learned new information from
these texts. However, some texts were better learning tools than others. For exam
-
ple, children understood life science biological texts more easily than texts with
engineering or space science topics. Children reported gender differences at home
and school in terms of interacting with these texts; for example, boys were more
290
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likely to report that they read science-related books at home and school than girls
were.
The final way in which narratives are important in the school context has to do
with assessment. Teachers, clinicians, and researchers need to be aware of differ
-
ences in storytelling style because differences could affect the evaluation of chil
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dren’s performance in school. In Glenn-Applegate, Breit-Smith, Justice, and
Piasta’s work (this issue) with Head Start and pre-K children, they demonstrate
that the “artfulness” aspect of children’s narrative was related to standardized as
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sessments of language ability, such as vocabulary, grammar, and morphology. For
instance, when traditional aspects of narrative ability (i.e., productivity, complex
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ity, and lexical diversity) were controlled, the artfulness of children’s narratives
was still a unique and significant predictor of standardized measures of vocabulary
and morphology but not grammar.
Need for Future Work
Despite the contribution of these manuscripts, there is still more work needed per-
taining to how narratives are related to school readiness. First, for instance, we
need more experimental/intervention research that examines narratives in terms of
school-related social–emotional skills, specifically in terms of social skills with
their classroom peers and teachers. The majority of the studies in this issue exam-
ined skills in the cognitive/academic domain, such as vocabulary, grammar, narra-
tive, or print skills as well as science-related concept development. However, the
social-emotional domain of school readiness is equally important, and research
shows narratives are good at predicting children’s general developmental abilities
within this domain (Bird & Reese, 2006). Secondly, more work is needed on peer
narrative interactions. Some researchers have examined peer narrative interactions
(Nicolopoulou, 2002; Vernon-Feagans, 1996) in ethnographic and correlational
studies, but there are few interventions that allow us to directly assess the impact of
peer narratives on school readiness skills. A third line of research that is not fully
developed is how teachers use oral narratives within the classroom to build chil
-
dren’s critical thinking and concept knowledge, such work has been conducted
with adolescents (see Martin, 2000), but less with teachers of younger children.
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... Children learn ways of telling stories in the home (Bruner, 1990) where ways of relating events vary according to cultural expectations (Curenton, 2010). School builds on this early initiation into ways of relating events as much of young children's early writing takes the form of story (Donovan, 2001) as do many of the texts read in school (Christie, 1986;Kress, 1994;Rothery & Stenglin, 1997;Duke, 2000). ...
... Taken together, these findings support the need to situate children in peer contexts to analyze storytelling in order to understand more fully how non-parental relationships and group contexts inform young children's storytelling. (Bruner, 1990;Curenton, 2010;Caspe & Melzi, 2008;Michaels, 2006). ...
... Some researchers further speculate that some modes of storytelling may better prepare children for story expectations in school (Curenton, 2010;Michaels, 2006). In particular, ways of telling stories that make explicit links between events (Michaels, 1981) and effectively communicate enough orienting detail for listeners who did not share the event to understand what transpired (Peterson & McCabe, 1994;Snow, 1983) are believed to best prepare children for school-based literacy tasks. ...
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... M ANY intervention studies have shown that engaging in narratives can help children prepare to succeed in formal education in school [Curenton, 2010]. Conversational activities like storytelling play a pivotal role in children's early language development. ...
... Children gradually learn the art of weaving meaningful stories through "culturally-laden" interactions with their parents, peers and teachers. Studies across diverse cultural, sociodemographic and economic contexts have indicated that these factors may influence the development of narrative skills in young children [Curenton, 2010]. Like narrative skills, the acquisition of listener responses may also exhibit individual differences [Dittmann, 1972]. ...
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While seminal research suggests that White teachers are more likely to judge the oral narratives of Black children less favorably than stories told by White children, less attention has been paid to the role of narrative quality in the perceptions teachers form of these complex discourse skills. Further, few studies have examined the extent to which Black and White teachers differ in their perceptions of children's oral narrative skills. To address these gaps in the literature, the current study used mixed methods to investigate the role of narrative quality in Black and White teachers’ perceptions of children's oral narrative skills. We presented teachers with a higher-quality narrative and a lower-quality narrative as told by hypothetical children with stereotypical Black or White names. We asked teachers to rate the narratives along several indicators and share their impressions of the child storytellers. Results indicated that Black and White teachers rated Black and White children's narratives similarly for the higher-quality narratives, but differed in their ratings when the narratives were of lower quality. While there were similarities in the impressions Black and White teachers formed of the child storytellers, there were qualitative differences in how Black and White teachers described their impressions of the child storytellers, particularly for the lower-quality narratives. Given the importance of children's oral narrative skills for literacy development, the implications for instruction, professional development, and workforce diversity are discussed.
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Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of the home literacy environment (HLE) on the English narrative development of Spanish-English bilingual children from low-income backgrounds. Method: Longitudinal data were collected on 81 bilingual children from preschool through 1st grade. English narrative skills were assessed in the fall and spring of each year. Microstructure measures included mean length of utterance in morphemes and number of different words. The Narrative Scoring Scheme (Heilmann, Miller, Nockerts, & Dunaway, 2010) measured macrostructure. Each fall, the children's mothers reported the frequency of literacy activities and number of children's books in the home. Growth curve modeling was used to describe the children's narrative development and the impact of the HLE over time. Results: Significant growth occurred for all narrative measures. The HLE did not affect microstructure growth. The frequency with which mothers read to their children had a positive impact on the growth of the children's total Narrative Scoring Scheme scores. Other aspects of the HLE, such as the frequency with which the mothers told stories, did not affect macrostructure development. Conclusions: These results provide information about the development of English narrative abilities and demonstrate the importance of frequent book reading for the overall narrative quality of children from Spanish-speaking homes who are learning English.
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Book reading has been demonstrated to promote vocabulary. The current study was conducted to examine the added value of an interactive shared book reading format that emphasizes active as opposed to noninteractive participation by the child. Studies that included a dialogic reading intervention group and a reading-as-usual control group, and that reported vocabulary as an outcome measure were located. After extracting relevant data from 16 eligible studies, a meta-analysis was conducted to attain an overall mean effect size reflecting the success of dialogic reading in increasing children's vocabulary compared to typical shared reading. When focusing on measures of expressive vocabulary in particular (k = 9, n = 322), Cohen's d was .59 (SE = .08; 95% CI = 0.44, 0.75; p < .001), which is a moderate effect size. However, the effect size reduced substantially when children were older (4 to 5 years old) or when they were at risk for language and literacy impairments. Dialogic reading can change the home literacy activities of families with 2- to 3-year-old children but not those of families with children at greatest risk for school failure. Preparation of this manuscript was supported by a grant (#411-02-506) from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to Adriana G. Bus.
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School readiness is receiving increased attention from schools, parents, teachers, and policy makers. This article presents a reflective and critical review of the school readiness construct, the theoretical perspective that has guided practice in the area to date, and the effectiveness of the educational placement options currently available for children deemed to be "unready." It is argued that the construct of school readiness has suffered from a narrow, maturationist theoretical perspective, which presents the problem as residing solely within the child, with the determination of readiness being the duty of the school systems. The popular practices of delayed entry, retention, and transition classes are not supported by the empirical literature. It is argued that a new theoretical framework and a paradigm shift is needed in the area of school readiness to lead the way to reformed practices. A new perspective based upon Vygotskian sociocultural theory and contemporary developmental theory is offered that presents readiness as a bidirectional process of both the school and the child flexibly adjusting to each other to ensure success. Finally, the implications of such a perspective for school psychologists and educational practice are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Decades of research point to the need for a universal preschool education program in the U.S. to help give our nation's children a sound cognitive and social foundation on which to build future educational and life successes. In addition to enhanced school readiness and improved academic performance, participation in high quality preschool programs has been linked with reductions in grade retentions and school drop out rates, and cost savings associated with a diminished need for remedial educational services and justice services. This 2006 book brings together nationally renowned experts from the fields of psychology, education, economics and political science to present a compelling case for expanded access to preschool services. They describe the social, educational, and economic benefits for the nation as a whole that may result from the implementation of a universal preschool program in America, and provide guiding principles upon which such a system can best be founded
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Picture book reading is a very common form of interaction between parents and very young children. Here we explore to what extent young children transfer novel information between picture books and the real world. We report that 15- and 18-month-olds can extend newly learned labels both from pictures to objects and from objects to pictures. However, the degree to which they do so is affected by iconicity - how much the objects and pictures resemble one another. The children in these studies more often extended the labels between picture and object when realistic photographs and drawings were involved than less realistic cartoons. These results show that higher levels of perceptual similarity between symbol and referent make the referential relation more transparent, thereby helping children transfer information between them. Thus, the educational function of early picture book interactions may best be served with realistic illustrations.
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Recent interest and investment in early childhood education as a means of promoting children's school readiness has prompted the need for clear definitions of school readiness. Traditionally school readiness has been viewed within a maturationist frame, based on a chronological set-point, which led to the emergence of readiness testing. Following a brief review of this literature, this article provides an overview of the conceptual and practical considerations that must be given to such a definition. Among conceptual concerns are the lack of agreement about the key components of school readiness and theoretical models to connect them. Also of concern is the need to consider multiple purposes of assessment, and the appropriate use of assessments. Practical considerations include the need to incorporate multiple stakeholders' views in a definition, the availability of adequate measurement tools and how resultant data can be used. The article closes with a discussion of possible future directions by laying out a series of assumptions about the nature of school readiness.
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This paper examines the teaching practices of one American Indian teacher in a high school literature class. It explores the teacher's use of narrative as an instructional strategy designed to convey abstract concepts through concrete experience. The narratives engage students in critical thinking and personal reflection, and provide them with the opportunity to make connections between social and historical contexts. In addition, the teacher uses stories to contrast multiple contexts with personal experiences, which reflects teaching strategies previously identified as those used by effective teachers. There is evidence that sharing ideas and concepts through story is an important way of encouraging social relations and helping students make connections between what they are learning in school and what they know of the world. Based on data analysis, this study presents a model of the teacher's use of narrative as a strategy to pose critical questions, frame a context for discussion, encourage students to reflect on personal perspectives, and introduce ideas and concepts. The model provides a visual representation of the teacher's use of narrative as a way of clarifying course content, contextualizing meaning, and reinforcing understanding.
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This study examined cultural variations in narrative elicitation styles among 2 groups of mothers: Spanish-speaking Central Americans and English-speaking European Americans. Thirty-one working-class mothers and their preschool children were visited in their homes and were asked to talk about 4 past events the children had experienced. Results showed that Central and European American mothers' elicitation styles differed by emphasizing different aspects of the narrative interaction. Central American mothers' elicitation style placed greater emphasis on conversational narrative aspects, whereas European American mothers' style focused to a greater extent on the organizational narrative aspects of the interaction. Results are discussed in relation to cultural patterns of socialization and communication.
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Many communities across the country have set for themselves the goal of enhancing school readiness. But what does school readiness mean, and how do communities know whether they have achieved it? This research brief is intended to help communities invest wisely in school readiness initiatives. It begins by summarizing recommendations from the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) for defining and assessing school readiness. The brief then presents a framework for community investments based on an ecological view of child development. This framework considers factors related not only to the child but also to the child's family, early childhood care and education, schools, and neighborhood. (Contains 43 references.) (EV)