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Reading dual language books: Improving early literacy skills in linguistically diverse classrooms



Research has determined that dual language books have a positive effect on literacy achievement, motivation, and family involvement in children’s schooling. In this study we used quantitative methods to complement the largely qualitative extant research. We analyzed the early literacy skills of 105 kindergarten children (45 comparison, 60 treatment) with diverse language backgrounds (35% English, 31% Punjabi, 16% Urdu, 18% other languages) from eight kindergarten classes in four suburban Canadian schools. Statistical analyses indicated that children who were read to using dual language books, written in French, Punjabi, and Urdu, demonstrated significantly greater gains in graphophonemic knowledge than children who were read to in English only. This gain occurred specifically in children who spoke the targeted languages at home; children who did not speak the targeted languages were not negatively affected. Findings are discussed in terms of developing metalinguistic awareness and directions for practice and research are discussed.
Journal of Early Childhood Research
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/1476718X12449453
2013 11: 3 originally published online 12 October 2012Journal of Early Childhood Research
Rahat Naqvi, Keoma J Thorne, Christina M Pfitscher, David W Nordstokke and Anne McKeough
diverse classrooms
Reading dual language books: Improving early literacy skills in linguistically
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Journal of Early Childhood Research
11(1) 3 –15
© The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1476718X12449453
Reading dual language books:
Improving early literacy skills in
linguistically diverse classrooms
Rahat Naqvi, Keoma J Thorne, Christina M Pfitscher,
David W Nordstokke and Anne McKeough
University of Calgary, Canada
Research has determined that dual language books have a positive effect on literacy achievement,
motivation, and family involvement in children’s schooling. In this study we used quantitative methods
to complement the largely qualitative extant research. We analyzed the early literacy skills of 105
kindergarten children (45 comparison, 60 treatment) with diverse language backgrounds (35% English,
31% Punjabi, 16% Urdu, 18% other languages) from eight kindergarten classes in four suburban Canadian
schools. Statistical analyses indicated that children who were read to using dual language books, written
in French, Punjabi, and Urdu, demonstrated significantly greater gains in graphophonemic knowledge
than children who were read to in English only. This gain occurred specifically in children who spoke
the targeted languages at home; children who did not speak the targeted languages were not negatively
affected. Findings are discussed in terms of developing metalinguistic awareness and directions for
practice and research are discussed.
dual language books, early childhood education, early literacy, linguistic diversity
North America is highly linguistically diverse. In 1990, one in 20 public school students in
kindergarten to grade 12 residing in the United States was an English language learner (ELL)
(Capps et al., 2005), that is, a student who speaks English either not at all or with enough limita-
tions that he or she cannot fully participate in mainstream English instruction (Ministry of
Education Alberta, 2009). Today the figure is one in nine (Capps et al., 2005). Demographers
estimate that in 20 years it might be one in four. The ELL population has grown from two mil-
lion to five million since 1990, a period when the overall school population increased only 20
percent (Capps et al., 2005). Similarly, in 2006 there were over six million immigrants living in
Canada (Statistics Canada, 2010). Approximately 58 percent of these immigrants have come
Corresponding author:
Rahat Naqvi, Faculty of Education EDT 1118, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
T2N 1N4.
11110.1177/1476718X12449453Naqvi et al.Journal of Early Childhood Research
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4 Journal of Early Childhood Research 11(1)
from Asia and the Middle East (Liang, 2010), with the result that the linguistic composition of
Canada has been significantly impacted. As an example, the top immigrant home languages in
a large urban centre in western Canada are: English, Chinese languages, Punjabi, Tagalog,
Spanish, German, Vietnamese, Arabic, Polish, and Urdu (Liang, 2010). Data from the 2006
Canadian Census showed that between 2001 and 2006, 80 percent of Canadian immigrants had
a mother tongue other than English or French (Statistics Canada, 2010). These immigration
patterns have resulted in a steady increase in the number of school children whose home lan-
guage is not English.
This demographic shift in the linguistic composition of North American classrooms has
generated unique challenges for educators. In response, the development and implementation
of strategies that help ELLs acquire skills in both their home language and English, have been
encouraged by educational researchers and policy makers (Gutiérrez et al., 2010; Lesaux and
Gava, 2006). Such stakeholders have noted that access to appropriate resource materials, along
with appropriate teaching strategies, can substantially improve the academic achievement of
ELLs (e.g. Brisk and Harrington, 2007). Despite these suggestions, mainstream primary school
teachers are largely ill equipped to address the needs of students from diverse ethnic and lin-
guistic backgrounds because they often do not have access to appropriate materials or home
language speakers who can assist in the classroom (Naqvi, 2009). Nor do early childhood edu-
cators typically have training in effective teaching strategies to appropriately address these
children’s academic needs with respect to home and English literacy acquisition and skill
development (Canadian Council on Learning, 2006). This is especially important in early child-
hood education, which focuses on literacy acquisition and early reading skills (e.g. phonologi-
cal awareness, letter and word recognition, comprehension), as these abilities are foundational
to later language and literacy development (Dickinson and Tabors, 2001; Paris, 2005; Whitehurst
et al., 1994).
Metalinguistic awareness is another essential part of literacy development (Laurent and
Martinot, 2009) and refers to the development of an explicit awareness of linguistic form and
structure (Cazden, 1974). ‘This ability to reflect upon and manipulate the structural features of
language – e.g. phonological, morphological and syntactic structure – has been defined as meta-
linguistic’ (Laurent and Martinot, 2009: 29). ‘Learning to read, as a formal linguistic task, requires
the learner to develop an explicit awareness of his/her language, which must be intentionally
monitored, an awareness of language such that it can become the object of discussion’ (Laurent
and Martinot, 2009: 30). Research has shown that learning two languages helps to develop meta-
linguistic awareness (Bialystok et al., 2005) as bilingual learners use their metalinguistic aware-
ness to compare and contrast two language systems to discover commonalities and differences
(Koda, 2008). Consequently, they tend to have better phonological awareness than monolingual
children if their home language is syllabically complex (Campbell and Sais, 1995).
Dual language book reading programs are one approach that may address the diverse ethnic and
linguistic composition of classrooms, as they target home language literacy and literacy develop-
ment in English. Dual language books offer the same narrative in two languages, typically English
and another target language, with illustrations to link visual and textual representations. Researchers
have argued that dual language books help children feel a part of a community (Ma, 2008; Mullis,
2007; Robertson, 2006), develop their personal and cultural identity (Fort and Stechuk, 2008; Ma,
2008; Robertson, 2006; Taylor et al., 2008), improve literacy in their home language (Ma, 2008;
Sneddon, 2009), increase their metalinguistic awareness (Robertson, 2006), and improve their
English literacy (Cummins, 2007). Most of this research, however, has focused on older children,
who read at least part of the stories themselves, and has overlooked emergent-literacy classrooms
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Naqvi et al. 5
where dual language books must be read aloud. Additionally, many studies have examined the
impact of dual language books written in a child’s home language on the child’s home language
literacy and less is known about how dual language books written in English and another language
impact children’s English literacy. Further, research regarding the potential literary benefits of dual
language books for children who do not speak or read in the target dual language is not available.
Finally, the research on dual language books is based primarily on qualitative methods and case
studies and although this evidence is valuable, empirical research is required to advance our under-
standing (Sneddon, 2009).
As a result of these gaps in the corpus of dual language book research, the benefits of dual
language books cannot be confidently asserted (Tsow, 1986), warranting classroom-based empiri-
cal research (Sneddon, 2009). Thus, the current study sought to empirically investigate the effect
that reading dual language books aloud has on the foundational literacy skills of young children
from diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.1 The study is premised on the belief that the use
of evidence-based methods and instructional materials known to develop early literacy skills is
critical for families and early childhood educators. We chose to read aloud to the children because
this practice has been demonstrated to be one of the primary ways that children gain alphabetic
knowledge (Scarborough and Dobrich, 1994), understand book and print conventions and pat-
terns (Neuman et al., 2000), and learn the relationship between words and meaning (Gold and
Gibson, 2001). Reading books aloud also offers children a good model of expert reading
(Mcquillan, 2009).
Purpose of the research
In this article we present academic outcome findings from the first year of a two-year longitudinal
study on the effects of dual language books across academic and cultural outcomes. The primary
target language was English and the dual languages were French, Urdu, or Punjabi. Dual language
books written in English/French were used because of the bilingual nature of Canada, and books
written in English/Punjabi and English/Urdu were used given the high proportion of native Punjabi
and Urdu speakers in western Canada. Our intent was two-fold. First we aimed to determine if the
early reading skills (i.e. knowledge of alphabet, conventions, and meaning) of children who were
read to using dual language books (treatment group) would be different to children who were read
to in English only (comparison group). Second, we sought to establish if the early reading skills
differed among English, Punjabi, and Urdu speaking children who received the dual language
instruction to investigate if dual language book reading may have more of an impact for children
who speak the dual language at home than for children who do not.
Child participants were drawn from four schools that were located within a 3-km radius of each
other in a highly ethnically and linguistically diverse suburban area in a large western Canadian
city. Each school had two kindergarten classes.2 Approximately 160 kindergarten students were
eligible for participation in the study and the parents of 115 of these students gave permission for
their children to participate in the study. Attendance was recorded throughout the study and data
from children who missed 40 percent of the dual language book reading program were eliminated.
Arguably, students who missed almost half of the lessons would not accrue the potential benefit of
the DLB program and, if included in the statistical analysis, might result in a Type 2 error (i.e. a
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6 Journal of Early Childhood Research 11(1)
false negative or finding no significant effect when one existed). With these students eliminated
and due to attrition over the course of the program, results are based on 105 participants: 45
students in the comparison group (27 boys, 18 girls) and 60 students in the treatment group (32
boys, 28 girls). The mean age at the time of pre-testing was five years for both the comparison
and the treatment group. Mean ages did not differ significantly between the treatment and com-
parison groups (t(103) = .369, p > .05). The mother tongues of participants in the comparison
group were 29 percent English, 36 percent Punjabi, 16 percent Urdu, and 19 percent other.
Similarly, the mother tongues of children in the treatment group were 40 percent English, 27
percent Punjabi, 17 percent Urdu, and 16 percent other. There were no native French speakers in
either group.
Teachers and readers also participated in the study by delivering the program. Teachers included
eight females who held university degrees in teaching and whose teaching experience ranged from
recently graduated to veteran. The readers included seven females and one male, each of whom
spoke English and either French, Punjabi or Urdu fluently. All guest readers were immigrants. All
were associated with the school in some fashion. More specifically, five readers had a child who
attended one of the schools, one reader had a grandchild who attended one of the schools, and one
reader was a support staff employee at one of the schools.
Test of Early Reading Ability, 3rd edn (TERA-3; Reid et al., 2001), a standardized test of early
reading abilities for children ages 3–6 to 8–6 years, measured the participants’ early English read-
ing skills across three areas: a) alphabet: graphophonemic knowledge and the recognition of
printed letters and words; b) conventions: understanding of the conventions of written language
and reading; and c) meaning: comprehension that printed language conveys meaning and infor-
mation. While the TERA-3 yields several scores, only standard scores (SSs) for the three subtests
(alphabet, conventions, and meaning) were of interest in this study as they allowed us to target
specific skill development. SSs have a mean of 10 and a standard deviation of 3, and are classified
as falling within the very poor range (1–3), poor range (4–5), below average range (6–7), average
range (8–12), above average range (13–14), superior range (15–16), or very superior range (17–
20). The TERA-3 has two equivalent forms (Form A and Form B), allowing for re-testing within
a short time period.
First, participation was sought from schools that have a large and diverse immigrant population,
particularly Urdu and Punjabi speaking people. School board administrators circulated a brief
description of the proposed project to all elementary schools within one quadrant of the city in
which the study took place, due to its high immigrant population. Four elementary schools (two
kindergarten classes in each school) agreed to participate. The study’s purpose and procedures
were explained fully to the schools’ administrators and kindergarten teachers. Second, when
school participation was granted, parents of potential child participants were contacted by school
administrators and teachers through written information prepared by the researchers, which was
available in English, Urdu and Punjabi. As well, the research team provided information sessions
at the schools. These oral presentations and question and answer sessions were also available in
English, Urdu and Punjabi. Third, a final list of dual language books was selected, based on age-
appropriate level and interest, and on availability of the books (see the Appendix Table for a list
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Naqvi et al. 7
of the dual language books used). Fourth, readers who were fluent in the various languages were
sought to help with instruction through discussion with school personnel, the schools’ newslet-
ters, and word of mouth. Prior to instructing, the readers attended a one-hour workshop on the
principles and functions of dual language book reading prior to delivering and conducting the
readings. The aim was to help establish consistency in reading and teaching methods across
classes and schools. Finally, informed consent was received from the parents of kindergarten
participants, teachers and administrators, and readers. This initial portion of the research required
approximately six weeks to complete.
School administrators randomly assigned one class in each school to the treatment group and
the other class to the comparison group. The work with the children took place over 15 weeks.
First, children were pre-tested with the TERA-3 Form A over a two-week period within six-weeks
of the start of the school year. Research assistants, who were trained in assessment, individually
administered the TERA-3 to the participants during school hours in the school building. Test
administration was done in a standardized fashion as stipulated in the TERA-3 manual. Second,
the 11-week reading program began immediately after the pre-testing. Classroom teachers and
readers delivered the dual language book reading program and each reading session was video-
recorded. Classroom teachers read the English text and sometimes the French text, whereas read-
ers read in Punjabi, Urdu, and sometimes French. Readings occurred in the classroom and each
week a new story was read (i.e. 11 stories in total). Both groups received the reading program
three times per week and each reading took between 15 and 25 minutes. For each reading, the
children in the treatment group were concurrently read to (i.e. page-by-page) in English and the
dual language (i.e. either French, Punjabi, or Urdu), whereas children in the comparison group
were read to in English only. In both groups, teachers encouraged the children to ask questions,
make predictions, summarize, and share their thoughts and feelings related to the story content.
Third, at the end of the 11-week program, post-testing with the TERA-3 Form B was completed
over a two-week period, again in standardized fashion and under the same conditions as the pre-
test. During the length of the study, all children continued to receive their regular classroom lit-
eracy instruction.
Data analysis
Independent sample t-tests were conducted on pre-test data to compare for differences between the
baseline reading abilities of a) the treatment and control groups and b) the speakers of the target
dual languages (Urdu and Punjabi) to speakers of all other languages. To determine the effective-
ness of dual language books in promoting early reading skills, simple change scores (i.e. TERA-3
pre-test SS minus TERA-3 post-test SS) of the comparison and treatment groups were compared.
Simple change scores of Urdu and Punjabi speaking children (referred to as the UP group) and
children speaking all other languages (referred to as the non-UP group) were also compared
within and across the treatment and comparison groups. Due to the presence of several outliers
that likely skewed the sample distributions, a non-parametric statistical approach (i.e. Mann-
Whitney U test) was used to investigate group differences. A significance level of .05 was set for
all comparisons.
Median, interquartile range (IQR), and change score values for the comparison and treatment
groups are displayed in Table 1. Independent samples t-tests, which compared the means of two
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8 Journal of Early Childhood Research 11(1)
independent samples, demonstrated that the early reading abilities of the comparison (N = 51) and
treatment (N = 64) groups across alphabet, conventions, and meaning did not differ prior to the
dual language book program (i.e. at pre-test). To examine if dual language books impacted early
literacy abilities, the reading skills change scores of the treatment and comparison groups were
compared using the Mann-Whitney test, which indicated that the treatment group experienced
significant greater change on the TERA-3 alphabet subtest than the comparison group (U = 918.5,
z = –2.8, p = .005). The medians demonstrate that children who received dual language book read-
ing experienced significantly greater gains in their recognition and knowledge of printed letters
and words than children who only heard stories in English. Change between the treatment and
comparison group did not differ significantly on the conventions or meaning subtests. However, it
is important to note that there was no decrement in performance on these subtests, which suggests
that provision of dual language book reading did not negatively impact students’ knowledge of the
conventions and meaning of print.
Due to a small sample size and the absence of French speaking children, to determine if the
reading skills of children in the treatment group differed depending on their understanding of the
target dual language (i.e. Punjabi or Urdu), treatment group data were separated into two. The UP
group was composed of 28 students (Urdu speaking = 10, Punjabi speaking = 18) and the non-UP
group was composed of 36 children (English speaking = 24, other language speaking = 12).
Median, IQR, and change score values for the UP and other groups are displayed in Table 2. Early
reading abilities as measured by the pre-test were first compared to establish a baseline. An inde-
pendent samples t-test demonstrated a significant difference between the UP and non-UP groups
on the TERA-3 meaning subtest (t(62) = –2.2, p = .03) and the medians show that the UP group
Table 1. Median TERA-3 reading standard scores (interquartile range) pre- and post-program and change
scores for comparison and treatment groups
TERA-3 Comparison group Treatment group
Pre Post Change Pre Post Change
Alphabet 8 (6–11) 10 (7.5–12) 0 (−1–4) 8 (6–10) 11 (9–12) 2 (1–4)
Conventions 8 (5–9) 9 (6.5–10.5) 1 (0–2.5) 7.5 (6–9) 9 (6–10) 1 (0–3)
Meaning 8 (7–10) 8 (5–11) 0 (−2.5–2) 8 (7–9) 9 (7–10.75) 1 (−1–2)
Note: Pre and post values are reported as standard scores with a mean of 10 and standard deviation of 3. TERA-3 = Test
of Early Reading Ability, 3rd edn.
Table 2. Median TERA-3 reading standard scores (interquartile range) pre- and post-program and change
scores for Urdu or Punjabi speakers and other language speakers in the treatment group
TERA-3 Treatment UP group Treatment other group
Pre Post Change Pre Post Change
Alphabet 8 (6–9) 11 (9–12) 3 (1.8–4.3) 8 (6–11) 11 (8.5–12.3) 1 (0–3.3)
Conventions 7.5 (5.3–9) 9 (6–11) 1 (−.3–3) 7.5 (6–9) 8.5 (6–10) 1 (0–2.3)
Meaning 8 (7–10) 8 (6–9.3) 1 (-1–2) 8 (7–10) 9.5 (7–11) 1 (−1–2)
Note: UP group = children’s whose home language is Urdu or Punjabi, Other Group = children’s whose home language
is neither Urdu nor Punjabi. Pre and post values are reported as standard scores with a mean of 10 and standard devia-
tion of 3. TERA-3 = Test of Early Reading Ability, 3rd edn.
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Naqvi et al. 9
scored significantly lower on the TERA-3 meaning subtest than the non-UP group. There were no
significant differences between the groups on the alphabet or conventions subtests.
The Mann-Whitney test was then used to determine if there were differences between the read-
ing change scores of the UP and Other groups as a result of the dual language book reading (i.e.
within the treatment group). This analysis revealed a significant difference between the change
scores of the UP and non-UP groups on the TERA-3 alphabet subtest (U = 308.5, z = –2.0, p = .04).
As evident from the medians, the Urdu and Punjabi speaking children experienced significantly
greater gains in their alphabet knowledge, after the dual language book reading, than children who
spoke other languages. There were no differences between the change scores of the groups on the
conventions or meanings subtests.
Based on the findings that children in the treatment group who spoke Urdu and Punjabi experi-
enced greater gains in their alphabet knowledge compared to children who spoke other languages,
further analyses were conducted. First, we investigated if differences in alphabet change scores were
evident between children who spoke Urdu and Punjabi (UP group) in the comparison (N = 27) and
treatment (N = 28) groups. The Mann-Whitney test revealed that there were significant differences
between the change of the comparison and treatment UP groups on the alphabet subtest (U = 155.0,
z = –2.9, p = .004), with the treatment UP group (Mdn change = 0, IQR = −1 – 4) demonstrating
greater alphabet knowledge gains than the comparison UP group (Mdn change = 3, IQR = 1.8 – 4.3).
A final Mann-Whitney test was used to examine if there were differences on the alphabet subtest
between children whose home language was not targeted in the dual language books (non-UP) in
the comparison (N = 24) and treatment (N = 36) groups. There were no significant differences
between the comparison (non-UP) group’s median change (0.5, IQR = 0 – 4) and the treatment
(non-UP) group’s median change (1, IQR = 0 – 3.3).
The primary purpose of this study was to investigate the efficacy of using dual language books as
instructional materials to promote early literacy skills in linguistically and ethnically diverse young
children. Additionally, we explored whether the impact of dual language books varied according to
students’ home language relative to the languages contained in the dual language books. The main
finding from the study was that children who spoke Urdu or Punjabi gained significantly more
graphophonemic knowledge and knowledge printed letters and words, as measured by the alphabet
subtest of the TERA-3, when read to using dual language books in those languages than did their
peers who were read the same books in English only. This finding lends empirical support for the
claim that dual language books are a useful tool for developing these foundational literacy skills in
kindergarten classrooms and confirms research that has repeatedly demonstrated that pedagogical
practices and teaching materials impact children’s academic achievement (Conteh, 2007; Martin
et al., 2006; Robertson, 2006).
A second finding was that children in the comparison and treatment groups, who spoke neither
Urdu nor Punjabi, did not differ significantly in terms of graphophonemic knowledge and knowl-
edge printed letters and words when they were read English only books or dual language books in
those languages. This finding suggests that the use of dual language books does not hinder the
development of these foundational literacy skills in children who do not speak these languages.
This conclusion is further supported by the finding that there were no significant differences
between the comparison and treatment groups on the conventions and meaning subtests.
A third finding was that children in the treatment group, who spoke Urdu and Punjabi at home,
functioned significantly lower on the meaning subtest at pretest than children in the treatment group
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10 Journal of Early Childhood Research 11(1)
who did not speak Urdu and Punjabi (i.e. non-UP group). Because the latter group was composed of
twice as many native English-speaking children as children who had another home language, it is
reasonable to assume that this difference in meaning knowledge was language related. Indeed, evi-
dence has suggested that ELLs demonstrate lower academic achievement test scores compared to their
English speaking peers (Ministry of Education Alberta, 2006). This trend has long been recognized in
previous studies of bilingual children learning to read in English (e.g. Paez et al., 2007). It is notewor-
thy that there was, however, no significant difference in meaning change scores between these two
groups, which suggests that the Urdu and Punjabi speakers did not remain behind their non-UP peers.
Beyond offering support for dual language books in linguistically diverse kindergarten class-
rooms, the current findings raise several intriguing questions. First and we believe most interest-
ing, what happens during dual language book reading that might impact alphabet knowledge? We
propose that exposing the UP group (i.e. native Urdu and Punjabi speakers) to different languages
and scripts alongside their home language supported the development of these children’s concepts
of words, letters, and graphophonic representation. This conceptual development, we argue, is
under-girded by metalinguistic awareness (i.e. knowledge of the form of language as distinct from
its content), which has been shown to be important for early reading development, particularly for
students who may be learning to read in a language they do not speak at home (Bialystok et al.,
2005). Observations of interaction between UP group members (pseudonyms: Jai, Ashprit, and
Aanisah) and readers in the current study demonstrate children’s metalinguistic awareness, as
shown in the following lesson transcript segment in which What Shall We Do with the Boo Hoo
Baby? was read in English and Punjabi.3
Teacher [reading]: What shall we do with the Boo-Hoo Baby?
Jai [speaking]: The English rhymes with the Punjabi!
[Jai commented on the similar sounds of the English ‘Boo-Hoo’ and the Punjabi ‘Hoonhoon.]
Reader [reading]: Aino dud pilao kutta bolaya. (‘Feed him,’ said the dog)
Teacher [reading]: ‘Feed him,’ said the dog.
Ashprit [repeating]: Kutta (dog)
Teacher [repeating]: Kutta (dog)
Aanisah: In Urdu too.
[Aanisah noted the similarity between the Punjabi and Urdu words for dog.]
Reader [reading, then asking]: Bacha booliya kiday bacha boliya? (The baby said . . . What did the baby
say?) Hoonhoon (Boo Hoo)
Ashprit: Ronay lag gaya (He started crying)
Reader: Haan (Yes)
Teacher [reading]: ‘Boo Hoo Hoo,’ said the baby.
Reader [reading]: Anoo sulao batakh ney kayha (‘Put him to bed,’ said the duck.)
Aanisah [pointing at ‘ZZZZZZZZ’ in the reader’s book ]: In Urdu it goes like this [Aanisah writes the Urdu
letter ‘zāl’ with her finger in the air]. . . and a dot that means zāl. (ذ). By doing so, she shares that Urdu has
an equivalent sound that is represented by the letter ‘zāl’].
Reader: Haan (Yes).
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Naqvi et al. 11
In the immediately preceding segment, Aanisah noted the form of the word in her native Urdu
language and the reader nods his head in agreement. This Punjabi reader is also fluent in Hindi and,
consequently, knows that Urdu and Hindi are jointly comprehensible on an oral level but not on a
written level (i.e. a speaker of Hindi understands spoken Urdu and vice versa but neither can read
the other’s script as Urdu is derived from Persian and Arabic and Hindi comes from Sanskrit). In
other words, he acknowledges the unique symbols Aanisah describes and traces in the air to repre-
We interpret these examples as demonstrating the children’s metalinguistic awareness as they
are clearly working with the forms the languages are expressed through rather than the content
expressed through the language. Laurent and Martinot (2009) decomposed metalinguistic aware-
ness into metaphonological abilities (letter or strings of letters that represent phonemes) and
metasyntactic abilities (expectations of conventions). It is the former that we believe to be at
play here.
A second question that emerged for us from the results of this study was as follows. Why did we
not see significant results on the conventions subtest, which taps into Laurent and Martinot’s
(2009) second type of metalinguistic ability, metasyntactic abilities? We reasoned that because the
teachers read to the children and did not provide a time for them to interact physically with the
books, they were not able to learn such things as left to right versus right to left text reading (i.e.
print and book conventions). Further, despite the differences in text conventions from English to
Urdu, these elements were not explicitly mentioned during the dual language book reading, so
children in the treatment group may not have been aware of the difference. Dual language books
written in English and Urdu/Punjabi offer excellent opportunities to focus on such conventions,
however. Elements such as this should be included in future research.
We also considered why there was no significant difference between the comparison and
treatment groups’ meaning change scores, as reading aloud to children has been shown to help
them relate words and meanings (Gold and Gibson, 2001). The current lack of significant find-
ings might be explained by the nature of the TERA-3 meaning subtest, which requires children
to identify items that might not be familiar to them, such as a photo of Jello, which contains gela-
tin made from animal fat rendering and is thus inappropriate for consumption for most Muslim
children and many Punjabi/Sikh children. Additionally, the meaning subtest required children to
identify cultural icons, such MacDonald’s yellow ‘M’. Because many of the children in the study
do not eat this type of food, they may not be as familiar with the icon as mainstream North
American children, evidenced in there consistently incorrect responses. Moreover, the dual lan-
guage books used in the program did not focus on these cultural icons and so did not impact this
knowledge base. Given that many of these students come from homes where English is not the
primary language and that a number of students had recently immigrated to Canada from other
countries, these cultural references may have unfairly disadvantaged our participants.
Additionally, the TERA-3 was standardized on 875 children from 22 states in the United States
and demographic characteristics were representative of the United States. Specifically, the stand-
ardization sample was 68 percent European American, 15 percent African American, 13 percent
Hispanic American, 3 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1 percent Native American/Eskimo/
Aleut, which clearly differs starkly from the ethnic composition of our sample. Taken together,
these points suggest that the TERA-3 may not have been the most appropriate measure to use
with this population. However, the authors thoroughly researched the available instruments and
were unable to locate a more appropriate reliable, valid, and standardized measure of early read-
ing skills, which they felt was critical to conducting one of the first empirically valid studies of
dual language books.
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12 Journal of Early Childhood Research 11(1)
The results of this study hold significant implications for the use of dual language books with chil-
dren whose first language is other than English. Because alphabetic knowledge is an essential ele-
ment of early literacy development, the current finding that young Urdu and Punjabi speaking
participants achieved significantly greater gains than children who heard stories in English only is
noteworthy. Moreover, the empirical evidence in support of the use of dual language books in
elementary classrooms offers teachers and policy-makers quantitative evidence that supports qual-
itative evidence that has already informed practice.
Although findings are promising, they should be interpreted with caution. Our sample size was
small and not demographically representative of the typical Canadian classroom. The logistics of
working in schools and classrooms presented some challenges to this research. For example, dis-
ruption and noise was sometimes evident during sessions. Some readers reported difficulties with
some of the translations. For instance, many of the translated words were too formal and not used
in everyday language, which resulted in the readers thinking that the dual language speaking stu-
dents might be unfamiliar with the translated readings. Readers also mentioned some difficulties
making the readings engaging for all students, especially those children who did not speak the
second language. Because readers also hoped to extend the home language and English literacy of
the dual language learners, they sometimes found it difficult to balance extension and discussion
of the text with ensuring the attentiveness and interest of all children. Clearly more research is
needed to improve the program and to replicate these findings. As well, longitudinal work is neces-
sary to determine if gains in early literacy skills are maintained. In conclusion, we concur with
Gutiérrez et al. (2010: 338) that there is a need for ‘a robust research agenda that focuses on young
simultaneous bilinguals . . . [and] encourage[s] the development of language and literacy interven-
tions that serve as cultural amplifiers’.
This research was generously supported by the Alberta Center for Child Family and Community Research.
We wish to gratefully acknowledge the participation of the research team and partner educators in the partici-
pating schools in the Calgary Board of Education. We also thank all the parents, volunteer readers, teachers,
and support staff, as well as the student participants who took part in the dual language book reading
Appendix Table. Storybooks used in the dual language book reading program in order of presentation
Title Author and/or translators Publisher, place, date
1 Brown Bear, Brown Bear,
What Do You See?
E: B. Martin Henry Holt, New York, 1992
F: L. Bourguignon Mantra Lingua, London, 2008
P: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
U: Q. Zamani Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
2 The Very Hungry Caterpillar E: E. Carle Philomel Books, New York, 1987
F: L. Bourguignon Mantra Lingua, London,2004
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Naqvi et al. 13
Title Author and/or translators Publisher, place, date
P: K. Manku Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
U: Q. Zamani Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
3 Floppy’s Friends E: G. Van Genechten Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
F: G. Orio-Glaunec Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
P: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
U: Q. Zamani Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
4 Dear Zoo E: R. Campbell Simon & Schuster, New York, 1999
F: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
P: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
U: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
5 What Shall We Do With
the Boo Hoo Baby?
E: C. Cowell Scholastic Press, New York, 2000
F: M. Michaelides Mantra Lingua, London, 2002
P: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2002
U: Q. Zamani Mantra Lingua, London, 2002
6 My Daddy is a Giant E: C. Norac Macmillan Children’s Books, London,
F: G. Orio-Claunec Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
P: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
U: T. Aajmi Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
7 Splash! E: F. McDonnell Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, 2003
F: A. Arnold Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
P: S. Attariwala Mantra Lingua, London, 2004
U: Q. Zamani Mantra Lingua, London, 2007
8 The Wheels on the Bus E: none indicated Child’s Play International, Swindon, UK,
F: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2005
P: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2005
U: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2005
9 The Swirling Hijaab E: N. B. Robert Mantra Lingua, London, 2002
F: M. Michaelides Mantra Lingua, London, 2002
P: P. Dave Mantra Lingua, London, 2002
U: Q. Zamani Mantra Lingua, London, 2002
10 The Little Red Hen and the
Grains of Wheat
E: L. Hen Mantra Lingua, London, 2005
F: Annie Arnold Mantra Lingua, London, 2005
P: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2005
U: Q. Zamini Mantra Lingua, London, 2005
11 We’re Going on a Bear
E: M. Rosen Simon & Schuster, New York, 1989
F: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2007
P: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2007
U: none indicated Mantra Lingua, London, 2007
Note: All books were originally written in English and subsequently translated into other languages. E = English,
F = French, P = Punjabi, U = Urdu.
Appendix Table. (Continued)
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14 Journal of Early Childhood Research 11(1)
1. Readers interested in exploring the cultural benefits of exemplary instructional practices using dual lan-
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2. In the jurisdiction in which the study was conducted ‘Kindergarten’ refers to an education program for
children prior to the first year of formal schooling (i.e. grade 1, which is mandatory for children who
have reached 6 years of age, as of 1 September. Attendance is optional although the vast majority of
parents choose to register their children in kindergarten.
3. Readers interested in a microgenetic analysis of interactions among readers, teachers, and students using
dual language books are referred to Naqvi et al. (in preparation).
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... For instance, reading bilingual books increases bilingual children's engagement and confidence during literacy activities (Hu et al. 2012;Zaidi 2020). Furthermore, compared to monolingual books, bilingual books have been found to be just as supportive, and sometimes more supportive, of young children's vocabulary learning and language skills in two languages (Brouillard et al. 2020;Naqvi et al. 2012;Read et al. 2021b;Tsybina and Eriks-Brophy 2010). Given the potential importance of bilingual picture books for dual language development, recent studies have emphasized the need to design and select bilingual children's books that promote engagement and learning, focusing on issues related to the appropriateness of the narrative content, translation quality, and design features of the text and illustrations (Chen 2019;Gallagher and Bataineh 2020;Glazer et al. 2017;Hojeij et al. 2019;Walker et al. 1996). ...
... Our study contributes to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that young children's picture books contain rich linguistic input from which young children can learn (Montag et al. 2015;Logan et al. 2019) and that bilingual picture books in particular may be an important format for engaging and teaching bilingual children language and literacy skills (Brouillard et al. 2020;Hu et al. 2012;Naqvi et al. 2012;Read et al. 2021a;Tsybina and Eriks-Brophy 2010;Zaidi 2020). However, several important questions remain. ...
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Bilingual picture books have been growing in popularity, with caregivers, teachers, and researchers increasingly interested in understanding how picture books might be able to support the learning of words in two languages. In this study, we present the first evaluation of the quantity and quality of text contained within bilingual picture books in English and Spanish targeted to children ages 0–9 and available to parents in the United States. We focus specifically on a sample of codeswitching books (N = 45) which present text in one language embedded in another language. All books were transcribed and evaluated for (1) the number of words and utterances presented in each language; (2) the quality and complexity of text presented in each language; and (3) how switching occurred between the two languages. Results showed that although picture books in our sample presented predominantly English text and more complex English sentences, relatively more unique words were presented in Spanish. Furthermore, picture books in our sample presented frequent switching between languages, particularly within utterances. We suggest that bilingual picture books provide children with potentially enriching yet asymmetrical opportunities for learning in each language.
... Analysis revealed this method continued to make the complex, cultural, and linguistic knowledges of families and communities visible. Parents and/or grandparents, teachers, students, and principals, engaged in dual language book reading [42] in multiple languages (including for example, Italian, Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin, Dari, Farsi, and Russian). This included simultaneously reading page by page, with the teacher reading in English and guest reader in another language. ...
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Globalisation has contributed to increasing diversity with children and families, bringing multiple languages and cultures into early childhood settings around the world. While this has enhanced our settings, research suggests that educators are struggling to find ways to support children’s learning and development in super diverse contexts. Standardised curriculum and pedagogy have complicated matters by suggesting that all children can achieve the same outcome if given the same program. Failing to recognize and acknowledge the complexity of teaching and learning in diverse settings leads to practices that position children and their families as deficient, viewing children and families based on what they lack rather than building from their strengths. In this manuscript we look through the theoretical lenses of funds of knowledge and funds of identity. The two constructs are brought together to explore how innovative, creative arts-based methods from two different research projects in ECE settings across Australia and Chile made children and families’ funds of knowledge and funds of identity visible and potentially impacted learning, participants’ perspectives, and community engagement in these diverse settings. We offer evidence of the ways arts-based methods promoted creativity and agency for all participants in and across both early learning contexts.
... Although students responded positively to the program, future research must consider the effect of instruction that includes Indigenous languages (Scull, 2016) and Indigenous literacy practices (Hare, 2011). For instance, future research might explore the efficacy of dual-language books (Naqvi et al., 2013) in which Indigenous languages and stories are shared by Indigenous language speakers who are familiar with traditional storytelling practices. Such communitybased instruction programming has potential to offer authentic early literacy experiences that respect traditional knowledge sharing practices, while also exposing children to English language literacy experiences. ...
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Indigenous communities in Canada have struggled with systemic inequities that have affected education outcomes of their children. In collaboration with a Stoney Nakoda community in Western Canada, a university research team, composed of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members, offered an instruction program designed to use storytelling as a gateway to early literacy development. Indigenous researchers and collaborators guided program adaptation to increase its cultural relevance, and non-Indigenous researchers drew upon developmental research to tailor scaffolded instruction that supported increased story-structure complexity. A total of 100 children aged 5 to 7 years participated in an eight-month storytelling program, which included pre- and post-instruction assessments of storytelling and recall. After instruction, participants generated more complex, detailed stories that contained more references to their culture compared to same-age peers. They also more accurately recalled the gist of stories they were read. This study demonstrates the importance of making curricula relevant to Indigenous children by including content that is culturally relevant and developmentally appropriate.
... Dual-language books are increasingly being examined by researchers due to their potential for leveraging skills in one language in order to scaffold learning and reading in the other (Simoncini et al., 2019;Taylor et al., 2008). Scholars have praised these texts for their potential for legitimizing cultural and linguistic diversity, and constructing a sense of community (Fleuret & Sabatier, 2019;Moore & Sabatier, 2014), let alone the literacy benefits related to vocabulary development (Gosselin-Lavoie, 2016;Read et al., 2021), metalinguistic awareness (Robertson, 2006;Thibeault & Quevillon-Lacasse, 2019), and graphophemic knowledge (Naqvi et al., 2012). Sneddon (2009) appears to have been one of the first authors to examine reading strategy use specifically with dual-language texts; according to her findings, the strategies that helped readers the most with constructing meaning varied according to their language background and competence with the languages at play, as well as how closely related the languages in the book were on a linguistic level. ...
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As dual-language children's books are becoming increasingly popular in language and literacy education, scholars are starting to zero in on how students construct meaning as they read these books. In this paper, in light of the previously mentioned body of literature, we present a qualitative study focusing on the reading strategies that three Grade 3 French immersion pupils schooled in Saskatchewan deployed when they read two types of dual-language books: translated, where the entire text appears in both English and French, and integrated, where passages in French organically complete those in English without providing the exact same information. This multiple case study highlights three distinct reading profiles, and shows how monolingual and cross-linguistic reading strategies can be used by the same student as they read a dual-language book. It also shows that some students were able to adapt their reading strategies as they engaged with different types of dual-language books, whereas others more frequently utilized the same strategies.
... Il nous apparait donc important que cette diversité linguistique soit mieux représentée dans les bibliothèques de classe. D'ailleurs, plusieurs études montrent les bienfaits des approches d'éveil aux langues, notamment par l'exposition à des albums de différentes langues ou bilingues (Ariaz, 2010 ;Naqvi et al., 2012 ;Rodriguez-Valls, 2011). ...
The analysis and understanding of multilingualism, and its relationship to identity in the face of globalization, migration and the increasing dominance of English as a lingua franca, makes it a complex and challenging problem that requires insights from a range of disciplines. With reference to a variety of languages and contexts, this book offers fascinating insights into multilingual identity from a team of world-renowned scholars, working from a range of different theoretical and methodological perspectives. Three overarching themes are explored – situatedness, identity practices, and investment – and detailed case studies from different linguistic and cultural contexts are included throughout. The chapter authors' consideration of 'multilingualism-as-resource' challenges the conception of 'multilingualism-as-problem', which has dogged so much political thinking in late modernity. The studies offer a critical lens on the types of linguistic repertoire that are celebrated and valued, and introduce the policy implications of their findings for education and wider social issues.
Our qualitative case study aimed to identify how four second-grade emergent bilingual students and their teacher engaged with listening comprehension during interactive read-aloud discussions with more and less culturally relevant books, and how this intersected with the teacher’s use of culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogical tenets. Data included cultural relevance ratings for each book discussed, and videos of nine 20-minute lessons (3 per book) and their transcriptions. A combination of a priori and emergent codes were used to code the transcripts. Constant comparative method was used to identify themes and sub-themes. Other data sources were used for triangulation. Major findings were that (1) teacher and student engagement differed across discussions with more vs. less culturally relevant books, and (2) how the teacher addressed the tenets of culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogy varied by tenet and discussion, but was not related to whether the book being discussed was culturally relevant or not. Implications include that teachers should use both more and less culturally relevant texts for interactive read-alouds, with the teacher attending to tenets of culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogy.
For decades, international researchers and educators have sought to understand how to address cultural and linguistic diversity in education. This book offers the keys to doing so: it brings together short biographies of thirty-six scholars, representing a wide range of universities and countries, to allow them to reflect on their own personal life paths, and how their individual life experiences have led to and informed their research. This approach highlights how theories and concepts have evolved in different contexts, while opening up pedagogical possibilities from diverse backgrounds and enriched by the life experiences of leading researchers in the field. Beyond these questions, the book also explores the dynamic relationships between languages, power and identities, as well as how these relationships raise broader societal issues that permeate both global and local language practices. It is essential reading for students, teacher educators, and researchers interested in the impact of multilingualism on education.
Reading stories to children provides opportunities for word learning. Bilingual children, however, encounter new words in each of their languages during shared storybook reading, and the way in which these words are presented can vary. We compared learning from two types of bilingual book materials: single‐language books and bilingual books. Five‐year‐old English‐French bilinguals (n = 67) were randomly assigned to hear an original story from a balanced bilingual experimenter in one of the two book formats. Children's learning of English and French labels for five novel objects embedded in the story was assessed via a pointing task. Children were successful at learning words in both languages, and performance was not affected by book format nor children's language proficiency. These results suggest that children are flexible word learners and that shared book reading – regardless of book format – is an effective way to teach bilingual children new words in two languages. In a shared storybook reading task, bilingual 5‐year‐olds encountered new words in two languages via single‐language or bilingual books. Word learning from the two book formats was compared. Both formats supported word learning, regardless of children's language proficiency. Bilingual children are flexible word learners, and shared book reading – regardless of book format – supports bilingual literacy development.
This study explored how two emergent bilinguals (EBs) from refugee families made inferences with more and less culturally relevant texts. The study took place in a third-grade pull-out small group class in a Midwestern U.S. city. Data included video-recordings and transcripts of all 12 read-aloud discussion lessons of four books, interviews with the teacher and students, and children’s and teacher’s cultural relevance ratings for each book. The Construction-Integration Model guided our coding, for which we identified focal students’ (a) inferences, (b) use of text information in the inference process, (c) use of background knowledge in the inference process, and (d) inference coherence or incoherence. Using constant comparative analysis, we found three themes. (1) While students generally made more coherent inferences when the text was more culturally relevant, how they used text information and their background knowledge intersected with particular dimensions of cultural relevance ratings, such as experiences. (2) Students still tried to use text information and background knowledge to construct situation models when the book was less culturally relevant, but it was sometimes more difficult to construct a coherent situation model with these books due to the mismatch between the text information and the students’ background knowledge. (3) Sometimes students constructed situation models that did not align with their teacher’s situation model, likely due to the culturally situated nature of background knowledge. Implications include that teachers should get to know students’ nuanced backgrounds, then choose texts that are culturally relevant (especially for experiences) to support EB’s inference construction-integration process.
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In England, government initiatives to recruit more ethnic minority teachers into mainstream schools have met with only limited success. One important reason for this may be that the factors that contribute to their distinctive professional skills and identities, and their potential to help raise the achievements of ethnic minority pupils, are not well understood. These factors are complex and, as yet, under-researched. This paper presents evidence from interviews with bilingual primary teachers which illustrates their views on issues of bilingualism, language choices and pedagogy in multilingual classrooms and the importance of recognising community resources. An extended example of teacher–pupil interaction from a complementary classroom setting, showing codeswitching between English and Punjabi, is analysed and discussed using a sociocultural theory of learning which recognises the inseparability of language, culture and context and places emphasis on culture. This keys into broader ideas about ‘culturally responsive pedagogies’. It begins to show how codeswitching, as part of an ‘additive bilingual’ pedagogy, may have the potential to raise pupils' achievements. Finally, while the focus of the paper is on bilingual teachers, the important roles played by all teachers in their pupils' success is recognised.
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The authors examine the implications and limitations of the National Early Literacy Panel report on the early care of young children who are dual-language learners (DLLs).They examine the relevance of the report for DLLs, particularly the practice in this and other national synthesis reports of extrapolating implications for the education of young DLLs based on a broader population of children. The article addresses the existing gaps in knowledge about literacy practices—knowledge that is central to the development of sound and appropriate educational policies and practices that support DLLs’ full development as language and literacy learners.
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This paper explores what kinds of advantages and strengths the process of learning to read simultaneously in different languages and scripts might bring about. It is based on a socio-cultural view of learning and literacy and examines early literacy in three parallel literacy classes in Watford, England. It analyses the learning experiences of five bilingual children who are of second or third generation Pakistani background. At the start of the study the children are five years old and they attend the same school and class. They learn to read in English during their daily literacy hour lessons; their home language is Pahari1. They attend weekly Urdu lessons that take place in a community language school. They also learn to read in classical Arabic – in a language they do not speak or understand – in their daily Qur’anic classes and, typically, in the local mosque. The data shows that the children learn to switch between three literacy systems. They talk about their literacy learning in terms of ‘how you got to do it’ and ‘do it properly’, which varies from class to class. They use a different range of learning strategies in establishing how to read with meaning. Rather than finding these – or the different related languages and scripts – confusing, they have a powerful impact in enabling the children to see literacies as systems that change and that can be manipulated. This kind of analytical approach of understanding ‘proper’ reading is based on the children’s varied experiences of parallel literacy classes.
This handbook applies proven techniques, derived from bilingual/bicultural classrooms, to teaching literacy in the twenty-first century. Its goal is to help teachers increase their understanding of bilingual learners in order to maximize instruction. Teachers can use this handbook to expand their understanding of literacy and bilingualism; implement literacy approaches and assess students' development; and learn through reflection. Practical, flexible format and content. Complete and straightforward instructions, illustrated by case studies, allow teachers to use the strategies in this handbook on their own or in teacher-led study groups. They can select from the variety of approaches the ones which best match their students' needs and their own teaching style. Student-centered focus. All of the approaches share characteristics that help motivate students of varying language abilities to develop literacy. Field-tested approaches. The approaches have been modified and tested with bilingual students of different ages and language backgrounds in bilingual, ESL, mainstream, special education, and deaf education classes ranging from preschool through high school. © 2007 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.
Classrooms of 4-year-olds attending Head Start were randomly assigned to an intervention condition, involving an add-on emergent literacy curriculum, or a control condition, involving the regular Head Start curriculum. Children in the intervention condition experienced interactive book reading at home and in the classroom as well as a classroom-based sound and letter awareness program. Children were pretested and posttested on standardized tests of language, writing, linguistic awareness, and print concepts. Effects of the intervention were significant across all children in the domains of writing and print concepts. Effects on language were large but only for those children whose primary caregivers had been actively involved in the at-home component of the program. One linguistic awareness subtest, involving the ability to identify the first letter and first sound of words, showed significant effects.
From studies of bilingual education practices, some authors have suggested that bilingualism, in a favourable environment, facilitates development of metaphonological abilities. In a monolingual context, these abilities develop in interaction with literacy. The objective of the present study is to determine if bilingual children have some metaphonological knowledge before learning to read. In other terms, does bilingualism improve metaphonological abilities? To answer this question, 50 prereaders were tested: 30 of them were monolingual French speakers; 20 were bilingual English-French speakers from a traditional French school. To test phonological abilities, two tasks were set: a free phonological segmentation task and a phonemic deletion task. Bilingual prereaders did not show better performance at the tasks but did show a different way of segmenting items. The results are discussed in the framework of phonological development theories and bilingual education.
This article reports on a qualitative case study involving pedagogical innovations grounded in culturally and linguistically inclusive approaches to curriculum. In this project, kindergarten children were supported in collaboratively authoring Dual Language Identity Texts. Our findings suggest that as family and teacher conceptions of literacy were extended beyond traditional monolingual print-based literacy, home literacies associated with complex transnational and transgenerational communities of practice were legitimated through their inclusion within the school curriculum. This process invited family members to take up roles as expert partners in children's biliteracy development. Further, conditions were fostered for parents to consider and articulate their beliefs and values vis-à-vis their children's multiliterate practice and participation within these multiple, transnational communities.
This article presents a socio-cultural study of parental involvement in reading by examining the reciprocal mediation between a Chinese mother and her daughter in the reading of a dual-language storybook. The findings reveal a child learning in the ‘interplay of her contexts’ that reflects dynamics of collaborative involvement in meaning making. With the aid of the dual-language storybook, the mother, not literate in English, is enabled to scaffold her child's learning in ways that enhance both the child's understanding of the English text and her knowledge of their heritage language, while the child herself assists her mother's learning of English. The article provides detailed explanations of ways in which inter-subjectivity (mutual understanding) arises from interpersonal communication, i.e. how ‘reading’ becomes transformed into a meaning-making activity from what can be a de-contextualised task. The article includes implications for developing approaches that minority-ethnic parents can use when reading with their children, alongside reading strategies that can be adapted for use by monolingual teachers and bilingual assistants in mainstream schools.