"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, April 21, 2014

Reading in the Mother Tongue

Imagine a school that does not use the language used at home as medium of instruction in the early years of schooling. In such an environment, one may guess that what happens at home matters a lot. In fact, it does. There is now a study published that captures and answers the question of how literacy at home affects early childhood learning. The study looks at more than a hundred children from English-speaking families studying at six public schools that employ a French immersion program. The French immersion program uses French exclusively as medium of instruction for kindergarten and Grade 1. Reading instruction in English is then introduced as a daily 60 minute subject in Grade 2. In this scenario, any English the children know by the end of Grade 1 comes mainly from their homes. The study finds that there is indeed a strong correlation between literacy activities at home, both formal and informal, and a child's reading ability and vocabulary. Formal activities include teaching the alphabet, and providing reading and printing instructions. Informal activities are measured by the number of books available to the children as well as by how often books are read to children.

Reading and Early Childhood Learning
The study, published in the journal Child Development, has the following summary:

Sénéchal, M. and LeFevre, J.-A. (2014), Continuity and Change in the Home Literacy Environment as Predictors of Growth in Vocabulary and Reading. Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12222
The findings may sound obvious, but it should be made clear that in this instance, because of the inherent design of the study, the impact of literacy activities at home on a child's learning have been cleverly extracted. These are therefore evidence-based conclusions:
"In sum, we found evidence of long-term associations between parent home literacy practices and child reading and vocabulary. First, parent reports of teaching and parent expectations about reading in kindergarten were a robust predictor of growth in child early literacy from kindergarten to the beginning of Grade 1. Second, parent reports of teaching and listening to their child read was also a solid predictor of growth in word reading from the beginning until the end of Grade 1. Third, most parents who increased the reported amount of teaching from Grade 1 to Grade 2 had children whose reading was below average in Grade 1, whereas most parents who decreased their teaching had children whose reading was above average. Finally, parent reports of shared reading in kindergarten predicted growth in child vocabulary from kindergarten to Grade 1. Taken together, the present findings provided strong support for the key prediction of the Home Literacy Model, namely, that formal and informal literacy practices have different links to the development of children's oral and written language skills. The findings extend the model by showing that most parents adjust their formal literacy practices according to the reading performance of their child."
The authors do note that about half of the parents of the children included in this study are well educated (college level). Still, the study shows that parents can help teach children beyond kindergarten.

The above study takes place in a community where English is the dominant language but French is used as the medium of instruction. By not providing English in the early years, children are able to learn a second language in school. Home literacy can play a vital role in early childhood education. The home is really the first place where a child learns. If we truly treasure our mother tongue, we should spend our efforts passing our language to our young at home.

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