What do young children need to learn about the literacy practices of their communities in order to create meaning for themselves?
Literacy practices refer to how adults interact with children and vice versa in a mixture of written and spoken language, which leads children to acquire the language they need in order to develop their writing and reading skills -discussing a text-book at bedtime, a trip to the library, writing the shopping list, through questioning etc. This concept was suggested by anthropologist Brian Street: he used it to ‘emphasise the connection between an individual’s use of the written language and his or her social identity’ (Street, 1984, in Allington and Hewings, 2012, p. 47). Therefore, through their participation in the literacy practices of their communities, children are able to sense of their identity. The literacy practices may vary between different communities and countries. However, children of all backgrounds have the ability to develop writing and speaking skills regardless of the literacy practices in their communities. According to Noam Chomsky, children are born with the ability to develop a language and this ‘innate ability which is biologically determined and follows a predictable development path’ (Chomsky, 1980-86, in Mayor, 2012, p, 92).
This essay will discuss the interaction of literacy practices in communities which can influence children’s language acquisition (reading and writing), with reference to Lauren’s text ‘I wot vegetables and no cicn, Lauren setd thes mesj to yw’ (I want vegetables and no chicken, Lauren sent this message to you). She wrote this at her grandmother’s house, when asked what she wanted for dinner. Firstly, it will discuss ‘child directed speech’- CDS- and how this may have influenced Lauren’s text. Secondly, it will look at the literacy practices of three English-speaking communities. Thirdly, it will explain the complexity of writing the English language compared to another system (Spanish) and how Lauren reveals this in her writing. Finally, it will conclude with the relationship between communities and institutions to support children’s literacy.
Children gain the first encounter with language from their caregivers and printed language from their environment around them. Caregivers (parents) might speak to them in a special simplified language called ‘baby talk’ in the first instance as a way to communicate with their child. Furthermore, as the child develops, caregivers used short sentences with exaggerated intonations and frequent stress on the first syllables for the child to imitate which, when it is done routinely, children would end up imitating out of habit. This is referred to as child-directed speech (CDS) (Mayor, 2012, p. 93). Although CDS is normally associated with the spoken word, it could be considered relevant for children to be exposed to it in order to later develop their writing skills, and there may it be a crossover between CDS and literacy (writing), demonstrated here with Lauren. Furthermore, Lauren has also shown in her writing some stress on the first syllable on ‘Cicn’ (chicken) and ‘Mesj’ (message). She could have learnt this from her caregiver using CDS, perhaps saying ‘Mu-mmy’ to her, so for children to be able to speak, write and read the need they need hear and say the words first. Lauren has been able to use a social application of her community when she used a speech act for given preferred response (Mayor and Allington, 2012, pp. 9-11): when asked what she wanted for dinner, she answered ‘I want vegetables and no chicken’. However, she still needs to learn the social etiquette of her community such as using the word ‘please’, when writing as well when talking to an elder (her grandmother).
Children develop speech through different stages: firstly, from the sounds of the environment around them, e.g. they can be fascinated by toys that make sounds and enjoy music and rhythm. Secondly, by the repetition...
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