SELECTED THEORIES AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR FAMILY LITERACY PRACTICES

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CHAPTER 2 AN OVERVIEW OF FAMILY LITERACY AND FAMILY LITERACY PROGRAMMES

 INTRODUCTION

The aim of this chapter is to provide a literature review to inform the empirical inquiry into the implementation of a family literacy programme for young learners. The first section provides an introduction to relevant theories which have implications for early literacy acquisition in order to provide a general theoretical framework for the study. Thereafter, the evolving role of the family in the child’s literacy acquisition is traced according to broad historical periods with special reference to developments in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This is followed by a discussion of the function of family literacy programmes, dominant approaches and the benefits to children, families, schools and communities. The barriers to effective participation by family and school in family literacy programmes are identified and discussed. Finally, attention is given to Epstein’s (1987) benchmark model of comprehensive school-family-partnership as a strategy for the implementation of family literacy initiatives

SELECTED THEORIES AND THE  IMPLICATIONS FOR  FAMILY LITERACY PRACTICES

Domains of study and practice in education are informed by both implicit and explicit theoretical frameworks. However, Anfara (2008:870) points out that defining the term theoretical framework is not easy; the term lacks a lucid and consistent definition and leading writers deal with this topic in a wide variety of ways. In an effort to find greater clarity and consensus on the term, Anfara and Mertz (2006:xiii) review a number of overlapping definitions of theory to produce their own working definition: a theory can be seen as a set of interrelated propositions to describe, explain or predict phenomena and thus provide a lens with which to view the world. Anfara (2008:6) goes on to describe a theoretical framework as “any empirical or quasi-empirical theory of social and or psychological processes at a variety of levels (e.g., grand, mid-range and explanatory) that can be applied to the understanding phenomena.” The function of a theoretical framework is to allow scholars and researchers to organize and synthesize knowledge within a field and act to describe, explain and predict behaviour and experience (Doolittle & Camp 1999:1). These frameworks may be found in a wide range of fields of study and disciplines in the social and natural sciences. In this study the theories of Piaget, Dewey, Vygotsky and Freire have been chosen for their contribution to family literacy. In addition, the contribution of ecological theories and the notion of social capital have been described in terms of their relevance to the topic.

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development

Jean Piaget (1952; 1955), a leading Swiss developmental psychologist of the twentieth century, underscored the role of experience in shaping cognitive development. Piaget integrated elements of psychology, biology, philosophy and logic into a comprehensive explanation of how knowledge is acquired (Doyle 2012:86). He portrayed the young child as intrinsically motivated by curiosity to make meaning from experiences and as successful in constructing knowledge from these experiences. He saw the child as not only an active discoverer, but also an inventor and a problem solver (Lourenco 2014:624; Piaget 1929; 1952; 1964; 1966).
Piaget regarded cognitive development as taking place in stages, with each stage representing new and distinguishable forms of knowing. The stages are integrative in that a given stage always integrates its predecessor; and they are sequential with the lower stages occurring before the higher stages. The stages are also hierarchical and structural (Lourenco 2014:624). Cognitive development, according to Piaget, proceeds through four stages, namely the sensori-motor stage, the pre-operational stage, the stage of concrete operations and finally, the stage of formal operations.
In the sensori-motor stage, which spans birth to age 2, infants and toddlers understand things in terms of their senses and motor activity (Berns 2016:19,188; Piaget 1929; 1952; 1964; 1966). The majority of pre-schoolers (2 to 7 years) operate in what Piaget calls the pre-operational stage. At this stage the child is not yet capable of using a logical process of reasoning on the basis of concrete evidence. The pre-operational child is characterised by animism, egocentrism, transductive reasoning, syncretism, lack of decentring, lack of classification, lack of seriation and conservation skills, and, pertinent to this study, a rapid acquisition of language (Berns 2016:67,189). During this phase children begin to make use of symbols to represent objects. This is evident in their drawings and experimental writing.
In the concrete operational stage (7-10 years) the child is capable of using a logical process of reasoning on the basis of concrete evidence. The child can integrate conceptually separate experiences and draw a conclusion, and is confident of his conclusion (Berns 2016:189).
The formal operational stage is the fourth and final stage in cognitive development and is attained after the age of 12. According to Piaget this is the highest level of thinking attainable by man. At this level, a person is no longer restricted to reasoning based on concrete evidence, but is capable of going beyond concrete evidence as he uses his imagination. A person who has attained formal operations is able to concentrate his thought on things that have no existence except in his own mind. If children are to attain this stage, it is essential that they be provided with a suitable environment (Berns 2016:189; Piaget 1929; 1952, 1964; 1966).
In terms of family literacy programmes, young learners (5-7 years) are in the pre-operational stage, ready to move into the concrete operational stage. The egocentrism, animism and rapid acquisition of language that characterises children in this phase form a basis for their participation in family literacy programmes. Building on young children’s lively imagination, a successful family literacy programme can make good use of stories portraying animals as beings able to speak. Further, Piaget proposed social interaction as a means to overcome egocentrism. Social interaction is fundamental to family literacy programmes in which children’s literacy is encouraged within the immediate interaction of the family. The fact that children in this phase acquire language rapidly supports their active participation in family literacy programmes. Piaget believed that little restriction should be placed on spontaneous conversation during learning at this stage and this is encouraged during the implementation of family literacy programmes. Finally, Piaget’s view that learning takes place through social interaction (including language) and human relationships, supports group discussions as an essential component in family literacy programmes as a means to facilitate opportunities to strengthen a young learner’s language development and enrich his/her vocabulary.

Dewey’s pragmatism

John Dewey is often seen as the great critic of traditionalism in schooling. He advocated a child-centred approach to learning and an active learning curriculum and school system. Dewey viewed the individual as part of a social whole and saw schooling as a powerful socialising experience that helps young people develop skills to participate in democratic life (Feinberg 2014:215). For Dewey, the individual and society need each other and make one another possible (Monchinski 2010:87). In his pedagogic creed, Dewey (1897) spoke of the individual as a “social individual”, and society as “an organic union of individuals”. Dewey affirmed that human beings, like other natural phenomena, are related and associated. According to him, society was not possible without individuals, and individuality is not possible without society. For Dewey, autonomy was grounded in group living. Dewey saw education as the means by which new members of a group are fitted to the group and thus the individual is fitted into the society (Dewey 1938).
Dewey found it reprehensible that the subject matter of schooling had little, if any, direct connection to children’s lives and that when the child enters the school he has to put out of mind many ideas, interests, and activities that predominate in his home and neighbourhood (Monchinski 2010:91). Dewey also understood that forms of inquiry would change and evolve over time and that schooling would need to constantly adjust to the developmental needs of the learners and the forms of knowledge appropriate for a given time and place (Feinberg 2014:215). Dewey alerts educators to the fact that education is not consigned to schools only but constitutes all the relationships and interactions by which we learn how to live as individuals in association with others (Dewey 1938). Thus Dewey’s approach to learning implies that literacy learning of the child cannot be separated from the home environment. Family literacy programmes are ideal to bridge the gap between home and school and ensure that literacy learning develop in real-life settings.

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Vygotsky’s social-constructivist theory

Lev Vygotsky was a celebrated Russian psychologist and is considered to be the father of the social-constructivist theory (Yasnitsky 2014:844). Vygotsky’s social-constructivist theory emphasises the role of more capable others in scaffolding the learning of children (Berns 2016:243,323). Although Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development is similar to Piaget’s in its emphasis on the active nature of the young learner, it underscores the social nature of learning (Doyle 2012:86). Vygotsky considered the role of language, both in thought and in social interaction, critical for mediating scaffolding, a process by which an adult or a more capable learner would work in the child’s zone of proximal development to facilitate the child’s new learning (Morrell 2008:4; Girolametto, Weitzman & Greenberg 2012:48; Vygotsky 1978). Vygotsky used the term ‘zone of proximal development’ to refer to the space between what learners can do independently and what they can do while participating with more capable others (Berns 2016:243). Vygotsky also believed that we learn through both the cognitive and affective domains, and how we feel about what we are learning is just as important as how we are learning. He saw the adult’s deliberate engagement and guided participation in supporting the child’s learning as the most influential factor in the learning process (Doyle 2012:86).
Vygotsky’s theory, amongst others, resulted in an increasing interest in the years before formal education that were hitherto regarded as a waiting period before the introduction of formal education. As Vygotsky’s theory emphasises the role of more capable others in scaffolding the learning of children, family literacy programmes that support parents in mentoring their children are effective (Doyle & Zhang 2011:223; Vygotsky 1978). When applied to literacy interactions adults’ talk about letter names and the sounds they make may help young learners understand that letters can be named, are associated with sounds, and can be combined in different ways to produce words that have meaning (Giromaletto et al. 2012:48). For example, in response to a child’s request for assistance in writing the word hen, the educator may scaffold by pointing out an alphabet letter name (“That’s a H”), drawing attention to the sound of the letter (“This letter says /h/”), or referring to the specific word (Let’s write the word “hen”). As the child collaborates by responding, the educator may scaffold at a higher level by providing literacy feedback and questioning that promote further learning (e.g. “Hen starts with the sound /h/. What other words start with /h/?”) Family literacy environments may provide a safe environment for parents to practice and to become more confident in employing these scaffolding skills to support their children’s language acquisition

Freire’s socio-cultural perspective

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire is generally considered to be the most significant educationalist of the late twentieth century and made an authoritative contribution to the practice of literacy education (Beck & Purcell 2010:25; Glass 2014:336). A Freirean approach to education is underpinned by some basic assumptions as outlined in Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire 2006). Freire’s understanding is that all social phenomena are produced by the complex interplay of opposing structural forces: labour/capital, rich/poor and oppressor/oppressed. This approach is neither one of empty theorising nor of meaningless action but a fusing of critical reflection on the world and action to change it, to humanise it, to make it more just. For Freire, dialogue lies at the heart of this process of humanisation (Morrell 2008:53).
According to Freire (2006) no education is neutral. It either domesticates and shapes people to fit in and function within the given social order, described by Freire as “banking education”, or liberates, causing people to act for change through critical analysis described as “problem-posing” education (Freire 2006:72-86; Beck & Purcell 2010:27; Glass 2014:337). Some kind of education, Freire believed, mediates between who we innately are and who we should be (Glass 2014:336).
Freire (2006:85) believed it is extremely difficult for an educator to be aware of their own cultural assumptions and values which they unconsciously bring to their practice and impose on the people they work with. Freire describes this practice as cultural invasion. According to what Freire referred to as the “Banking System of Education”, the teacher’s task is “to fill” students with the contents of his narration (Monchinski 2010:30; Morrell 2008:54; Glass 2014:337; Freire 2006:86). In this approach, learners are conditioned to be silent and to rely on experts to make decisions for them, thus strengthening their powerlessness. According to Freire, systematic, or public education is indicative of a banking system of education, where the teacher occupies a superior position and the student an inferior one (Monchinski 2010:108). According to the “problem-posing approach” learners are required to play a reflective part in their own liberation. Freire’s critical pedagogy seeks to develop critical consciousness in learners, a state where learners see themselves and their lives in the context of their social reality and become capable of acting to change (Beck & Purcell 2010:28; Glass 2014:338).
Freire believed that adults would ultimately be able to acquire dominant literacies if they were first taught by drawing on the language and experiences most meaningful to them. Dominant literacies can be seen as the kinds of literacy transmitted through official instruction in schools, often to the neglect of other forms of literacies based on, for example, social contexts and lived realities (UNESCO 2004:14). Freire cautioned that the experiences, which learners bring with them to the learning situation, are valuable and should not be ignored by the educator (Morrell 2008:54). Freire (2006) refers to this as ‘funds of knowledge’. He insisted that teachers had a professional responsibility and expertise to construct meaningful learning environments in which learning can take place (Glass 2014:339).
Freire (2006) states that learning to read the written word is intertwined with the knowledge and meaning that is derived from reading one’s world. Reading the world, according to Freire, includes understanding how our lives are shaped by complex and multifaceted socio-cultural factors – our cultural identity, family history, employment, education, community and long-term (individual and collective) goals and dreams (Ordonez-Jasis & Ortiz 2006:42). These emerging understandings influence how we interpret and interact with text, which in turn greatly influences how we learn to reread or decode our worlds and everyday realities.
An important implication of Freire’s approach to literacy acquisition is that when creating comprehensive and culturally relevant family literacy programmes, educators need to try to read the worlds of the children they teach, and that of their families. As teachers talk with families in order to understand their lives outside of school, they not only gain a better sense of families’ socio-cultural contexts, but they also validate a wealth of stories, dispositions, motivations, and cultural information or “funds of knowledge” that become the building blocks for a comprehensive family literacy programme. Further, there is a critical link between family literacy, self-development and empowerment, for literacy enables transformative thought and social action. Family literacy programmes as a social and transformative act can help families reflect on, understand, and change their social conditions (Ordonez-Jasis & Ortiz 2006:46)

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Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory

Developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner (Berns 2016:19) looked beyond general developmental patterns and proposed various ecological settings in which the child participates, such as the family, to explain individual differences. Up until the twentieth century the home and school were largely seen as two separate entities. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory posited that the school and home cannot be separated, and influence each other reciprocally (Van Wyk 2010:204; Bronfenbrenner 1986:723; Berns 2016:20-31). Bronfenbrenner promoted a shift toward recognising the family itself as a more appropriate focus of intervention than the child, arguing that “the family seems to be the most effective and economic system for fostering and sustaining the child’s development” (Wasik & Hermann 2004:10; Doyle 2012:89; Bronfenbrenner 1986:723). Viewing family literacy from an ecological perspective, Bronfenbrenner observed that although the family is the principal context in which human development takes place, it is but one of several settings in which developmental processes can and do occur. Moreover, the processes operating in different settings are not independent of each other. Events at home can affect the child’s progress in school, and vice versa. Related to this is an understanding that schools are an inextricable part of society, as well as of the community in which they belong. Schools are thus seen as social sub-systems, which cannot function in isolation of their social environment. Related to systems theory is Bronfenbrenner’s theory of ecological systems (1979), which recognises the need to see learning as a social process affected by forces at many levels. Bronfenbrenner (1986:724) likens the complex setting in which children live, to an ecosystem – what happens in one part, will affect the other parts. Bronfenbrenner describes the ecological environment of the child as a macrostructure with four levels (see figure 2.1), with an underlying belief system (Swick & Williams 2006:371; Bronfenbrenner 1986:723).
Level 1, also referred to as the microsystem, is the child’s immediate, primary setting (home, school etc.) (Berns 2016:21).
Level 2, the second basic structure also known as the mesosystem, is the interaction between two or more elements of a developing person’s microsystem. Although the family is the principal context in which human development takes place, it is but one of several settings in which developmental processes can and do occur. The impact of mesosystems on the child depends on the number and quality of inter-relationships (Berns 2016:23).
Level 3, also known as the exosystem (exo meaning outside), involves settings beyond the child, such as the parent’s workplace, the parents’ social networks, and lastly the community influences on family functioning (Bronfenbrenner 1986:728). Available networks, (i.e. the parents’ circle of friends and acquaintances, and influences in the community, such as the church), are also seen as a form of social capital (cf. 2.2.7 below). Parents’ job situations, such as regular working hours, a stabilised income or unemployment also impacts on the family and eventually spills over to affect the child’s performance at school (Berns 2016:24). It is also believed that the structure and content of activities in the parents’ jobs can influence families’ childrearing values. Work absorption implies that parents have little time left for non-work activities, including spending time with their children. Work absorption often tended to generate guilt and increased irritability and impatience in dealing with the child. Even the job of discipline often fell to the mothers (Bronfenbrenner 1986:729). With all these demands on parents, little time is left to support and enhance their children’s developmental needs, and more specifically the emergent literacy needs of their children.
Level 4, the macrosystem includes a wide range of developmental influences such as race, ethnicity, religion, economics and political ideologies. Democracy is the basic belief system of South Africa and is considered a macrosystem. Democratic ideology affects school-family interactions, a mesosystem, in that schools must inform parents of policies and parents have the right to question those policies (Berns 2016:25)

CHAPTER 1 BACKGROUND, PROBLEM FORMULATION AND AIMS
1.1 INTRODUCTION
1.2 MOTIVATION FOR THE RESEARCH
1.3 PROBLEM FORMULATION
1.4 AIMS OF THE STUDY
1.5 METHOD
1.6 CLARIFICATION OF TERMS
1.7 CHAPTER OUTLINE
1.8 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 2 AN OVERVIEW OF FAMILY LITERACY AND FAMILY LITERACY PROGRAMMES
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 SELECTED THEORIES AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR FAMILY LITERACY PRACTICES
2.3 THE ROLE OF THE FAMILY IN LITERACY ACQUISITION IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
2.4 FAMILY LITERACY PROGAMMES
2.5 APPROACHES TO FAMILY LITERACY PROGRAMMES
2.6 BENEFITS OF FAMILY LITERACY PROGRAMMES
2.7 BARRIERS TO PARTICIPATION IN FAMILY LITERACY PROGRAMMES.
2.8 FAMILY LITERACY PROGRAMMES AS A STRATEGIC COMPONENT OF A HOME-SCHOOL-COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP
2.9 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 3 AN OVERVIEW OF LITERACY PRACTICES IN SOUTH AFRICA
3.1 INTRODUCTION
3.2 THE FAMILY IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN CONTEXT AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR FAMILY LITERACY
3.3 LITERACY IN SOUTH AFRICA
3.4 EDUCATIONAL PROVISION AND LITERACY ACQUISITION
3.5 FAMILY LITERACY PROGRAMMES IN SOUTH AFRICA
3.6 FINAL CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH DESIGN
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
4.3 CHOICE AND MODIFICATION OF A FAMILY LITERACY PROGRAMME
4.4 SELECTION OF SITE
4.5 SELECTION OF THE FAMILIES AND TEACHER-FACILITATORS
4.6 DATA COLLECTION
4.7 DATA ANALYSIS
4.8 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
4.9 TRUSTWORTHINESS OF THE DATA
4.10 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 5 FINDINGS OF THE STUDY
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 THE PARTICIPATING FAMILIES
5.3 THE SIX SESSIONS OF THE WORDWORKS HOME-SCHOOL PARTNERSHIPS PROGRAMME
5.4 THEMES EMERGING FROM THE STUDY .
5.5 LESSONS FROM IMPLEMENTATION OF PROGRAMME
5.6 MEDIUM TERM IMPACT OF THE PROGRAMME
5.7 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 6 SUMMARY OF THE RESEARCH, FINAL CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 SUMMARY OF THE LITERATURE RESEARCH
6.3 SUMMARY AND CONTRIBUTION OF THE EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
6.4 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT OF PRACTICE
6.5 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
6.6 AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
6.7 CONCLUSION
LIST OF REFERENCES 
APPENDICES
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