Making Literacy Culturally Relevant: An Imperative for Early Childhood Teacher Education

Making Literacy Culturally Relevant: An Imperative for Early Childhood Teacher Education

Elizabeth Morphis (SUNY Old Westbury, USA) and Ting Yuan (College of Staten Island, CUNY, USA)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3652-0.ch002
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In this reflective chapter on culturally relevant teacher preparation, the authors begin by discussing early childhood literacy and how it has traditionally been conceptualized. They offer an overview of a balanced literacy model, including its history, structured development, and critiques. They then consider culturally relevant pedagogy as foundation to reconceptualizing early literacy and teacher preparation. To bring such reconceptualization to life, they share their work with early childhood pre-service teachers, aiming to reconceptualize early literacy. They conclude the chapter with suggestions for moving beyond balanced literacy in culturally relevant ways.
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Following the scope and sequence of a mandated literacy curriculum at her school, Ms. Nancy conducted an interactive read-aloud using the required text, Poppleton in Winter by Cynthia Rylant. There are 22 students in the class and about half were paying attention to the story, while the other students in the class are either looking up at the ceiling or down at the floor or doodling off to the side of their literacy workbooks. After the teacher finished the read-aloud, she explained, “there are parts of this curriculum I like. I like that I have the time built into the curriculum to read-aloud to the students. But, the books…many of the students do not enjoy the books. There’s no interest [in the required books]. And, they are part of the curriculum.”

Ms. Nancy1 is a second grade teacher at a public bilingual school in New York City, predominantly serving multilingual children of color, who represent the growing majority of children in the US. She teaches English Language Arts (ELA) from a mandated, scripted balanced literacy curriculum that addresses “necessary” reading and writing skills. The school encouraged Ms. Nancy to follow the scope and sequence of balanced literacy, comprised of a variety of teaching practices – reading workshop, read-alouds, phonics instruction, shared reading, guided reading, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and writing workshop. In addition, the curriculum also encouraged a variety of student groupings, e.g., whole-class, small group, partner or individual instruction. Initially, Ms. Nancy believed that the balanced literacy framework offered by the scripted literacy curriculum provided her students with many necessary skills to support their reading and writing. However, once she critically observed her students and their interactions with the content of the literacy materials provided by the curriculum, she began to realize that the lessons were not meeting the needs of her students. Specifically, she noticed that many of her students did not connect with the literature supplied by the curriculum, and therefore, they were not fully engage in her read-alouds or shared reading instruction.

The scripted curriculum, like many other commercial literacy curricula, was created to address the reading and writing needs of any “generic” second grade student, regardless of the child’s race, ethnicity, social class, or gender (Dutro, 2009). The curriculum’s attempts to be inclusive failed to connect to students’ lives and interests, nor did it allow students to bring their individual ways of being and meaning making into their reading and writing work. So, while the school’s administration deemed the selected literacy curriculum as supportive of young children and their literacy development, in reality, Miss Nancy learned that simply relying on the structured lessons from the curriculum was not sufficient.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Funds of Knowledge: The background knowledge and skills that children come to school with from their homes.

Balanced Literacy Curriculum: A curriculum that includes a variety of approaches to teaching reading and writing. A balanced literacy curriculum includes phonics instruction, read-alouds, shared reading and writing, guided reading, and direct reading and writing instruction. In addition, the students are in different groupings depending on the type of instruction. For example, lessons can be taught in a whole group format or in small groups, or individualized instruction.

Culturally-Relevant Pedagogy: A lens for creating a curriculum and lessons that honor and include the children who are in the classroom.

Scripted Curriculum: This is typically a commercial curriculum that is created to teach a “generic” child regardless of background, race, socio-economics, or gender. The intention is that the curriculum can be used to teach any student to read and write.

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