A case study: tracing the development of emergent literacy in a Grade R class

by Hodgskiss, J.A.

Abstract (Summary)
The introduction of the new curriculum in South Africa has introduced a new approach to literacy in the early years of the Foundation Phase (Grade R – 1), which has a strong emphasis on emergent literacy. The National Curriculum Statement (NCS) for English – Home Language describes this approach as balanced “because it begins with children’s emergent literacy, it involves them in reading real books and writing for genuine purposes, and it gives attention to phonics”. For many teachers in South Africa, this means moving away from the “reading readiness approach” which held that children were not ready to read and write until they were able to perform sub-skills such as auditory discrimination and visual discrimination, and had developed their fine and large motor skills to a certain level.

The purpose of this study was to trace and document children’s emergent literacy development in a Grade R class over a period of two months. More specifically, the intention was to investigate whether it was possible for trained, motivated teachers who have access to everyday resources in otherwise ordinary South African schools, to achieve the Assessment Standards set out in the NCS for Home Language in Grade R. In this school-based case study, the sample consisted of 4 children from 1 preschool in Queenstown, South Africa. The participants were selected according to gender and language because these appear to be significant factors in literacy development. The interpretive approach was used to collect and analyse data. Data were gathered from three main sources; (1) a research journal, (2) semi-structured interviews with the parents of the 4 participants, and (3) samples of the participants’ spontaneous writing. These were then triangulated to give credibility, objectivity and validity to the interpretation of the data.

The findings revealed that: (1) Social class, language and to a lesser extent gender emerged as factors which impacted significantly on the children’s literacy development, resulting in some children progressing more quickly than others. In South Africa, language is an indicator of social class. The English-speaking children had a socioeconomic and language advantage which enabled them to make considerable strides in their literacy development. In contrast, the Xhosa-speaking children were disadvantaged by their socioeconomic and language circumstances, which made their literacy progress much slower. (2) The disparities between the English and Xhosa-speaking children in terms of the stability and structure of their families, had a considerable impact on their literacy performance. (3) Finally, teachers in English medium classes need to be aware of these factors. They need to design strategies and interventions to help those children who are learning in their additional language to achieve at similar levels to their English-speaking peers. If this is not done, the gap between the literacy achievements of the English-speakers and speakers of other languages will get wider and wider as time goes by.

Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/01/2007

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