NEW DIRECTIONS IN FOSTERING EARLY LITERACY DEVELOPMENT
Authors: Jenny A. Roberts , Kathleen A. Scott and Evelyn R. Klein
Abstract: Proficient reading occurs as a result of a strong foundation in literacy and language. How best to foster emergent literacy and beginning reading has been a somewhat controversial issue, as the history of reading instruction shows some disagreements among teachers, researchers and others, commonly referred to as ―the reading wars‖ (Morrow and Tracey, 2002). At the center of this disagreement has been whether reading should be taught using a meaning-based approach (whole language) or a code-based approach (skills based). An examination of instruction for beginning reading in 2010 provides a look forward, but in order to best understand this topic at this time, it is instructive to take a brief look backward. Morrow and Tracey (2002) describe a whole-word method, in which children essentially memorize whole words without analyzing their internal structures. Typically whole-word methods are embedded in a larger type of instruction known as ―whole-language,‖ (Goodman, 1970) in which children are engaged with the meanings of text from the very beginning of exposure to text, using a literature-rich environment. In contrast, a code-focused approach, or phonics (Chall, 1983), is sometimes called a ―skills-based approach‖ in that it emphasizes discrete skills often taught in isolation, such as identifying consonants, vowels, letter blends, consonant and vowel digraphs, and words containing these constituents (Snow, Burns, and Griffin, 1998). The meaning of text is typically ensured by utilizing text structures that are well within the linguistic comprehension abilities of beginning readers. Current research, however, provides clarity regarding the role of decoding and comprehending text in the teaching of reading. The research indicates that rather than appealing to one type of approach over another, educators would benefit from the understanding that reading may be best depicted by the use of a braid. A braid that depicts the underlying components of readings should consist of at least two major strands, as characterized by numerous authors. For example, Dickinson and his colleagues (2003) described language acquisition as ―a complex French braid of abilities‖ (Dickinson, McCabe, Anastasopoulos, Peisner-Feinberg, and Poe, 2003, p. 465) in which oral language components such as vocabulary and syntax are interwoven with reading and writing during a child‘s development. Similarly, Scarborough (2001) described the interweaving of oral language skills and reading acquisition as many strands in a tightly woven rope. Both authors depict components of oral language that affect decoding ability in one strand, and components of oral language that affect the ability to comprehend text in the other strand, which can be thought of respectively as code-based and meaning-based components of reading. The usefulness of a braid as a metaphorical depiction is that it emphasizes each strand‘s unique contribution to the ability to read, their close interrelatedness, and their ongoing weaving forward in development. In this chapter we will provide an overview of the components of code-based instruction and meaning-based instruction, and will highlight several research-based approaches and programs to provide readers with a good understanding of how both types of instruction are currently practiced. We will also describe some combined approaches, and how these have been used within a framework of differentiated instruction. We will conclude with a discussion of some possible future directions for early reading instruction.