Language plays a critical role in literacy instruction. In fact, these two concepts are inseparable. Teaching a learner for the first time requires the use of a common language between the learner and the teacher. By sharing a common language, the two will be able to establish connection and achieve communication, thus lessening the barriers to literacy.
Basic reading, for instance, requires modeling by the teacher of how the phonetic sounds of English are produced before the reader is able to decode a word. In addition, teaching reading involves communication between the teacher and the learner. In the pre-reading stage, the teacher needs to give instructions or guidance to reading, and in the post-reading stage, s/he needs to discuss with the reader regarding progress. In such cases, language is indispensable. Also, there are times when the teacher needs to explain what is being read, or determine the context for the reader to understand it better.
The role of the language in facilitating learning in early childhood is very essential since “literacy skills are developed in conjunction with oral language skills.” (Shaughnessy, Sanger, Matteucci, Ritzman, 2004) In relation to this, it is the teacher’s role to gauge the learner’s oral skills at the beginning of the reading instruction. Knowing the learner’s ability for language acquisition would help the teacher “recognize indications of delays in children’s language development.” (Shaughnessy, Sanger, Matteucci, Ritzman, 2004) Likewise, this will also enable the teacher to determine whether interventions are necessary to avoid delays in literacy development.
Literacy instruction does not end up in teaching a person how to decode or write words and symbols. The meaning of literacy has continuously evolved and so did literacy instruction. It includes not only basic reading and writing, but higher psychological processes of reading and writing. These two skills involve cognitive levels of thinking which start from the literal to the evaluative level.
Reading can be characterized as a higher level of psychological process if it involves cognitive skills of identifying main ideas from minor ones, comprehending the selection, synthesizing central themes or message, analyzing truth in statements, and applying concepts to real-life situations. The last one which presents the evaluative level requires the highest psychological process. In the same way, writing also involves higher psychological process than merely identifying letters or symbols. For instance, writing an essay requires the use of the language to convey ideas in sentences, establishing coherence and unity in a paragraph, and applying past learning in writing activities.
To ensure that students’ development does not stop at a certain point, teachers engaged in literacy instruction should guide students to aim for higher cognitive levels in consideration of their readiness. In his research, Morrow (1990) found that students who were provided with teacher guidance proved to display more literacy behaviors than those who were not given guidance. The same is true with adult-guided classrooms. Students tended to have more advanced literacy skills when guided closely.
In both reading and writing, we see the role of critical thinking. Critical thinking is another skill involving higher psychological process. Mainly identifying ideas in a reading selection (those that answer questions like what, when, where) is not part of critical thinking. Critical thinking is present when the learners are asked to answer questions starting with “What if” or “If you were the character…” Essentially, these questions challenge the minds and response of the learners to their environment, and require the application of practical learning.
In both reading and writing, critical thinking can be further enhanced through the method of collaboration in the literacy instruction. In this scenario, the learners’ role is taken to a higher level, from being passive receivers of instructions and information to being active reactors and players. “Proponents of collaborative learning claim that the active exchange of ideas within small groups not only increases interest among participants but also promotes critical thinking” (Gokhale, 1995).
Collaborative learning involves the participation of students and the exchange of ideas among them. Through collaborative learning, the students’ critical thinking is enriched by their peers’ ideas and experiences, resulting in a more productive literacy instruction.
Importantly, literacy instruction in the beginners’ level should involve planning by the teacher. In this stage, the teacher serves an active role in providing activities which would challenge the higher psychological processes such as reading, writing, and critical thinking. As such, the teacher should be well-informed of the learners’ background and their capabilities. However, in the pre-adult and adult levels, planning for literacy instruction should likewise involve the students.
Students’ suggestions and inclinations should be taken into consideration to assure a more fitting instructional design and to achieve the goal of higher literacy. The rationale behind this is, the students will participate more if they can relate with the situation, and if their needs are addressed well for it is best to start with what they are prepared and interested in. Similarly, the teacher’s guidance in the learning process is valuable to produce the best results. Indeed, in every literacy instruction, working hand in hand with the learners is recommended.
Gokhale, A. (1995). Collaborative learning enhances critical thinking. Journal of Technology Education vol. 7, no.1. Retrieved December 11, 2007, from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JTE/jte-v7n1/gokhale.jte-v7n1.html
Shaughnessy, A., Sanger, D. Matteucci, C., & Ritzman, M. (2004, Feb. 3). Early childhood language and literacy: Survey explores kindergarten teacher’s perceptions. The ASHA Leader, pp. 2, 18. Retrieved December 11, 2007, from http://www.asha.org/about/publications/leader-online/archives/2004/040203/040203c.htm