This study examines in detail the early literacy experiences of one child in each of 30 families. The focus of the study was on the observable literacy behaviours of children and of the changes over time in parent and teacher perceptions. The conceptual process underlying the selection of what should be observed and how the data could be analyzed was derived after the examination of the literature and of practical issues arising from the decision to use a longitudinal design. There was also a need to find a balance between quantitative and qualitative data collection and identify measures that would remain relevant over the course of the study.
The children were separated into Group A, 9 boys and 5 girls about to start preschool in 1998 and 1 boy about to start a repeat year in preschool, and Group B, 7 boys and 8 girls about to start their first year of formal schooling (Year 1). The children's parents and class teachers were the other participants. The study was structured so as to provide observations across three years of schooling P to 2, with all children observed in their first year of formal schooling. The data were derived from observations at each of 9 Stages over 3 years of schooling. Comprehensive portfolios were developed and contained data from parent interviews, parallel parent and teacher questionnaires, videotaped parent child reading sessions, the artifacts produced by the children and the results of standardized testing.
After the group observations were completed an analysis of the data allowed for the identification of 8 case studies focused on: a) children who read with ease prior to Year 1, b) children who learned to read well in Year 1, c) children who were identified by their school as needing special support and d) children who learned at a slow rate. At Stage 12 the 8 case study children were reviewed for a final time and that data contrasted with that of the group.
In addressing the first research question which sought to examine the group and individual learning trajectories of normally developing children, the standardized data confirmed the group's normal progression over time. The data also identified the different ways and different rates at which individual children gained their early literacy skills over an extended period.
The second research question sought to identify the patterns of literacy-related activities of young children. The results show that the amount of time devoted to literacy-related activities at home, the number and the length of sessions remained relatively stable P to 2. In all but the literacy rich families, the changes seen after the beginning of formal schooling showed teacher directed activities displace rather than complemented home initiated activities. These results have implication for teachers and educational clinicians because an improved understanding of the dynamics of home literacy activities should result in more effective advice giving.
The third research question examined parent perceptions of their own child's early literacy development and the relationship between the changing perceptions of parents and teachers. The results show that parents made significantly accurate estimates of their own child's verbal and performance intelligence relative to the child's measured intelligence (WIPPSI-R). Parental judgments about overall reading and writing development revealed patterns of repeated positive development similar to the patterns seen within the results of the repeated standardized testing. The relationship between the perceptions of parents and teachers suggests parents base their perceptions more of the child's age and overall development, however teachers' perceptions appear to relate more to the expectations of each school year.
The final research question sought to examine in detail the learning experiences of children with specific learning profiles relative to the learning experiences of normally developing children. The data as presented within the case studies shows that how parents perceive and report on their child's early literacy provides a potent and relevant view of the child. The case studies also reinforce the importance of identifying, and monitoring in a detailed and informed way, children who learn at a slower rate. Teachers who understand, value and make use of the parent perspective will be better able to identify and support children who are different. Teachers and parents who share open and detailed portfolios about children will be in a better position to support learning and maintain continuity when inevitable and unexpected changes occur. Clinicians who support parents and teachers need to be aware of the different patterns of home literacy activities, of the learning trajectories of different students and of how those trajectories are reflected in the changing perceptions of teachers and parents.