Exploring Early Literacy Instruction in VCCS Early Childhood Programs Across the State

Dulaney, Kristin, Curriculum and Instruction - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Dulaney, Kristin, Education Graduate-cug, University of Virginia

Children begin learning foundational early literacy skills from birth and make rapid progress during infancy, toddlerhood, and preschool (Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, 2015; Justice, 2006). During this critical time of rapid growth, children are often being cared for by early childcare providers who are often inadequately prepared to provide effective, developmentally appropriate instruction in the area of early literacy (Isenburg, 2000; Laughlin, 2013). Community colleges across the country offer early childhood programs that provide instruction in child development and effective teaching practices in hopes of increasing the quality of childcare currently provided (Early & Winston, 2001; NAEYC, 2010). In the Commonwealth of Virginia, community college programs offer two courses that specifically address early literacy instruction: CHD 118 Language Arts for Young Children and CHD 119 Introduction to Reading Methods. This capstone study explores the extent to which instructors of these courses at five community colleges address the five areas of early literacy development, which include phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, early writing, concepts of print, and oral language (National Early Literacy Panel (2008).
The goal of this capstone study was to analyze and describe the early literacy instruction provided in five Virginia Community College early childhood programs and compare that instruction to the evidence base regarding early literacy content, learning trajectories, and developmentally appropriate pedagogy. Results add insight into the content provided in five Virginia Community College early childhood programs by providing descriptive evidence of early literacy content, learning trajectories, and developmentally appropriate pedagogy. The results can potentially add to existing research on early childhood associate degree programs, guide future research, provide needed knowledge to inform changes in college curriculum, and guide professional development opportunities for current early childhood teachers.
To explore the content, learning trajectories, and developmentally appropriate pedagogy presented in early literacy courses, I used document analysis of course textbooks, PowerPoints, and syllabi, along with semi-structured instructor interviews, and class observations. For solely online courses that I could not observe face-to-face meetings, I was granted access to the course blackboard site to further explore class materials provided to students. Data analysis involved a three step, cyclical process including data reduction, data display, and conclusion drawing/verification.
Data analysis yielded strong evidence of early literacy instruction across all five participating sites; however, there were three main areas that could be enhanced. First, the areas of early writing and oral language could include a broader content focus. Second, as the content taught in each of these two areas is broadened, discussions around learning trajectories could address the skills surrounding composition (ideation) and handwriting (letter formation) in early writing as well as the pragmatics of oral language. Third, specific informal and formal assessments that relate to the five areas of early literacy development could be addressed more consistently across the five sites.
Implications and Recommendations
The implications of the findings led to the following three recommendations.
1. The results of this study should be shared at the next early childhood peer group conference to ensure participating instructors as well as other instructors across the state have access to this information.
2. The blackboard site where early childhood instructors across the state can share resources and ideas should include a space for instructors to share resources related to early literacy in general as well as specific areas related to this study’s findings.
3. Instructors should consider adding readings or other course materials related to broader, more inclusive definitions of early writing and oral language as well as specific early literacy assessments. These materials could be discussed in detail throughout community college early literacy courses, and instructors could consider adding specific assignments where students would apply their knowledge.
4. Instructors should consider how early literacy instruction can fit into the larger early childhood program. For example, early literacy assessments and field application could be integrated into courses focused on assessment and pragmatics of oral language could be discussed in courses related to working with families.
5. In this study, instructors provided a strong foundational knowledge of early literacy content, learning trajectories, and developmentally appropriate instruction. To strengthen application from the classroom to a real-life classroom, instructors should consider adding field application activities into the lab portion of early literacy courses in order to discuss real-life examples within the college course.

In an effort to provide recommendations for participating community college instructors as well as early childhood instructors across the state, recommendations address ways to share knowledge and resources that might improve current early literacy instruction provided to future early childhood providers and potentially to the children they serve.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
Early Literacy, Community College, Teacher Preparation
Issued Date: