Sharing the Looking Glass: Examining Action Research with Early Literacy Teachers in Lesotho, Africa

Hough, Tracy, Curriculum and Instruction - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Invernizzi, Marcia, Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education, Curry School of Education University of Virginia

For many developing countries, education holds the key to combating challenging economic, health, and social issues. Education and literacy are seen as a human rights issue that offers a gateway to economic and educational prosperity, informed health decisions, and the ability to contribute to society (Gove & Cvelich, 2011). Providing access to high-quality literacy instruction is at the forefront of educational policies and initiatives around the world as a means to ensure that all learners have access to the transformative powers of education (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 2014). Yet, understanding what early literacy practices work, for whom, under what conditions within challenging sociocultural and economic conditions remains elusive (Nag, Chiat, Torgerson, & Snowling, 2014). To improve instruction and provide quality early literacy instruction in developing countries, it is important to identify literacy practices appropriate for addressing areas of need within the local context (Dubeck, Jukes, Booker, Drake, & Inyega, 2015; Pretorius, 2014; Sailors et al., 2014).
This study grew out of the grass-roots efforts of the principal and teachers at a small, rural elementary school, Mountain Kingdom Primary School (a pseudonym), in Lesotho, Africa, to provide their learners with quality literacy instruction. Through the use of participatory action research, a working partnership between the researcher and the teachers was created as a means to help participants identify problems in early literacy instruction from Reception (kindergarten) to Grade 3 and create an action plan designed to address the instructional needs within their local context. The study consisted of an 11-day onsite study in Lesotho, Africa. During the study, classroom observations, interviews, and documents were collected to identify challenges and supports to early literacy instruction. Findings from the study indicated that one of the major challenges to literacy at Mountain Kingdom Primary School was a lack of literacy instructional materials in the learners’ native language, Sesotho and second language, English. Literacy instruction failed to address early literacy skills that are important to developing reading in the early primary grades: phonemic awareness, word recognition, oral reading fluency, and writing. Instructional practices focused on teacher dominated talk and call and response, which led to low student engagement within the lessons. The learners had fewer opportunities to develop higher order thinking skills and use literacy to develop reading and writing skills. From classroom observations and teacher interviews, several important supports were identified that could be leveraged to improve instruction. First, the teachers and learners valued literacy and wanted to become literate. Teachers were committed to academic achievement and wanted to improve their learners’ literacy instruction. When given the opportunity, learners were very motivated to engage in the lessons. Desire and motivation were two very important dispositional factors that could be leveraged to improve practice. With the help of the teachers and principal, an action plan was created to prioritized the verified areas of need and address the challenges to instruction. The teachers and researcher identified three main challenges to address: access to print, opportunities for learners to be more actively engaged in the learning process, and development of the teachers’ knowledge of the reading process and instructional practices to support early literacy skills. This study focused on the first two phases of the participatory action research cycle, verifying the problems of practice and developing an action plan to improve practice. The next phase of the participatory action research cycle will be for the teachers at Mountain Kingdom Primary School to participate in professional workshops designed to support their understanding of early literacy. As part of the recommendations, an extensive plan was designed to support changes in their instructional practices.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
Foundation Phase Literacy, Early Literacy , Early Literacy in Developing Countries, Supporting English Language Learners in Developing Countries, Foundation Phase Literacy in Lesotho, Africa
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