Emergent Literacy: A Polyphony of Perspectives

CIERA Report #1-005

David B. Yaden, Jr., University of Southern California
Deborah W. Rowe, Vanderbilt University
Laurie MacGillivray, University of Southern California

CIERA Inquiry 1: Readers and Texts
What are the characteristics that currently define emergent literacy? How should researchers approach emerging literacy in new studies?

In this paper, Yaden et al. review current developments in the field of emergent literacy (the study of reading and writing behaviors that develop into conventional literacy). The review includes studies that look at preschoolers' emerging literacy in homes, day-care environments, and kindergartens and that focus on children's development of literacy knowledge and processes through holistic literacy events (storybook reading, play, etc.). Their overview of the literature convinces the authors of the need for a theoretical model to test the complex cognitive, social, and cultural explanations for emergent literacy. There is a need to explain individual differences, to design early reading instruction, and to decide what, when, and whether to provide it.

In order to develop and expand research and knowledge about emerging literacy, the authors recommend defining literacy more broadly to include linguistic and nonlinguistic communication. They also recommend changes in research methodology: (a) Researchers can no longer generalize findings to all students, but must examine a wider range of social, political, economic, and cultural understandings of literacy; and (b) researchers must move away from concepts like high vs. low and discover the strengths, factors of resilience, and ways in which students from underrepresented populations can be successful in school.

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Chapter forthcoming in Kamil, M., Mosenthal, P., Pearson, P. D., & Barr, R. (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. III). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.