Language learning environment of the senior kindergarten child
McCuaig, Marilyn Gail Luck
Master of Education
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The study describes the language learning environment of children in senior kindergarten. It focuses firstly, on the child and the contexts in which s/he uses language in the classroom, secondly, on the teaching-learning process and thirdly, on parenting behaviours which contribute to language development. An ethnographic field study was carried out in two senior kindergarten classrooms in one school during the 1986-87 school year. The study was comprised of two phases and incorporated both quantitative (traditional) and qualitative (naturalistic) methods of research. During Phase 1, data were collected from the early identification developmental checklist and system speech/language screening for all senior kindergarten children in the participating school. Classroom observations were made to gain background information on the students in each class, instructional methods, and setting. A theoretical/purposive sampling of six children was selected for the more in-depth second phase. Phase 2 data were collected through classroom observations of the individual children, analysis of documents and interviews with the children, their parents, the teacher and others. A profile was compiled on each child to illuminate the child's language development. Findings suggest some commonality to the parenting that either enables or disables the development of speech and language centring on variety of experiences, family stability and television viewing habits. There were indications that a more traditional curriculum in the kindergarten with elements of both the "academic" and the "child-centred" philosophies with some emphasis on "readiness" and "skill development" but at the same time adaptation of the curriculum and teaching techniques to accommodate individual differences assists in language development. Modelling and reinforcement and the frequent use of nursery rhymes and productive thinking skills were among the most effective means. In preparation for further learning, structure, routines and rules provide the security for the children to take risks. Provision of many opportunities for active involvement in meaningful language learning situations and a balance of skill development with open-ended activities provide the opportunity for creativity and varying levels of difficulty. An overemphasis on worksheets, however, may be counter-productive. A well-organized parent volunteer program in the kindergarten contributes greatly to both the comfort level in the classroom and the development of a cooperative community atmosphere throughout the school. It appears that early identification procedures in the kindergarten are not entirely effective in identifying the children at-risk due to language delay. There are indications that administrators and teachers should examine assessment and programming practices with an eye to providing the information and resources necessary to implement differentiated curriculum to address the varying degrees of language development of school entrants.