What’s in their backpacks : pre-kindergartners’ literacy practices from home to school and back

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Scott, Deana Jill Allen

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Pre-kindergarten students often arrive the first day of school carrying a backpack filled with supplies which they are eager to use. Inside these backpacks are scissors, glue, and crayons. This study proposes that the pre-kindergartners are also carrying another backpack, their literacy backpack holding all of their literacy skills and practices that they use every day at home. This qualitative case study examined these literacies brought from home in the students’ figurative literacy backpacks. The study also focused on their teachers’ literacy views and practices. The study was conducted in three parts. First, through field observations and interviews with parents, the literacy practices occurring at home were identified and examined. Unique “literacy stories” were crafted from the data for each of the pre-kindergartners and shared with their parents. Part two of the study examined the two pre-kindergarten teachers’ literacy practices through semi-structured interviews. The impact of external forces (e.g. state and federal mandates, school curriculum, grant requirements, and trainings) on the views and practices of the pre-kindergarten teachers was discussed. These external forces stress the development of formal literacies, thus modeling a narrow definition of literacy. Part three of the study focused on sharing the students’ “literacy stories” with their teachers and examining the teachers’ reactions to the stories. Data from the interviews following reading the stories pointed to the teachers’ acknowledging the multiple literacies found in the homes of their students and a desire to learn more about their families’ literacy practices in order to utilize them in the classroom. The students’ “literacy stories” proved to be a valuable tool in expanding the teachers’ definition of literacy. The stories helped the teachers broaden their views of literacy to include literacy practices that occur in many different cultural and social contexts; adopting a definition more in line with the socio-cultural development of literacy and the NLS concepts (Street, 2003). Using this definition, multiple literacies will be made visible in the classrooms and connections from home to school can be made allowing students to strengthen their existing literacies and expand them to incorporate other literacies.



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