Literacyin the 21st century extends far beyond its traditional meaning ofbeing able to read and write. This ever-evolving term now encompasses anindividual’s capacity to critically appreciate, reflect, empathise, express,interpret information and construct meaning from a text. It also involvesstrong elements of social interactions and communication like oral language,printed text and non-printed text (Cambridge Assessment, 2013; DES, 2011; INTO, 2001).
Literacy is a developmental process that occurs across the lifespan and it isamong one of the most valuable life skills taught in schools (Alexander, 2005; Brown, 2014).Both the 1999 and the new language curriculum recognise the importance of cultivatingpositive attitudes to reading and for children to appreciate the value oflanguage (Ireland, 1999) .The story approachto literacy involves the description of a series ofevents that are either fiction or non-fiction. For example, the lessonsplanned in Artefact 3 were based on the true story of a young, Paraguayan girlnamed Ada who lived in a town built on a landfill. This magical story followsAda as she overcomes insurmountable odds to makes her dream of becoming a musiciana reality.
Numerous studies highlight the importance and positive effect thestory approach has on a child’s literacy development. This pedagogical strategyhas shown to influence language acquisition and is an excellent way ofintroducing and contextualisingnew language to young learners. Further, one of the most significant influencesof using a story approach to literacy in the early years of primary school isthat it can enhance literacy in both reading and writing, creating a platformfor literacy activities in the classroom (Al-Mansour & Al-Shorman, 2011; Justice,Kaderavek, Fan, Sofka, & Hunt, 2009; Miller & Pennycuff, 2008; Newman,1996).
Early childhoodis a fundamental time period for learning and it plays a vital role in thedevelopment of literacy skills. Its significance is such that a 2012 report onLiteracy in Early Childhood and Primary Education identified the engagement ofchildren in storybook reading and discussion as a key pedagogical practice inearly literacy development (Kennedy et al., 2012). The pedagogical practicesemployed in the early years are thereforeof utmost importance. When learning to read and write, children are firstrequired to first develop foundation skills like word recognition, phonics aswell as phonological and phonemic awareness (Brown, 2014; NCCA, 2015). These emergent literacyskills help children acquire the knowledge, behaviours, skills and language that ultimately form thefoundations for later competence and proficiency in reading. Oral language is highly correlated withboth reading and writing.
It essentially forms the foundation of early literacydevelopment, with studies showing it to be a prerequisite for success in theacquisition of writing and reading with comprehension (Dickinson& Tabors, 2002; Lawrence & Snow, 2011; NEPS, 2016; Rose, 2006). As most children up to the age ofseven have limited reading skills, a large majority of both the content and thinkingprocesses outlined in Aistear and the Primary school curriculum depend on orallanguage (Shiel, Archer, Mc Gough, & Creagan, 2012). With research reporting thatthose who don’t find it difficult to keep pace with their classmates in lateryears, it is imperative that children develop strong oral language skillsduring their early years of primary school (Roskos, Tabors, & Lenhart, 2009). A story approach to literacy is an excellentway of advocating extensive oral language in the classroom. It fosterscommunication and provides children with a plethora of opportunities to engagein meaningful oral language activities (Isbell, Sobol, Lindauer, & Lowrance, 2004;Kaderavek & Justice, 2002; NEPS, 2016; Shiel et al., 2012).
For example, in the abovelessons, the students were questioned throughout and they discussed both thetext and illustrations in the book in great detail. It is also important thatchildren are exposed to a high-quality literacy environment in their homes asthis helps to further develop their vocabulary, build different readingstrategies and can have a significant effect on a child’s success in literacyinstruction at school (Manolitsis, Georgiou, & Tziraki, 2013; NEPS, 2016;Saracho & Spodek, 2010). The storyapproach to literacy in the early years of primary school has many associatedbenefits.
One such benefit includes that stories naturally integrate their way into other subjects in the primarycurriculum, often containing a range of geographical, historical, sociologicaland cultural information (Ellis,Brewster, & Wright, 2014; MLPSI, 2011). ‘Ada’s Violin’ for example, providescontext for a project on creating objects from recycling materials in art,learning about other cultures in Geography and recycling in S.P.H.
E.The motivation aspect of using a story approach to literacy is one of its mostattractive features. Its relevance is such that it is listed as learningoutcome in the new primary language curriculum (NEPS, 2016; Ireland, 2015). As reading successfully is acritical motivator for reading, teachers should always ensure to select booksfrom a wide-range of genres. The books itself should be of interest to thereader, intrinsically enjoyable, challenging and socially meaningful to them (NEPS, 2016; Tyner, 2009). The book should also have alogical story-line, contain memorable characters and be suitable for the age ofthe child. For example, as ‘Ada’s Violin’ is recommended for children aged 4-8,the book was chosen for children at the beginning of 2nd class (TheBook Depository, 2016: Simon & Schuster, 2016). It also it follows a clearstory-line of Ada on her journey to becoming a violinist and Ada, her familyand Chávez are all extremelymemorable individuals.
Selecting appropriate books is often a challengingaspect of using a story approach to literacy in the early years. This can bemade further challenging for teachers in schools that do not have an extensiveschool library and so their choice for selection is limited (Coghlan, 2003). An emerging body of research has shown the power stories have inbringing emotions to life (Krznaric, 2015; Nikolajeva, 2013). One benefit of the story approach toliterature is that is the children learn to empathise with and discuss thefeelings of the characters and the various dilemmas they must overcome. ‘Ada’sViolin’ is a book that can be used to introduce the concept for empathy tochildren where they can empathise with the daily struggles Ada endures.Stories often containan interesting storyline that can help extend and consolidate a child’sknowledge on various topics.