Kindergarteners

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Published on October 20, 2008

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Kindergarteners’ Access to Free-Reading Books Addressing Disability, Diversity, and Poverty : Kindergarteners’ Access to Free-Reading Books Addressing Disability, Diversity, and Poverty Chavis-Locklear, Y., Petersen, R., Tarvestad-Berg, D., Yale, E., King, J., and Lindstedt, E. Department of Rehabilitation Sciences-Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011 Introduction Methods References Results Discussion Acknowledgements Conclusions Abstract A special thanks to all of the kindergarten teachers, nurses, and principals at John Q Thomas Elementary School, Lura Kinsey Elementary School, and Puente de Hozho Bilingual Elementary School. Do kindergarteners’ free-reading books reflect the life experiences of their classroom communities in terms of disability, diversity, and poverty? Free-reading books in nine Title I Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) kindergarten classrooms were examined and categorized for any depiction of disability, diversity, and poverty. In addition, teachers in the participating classrooms responded to each of the following questions: 1) what are the selection criteria for free-reading books in your classroom, 2) are special efforts made to purchase books that reflect disability, diversity, and poverty themes, 3) how much time is allotted for daily free-reading, 4) are the free-reading books rotated and if so, how often, and 5) what dictates book rotations? The results of this study indicated free-reading books do not sufficiently represent the participating kindergarteners’ life experiences with disability, diversity and poverty in the nine classrooms studied. United States Department of EducationOffice of Special Education ProgramsPersonnel Preparation Grant: 84.325H Bopp, J., Bopp, M., Brown, L. & Lane, P. (1985). The Sacred Tree. (p. i). Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada: Four Worlds International Institute for Human and Community Development. Craig, S., Hull, K., Haggart, A.G., & Crowder E. (2001). Storytelling: Addressing the literacy needs of diverse learners. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33, 46-51. Gutierrez-Clellen, V.F. (1999). Mediating literacy skills in Spanish-speaking children with special needs. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 30, 285-292. Harris, J.L. (2003). Toward an understanding of literacy issues in multicultural school-age populations. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 34, 17-19. Reyhner, J., & Cockrum, W. (2001). Reading, language, culture, and ethnic minority students. In P. R. Schmidt & P. B. Mosenthal (Eds.), Reconceptualizing literacy in the new age of multiculturalism and pluralism (pp. 163-85). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing. Shaughnessy, A., & Sanger, D. (2005). Kindergarten teachers’ perceptions of language and literacy development, speech-language pathologists, and language interventions. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 26, 67-84. Westby, C. (2005). Language, culture, and literacy. The ASHA Leader, 16-30. It is widely believed that books should reflect the values and life experiences of the children who read them. Researchers have found that children use their cultural and linguistic experiences when comprehending text in books (Harris, 2003). “If [children] find the reading material they do have access to is too difficult, boring, or unrelated to their lives, they will avoid reading and their progress as readers will be stalled” (Reyhner & Cockrum, 2001, p.164). Furthermore, if reading material is simply not available to children, efforts to get them to read will be negatively affected. Yet, due to life circumstances, many children do not have access to books at home and for this group of children, their first and only access to books may be those in their classrooms. Such access is crucial because it is through experience with books that children gain important exposure to written language and carefully selected books have the opportunity to confirm their values and life experience. This study was conducted in nine kindergarten classrooms at three Title I FUSD schools. Each classroom’s free-reading books were examined to determine the extent to which disability, diversity, and poverty were represented in their content. Data collected from each of the schools included: student enrollment, percentage of students eligible for free and/or reduced lunch, disability, and ethnicity. Disability and ethnicity data were further defined to those present in the kindergarten classrooms. Also, participating teachers completed surveys which addressed the following free-reading book criteria: selection, rotation, and daily time allotted for free-reading. The results of this study were compared category-by-category and collapsed due to consistencies in findings across the schools. Percent differences were calculated between the children’s experiences with and/or exposure to disability, diversity, and poverty and the representation of those life experiences in the content of their free-reading books. Of the kindergarteners studied, 26% have documented disabilities, while only 5% of their free-reading books contained disability themes, reflecting a 21% difference between documented disabilities and disability related content in their free-reading books was noted. While 68% of the kindergarteners came from ethnically diverse backgrounds, only 45% of their free-reading books contained ethnically diverse content, resulting in a 23% difference between their life experiences with diversity and that content reflected in their free-reading books. Finally, 63% of the kindergarteners qualified for free and/or reduced lunch, however only 7% of their free-reading books contained content that reflected low socioeconomic status, resulting in a 56% difference between the children’s life experiences with poverty and that content acknowledged in their free-reading books. For the nine classrooms participating in this study, these data revealed that the kindergarteners’ life experiences with disability, diversity, and poverty are underrepresented in the content of their available free-reading books. Of the three categories examined, the depiction of disability most closely represents kindergarteners’ experiences with and/or exposure to disabilities, followed by the depiction of diversity and their experiences with diversity. The greatest disparity arose between kindergarteners’ experiences with poverty and the books that reflected that theme. Of the three participating Title I schools, one is a tri-lingual magnet school, containing Navajo/English and Spanish/English kindergarten classrooms. Interestingly, this school exhibited the fewest number of books depicting diversity when compared to the other two schools with only English-speaking kindergarten classrooms. Participating teachers were asked the following questions to determine how books were chosen, rotated and the accessibility children had to them. The results indicated that that all but one teacher made a special effort to purchase books that reflect disability, diversity, and poverty themes, with four teachers specifically focusing on diversity when purchasing books. One third of the teachers noted that the classroom books were chosen and rotated according to specific classroom themes or skills being taught at particular times in the semester. Two teachers indicated the children select and thereby rotate the books following their weekly library visits. One teacher presented no specific selection criteria beyond choosing books thought to be fun for and interesting to the children. Overall, time allotted per day for free reading ranged from 10-30 minutes. The results of this study reveal that free-reading books available to kindergarteners disproportionately reflect their life experiences and classroom community demographics, specifically with regard to disability, diversity, and poverty. Even so, limitations of this study exist, including: (1) a limited sample size; only nine FUSD kindergarten classrooms participated, and (2) limited data collection points; data were collected on a single visit to each classroom. Teacher survey responses suggest that if data were collected over the course of the school year, the availability of books depicting disability, diversity, and/or poverty themes might fluctuate. Nonetheless, the free-reading books available to this group of kindergarteners do not proportionally expose them to the incidence of disability, diversity, and poverty within their schools and/or classrooms. Inadequate exposure to books that contain these themes puts kindergarteners at a disadvantage. Stated simply, the disparity between children’s experiences and the books they are exposed to leads them to visualize a world other than their own or that of their classmates. Moreover, such disparity potentially devalues the diverse roles and contributions of all children in the classroom and school community, as well as their experiences with disabilities, and their place in society in spite of their socioeconomic status. In fact, research shows that children with exposure to books relating to disability, diversity, and poverty gain a realistic foundation for circumstances within their society and are therefore better able to learn, understand, accept, and relate to their peers. What recommendations can be made to offset the potential harmful consequences of storybook conventions that persistently force a reader to visualize the world as mainstream, non-disabled, and one where families do not struggle? In particular, teachers can play key roles in acknowledging children’s overall life experiences. One way to approach this important opportunity is for teachers to 1) carefully select books that appropriately reflect their students’ life experiences with and/or exposure to disability, diversity, and poverty, 2) adequately distribute them within the free-reading literature of the classroom, and 3) increase opportunities for their students’ access to books that reflect experiences with disabilities, the value of diversity, the special roles and contributions of all children and their place in the world in spite of their circumstances. To support teachers in this effort, a kindergarten – 2nd grade book reference list depicting disability, diversity and poverty themes is available as a handout. Percentage

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