‘Once upon a time…’; literacy and life outcomes

booksOne of the aims we set out when we began this blog was to signpost to our students new research reports which would be crucial for them to consider as those who are going to be part of the early years work force. In this way they can develop an understanding of how research informs practice.  It is with this intention in mind that this week we have chosen to focus on an important recent report by the National Literacy Trust which finds clear links between literacy levels and life expectancy.

A key teaching approach we often use when working with students is to get them to question assumed practices and common-sense notions of how to work with young children. One way we can do this is to look beyond the media headlines and keep up to date with what relevant research is saying. At the same time, we stress the importance of adopting a critical lens to weigh up the findings of such reports. For example, Gary Thomas talks about the importance both of ‘spotting bias’ (p. 70) and also ‘an awareness that knowledge is frail, not fixed, and that you should approach everything you read and hear with a questioning mind’ (ibid).The headlines behind the National Literacy Trust report are startling; the claims the authors make are informed by a vast array of large scale, predominantly quantitative research studies.

One such claim is that a lack of appropriate literacy skills can profoundly affect the health outcomes of an individual.  For example, they suggest that ‘a boy growing up in a ward with one of the highest vulnerabilities to literacy problems in the country has a life expectancy 26.1 years shorter than a boy growing up in a ward with one of the lowest vulnerabilities to literacy problems’ (p. 5).  At the same time, they demonstrate how local initiatives can positively address these issues.

We can look at case studies of particular early years settings to see how they can both support children and work with parents in developing those vital early literacy skills.  For example, St Edmund’s Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Bradford has worked with parents to put together wonderful resources to support them in developing their child’s literacy skills. Other reports such as the SEED report ‘Good Practice in Early Education’ (2017) include both the parents’ and the practitioners’ voice to describe good practice that others could learn from. In this way we can see how research can inform our practice.

We may not be able to impact change on a wider scale but we can impact on outcomes for the children we come into contact with. Do look at the Literacy Trust website which is rich with resources and ideas.  Alternatively, do let us know how you are supporting young children in developing their literacy skills by commenting below.

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