Preschool caregiver perceptions of the effect of gender on literacy skills.
According to the U.S. department of Education (2001), more than 70% of children between the ages of three and six attend either a center-based preschool or a daycare facility (Child Stats, 2003). Thus, transforming existing early education programs into centers of excellence that provide high-quality, early education to young children has become crucial (United States Department of Education, n.d.). Moreover, Lynch (2000) asserted that, "Because reading permeates the entire school curriculum, young children's reading achievement is profoundly related to their academic success" (p. 55). Additionally, it has been established that preschool and kindergarten teachers as well as caregivers have a tremendous impact on the development of young children's literacy skills and academic achievement (National Dropout Prevention Center, 2002). The National Dropout Prevention Center (2002) also indicated that children who are read to and are immersed in literacy-rich environments grow up to be readers, writers, and successful learners. Lynch (2002) stated that in order to increase reading achievement, the elements affecting children's success must be identified.
The purpose of this study was to examine preschool caregivers' perceptions of the effect of gender on literacy skills. Specifically, this research was informed by the following three lines: literacy skills that are commonly addressed during the preschool years, the effect of gender on literacy skills, and the influence of gender differences on self-perceptions of literacy. Much of the research related to the effect of gender on literacy skills has been conducted with populations that are in the elementary age range and above. However, this study targets the preschool age group. The information gained from this study could be used to inform educational leaders and policy makers of the importance of addressing gender differences in literacy.
Three lines of research involving the effect of gender on the attainment of skills related to literacy guided this study. The first line of research involves identification of the literacy skills that are commonly addressed during preschool-level activities related to literacy development. The second line of research entails the investigation of the impact of gender differences on literacy. Finally, the third line of research addresses the influences of gender differences on self-perceptions of literacy proficiency.
Preschool Literacy Skills
Literacy includes all the activities involved in speaking, listening, reading, writing, and comprehending both spoken and written language (National Institute for Literacy, 2003). "It is a learned skill, not a biological awakening" (United States Department of Education, n.d.). Finally, the National Reading Panel (1999) defines literacy as "having the reading skills adequate to become self sufficient, stay current with developing innovations and knowledge, and progress in jobs and lifestyle" (p. 12).
According to the United States Department of Education (n.d .) in January, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, which reinforced the importance of the development of children's literacy skills beginning in the early years. Programs related to this legislation such as Reading First and Early Reading First have been implemented in elementary schools and preschools across the United States to promote literacy. The implementation of programs with a specific focus on literacy substantiates the growing concern of educators, researchers and policymakers that many of the nation's children begin kindergarten without the necessary foundation to fully benefit from formal school instruction (United States Department of Education, n.d.).
According to the Mississippi Pre-Kindergarten Curriculum (2001), several basic literacy skills should be emphasized and introduced during the early childhood years. First, early childhood educators should create activities to promote the development of phonological and print awareness. Additionally, the oral language development and listening skills of preschoolers should be frequently reinforced. Finally, preschool caregivers should develop activities to encourage critical thinking skills.
The National Institute for Literacy (2003) indicated that research has shown that young children need various kinds of activities and opportunities in order to become skilled and confident readers. Specifically, children should be involved in activities during which they can interact with adults in order to develop knowledge associated with spoken language, phonological awareness, letters, listening skills, and book reading (National Institute for Literacy, 2003). Based on the research of Vukelich, Christie, and Enz (2002), effective early childhood teachers and caregivers engage children in several activities to facilitate early literacy development. First, instructors of young children establish a classroom environment that is print-rich and conducive to student collaboration during work and recreation. Also, effective early childhood instructors model good literacy practices and encourage children to undertake activities conducive to development of beginning writing and reading skills. Additionally, early childhood educators strive to connect literacy and play by integrating reading and writing activities into play settings. Furthermore, early childhood educators utilize language for meaningful purposes and implement authentic measures of proficiency. Finally, these instructors demonstrate sensitivity in regard to individual needs related to individuality, ethnicity, developmental level, and linguistic needs (Vukelich, Christie, Enz, 2002).
Good literacy programs must include enriched literary environments, direct instruction in sound-symbol correspondence (Morrow, 2005), and the whole language approach to reading (National Dropout Prevention Center, 2002). According to National Dropout Prevention Center (2002), literacy-rich environments encourage children to interact and engage at their own particular pace and level of understanding. Additionally, Morrow (2005) stated that early childhood programs that promote and nurture early literacy development require a literacy-rich environment, which is an interdisciplinary approach to the development of literacy, and recognition of individual differences and levels of development. McGee & Richgels (2000) indicated that the following characteristics are typical of high-quality literacy environments: open room arrangement and materials for a variety of activities, regular scheduling of literacy events throughout the day, frequent coordination of opportunities promoting parent and child interaction, and the utilization of high-quality literacy materials and a wide variety instructional methods. Mirroring the research of Vukelich, Christie, and Enz (2002), National Dropout Prevention Center (2002) suggested that in order to promote preschool literacy skills, the classroom setting should be cognitively stimulating; encouraging children to explore the meaning of print and words. Furthermore, Morrow & Tracey (1997) verified that the physical design of the classroom (specifically the arrangement of materials) impacts children's literacy development by influencing the learning center they select. This signifies that early childhood educators must organize the environment in a manner that promotes literacy development. Additionally, this study further substantiates the research of National Dropout Prevention Center (2002), which indicated that children who are read to and are immersed in literacy-rich environments grow up to be readers, writers, and successful learners.
Another component necessary for effective literacy programs is direct instruction in sound-symbol correspondence. Specifically, direct instruction refers to strategies that include phonemic awareness, phonics, and the "mechanics" of language such as the sounds that make up the words (National Dropout Prevention Center, 2002). Moreover, awareness of the letters and their corresponding sounds is critical to the development of word reading strategies.
A supplementary element of high-quality literacy environments is the utilization of the Whole Language Approach. The National Dropout Prevention Center (2002) described the Whole Language Approach as a collection of methods involving open-ended, naturalistic, and contextual approaches to teaching pre-reading skills. Literary environments in child care and preschool settings should include many different age-appropriate and readily accessible books and resource materials that encourage language exploration (National Dropout Prevention Center, 2002). The research of Morrow (2005) indicated that teachers and caregivers should focus on language-based experiences that include listening, reading, writing, and spelling. Additionally, children should be immersed in quality literature and related materials that have context and meaning (National Dropout Prevention Center, 2002).
Historically, educational leaders have sought to determine the instructional strategies that facilitate the development of literacy skills (Stewart, 2004). The most recent research indicated that children learn best through the combination of both whole language and phonics--a balanced approach (National Dropout Prevention Center, 2002). Therefore, preschool teachers and caregivers have a responsibility to establish a learning environment where children have adequate opportunities to explore books, to be read to and to write and scribble (National Dropout Prevention Center, 2002).
To sum up, literacy involves various skills necessary for current and future academic success. Additionally, the federal government has established programs and initiatives to promote and reinforce early literacy skills. Finally, preschool caregivers should create literacy-rich environments, develop activities conducive to the development of literacy skills and utilize appropriate instructional approaches to address the needs of young children.
Impact of Gender on Literacy
According to Thompson (1987), "There are some strands of evidence which suggest differences between individuals, and between the sexes, in the extent of use of alternative cognitive process during the learning of reading skills" (p.212). Thompson (1987) further asserted that during the process of learning to read, boys relied more heavily upon the phonological, segmented elements of words than did girls.
Three separate studies were conducted in order to fully investigate gender differences in word reading processes. The first study involved 87 participants (50 boys, 37 girls) with mean ages of 7 years, 5 months and 7 years, 4 months, respectively. The participants were shown several words in rapid succession. Some of the words were nonsense words, constructed to test the student's phonological skills. The findings of the first study indicated that the female participants relied more heavily upon complex processing, rather than distinct phonological sounds. The results of the second study, which involved all the participants from the first study and a younger group of students (6 years 6 months), closely mirrored the findings of the first study. The children were shown several single-syllable words (actual terms) and their accuracy rates were recorded. It was determined that the male participants read fewer words successfully than did the female participants. Additionally, the results of the younger group were inconclusive because the error rate (approximately 50%) for the group was deemed "too high to give meaningful results". Finally, the younger participants that took part in the second study were asked to read words that had been broken into smaller segments. The same words from study two were used for this third and final inquiry. The majority of the segments involved the separation of the initial portion of the word, but some of the words were segmented at the end. The findings indicated that the success of the male participants depended more heavily upon the consistency of the phonological segments than did the female participants. These findings reinforced the existence of the influence of gender on differences in literacy skills.
The results of the research of Lynch (2002) validated Thompson's (1987) findings, and confirmed that gender can influence reading achievement. Though this study focused more broadly upon parents' self-efficacy beliefs, parents' gender, children's gender, self-perceptions, reading achievement and gender; the findings were reiterative. A sample of 66 children, ages 8 and 9, and 92 parents living in rural areas in Canada, were selected to participate in the study. First, parents completed questionnaires relating to their perceptions of the student's reading achievement. Afterwards, the children took part in a questionnaire concerned with perceptions of their own reading achievement, and the Test of Early Reading Ability (TERA -2). The findings of this study which are related to this particular line of research indicated that gender differences in reading achievement are apparent. Specifically, female students scored higher than male students in the area of alphabetic knowledge, which can be disadvantageous to boys in later grades (Lynch, 2000).
Additionally, Gambell & Hunter (2000) performed research to determine gender differences in literacy in Canadian public schools; in particular, the factors influencing female students' traditional superior reading proficiency. Gambell & Hunter (2000) obtained a random sample of questionnaire data from a 33-item questionnaire (assessing demographic traits, curricular issues, parental and home qualities, writing styles, and self appraisal) from students taking reading and writing assessments in 1994, for a total sample of 36,000 participants, whose ages ranged from 13 to 16. In addition, the researchers also reported descriptive statistics from gender subgroups from these assessments. The authors stated that female students outperformed male students on each section of the assessment (reading and writing) in both the 13-year-old and 16-year-old age groups.
Furthermore, Gambell & Hunter (2000) suggested that the following five factors contribute to the gender gap in reading achievement: division of family labor, character-personification, classroom interaction, assessment bias, and identification with genre, based on existing literature. The division of family labor factor involves students' imitation of same-sex parent practices as observed in the home environment. For example, if reading is viewed as an activity explicitly carried out by female family members, it is possible that this affects the propensity of male students to engage in reading activities. The element of character-personification involves the conjecture that "students identify through characterization in their reading, and they recreate themselves through characters in their writing" (Gambell & Hunter, 2000, p. 694). Basically, this implies that students tend to prefer reading about characters much like themselves, and are inclined to include more or only same-gender characters in individual compositions. In turn, these literacy experiences can influence their perceptions of appropriate gender roles and likelihood of engaging in reading activities. Gambell & Hunter (2000) also proposed that the classroom interaction factor is based on the premise that "students' communicative responses are shaped not primarily by the characters in narrative texts or by the type of text, but rather by the nature of interaction with the teacher and other students in the classroom" (p.696). This element highlights the critical nature of meaningful, encouraging student-teacher and peer interactions. Assessment bias is another factor that can contribute to gender differences in reading achievement (Gambell & Hunter, 2000). Specifically, test-item bias can greatly impact the accuracy of the measurement of a subgroup's scores (Gambell & Hunter, 2000). Finally, identification with genre can affect gender differences in reading achievement. This phenomenon occurs when students particularly identify with a particular variety of literature or with the instructor teaching the text. The authors maintain that each of these factors can contribute to the persistent gender gap (favoring female students) that is present in measure of reading achievement.
Moss (2000) indicated that the information involving gender differences and reading achievement has indicated that generally, "boys do less well than gifts at reading, almost regardless of the criteria used to assess competence" (p. 101). Additionally, the author asserted that limited information exists concerning the causes of these gender-specific discrepancies and the manner in which educators should address them (Moss, 2000). The research of Moss (2000) involved the collection of ethnographic data related to The Fact of Fiction Project, a two-year study with the purpose of determining whether a relationship existed between boys' inclination to choose non-fiction literature and their successive underachievement. The researchers collected data throughout the span of the project pertaining to students aged seven through nine in the form of from classroom observations, interviews with parents, children, and teachers, parent questionnaires, and photographs (Moss, 2000).
The findings of the study resulted in the formation of three categories of readers: "... those who can and do read freely, those who can but don't read freely, and those who can't yet and don't read freely" (Moss, 2000, p.102). The researcher discovered that more male students were categorized in the can't yet/don't and can/don't, with more female students classified in the can/do category. The author proposed that the reason that boys tend to perform less proficiently than girls stems from their perceptions related to their "status as readers", which involves parent and teacher modeling and encouragement received in the home and school environments (Moss, 2000, p. 104). Additionally, the results indicated that the reader's public status contributes to gender differences that exist in the amount of time spent reading texts, level of difficulty of material selected, and self-perceptions that are influenced by reading proficiency. Finally, Moss (2000) suggested that teachers and parents should seek to establish and reinforce children's competencies in reading.
To sum up, it is apparent that gender does influence literacy skills (Thompson, 1987; Lynch, 2002). Additionally, female students typically outperform male students on measurements of reading and writing (Gambell & Hunter, 2000; Moss, 2000). Based upon these findings, it is vital to acknowledge and address the gender gap in reading at an early age.
Influences of gender differences on self-perceptions of literacy proficiency
Burnett (1996) reported that self-concept varies considerably depending upon gender and age. Data in the form of "teacher statements, student self-talk, and academic self-concepts" was obtained from 957 children in grades 3-7 and indicated that male students' self-concepts were typically higher in math and kinesthetic abilities, while the self-concepts of female students were higher in areas such as reading, school, and parental perceptions (Burnett, 1996, p.162).
Subsequent research by Burnett & Proctor (2002) confirmed that a notable connection existed between self-concept and academic achievement. Participants for this study were 580 6th and 7th grade students from 24 classes that were enrolled in several publicly-funded schools in Australia. Data collection involved the measurement of students' self-concepts using scales developed by the researcher and approaches to learning using the ALI (Approaches to Learning Instrument). The results of the study revealed that "Girls recorded higher levels of reading and school self-concept, and for deep learning approaches" ... whereas boys scored higher in the area of surface learning. These results indicate a need to address the gender differences that exist in self-concept.
This study was informed by three lines of research from which corresponding research questions were created in order to investigate preschool caregivers' perceptions of the effect of gender on literacy skills. Additionally, for purposes of this study, a preschool caregiver is defined as an employee of a preschool whose chief duties involve the instruction and supervision of children. The first research question is directly related to the first line of research, which involves the identification of literacy skills that are commonly included in preschool literacy activities. Previous research associated with this line identifies several key skills that are generally addressed during this developmental period such as speaking, listening, reading, writing, and appreciating both spoken and written language (National Institute for Literacy 2003). The second and third research questions correspond directly with the second line of research, which seeks to explore the degree to which literacy skills differ across gender. Related studies indicate that gender does impact literacy skills as well as overall academic achievement. The fourth and final research question, which follows the third line of research deals with the differences in self-perceptions by gender and their impact on literacy skills. The research associated with this line of research identifies the impact of self-perceptions on literacy and learning. The specific research questions associated with this research are as follows:
(1) What type of literacy skills are commonly included in preschool literacy activities?
(2) How does the level of proficiency of literacy skills differ in males and females?
(3) What are some of the specific word-reading strategies utilized by the students?
(a) How do male and female students differ in the utilization of phonological strategies?
(b) How do male and female students differ in the use of sight word recognition?
(4) How do self-perceptions related to reading achievement differ from male to female students?
(a) How do the self-perceptions related to reading ability affect reading proficiency?
(b) How do the self-perceptions related to reading proficiency affect attitudes towards reading activities?
The purpose of this study was to examine preschool caregivers' perceptions of the effect of gender on literacy skills. Specifically, this research was informed by the following three lines: literacy skills that are commonly addressed during the preschool years, the effect of gender on literacy skills, and the influence of gender differences on self-perceptions of literacy proficiency. Much of the research related to the effect of gender on literacy skills has been conducted with populations that are in the elementary age range and above. However, this study targets the preschool age group. Preschool caregivers were enlisted as participants for this study because of their knowledge of literacy skills addressed at this age, their extended interactions with and observations of the students, and the assumed inability of students of this age to provide explanation pertaining to this topic.
The research was conducted at a university-based child care facility with an ethnically diverse student population. The researchers conducted two interviews with each participant (one structured, one unstructured), observed the participants twice in classroom settings, and collected archival data related to the lines of research. Subsequently, the data obtained from the interviews, observations, and archival sources were examined in an effort to identify specific trends and information relative to each research question. The findings identified in this study could be utilized by preschool caregivers and parents during the development and implementation of activities that encourage literacy development.
Aiken Village Preschool is a university-based institution located in the east-central region of Mississippi. Aiken Village is NAYCE (National Association For Young Children's Education) accredited, employs 6 full-time caregivers, and serves approximately 34 students. Additionally, many early childhood and elementary education practicum students volunteer at Aiken Village each semester. The preschool is divided into two separate classrooms (one for three-year-olds and one for four-year-olds) with restrooms in each, the director's office, the kitchen, and a supply room. Outdoors, behind the preschool, is a large play area with many items such as a large sandbox area, playground equipment, tricycles, and other large toys to facilitate outdoor recreation and learning.
Purposive sampling was used for purposes of this research. The five participants selected for the study were all female and full-time employees of the preschool. Additionally, four of the participants were Caucasian, one participant was African-American and they ranged in age from 30-45. Furthermore, two of the participants were based in the three-year-old classroom while the remaining three were in charge of the four-year-old classroom.
Case studies of each of the caregivers were conducted to examine preschool caregivers' perceptions of the effect of the gender on literacy. According to Merriam (1998), qualitative research methods provide extremely thorough means of investigation through rich, holistic descriptions of the environment and the context in which the phenomenon occurs. Furthermore, the researchers determined that the perceptions of the caregivers could be most comprehensively researched through the utilization of qualitative research methods. By establishing and maintaining contact with the caregivers and collecting data from different sources (interviews, observations, and documents), the researchers sought to achieve a more complete idea of the caregivers perceptions of the effect of gender on literacy.
Researchers established rapport with the participants during the initial interview and maintained contact throughout the course of the research during subsequent interviews and classroom observations. Additionally, each researcher strived to sustain positive and responsive communication with the participants during the entire data collection process. The participants were also fully informed of the purposes of the research and provided written and verbal assurances of confidentiality, as required by the Regulatory Compliance Agency at Mississippi State University. Furthermore, the researchers also conveyed verbal and written appreciation for participation in the research.
As required by the Regulatory Compliance Board, an Institutional Review Board Application was completed prior to data collection for purposes of compliance and assurance of the protection of human subjects. Specifically, ethical issues were addressed during the initial interview as the researchers assured the participants that their involvement was completely voluntary, they could withdraw from the study at any time during the course of the research, and all information would be kept confidential.
The information collected in this study could have been influenced by certain researcher biases. First, all of the researchers are or have previously been classroom teachers, and entered the study with prior knowledge of and experience with the element of literacy. Additionally, their previous educational experience could have influenced the concentration of their observations to shift from literacy-related aspects to managerial issues occurring in the classrooms. Moreover, the fact that all of the researchers are female could affect the data collection and interpretation processes of the study.
This study, which examines preschool caregivers' perceptions of the effect of gender on literacy skills, involves several methods associated with the compilation of qualitative data. Frankel & Wallen (2003) indicate that the techniques most often utilized by qualitative researchers (interviews, observation, and document examination) provide insight into the viewpoints, behaviors, and principles of the participants. Consequently, data for this research were collected through two interviews, two observations, and archival data compilation. Over the course of the data collection process, the researchers identified the following four domains, which are directly aligned with the research questions: preschool literacy activities, differences in literacy proficiency by gender; specific reading strategies; and importance of self-perceptions.
Interviews. According to Fraenkel & Wallen (2003), "Interviewing is an important way for a researcher to check the accuracy of--to verify or refute--the impressions he or she has gained from observation" (p.455). Based on the need to obtain information related to individual opinions, attitudes, and perceptions, this type of data collection method was employed for purposes of this study. The researchers conducted two interviews with each of the five participants. Each participant was interviewed twice between June 20, 2005 and June 29, 2005. The interviews were conducted during the hours of 12:00 and 2:00, during the children's naptime at the request of the director. Due to the space limitations and in order to sustain a peaceful environment for the students during rest time, the interviews were conducted in the director's office. The researchers recorded each interview using audiotapes and transcribed the discussion afterwards, which resulted in approximately 137 single-spaced, typewritten pages.
Each of the afore-mentioned domains (preschool literacy activities, differences in literacy proficiency by gender; specific reading strategies; and importance of self-perceptions) were addressed during the interview with the participants. The researchers reasoned that because the interviews were carried out with individuals from various ethnic, educational, and experiential backgrounds, their responses would represent a varied spectrum of perceptions of the effect of the gender on literacy.
During the first interview, researchers used interview guides containing 15 open-ended questions, which were based on the lines of research, to provide structure to the 45-minute session. Three example questions addressing the first domain of the research (commonly included literacy skills) included during the first interview are: What type of literacy activities are completed on a daily basis?; What are the literacy skills commonly addressed or encouraged in these activities?; and Describe your role in these activities. In addition, the following three example questions dealt with the second domain of the research (differences in literacy proficiency by gender): Overall, how do the levels of proficiency in literacy skills differ in males and females?; If differences exist, what do you think the factors are that contribute to these differences; and How does vocabulary development differ in male and female students? Furthermore, to account for the third domain of the research (specific reading strategies), the subsequent items were integrated: Specifically, what word reading strategies do students utilize?; How does the frequency of the utilization of these strategies differ in male and female students?; and How do male and female students differ in their use of the following strategies related to word reading: (a) letter recognition (b) sight word recognition? Finally, to address the fourth domain of the research (the importance of self-perceptions), the next questions were incorporated: Overall, how do self-perceptions of reading proficiency differ from male to female students?; How do the self-perceptions related to reading ability affect reading proficiency?; and How do the self-perceptions related to reading achievement affect the students' attitudes towards reading?
The second interview, which lasted approximately 30 minutes, was somewhat more informal and unstructured and involved follow-up questions that were formulated based on responses received during the first interview. Collectively, the researchers devised nine follow up questions. In addition, the researchers also created individual follow-up questions which focused on information included solely in their interviews.
Observations. The reasoning substantiating the researchers' utilization of this method is based upon the work of Fraenkel & Wallen (2003), which indicates that observations can provide researchers with information that is conducive to a more comprehensive understanding of actions or environments than reliance on other methods alone. Each researcher conducted two one-hour observations involving their participant between June 20, 2005 and July 6, 2005. The observations took place in the classrooms where the participants worked; with two participants teaching in the three-year-old classroom and the remaining three participants teaching in the four-year-old classroom. The researchers were at liberty to select the time of the observations, therefore, the observations were conducted varied at various intervals throughout the day. However, the researchers focused their attention on small group time and center time, which was when most of the literacy activities occurred. The researchers recorded their condensed field notes traditionally (pen and paper) or electronically (laptop computer). Finally, after each observation, the researchers typed extended field notes and added comments and reactions, which resulted in approximately 56 single-spaced, typewritten pages.
Though the researchers originally planned to converse with the participants after each observation to obtain further information, seek clarification, and maintain rapport, this was not always possible because the caregivers were generally engaged in instructional activities or managerial duties. Therefore the researchers generally assumed the role of an observer. However, it became apparent that the role of the researchers seemed to shift to that of an observer as participant. This alteration was usually attributed to the students' requests for participation in activities or assistance. Additionally, because all of the researchers are former classroom teachers, they seemed to instinctively integrate themselves into the classroom setting.
Archival Data and Documents. Merriam (1998) states that "Documents are, in fact, a ready-made source of data easily accessible to the imaginative and resourceful investigator" and "... are produced for reasons other than the research at hand and therefore are not subject to the same limitations (of observations or interviews)" (p.112). Therefore, in an effort to further substantiate the information collected through the interviews and observations, the researchers collected three types of documents. The majority of the documents that were obtained were researcher-generated documents in the form of lesson plans, photographs, curriculum guides, student work samples, and class schedules (Merriam, 1998). In total, 38 documents were collected and analyzed. These documents were obtained in an attempt to substantiate the information gained through the observations and interviews.
The analysis of the data obtained from qualitative research facilitates the identification of trends and emerging themes, and is therefore integral to the nature of the study. During the course of the research, data from several sources (interviews, observations, and documents) were collected and organized into formats conducive to systematic examination. All of the data obtained during the study were organized into similar formats including interview transcripts, detailed observations, and relevant archival information, with reactions or comments accompanying type of information. Additionally, each researcher created charts containing information relevant to each data source, which greatly aided in the data analysis process.
The data collected during this study were analyzed first individually and then collectively by the researchers. Initially, the data were examined and organized according to the four research questions. Subsequent examination necessitated the separation of data according to source. Information from each data source was then examined and compared to identify trends and recurring themes. The collective data analysis was the result of the examination and combination of each researcher's individual analyses.
Each researcher's data as well as the overall data analysis were deemed valid and appropriate to the research. Additionally, to substantiate the trustworthiness of the data, several strategies were employed. First, threats to the credibility of the data were dealt with through the process of triangulation. The comparison of data from several sources (interviews, observations, and documents) provided reinforcement of trends and themes that emerged during the study. Additionally, the issue of confirmability was addressed through the provision and availability of each researcher's original data (interview transcripts, observations, documents, and reactions). Moreover, risks associated with the transferability of the research were attended to through the rich, detailed descriptions of the context within which the data collection occurred. Finally, to address concerns associated with dependability, the data collection process was documented extensively, reported upon thoroughly, and approached logically.
The purpose of this research was to examine preschool caregivers' perceptions of the effect of gender on literacy skills. The caregivers at this university-based preschool are responsible for the development of meaningful activities to enhance the literacy skills of the students. These activities are implemented throughout the day during both the regular school year and summer sessions. Two of the participants are based in the three-year-old classroom, with the remaining three participants in the four-year-old class.
The findings associated with this research will be introduced and discussed according to the following categories, which are directly linked to the research questions: preschool literacy activities, differences in literacy proficiency by gender, specific reading strategies by gender, and gender differences in self-perceptions of literacy proficiency. The data for this study were collected through interviews with caregivers, observations of the caregivers in classroom settings, and documents related literacy to gain insight into the caregiver's perceptions of the effect of gender on literacy skills.
Preschool Literacy Activities
The five caregivers reported that a variety of skills related to literacy development are addressed throughout the day. Specifically, skills related to letter recognition, vocabulary, listening, and writing received prominent focus during daily group discussions and learning centers. One caregiver explained, "They're developing their vocabulary skills, their listening skills ... and they're learning that you get information from reading". Language development is reinforced through reading and related activities such as songs, rhymes, language charts, and art.
Literacy in the preschool classrooms is enriched by environmental print, a variety of learning centers, and student work displays. Additionally, in both the three-year-old and four-year-old classrooms, reading centers containing front-facing bookshelves, literature related to the current thematic unit, and comfortable sitting areas were available to students for the majority of the day. However, literacy materials were not confined to the reading area. One caregiver indicated that, "we have books available in every center for them to go ... and picture read". Students also had access to an art/writing center with a variety of materials available for use.
Primarily, the caregiver's role in the development of literacy involved the facilitation of activities focused on the enhancement of literacy skills. One caregiver remarked, "I'm just basically a facilitator to their doing the activity". Engaging students in daily activities such as book reading, language charts, and informal conversation encompassed their fundamental function in the classrooms. Essentially, the role of the students entailed active involvement in activities and provision of information related to interests, which influenced the development of the thematic units.
Finally, the schedule of the preschool classrooms was devised so that literacy was addressed during many activities throughout the day. Twice during the course of each day, students participated in small group activities, which were teacher-led and involved book reading and extension activities. Additionally, two separate times were allotted each day for students to visit learning centers. The students were given free choice of all indoor centers which included: reading, writing/art, blocks, music, sand/water, computer/listening, math, science, puzzle and games, and dramatic play.
Differences in Literacy Proficiency by Gender
The caregivers provided information related to the effect of gender on literacy proficiency, allowing for the identification of several common themes. First, the language development of female students is more advanced than that of male students. One caregiver stated, "Girls express themselves better than boys ... girls tend to tell you more details". Second, the caregivers indicated that gender did not seem to influence writing ability as all students are in the early stages of writing. Third, the caregivers reported that the reading abilities of female students seem to be more developed than those of male students. One caregiver explained, "I see most of the females being ahead of males in literacy ... I see females being able to recognize letters and sounds and being able to write more efficiently" Fourth, based upon information provided by the caregivers, female students also surpass male students in word reading skills. One caregiver stated, "... girls learn to put sounds together and words together to make a sentence ... a little bit faster than boys". The caregivers attributed these gender differences in literacy skills to the varying interests of male and female students. As indicated by a caregiver, "... it seems like the girls are just more interested at this age in actually doing those literacy projects more than the boys". Additionally, another caregiver added, "Boys want to do more active things, and girls want to sit down and draw and write and make pretty things."
Specific Reading Strategies by Gender
The information provided by the caregivers signified that no differences exist in the reading strategies utilized by the students during literacy activities. One caregiver stated, "... they just recognize the individual letter and put them together ... not that much difference between genders." Another caregiver commented, "I think it's (word reading strategies) pretty even ... if we pattern it enough, they pick it up". However, the caregivers revealed that the strategies commonly used by students of both genders included: letter, picture and symbol recognition, and sight word reading.
Gender Differences in Self-perceptions of Literacy Proficiency
The caregivers provided information associated with dissimilarities in self-perceptions of literacy proficiency that result from gender differences. The information gathered from each of the caregivers denotes that differences in self-perceptions of literacy proficiency are influenced by individual differences in learners and not gender. One caregiver stated, "The more proficient they are in their letters, the better they are going to read".
The purpose of this research was to examine preschool caregivers' perceptions of the effect of gender on literacy skills. Qualitative methods were utilized during this study because of their unique capability to enable researchers to elaborately depict the environment, activities, and perceptions of the participants (Fraenkel & Wallen, 2003).
The caregivers indicated that a variety of developmentally appropriate literacy activities were addressed throughout the day such as: letter recognition, vocabulary, listening, and writing. This finding is substantiated by the guidelines for literacy skills provided in the Mississippi Pre-Kindergarten Curriculum (2001), including phonological and print awareness, oral language development, listening skills, and critical thinking skills. Additionally, the caregivers created literacy-rich environments containing elements such as environmental print, learning center, and student work displays. This discovery is supported by information provided by the National Dropout Prevention Center (2002) which indicated that children who are read to and are immersed in literacy-rich environments grow up to be readers, writers, and successful learners. It was also found that the caregiver's role was critical to the facilitation of literacy activities. The research of Vukelich, Christie, & Enz (2002) signified that effective early childhood instructors model good literacy practices and encourage children to undertake activities conducive to the development of beginning writing and reading skills. Finally, with regard to the scheduling of literacy activities, the findings indicated that literacy is addressed through multiple activities throughout the day. This is consistent with the research of McGee & Richgels (2000), which stated that regular scheduling of literacy events should take place throughout the day.
Several trends emerged pertaining to differences in literacy proficiency by gender. First, the findings revealed that female students seem to surpass male students in the areas of language development, word recognition, and reading abilities. The research of Moss (2000) which indicated that, "boys do less well than girls at reading, almost regardless of the criteria used to assess competence" (p. 101) substantiates this finding. The caregivers also surmised that interest is the most influential factor to these differences. However, our findings indicated that gender does not influence writing proficiency. This conclusion can be attributed to the fact that the writing skills of many of the children attending Aiken Village Preschool are in the early stages of development.
Regarding differences in reading strategies utilized by students during literacy activities and self-perceptions and differences in self-perceptions of literacy proficiency, the findings of this research were inconclusive. Caregiver indications revealed that no gender differences existed in the application of reading strategies or self-perceptions of literacy proficiency.
The researchers have identified several possible limitations associated with this study. First, this research was conducted during the summer semester, which imposed stringent time restrictions upon the data collection process. Second, with regard to the participants, the wide variations in their education levels and specialty areas, as well as the years of classroom experiences could have influenced the responses. Additionally, the absence of a lead teacher in the three-year-old classroom could have altered the group dynamic, and therefore impacted interviews, observations, and document collection.
The data collection processes utilized for this research yielded information signifying the existence of gender differences in literacy proficiency. Preschool caregivers implement many developmentally appropriate literacy activities throughout the day to promote letter recognition, vocabulary, listening, and writing skills. It is also apparent that gender can affect the development of literacy proficiency, even in preschool-aged children. Additionally, the element that seemed to exert the most influence on this ability was intrinsic interest. Though the conclusions related to differences in reading strategies utilized by students during literacy activities and self-perceptions and differences in self-perceptions of literacy proficiency were inconclusive, further research should be conducted to determine the factors impacting these areas.
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AND SUZETTE LOGAN
University of Montevallo
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|Author:||Moore, Jenifer; Yin, Lishu; Weaver, Tandi; Lydell, Peggie; Logan, Suzette|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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