Kindergarten to Grade 4 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: K-4
The Early Years Learner and the Learning Environment - Part 2

Creating a Caring Community of Learners

The goal of language arts instruction is not only to develop literacy skills, but also to foster positive attitudes about literacy and about the self as a language learner. We want all students to become both capable and willing participants in the literacy activities of the classroom, the school, and the community. "For ... children, becoming a member of a community involves both learning to join in the talking and simultaneously learning how to understand the world as people around them do" (Barnes, 1995, p. 2). These attitudes do not develop alone, but in the company of others, for learning is both an individual and a social process.

It is important that classrooms be caring communities in which all students feel accepted and confident that they will be supported by others in risk-taking, learning, and growing. Participation in small co-operative groups teaches personal responsibility, skills for working constructively with others, and respect for others’ contributions. Whole-class meetings for group problem solving and decision making build a shared sense of purpose. Using processes that young students are able to understand, for example, voting, teachers can build a democratic community in their classrooms. As students become more skilled in group processes, teachers can introduce consensus-building strategies.

It is critical that Early Years students develop a sense that they are socially competent and that they are accepted by their peers. Self-concept plays an important role in students’ learning and in their willingness to try challenging tasks. To promote a positive climate for learning, teachers need to help students establish constructive relationships and provide opportunities to learn from each other. It is important to teach students to celebrate their learning, progress, and successes as a community whose members are supportive of one another.

In building a cohesive, inclusive classroom community, teachers play a vital role as models. They demonstrate acceptance and respect for each child — for the uniqueness of each individual, for the home culture and language of each one, and for the contribution each makes to the class. They also expect all members of the classroom community to show acceptance and respect for each other. This climate fosters the development of positive self-esteem for all students. Students learn that their community is enriched and strengthened by the diverse talents and unique contributions of each member.

Enhancing Development of Learning

Young students learn about print and develop strategies for reading and writing from their independent explorations of written language, from interactions with teachers and peers, and from observation of others engaged in literacy activities. They learn about oral, literary, and media texts in the same way.

Because they construct their understanding of concepts from their experience, Early Years learners need active involvement and first-hand learning experiences. They need time to play and to explore materials — sand and water, blocks, paper and pencils, markers, computers, artifacts, books, and other texts. They need opportunities to identify and pursue topics that interest them. Teachers meet these needs by planning lessons with concrete materials and "hands-on" experiences, and by providing opportunities for students to interact with peers and with adults in structured and unstructured ways.

If we want students to remain active learners who construct understandings about language, then the Early Years must offer varied, functional, and meaningful activities that integrate all the language arts. Integration makes learning more relevant and meaningful to young students, and supports their ability to connect new learning to prior knowledge. Through cross-curricular integration, students can apply their learning to different areas and can understand the connections among disciplines.

Learning is more effective when the curriculum is relevant and responsive to students’ interests, and relates to their personal lives. Integrated learning experiences using themes, field trips, and classroom guests create links to the community and provide opportunities for direct investigation, participation, and inquiry. Culturally diverse and non-sexist activities and materials support students in developing positive self-identity and help them to accept and appreciate the ways in which others may differ from themselves.


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