In order to improve students' vocabulary regarding proper use of prepositions and conversational words, I first discovered that I needed to learn more about how children learn new words and acquire language skills. I went to my local library and checked out a stack of books about literacy and reading. I read the books
Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills
by Judith Birsh,
Raising Confident Readers
by Dr. Richard J. Gentry, and
Change in Time in Children's Literacy Development
by Marie Clay, as well as several articles about early elementary language and vocabulary learning.
One of the important ways to get a child to learn new words is something my parents did when I was a toddler and young child: they read to me daily. For the majority of my students, this did not happen at all when they were young children and toddlers, and I believe it has impacted their ability to learn a love of reading from an early age. The language and literacy development scholar Susan Canizares' article states that:
When you read aloud to your child, you are not only helping to prepare her to learn to read, you are also exposing her to rich language she otherwise might not hear. Reading will help her become familiar with new words and a different language structure, as the form and feel of written language is quite different from spoken language.
The latter part of this quote resonated with me as an urban educator since my students often speak with different intonations and patterns than those in what they are learning to read, and most of this is a result of the spoken language they are surrounded by when outside of an academic setting. The vast majority of students do not have books read out loud to them at home, only at school by their teachers. By reading to my students on a regular basis and having them read to their class with a rotating selection of wordless books, I believe that I can foster a newfound enjoyment and maybe even love for reading by the completion of this curriculum unit.
One webpage, from the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network, contains an article by Carrie Gotzke and Heather Sample Gosse about literacy development from ages 0 to 60 months (5 years old). I focused my attention on a passage regarding prepositions. At age three, children learn how to use
. The article continues by stating:
By 40 months of age, children understand
and by four years of age,
in back of
in front of
. Prepositions that describe basic relationships between objects in space (e.g., on, in, under) appear to be easier for children to understand than those that describe more complicated relationships (e.g., behind, beside, between, in front of).
If this is a typical developmental scenario, by kindergarten children should already be familiar with all of these prepositions. I am finding out that this is not the case with the students at my school. I also accessed a website specifically for teachers of ELL students which offers a strategy for teaching prepositions.