Constructing literacy: Disadvantaged Irish mothers' attempts at developing literacy with their preschool children during storybook reading and jigsaw puzzle building

Dorothy Priscilla Johnson, Florida International University


Early childhood research beginning in the 1960s has focused on the literacy experiences of preschool children in the home and the contribution of those experiences to later school success. Decades of research since then have investigated learning experiences of preschool children as they interacted with caregivers, siblings or peers prior to formal schooling (Durkin, 1966; Heath, 1983). In this qualitative investigation into early literacy events that occur between disadvantaged Irish mothers and their children, four research questions were investigated. (1) How do disadvantaged Irish mothers engage their preschool children in literacy events such as storybook reading and jigsaw puzzle building? (2) How does the mother's previous school experience affect her role as the child's first teacher? (3) How does the culture of the neighborhood affect the child's developing literacy? (4) What risk factors inhibit literacy development in these Irish children? This study examined the conversational exchanges between three disadvantaged Irish mothers and their preschool children living near Dublin, Ireland, as the mothers read a storybook to their children and assisted them in jigsaw puzzle building. Conversations were recorded, transcribed and analyzed into reading skill and teaching strategy categories for the purpose of determining the mothers' literacy intent during her turn. Journal notes, field notes and interviews with the mothers recorded other information and allowed for triangulation of data. The results of this investigation indicated four findings. The first finding was that these disadvantaged mothers employed many of the same techniques that classroom teachers use during the reading lesson. They attempted high-level and low-level questions, teaching strategies, and other interactions that are so familiar in the classroom. The second finding was that jigsaw puzzle building produced a richer literacy interaction than storybook reading. The third finding was that the environment of the disadvantaged neighborhood posed many risks to children's literacy development. A final finding was that the mothers used thinking out loud behavior to vocalize their inner thoughts during literacy interactions. Future research suggests studying mother/child dyads in other socio-economic environments and cultures to determine if other mothers practice the same skills and strategies as these mothers.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Preschool education|Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Dorothy Priscilla, "Constructing literacy: Disadvantaged Irish mothers' attempts at developing literacy with their preschool children during storybook reading and jigsaw puzzle building" (2003). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3110369.