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Great LEAP forward

4 May 2005

Out-of-school learning has a powerful influence on a child's education. Dr Anthony Feiler of the Graduate School of Education explains how his Literacy Early Action Project (LEAP) helps link school and home.

Intervening early when young children experience difficulties with literacy has been highlighted strongly in recent international research, particularly for children from families who live in areas marked by poverty.  Although early success in school does not assure later success, early failure in school virtually guarantees later failure, and once children are behind with literacy the gap between them and other children widens as the years go by.

The recognition of the powerful influence of out-of-school learning and the role played by parents and other family members prompts questions about ways of linking home and school practices. 

LEAP is comprised mainly of home-based literacy support

The Literacy Early Action Project (LEAP) is a family literacy research programme funded during 2003-4 by the British Academy and the Bristol Education Action Zone to run in four inner-city Bristol schools.  LEAP is comprised mainly of home-based literacy support.  Early in the school year Reception teachers identify two children (aged 4-5 years) per class who they anticipate may experience difficulties with literacy learning.  After a training event, a school-based Teaching Assistant visits the families of these two children on a weekly basis (visits last approximately one hour) throughout the Reception year, sharing ideas for literacy development and, where feasible, building on authentic home literacy practices.

In one case study, the Teaching Assistant introduced a literacy activity which involved constructing a puppet theatre.  The activity was then developed with the LEAP child and his family, and it then crossed from the home site into school and was taken up by other children in the boy’s class.

Likely reasons for the success of the literacy activity were then explored.  These centred on the opportunities it afforded for the child’s playful engagement with literacy learning and on the jointly-developed expertise that materialised between the Teaching Assistant and members of the boy’s family.  The notion that practitioners and parents need to 'co-construct' relationships is a key theme in this study and it underlines the importance of schools adopting a flexible stance that allows open negotiation about roles rather than viewing parents as auxiliary teachers who can help 'deliver' an overcrowded curriculum.

An unforeseen benefit of this activity was the impact it had on other children in the Reception class.  Once the case study child had shown the children the puppet theatre he had made at home they became keenly interested in making book characters themselves and in creating their own stories and plays. 

Dr Anthony Feiler/Graduate School of Education

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