Date of Award

Spring 4-9-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Middle and Secondary Education

First Advisor

Dr. Gholnecsar Muhammad

Second Advisor

Dr. Teri Holbrook

Third Advisor

Dr. Michelle Zoss

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Stacey French-Lee

Abstract

The purpose of this research study was to examine language and literacy (L&L) concepts and strategies in a state-funded, early learning program. Within this context, the study focused on the pedagogy of early learning educators (ELEs) regarding phonological awareness (PhAw) and phonics as L&L concepts and the integration of performance arts (i.e., music, dance, lyricism, and theater) as L&L strategies. In addition, ELEs’ motivations to teach and students’ engagement in L&L lessons were also of interest in this study. Regarding methodology, the study utilized content and thematic analyses within a qualitative design and four different data sources were collected: ELE interviews (primary), The Creative Curriculum – Literacy (Heroman & Jones, 2010) used by the early learning program, ELE lesson plans, and state early learning standards. Much of the research literature supports phonological awareness, phonics, and performance arts in L&L instruction. However, this study focused on the ELEs’ experiences with and impressions of L&L concepts and strategies along with their motivations to teach and their students’ engagement with L&L content and strategies. The aim of this study was to find if there was a bridge between L&L theories and L&L practices; that is to say, were the notions of L&L theorists and researchers operationalized by L&L practitioners (i.e., ELEs)? From content and thematic analyses, seven themes were found, which included: the PhAw, phonics, and rhyme as important pedagogical content; the power of using student names; confusing and unsurety regarding language and literacy concepts; the need for more phonics and/or PhAw training for teachers; performing arts (music, dance, lyricism, and theater) as pedagogical strategies; multimodal, comprehensive literacy experience; multi-causal catalyzation of teacher motivation. I found that while there is room for improvement regarding the participant ELEs’ understanding and implementation of L&L concepts and strategies, they were in fact utilizing a substantial amount of theoretically proven L&L practices. In addition, the ELEs were highly motivated to teach L&L principles and their students were equally engaged in their L&L lessons. There were a few implications that resulted from the study. First, rich L&L training programs and resources should be encouraged and implemented, particularly in the areas of the PhAw, phonics, and performing arts. Second, richer pedagogical provisions in the form of resources should be offered to early learning educators regarding the PhAw, phonics, performing arts. The study concluded that a balance should be struck between two assumed dichotomous notions in relation to L&L: theory and practice as well as art and science. In addition, the value of fun and excitement in early learning pedagogy cannot have been overstated and must be fostered.

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