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Narrative & the Inclusive Early Childhood Literate Community

In our initial research we anticipated encountering some degree of merger between developmentally appropriate practice and basic literacy skills orientations with children with significant disabilities generally participating in limited, reduced, or partial modes. Instead, we encountered a much more complex situation in which children’s sense-making and meaning took shape in multiple symbolic forms of what we came to refer to as narrative: ideas, thoughts, concerns, interests, desires, and stories that may be told, made sense of, understood, retold, or altered such that a symbolic connectedness -- in essence, a literate community -- was crafted in the classroom.

Narratives structured children’s literacy and were in-turn structured by early literacy.  Narrative is the organizing principle, the central core, of the literate community. To date, our data suggests that the early childhood literate community may be constructed on the following narrative forms:

1)      Relational Narrative Form: Expressions and interpretations of children’s interests, tastes, enjoyments, dislikes, habits, hobbies, etc., and the actual and abstract sense that children are unique in these expressions and interpretations.

Examples:  a) Child wears a t-shirt with a logo of a favorite movie character. Signals to other children her/his interests; Opens conversations; Draws particular children to her/him; b)  Teacher reads story to children that focuses on how every child is unique.

2)      Daily Life Narrative Form:  Interactive exchange or expression of daily information reflecting on-going activities, events, or occurrences, and, at least in part, giving shape to past, current, or future day-to-day activities, events, or occurrences.

Examples:  a)  Students entering classroom in the a.m. with parent stop to look at and discuss the day’s schedule as laid out in text, photo, and symbol on a bulletin board; b)  Students swap food at lunch involving a discussion of what their parents packed.

3)      Local Community Narrative Form:  Factual and descriptive exploration of the actual social contexts through which children move on a daily basis including classroom, school, home, neighborhood, and wider, but relatively immediate, community.

Examples:  a) Fieldtrip to fire station and letter of thanks written as a group; b) Children in library corner look at picture book on community helpers.

4)      Abstract Community Narrative Form:  Factual and descriptive exploration of social contexts far removed from the children either by time or distance. The early childhood versions of the academic content areas of history and geography.

Examples:  a) Teacher reading and leading discussion on biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.; b) Discussion including maps sparked by child’s question during circle time, “Is the [Iraq] war in New York?” 

5)      Natural World Narrative Form: Factual and descriptive exploration of nature or natural phenomena. Early childhood versions of the academic content areas of biology, chemistry, and physics.

Examples:  a) Following directions to set up a terrarium; b) Maintaining a journal on the observed life stages of a butterfly.

6)      Traditional Literacy Skills Narrative Form: Both direct instruction and constructivist discovery learning are centered on phonemic awareness, the alphabetic principle, word and sentence decoding, and orthography.

Examples:  a) Children match rhyming words at a center during structured time; b) Children put sentence strips cut into individual words together in order to remake coherent sentences.

7)      Enculturation Narrative Form:  Interactions and interpretations of positive social citizenship behaviors associated with the community’s general sense of how to get along with others and be a contributing member of the community. Instructive and focused on what adults want children to do as opposed to not do.

Examples:  a) Teacher reads story Stone Soup and leads interactive discussion on sharing with others; b) Room responsibilities are assigned each day with different children filling different roles.

8)      Control Narrative Form:  Rules established expressing what children should not do.

Examples:  a) Rule written out, discussed, and hung on wall to specifically end recent aggressive play; b) Teacher creates symbol with hands exchanging sandwich, then places slash through it to demand end to swapping food at lunch.

9)      Subterranean Narrative Form: Interactions flowing from an early childhood youth culture apart from direct adult influence, sanction, or control. Interactions are generally considered negatively by adults and play out under the metaphoric teacher-radar of the classroom.

Examples:  a) One student purposefully draws a silly picture and tells others it’s a depiction of a particular classmate; b) Two students quietly pretend to be action heroes in a classroom that has banned action hero play.

10)  Pretend and Fantasy Narrative Form: Each of the above domains is potentially rich terrain for children’s imagination and fantasy and often pretend behavior can be directly linked to various domain combinations. However, in their efforts to navigate understanding or power in this world, children’s stories often stray into a fiction that overwhelms other domains. Here children transcend the here-and-now and dramatically create imaginative realms.

Examples: a) Children combine pretend narratives into a conflation of dinosaur explorers and astronauts; b) Teacher reads to children from a story that demands, “Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus.”



The contents of this site were developed under grants from the U.S. Department of Education (nos. H324D010031 & H324C040213).  However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and no endorsement by the Federal Government should be assumed.  For further information, please contact the project Directors Dr. Christopher Kliewer at christopher.kliewer@uni.edu or Dr. Christi Kasa-Hendrickson at hendrick@chapman.edu.