Learning in a multicultural preschool classroom in taiwan

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The study focuses on teaching practice for literacy learning at four Taiwanese public preschools where the role and effectiveness of early years learning will be examined. The participants in this study are preschool teachers and children from diverse language backgrounds. Data is collected from interviews, informal conversations, observations, and teacher's reflective teaching diary. Data analysis will be ongoing and takes place during and after fieldwork. It is hope that the study will help to provide Taiwanese education authorities a better understanding of and rethink their current approach /guidelines on literacy learning and teaching skills for multicultural classroom.


The study will explore the strategies used by early learning in multilingual/ multicultural classroom, assumptions for early learning development and how the teachers support and motivate children of diverse background. How early years teachers support children of diverse background and also promote their motivation in literacy. In this study, the phrase 'children of diverse background' is used here to mean Taiwanese children of poor background i.e usually from low-income families and speak on other language apart from home language rather than standard Mandarin.

Past two decades, the number of new immigrant families has increased due to a surge in cross marriages between Taiwanese and Southeast Asians, most of whose children study in preschool and lower primary grades. The increase in cross marriages has substantially altered classroom homogeneity and leaving children disadvantaged due to language and cultural discrepancy (Munroe & Murroe, 1975ï¼›Rao & Stewart, 1999). As a result, without enough government support, immigrant children are more likely to suffer many setbacks in language and literacy learning and may step on the wrong track of life. (Roskos & Christie, 2001; Chen 2007; Siraj-Blatchford, 2004; Machin, 2006).

While there is strong evidence of literacy at primary school level for children of diverse backgrounds, there is relatively little evidence regarding literacy learning in preschool. This research, therefore, is set within the Taiwanese context outlined above to investigate how preschool teaching influence children from diverse cultural and language backgrounds. It will help to expand knowledge to promote those children's literacy learning as well as provoke early learning to improve their teaching skills and strategies in multicultural classroom.

Background to study

Multicultural children and literacy learning

Research evidence overwhelmingly shows that the early years of life are critical to developing the skills and habits of literacy. Experiences with language, oral and written, provide the foundation that children need if they are to be successful in school. From a social constructivism perspective, language and writing is the cultural tools developed by and available to people in different societies. 'The forms of language and literacy within each culture have developed over time to carry the concepts that reflect the experience of that cultural group'. (Au, 1998:299) Under such view, children's early language and literacy learning is inherent from their culture and social experience, an interactive process by which a child constructs a social reality making their own meaning of sounds, words, reading, and writing. It is a process influenced by the language and culture of the child's family and their ethnic group (Chaudhary & Suparna, 1991; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Therefore, literacy learning is the collaborative social accomplishments of school systems, communities, teachers, students and families (McDermott & Gospodinoff, 1981). Particularly, the role of teachers, peers and family members in mediating learning, on the dynamics of classroom instruction, and on the school systems has been highlighted as an essential element in literacy learning.

However, the gap between the literacy achievement of children of diverse backgrounds and those of mainstream backgrounds is a cause for concern. A review of literacy studies by social constructivist researchers attempts to account for the achievement gap. (Au, 1993) They demonstrated that children from diverse backgrounds have not experienced high levels of academic success because their literacy needs were often unaddressed as they were encouraged to assimilate into the mainstream. The reason for children with poor academic achievement is because of the exclusion and the low status of their home language in school. The instruction in mainstream schools is also that of following mainstream ways and cultural values rather than those children of diverse background. Thus, the question of how to bridge the gap in literacy learning will be discussed in the next section.

Relationship between literacy and play

What is the most effective teaching method to promote both mainstream children and children of diverse backgrounds of literacy and language? This is always a key point of contention in children's literacy achievement. Some research focus on the reading readiness paradigm which states that young children's literacy development occurred when the school provided them with formal reading instruction (Saracho & Spodek, 2006; Fisher, 1997). On the contrary, Reid and Comber (2002) held the different view that literacy is learned in meaningful socially specific situations in the everyday life of the home, preschool, and school. This viewpoint is consistent with the social constructivist's belief of how children learn. Social constructivists believed that children learn actively participating in social exchanges context (Bochner & Jones, 2003). Vygotsky (1986) emphasized the social interaction between individuals as the source of literacy knowledge. He viewed, for instance, symbolic play, drawing and writing as an essential and inseparable process of development of written language (McLane & McNamee, 1990). Therefore, early symbolic activities help young children to build literacy. Researches articulate the belief in the value of play as a literacy tool in their research. As Saracho & Spodek (2006) demonstrated that literacy concepts and skills are intertwine in children's play process. Through more complex social exchanges, this process in a play environment enhances young children's literate thinking. This can be explained by Saraho (2003) that when children engage in play activities such as pretend play, the social actions of young children are a process of compromise between children by using literacy ways of thinking (e.g. narration), literacy knowledge, tools, scripts and skills. Therefore, literacy learning is embedded in such interactions between children's responses in different social situations. From the above viewpoints, literacy learning for young children is certainly not through a meaningless and incomprehensible drill way but from a natural and meaningful context.

Furthermore, children's literacy in early years stage is developed through play by embedding literacy materials within play-based environment. Bergen & Mauer (2006)'s research provide strong evidence that 'five years old children who have high levels of play in literacy enriched environment are more likely to use language excellently in pretended-play situation and read signs spontaneously. Roskos & Neuman (1993) also observed that teachers use literacy props such as books, markers, and signs in a dramatic play area, children are more likely to engage in literacy related activities. Thus, young children with varying experience in literacy, and play-based environment with sufficient materials provide opportunities for children to extend their play, ideas and relationships with other children. In such environments print awareness increases and children's literacy can be developed and promoted.

The role of early years teacher and literacy learning

Researches, however, have shown concerns about the teacher's understandings and knowledge towards literacy learning, in particular, the effectiveness of teaching methods in literacy learning serving for children from diverse language and cultural backgrounds. One hundred forty-eight student teachers' attitudes towards teaching multicultural classes were examined in Austria. The results show that student teachers with limited knowledge, skills and motivation in diverse classes have had serious affects on their teaching practice (Tsigilis et.al. 2006). Moreover, the teacher's expectations often communicated in verbal and nonverbal ways, influence children's behaviour and performance, especially, children with diverse multicultural and multilingual background (Payne, 1991). Moreover, Moon, & Reifil (2008) further argued that developmentally appropriate practice's notion of learning and play may fail to capture the multilingual and multicultural characters of many families and communities because teachers' classroom practices are critically influenced by their beliefs and understandings. Thus, teachers might need to think about their practices differently and also rethinking DAP guidelines about children's play and literacy learning (Moon & Reifil, 2008). As McNaughton (2002:31) pointed out, the problem is ' the challenge for early years teachers to see the task of making connections not as one of getting rid of the diversity, as something that has to be coped with ,but rather as one of incorporating diversity to the advantage of effective pedagogy.' In this vein, the teacher should treat language as an 'object of contemplation' not just a tool for communication (Hemphill & Snow, 1996:198). The development of awareness of this concept enables early years teachers to develop better literacy strategies and also to obtain more power to reflect on social inequalities. The study will, therefore, examine the effective literacy instruction to promote multicultural and multilingual children's literacy learning and the constraints on incorporating teachers' curriculum into literacy learning in practice.

Research Question

The aims of this research are twofold. Firstly, the research will examine early years teacher's teaching practice in literacy learning in multicultural classroom. How effective teaching methods can promote children of diverse background's literacy learning. Secondly, to find out the relationship between early years teachers' understanding and practice when teachers are serving children of diverse backgrounds in a play context. Subsequently, a theoretical analysis of current multicultural policies and classroom practice in preschool settings is presented through early years teachers' perspective and classroom observation. The following are the research questions:

1. What effective teaching methods enable early years educators to promote children of diverse background's literacy in multicultural classroom

2. What is early years teachers' understanding and practice of children of diverse backgrounds in literacy learning in a play context.

3. What factors influence early years teachers' teaching in early years multicultural classroom.

It is hoped that the study's finding will contribute to our knowledge of the school experience of children of diverse background as well as to help shape and develop further education curriculum and policy for multicultural children's learning.

Research method

In the study, a naturalistic inquiry paradigm was utilized in order to explore the reality of new immigrant children's literacy learning in preschool in the real setting. The research aims to provide in-depth investigation to practitioners' practice and find out the experience of minority ethic children in literacy learning in the preschool classroom.

Method for the study

Lincoln and Guba (1985) indicated that the name "naturalistic . . . has other aliases as well, for example: the postpositivistic, ethnographic, phenomenological, subjective, case study, qualitative, hermeneutic, humanistic" (p. 7). Similarly, Erickson (1986) described a body of research "alternatively called ethnographic, qualitative, participant observational, case study, symbolic interactionist, phenomenological, constructivist, or interpretive" (p. 119). He continued, "These approaches are all slightly different, but each bears strong family resemblance to the others" (p. 119). Since this study will be conducted in a natural setting (preschool classroom), utilize the human-as-instrument (researcher), and have purposeful sampling (children with different culture and linguistic background), I will adopt Lincoln and Guba's (1985) term naturalistic inquiry to indicate the method used in this study.

In a naturalistic inquiry approach, narrative accounts form the basic method of data presentation. The main claim for the use of narrative is that humans are story-telling organisms who lead a life of stories. Thus, the study of narrative is "the study of the ways humans experiences the world" (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990, p. 2). Since the purpose of this study is to explore the difficulty that new Taiwanese immigrant children experienced and cellarage that early years teacher faced in literacy learning classroom, as well as early years teachers' actual classroom practice and understandings about the demand of those children's literacy learning, I will utilize naturalistic inquiry to conduct my study.

There are several reasons to support the use of narrative forms. First, I agree with Lubeck's (1998) viewpoint that "human beings are subjects, not objects . . . science is not and cannot be value-neutral, because knowledge is a human construction, and actions and events are open to multiple interpretations" (p. 288). In addition, "context affects what people learn and how they understand" (p. 288). Therefore, behaviour cannot be understood apart from the meanings that people attribute to their lives and circumstances (Bruner, 1990). Using a naturalistic method will help me understand my participant's understandings through many interviews and conversations. Moreover, as Erickson (1986) indicated, "Fieldwork research on teaching . . . helps researchers and teachers to make the familiar strange and interesting again . . . . What is happening can become visible, and it can be documented systematically (p. 121). People take what happens for granted. Especially, teachers are used to their pedagogy and classroom lives, which fade into the "invisibility of everyday life" (Erickson, 1986: 121). By using a naturalistic method, I will be able to observe the teacher's practices from a different point of view.

Secondly, I agree with Foley's (1998) viewpoint that using more familiar realistic narrative forms should help "bridge the vast and growing cultural gulf between academics and ordinary people" (p. 126), and "engage ordinary readers' common sense understanding of representational practices" (p. 126). Since my participant was an early childhood practitioner, and because I hope that my study will be useful for other practitioners in this field, the language used in my study will be non-technical and accessible for ordinary readers.

Participant and Setting

This research will be set in four public preschools in Taiwan. In order to select appropriate preschools to achieve the research aims, selection criteria will be made. In this study, public preschools will be chosen and when sampling the consideration of differences amongst preschools will take into account.

The selection of preschools in this study will follow the principles of 'purposive sampling' within which certain preliminary criteria like school size, school located area, etc will be made. From the sample preschools, the researcher then will focus on children of 4-6 years old in each preschool classroom. The target children will be chosen from each preschool. The research will sample different preschools in both Eastern and Western of Taiwan. By doing so, the research will reflect regional different in different preschool and also gain the whole picture of Taiwan's preschool systems. A primary sample of class teachers, target children will be interviewed. In addition, non-participant observation will be conducted in four preschool classrooms.

Moreover, Denzin (1978) suggested that there were four different modes of triangulation: "the use of multiple and different sources, methods, investigators, and theories" (cited in Lincoln & Guba, 1985:305). In this study, collected documents, field note transcripts through classroom observation, audiotaped informal conversation transcripts from teachers and children will all included in triangulation process.

Data Analysis and Written Up

All field note (classroom observation) and audiotaped data (informal conversations and interviews) will be transcribed immediately. After each transcription, I will start to analyze the data. The data analysis followed the constant comparative method as described by Lincoln and Guba (1985). This method involves unitizing, categorizing, identifying relationships of categories, and filling the patterns. (1) In the first step, the main task is to organise the material into manageable units. For example, I will break down all the data into the smallest units or chunks. After locating a unit, each unit will be labelled, related content and context information will be described and interpreted. (2) In the second step I will label all units and sort them into categories that seemed to pertain to the same phenomenon. I will develop category titles that described category properties and will distinguish each category from the other (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993). (3) In the third step, I will begin to integrate categories, reconstruct category designation, find uncovered patterns, and solidify connections among these patterns (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). I will also review all of the data once more to see if there are relationships between each category to formulate a theme. Once the analysis of data is complete, it is the time for written up. The written up will follow the sequence of introduction; literature review; methodology which includes research design, sampling strategy, data collection procedure, role of the research and validity and reliability; data analysis and research findings; and conclusion.

Ethics, Consent, Access and Participants' Protection

All information provided by participants will be protested confidentially. In so doing, respondent feels safe and speaks freely and will be considered anonymity. In this study, all participants' name include teachers, children and school will not be used other than for organisation of the raw data (BERA, 2004). Before the start of work in any preschools, a detailed outline of the research, the methods and what it will be needed for participants to provide, will be explained and clarified. This study uses semi-structured interviews and non-participant observations as main data collection methods, the main ethical issues will involve the interview respondents and observation participants. There are some ethical issues that should be considered when conducting both interviews and observations. While conducting research with children, some ethical issues related children's right should be considered more carefully. Relationship with children will be aware by researcher. In particular, through the whole process of research, researcher should give her respect to all children and interviewees (Einarsdóttir, 2007).

Children are the most significant stakeholders in preschool provision. Therefore, their perspectives and their behaviours should be taken into account. In this research, the researcher will look at the classroom practices by observing teachers' activities and children's responses. Children's perceptions are the most important part of the data of the research (Einarsdóttir, 2007). For this study, before conducting observations, the consent will be gained from parents in advance. Moreover, children also will be treated respectfully. Through the whole process of the study, the researcher will give her respects to any respondents. Respondent's ideas, personal feelings, and professional knowledge which involves in the study will be fully respected. Confidentiality is another issue that the researcher will consider when doing the research. To make sure each respondent feels safe, at ease and speaks freely is the task for the researcher.

Furthermore, the researcher also will adopt the principles of anonymity and to ensure the respondents' information, such as names, preschool names, addresses, telephones, and email addresses etc, are protected and would never be disclosed. After analysing the data, relevant information like transcripts will be sent back to the participants in an attempt to check if the description and transcription of the observations and interviews data were accurate, or if there are any misinterpretation of the data, or if there are any suggestions can be made by the participants.