November 4, 2005

The Study of Early Childhood Teachers’ Beliefs Related to Children’s Literacy at South Korea

By Yoo, Seung-Yoeun


For the two past two decades, a child-centered view and integration of curriculum have become critical to developing literacy. Also, the emphasis on the importance of the teacher's role in teaching literacy has increased (Stice, Bertrand, & Betrand,1995;Goodman,1989). Thus, teachers have been provided with the opportunity to reflect on their beliefs about children literacy and to increase their knowledge of teaching literacy (Whitmore, .& Goodman, 1996). Teachers need to consider the kinds of activities they bring to their classrooms to improve children's literacy (Yoo, 1997). The value of teaching language is that it stimulates teachers to reflect on their experiences, what they know, what they are about, and what they should be about to help children develop their literacy. Thus, when children become literate, they can change their view of the world because they can explain their perspectives in their own voices and listen to the stories of others (Harste, 1989). There are individual differences among teachers concerning how to develop child literacy (Goodman, 1989; Maguire, 1989). Goodman (1986) also explains that there are two different kinds of teachers in early childhood settings. One group regards themselves as child centered, while the other group considers themselves as basicskill teachers. These groups view young children's reading and writing development differently. Advocates of the literacy education movement such as Church (1996), Goodman (1989), Edelsky, Altwerger, & Floresl(1991), and Weaver(1990) have argued against the traditional approach which emphasizes methods such as phonics, the basal program, and skill practice and have argued for the whole language approach, which is based on a holistic approach. Loughlin and Martin (1988) also think that there is a close relationship between early childhood education and the whole language approach, that is, early childhood educators are willing to use the whole language approach in their classrooms because it explains education and learning in early childhood settings such as child centered programs. The whole language philosophy changes a teacher's beliefs and practices about teaching literacy (Portelli, & Church, 1995). In the whole language paradigm, teachers become facilitators, learners, observers, and partners for children in education rather than using control and authority. Also, children are encouraged to become active learners, curriculum designers, decision maker and risktaker because the whole language approach emphasizes optimal learning and ownership. Thus, with the whole language approach, teachers can assume a variety of roles such as classroom researcher, participant, coach, resource person, and, perhaps most importantly, listener (Goodman, 1989; Edelsky. & Peterson, 1994). Even if early childhood teachers have confidence in the effectiveness of whole language practice in the classroom, they may still have difficulties in persuading parents to understand and assist with the whole language approach with their children.

With language teaching for young children, McCaslin (1989) believes that since teachers are trying to focus on discovery learning more than expository teaching, they need to provide a print rich environment for children to learn independently. Also, Taylor, Blum. and Logsdon (1985) suggest that teachers who are serious about the advantages of using the transactional approach are not willing to use it in their classrooms. In spite of increasing interest and enthusiasm regarding this approach in the past two decades, there are significant barriers to using it among teachers in early childhood education settings. Therefore, researchers must continue to find factors which affect the use of language approaches in early childhood education. The purpose of this research is to investigate the variables which affect a teacher's beliefs regarding teaching literacy in early childhood settings, and find factors which influence a teacher's decision to apply the whole language approach in their classroom. This research investigation examined three major questions.

Research Questions

1. What is the impact of teacher characteristics on their beliefs regarding teaching literacy in early childhood settings'1 The following teacher variables were examined : educational degree, number of years of teaching, experience of learning about the whole language approach.

2. What is the relationship between the teachers' beliefs related to children's literacy and the following teacher characteristics: educational degree, number of years of teaching, experience of learning about the whole language approach, ages of children that the teachers work with.

3. What is the difference of teachers' beliefs and attitude toward language development and the way children develop their literacy based on teachers' different view?


This study utilized a quantitative and qualitative research design. The data was gathered using the questionnaire. "Teachers' Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy", designed specifically for this study by Yoo (1998). using existing research on children's literacy, and the interview with 10 teachers for qualitative data. The questionnaire part of this survey had 35 Likert-type items and four demographic items, and was distributed to 130 teachers at early childhood settings in South Korea. Ninety-one responses were evaluated by the researcher. The participants in this study were from early childhood education settings within Seoul and Pusan, which are the largest cities in South Korea. The first section of the questionnaire asks for demographic information from the participants, including their highest degree attained, the number of years they have taught, their experience with the whole language approach and the ages of the children that they work with. The second section of the questionnaire measures the teachers' beliefs about teaching literacy, from strongly disagree to strongly agree, i.e., 1= strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3= slightly disagree; 4 = neutral; 5= slightly agree; 6 = agree, and 7 = strongly agree. Of the teachers interviewed to obtain qualitative data in this research, five had the highest scores while five had the lowest scores on the qurstionnaire. Data analysis for this study was conducted using SPSS. For reliability, the researcher used Crombach's alpha coefficient (.85)

Analysis of the Quantitative Data


The mean scores of all the teachers responding to the Teachers' Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy questionnaire (Table 1) show that teachers who had a high school degree had the lowest mean score (170.00) while the teachers who had Master's degrees had the highest mean score (218.00).

Hypothesis 1.1

There will be significant differences in the scores regarding a teacher's beliefs related to children's literacy by a teacher's highest degree earned.

Table 1. Teachers' Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy by Teachers' Highest Educational Deerees

This hypothesis was tested using a OneWay Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) procedure. The data and results of the analysis related to Hypothesis 1.1 are found in Table 2. The ANOVA results analyzing the correlation between teacher's beliefs and their highest educational degrees attained appears in Table 2.

The data in Table 2 indicates that a teacher's beliefs regarding children's literacy differs significantly across the four groups [F(3, 87)=6.46, p

Table 3 shows the mean scores and variability for the questionnaire by number of years of teaching. Teachers who had 0-2 years of teaching experience had the lowest mean score (158.00) while teachers who had more than 9 years teaching experience had the highest mean score (232.00).

Hypothesis 1.2

There will be significant differences between the scores on a teacher's beliefs related to children's literacy by the number of years a teacher has taught.

The ANOVA results for the teachers' beliefs by years of teaching appears in Table 4.

Table 2 One-Way ANOVA for Teachers' Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy by Teachers' Highest Eulucational Degrees

Table 3. Teachers' Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy by Years of Teaching

Table 4. One-Way ANOVA for Teachers' Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy by Five Groups'Years ot "Teaching Hxporiencc

The data in Table 4 shows that the total scores were not significantly different among teachers' levels of experience. Teachers who had 5-8 years of teaching experience were not significantly differeut on the questionnaire from the teachers who had 0-2 years of experience.

Table 5. Teachers' Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy by Prior Learning about Whole Language

Table 6. One-Way ANOVA for Teachers' Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy by Prior Learning about Whole Language

Table 7. Multiple Regression Analysis for Teachers' Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy

The data in Table 5 indicates the mean scores on the questionnaire for the two groups of teachers. Teachers who had no prior learning experience with whole language had a mean score of 172.24 while teachers who had prior experience had a mean score of 190.66

Hypothesis 1.3

There will be significant differences between the scores on a teacher's beliefs relat\ed to children's literacy by a teacher's prior experience of learning about the whole language approach.

As Table 6 shows, the teachers who had learned about whole language and teachers who had not learned about whole language had a significant difference in scores on their beliefs about literacy. Those with prior learning experience with the whole language approach had significantly higher scores than the teachers with no prior understanding of the whole language approach.

Hypothesis 2

There will be a relationship between teacher variables (i.e., highest educational degree attained, years of teaching, ages of children which the teacher works with, prior experience with whole language) and scores concerning beliefs related to children's literacy.

A multiple regression analysis (Table 7) indicates that a teacher's highest educational degree attained earned and learning experience of whole language were the two most influential determinants regarding the scores of the teachers on their beliefs related to children's literacy. In other words, the higher the educational degree, the higher the score on the Teachers Beliefs Related to Children's Literacy. Prior learning aboul whole language is also a variable affecting the scores of teachers' beliefs about literacy. Those variables contributed to the total variance of the scores of the teachers' beliefs. However, the teachers' ages, years of teaching, and ages of the children that they work with did not have any influence on explain the scores of teachers' beliefs aboul literacy.

Qualitative finding from in-depth interview

All audio-taped interviews data were transcribed in typewritten format by the researcher to analyze the written interview data. This researcher read the written interview data several times, makings comments in the margin of the transcript. The results of interviews from 10 early childhood teachers are reported. The transcripts of Steachers obtained the highest score and the other 5 teachers got the lowest score in the questionnaire

The finding consists of description of teachers Opinion with different perspective based on children's effective language learning and development.

These interview cases are presented to portray images of two different perspectives of teachers who prefer a natural language environment and phonics and skill- focused approaches.

The highest score of teachers'beliefs based on TBCL

These teachers included listening, speaking, writing, and reading in all subject areas with these skills' order overlapping as the child becomes capable of using them.

How Children Learn to Read and Write

Providing print environment Five teachers who obtained high score at TBLCL in this study provided opportunities for children to have a print rich literary environment. These teachers often mentioned that children need to be exposed to materials such as paper, books, pencils, markers, stencils, and labeling of every day items in classrooms. This helps children develop their literacy by gaining experience with books in order to read and listen to what they choose. These teachers had confidence that teachers and parents must provide plenty of opportunities to explore books or a variety of literature. These teachers need to allow children access to books that they can look at by themselves. Read labels and directions out loud. Talk to and discuss things with children and engage them in conversation. Also they tried to provide materials available for children to use such as letter stamps, letter tracers, alphabet murals, pencils, and paper. They enjoyed playing word games such as "I spy" to build vocabulary and begin to draw attention to sounds letters make.

2) By enjoying the joy of books based on meaning: These three teachers who got the highest score also have tendency to emphasize valuing print. They believed that once children observe adults placing value an reading books and writing stories and enjoying sharing these with them as a special time, they also become to enjoy books and be interested in learning to read and write. These high score teachers appeared to want to read to children because the teachers themselves enjoy reading and are also good readers. These teachers experience pleasure and satisfaction from reading books and seem to share their own positive attitude towards reading with the children they teach. They were not just reading books in order to teach children to read but to share their own love of reading. In a sense, they do not read to children for the purpose of teaching them to read but to share the desire to learn to read from enjoyment of books and stories and to share the satisfaction of reading between teacher and children. These teachers believe that they are avid readers who enjoy reading to children more for pleasure as opposed to having to read to children as a requirement to teach them to learn to read and write.

These teachers described common experience when they were young with their mom. Having a joy of reading time with mom helps these teachers have a passion to share books with their children in their classroom. Thus, early experience with a joy of books is valuable for children to become good readers in their life even as they become adults.

Goodman (1986) has commented that "some of the most effective whole language teachers are not sure they are whole language teachers" (p.5). Therefore, even if they may not realize that they use the whole language approach, their beliefs are based on the whole language philosophy.

3) Understanding of language developinent Most of these teachers believe that there is relationship among listening. speaking, reading, and writing. These language relations are all connected in one way and put together for successful development. Children seem to learn language from children's books, stories, and learning poems to the part which means from letters and sounds. Teachers generally emphasize learning from large to small because children enjoy language through reading children's rxxiks. stories, and learning poems. These teachers indicated that children understand whole sentence or words before learning each letter because they become familiar with the whole book, story, or poem.

The lowest score of Teachers' Beliefs About Literacy

How Children Learn to Read and Write

1) By memorizing the alphabet ami recognizing letters. Teachers interviewed who got the lowest score in this study believed that children need to practice from basic skills to memori/e each individual letter because children are able to read words based on their recognition and shape of line which form each letter. Children need to take time to repeat and practice through a long process to memorize each line and shape. The effective way these teacher insisted is to trace and copy letters with repetition and incmori/ ation.

Specially. I believed that children who are visually oriented and memori/e words via flash cards- television, and books which are read to them. For those children who are auditorilly oriented, lhe phonetic approach is easier. The child \ho possesses both auditory and visual perception skills often combines these skills to read in early years.

These teachers also emphasized making the relationship between letters and sounds to help children to learn letters. In order to read books, children need to develop an awareness of the relationship between sounds and letters in terms of these teachers' beliefs.

These teachers interviewed with a low score in this study also believe that children are able to write and read after they can listen and speak, this means children' listening and speaking are important and necessary factor for learning to read and write. In other words, children always proceed their development by the sequential process of going from listening to speaking to reading and writing. These teachers believe that children need to be able to recognize sounds to learn to read, which they believe is an important factor to develop children's literacy.

2) Learning Language Development from letter to sentence. These teachers who obtained the lowest score in this study insisted that children learn from the simple to the complex, thus, from part to whole. Therefore, children learn the simple alphabet first, then as they advance, they can move into complex words, and sentences. For example,

I believe that young children learn to recognize words and sentences and build their receptive vocabularies. When children express themselves they usually speak single words first, then phrases and later, sentences. When they begin to read, they tend to pick out individual letters first and simple words that they see often. As they begin to try to write, they often write individual letters first and later try to write words. This is usually quickly followed by children asking how to write sentences in order to label their work.

The lowest teachers in this study emphasized repetition and memorization.

The method teachers frequently use with children is that they encourage children to practice and trace each isolated letter to memorize it. These teachers also believed that children can learn best when children copy the alphabet and trace letters by line to memorize each letter. These teachers think that a child first learns sounds, then by putting sounds to words, and sentences, then letters. That's why they encourage children to practice many letters to memorize each word. Also, they insisted on this premise that reading, writing, speaking and listening are all part of literacy. In order to be able to read a child needs to be able to listen to how letters form sounds and then be able to speak them and hear how they sound. Knowing how to write the letters also enables the child to associate letters' sounds and the importance they make when putting them together into a word.


This study was designed to investigate teachers' beliefs about children's literacy through \quantitative research and qualitative research. Additionally, this study found that there is a difference and relationship between some teachers' characteristics as independent variables and the scores of teachers' beliefs about literacy in this research. The results and findings of the study support the theory as well as previous research about teaching literacy to children(Loughlin & Martin, 1987,). The following argument will present the results of this study to influence and support previous research which examined teachers' beliefs about teaching literacy based on the whole language approach. The teachers who have a higher education probably scored higher because they may have had more opportunities to learn about the whole language approach in college. In other words, the higher the degree, the higher the score. A teacher's level of experience, however, did not significantly correlate with the score regarding belief, so experience alone does not explain a teacher's score on the questionnaire.

When teachers realize that whole language approach is an ideology which empowers teachers, they are able to develop their own critical perspective based on this philosophy of whole language approach. Therefore, a teacher comes to understand how children develop their own literacy through the process of reflection.

These findings support other researchers' findings that teachers have a different perspective for teaching literacy based on their preference for the whole language approach (Goodman. 1989; Grave, 1983: Maguire, 1989; Newman, 1985; Taylor, Blum. & Logsdon. 1985).

The third finding from qualitative data is that the high score teachers emphasize a print-rich environment, valuing print by using a natural context and communicating with young children to encourage their ownership in learning and by respecting children's voices. However, the lowest teachers mainly use the phonics approach and teach isolated letters and believe that children learn best when they memorize and identify individual letters and words. In contrast, the high score teachers emphasize meaning to develop literacy. Teachers who obtained high scores in this study regard children's real lives as a meaningful way to learn and use because children relate their learning to their lives outside as well as inside the classroom. They believe that teachers must encourage children to share ideas related real life for a creative learning experience.

Teachers and children as partners must develop an atmosphere of the "alive" classroom andlearn in the real life to understand our worlds.

The teachers who obtained the highest score in this study seem more likely to read to children because they deserve it, they want to read to them as they themselves are avid readers. Thus, they value the advantages of children's books for their beauty, meaning, and emotional feeling in our lives. These teachers want to pursue meaning in their lives based on their reading books with children. However, the lowest score teachers in this study believed that children must be fluent readers and skilled writers because language is required for children to become successful in this society. These teachers did not have a positive attitude towards reading books and did not seem likely to show their passion to experience joy of books with children. Thus, these teachers emphasize reading fluency for children to master literacy skills to be fluent readers and writers who will increase their profit in our society. In other words, the teachers' beliefs toward literacy is close related to teachers' attitude toward literacy. In this study, the teachers who got high score on their beliefs seem to relate learning more to life while teachers who obtained low score and have learned about whole language do not have this holistic approach to life and teaching.

The knowledge of whole language appeared to be a important source in helping teachers become whole language teachers, hut more meaningful than learning experience of whole language was the teachers' positive attitude and perspective toward the value of enjoying language. Therefore, even though teachers can choose to use part of the whole language approach when they children, without changing the philosophy which affects their attitudes and beliefs, they are still traditional teachers based on phonics and skill focus.

Thus, it is hard to change teachers' deep rooted perceptions of learning and teaching about language because they teach the way the learned language from a young age to their college years. Teachers need to experience a reflection to change their perspective and practice in their real teaching settings. Moreover, changing teachers' beliefs toward language involve teachers thinking reflectively about their teaching and their whole life and empowers them to have a critical perspective based on this philosophy. In a new view of language learning, empowering teachers experience the process of reflection to understand how children develop their own literacy in a natural learning context.

Thus, the learning experience of the whole language approach appeared as a meaningful factor with helping teachers become whole language teachers, but the more important thing was the influence on a teacher's attitude and perspective rather than a teacher's knowledge of whole language. Thus, even if some of these teachers decide to use part of the whole language approach without understanding the philosophy, which influences their perspective and beliefs, they are still traditional teachers because whole language is not a methodology.


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