The systematic research which culminated in my doctoral thesis was sparked off by an encounter with my eldest daughter, then 6 years old.
Hoping to make her view a piece of school work from a different perspective, I tried to make a bridge between what she had just learnt at school and a possible parallel in an everyday, non-scholastic context. I was surprised by the extent of her resistance to my suggestions as by the vehemence of her tearful, exasperated outburst:
But Mummy! The one has nothing to do with the other! School is school, and here you are telling me stuff about home! What the teacher says is right, and anyway, what do you know!
A number of things became clear to me as I watched my daughter demonstratively heave her work more to her side of the table. Firstly, that literacy acquisition can be an emotive affair. Secondly, this child evidently makes a clear demarcation between home and school. The third, most perturbing, conclusion was not only my daughter’s unequivocal sense of the incompatibility of the two domains, but also the further strong allusion to the displacement of the validity of learning contributions from the home (relegated to mere stuff) by the infallibility of learning contributions from school. Was all of this only taking place in my daughter’s mind, or also in the minds of other children, parents and teachers, I wondered? Such reflections engendered a series of questions:
- How do the pre-schoolers I investigate encounter literacy at school?
- How do the same experience literacy out of school?
- Which values are communicated by school literacy practices?
- How do these compare to the values communicated by the children’s home literacy practices?
- To what extent do homes and schools, as literacy domains, interact?
The major hurdle to be overcome for anyone wishing to see what goes on behind closed doors is access. I knew from the start that my research would not involve large numbers, for I was not looking to follow an entire class of children over a longer period, but wanted, above all, to perform qualitative research on one child. I began to scan my environment. Most of the mothers approached had kept the work their children had done at nursery school not only because they found it cute, but also because none of their own work had ever been valued enough to be kept. Here again we see the bridge between parents’ childhood recollections and their behaviour towards their offspring. Careful probing revealed, however, that almost no-one had systematically kept the work their children produced at home; the drawings, mark-makings, first writings, etc. Whilst this provides insights into the contrasting values placed upon children’s writing and drawing performed at school and at home, the latter of which mysteriously disappeared at a convenient moment, it nonetheless thwarted my research ambitions. The only person I knew who had meticulously guarded every piece of work done at home and at school was: myself.