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Literacy
in the 21st century extends far beyond its traditional meaning of
being able to read and write. This ever-evolving term now encompasses an
individual’s capacity to critically appreciate, reflect, empathise, express,
interpret information and construct meaning from a text. It also involves
strong elements of social interactions and communication like oral language,
printed text and non-printed text (Cambridge Assessment, 2013; DES, 2011; INTO, 2001).
Literacy is a developmental process that occurs across the lifespan and it is
among one of the most valuable life skills taught in schools (Alexander, 2005; Brown, 2014).
Both the 1999 and the new language curriculum recognise the importance of cultivating
positive attitudes to reading and for children to appreciate the value of
language (Ireland, 1999) .

The story approach
to literacy involves the description of a series of
events that are either fiction or non-fiction. For example, the lessons
planned in Artefact 3 were based on the true story of a young, Paraguayan girl
named Ada who lived in a town built on a landfill. This magical story follows
Ada as she overcomes insurmountable odds to makes her dream of becoming a musician
a reality. Numerous studies highlight the importance and positive effect the
story approach has on a child’s literacy development. This pedagogical strategy
has shown to influence language acquisition and is an excellent way of
introducing and contextualising
new language to young learners. Further, one of the most significant influences
of using a story approach to literacy in the early years of primary school is
that it can enhance literacy in both reading and writing, creating a platform
for literacy activities in the classroom (Al-Mansour & Al-Shorman, 2011; Justice,
Kaderavek, Fan, Sofka, & Hunt, 2009; Miller & Pennycuff, 2008; Newman,
1996).

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Early childhood
is a fundamental time period for learning and it plays a vital role in the
development of literacy skills. Its significance is such that a 2012 report on
Literacy in Early Childhood and Primary Education identified the engagement of
children in storybook reading and discussion as a key pedagogical practice in
early literacy development (Kennedy et al., 2012). The pedagogical practices
employed in the early years are therefore
of utmost importance. When learning to read and write, children are first
required to first develop foundation skills like word recognition, phonics as
well as phonological and phonemic awareness (Brown, 2014; NCCA, 2015). These emergent literacy
skills help children acquire the knowledge, behaviours, skills and language that ultimately form the
foundations for later competence and proficiency in reading.

Oral language is highly correlated with
both reading and writing. It essentially forms the foundation of early literacy
development, with studies showing it to be a prerequisite for success in the
acquisition of writing and reading with comprehension (Dickinson
& Tabors, 2002; Lawrence & Snow, 2011; NEPS, 2016; Rose, 2006). As most children up to the age of
seven have limited reading skills, a large majority of both the content and thinking
processes outlined in Aistear and the Primary school curriculum depend on oral
language (Shiel, Archer, Mc Gough, & Creagan, 2012). With research reporting that
those who don’t find it difficult to keep pace with their classmates in later
years, it is imperative that children develop strong oral language skills
during their early years of primary school (Roskos, Tabors, & Lenhart, 2009).

A story approach to literacy is an excellent
way of advocating extensive oral language in the classroom. It fosters
communication and provides children with a plethora of opportunities to engage
in meaningful oral language activities (Isbell, Sobol, Lindauer, & Lowrance, 2004;
Kaderavek & Justice, 2002; NEPS, 2016; Shiel et al., 2012). For example, in the above
lessons, the students were questioned throughout and they discussed both the
text and illustrations in the book in great detail. It is also important that
children are exposed to a high-quality literacy environment in their homes as
this helps to further develop their vocabulary, build different reading
strategies and can have a significant effect on a child’s success in literacy
instruction at school (Manolitsis, Georgiou, & Tziraki, 2013; NEPS, 2016;
Saracho & Spodek, 2010).

The story
approach to literacy in the early years of primary school has many associated
benefits. One such benefit includes that stories naturally integrate their way into other subjects in the primary
curriculum, often containing a range of geographical, historical, sociological
and cultural information (Ellis,
Brewster, & Wright, 2014; MLPSI, 2011). ‘Ada’s Violin’ for example, provides
context for a project on creating objects from recycling materials in art,
learning about other cultures in Geography and recycling in S.P.H.E.

The motivation aspect of using a story approach to literacy is one of its most
attractive features. Its relevance is such that it is listed as learning
outcome in the new primary language curriculum (NEPS, 2016; Ireland, 2015). As reading successfully is a
critical motivator for reading, teachers should always ensure to select books
from a wide-range of genres. The books itself should be of interest to the
reader, intrinsically enjoyable, challenging and socially meaningful to them (NEPS, 2016; Tyner, 2009). The book should also have a
logical story-line, contain memorable characters and be suitable for the age of
the child. For example, as ‘Ada’s Violin’ is recommended for children aged 4-8,
the book was chosen for children at the beginning of 2nd class (The
Book Depository, 2016: Simon & Schuster, 2016). It also it follows a clear
story-line of Ada on her journey to becoming a violinist and Ada, her family
and Chávez are all extremely
memorable individuals. Selecting appropriate books is often a challenging
aspect of using a story approach to literacy in the early years. This can be
made further challenging for teachers in schools that do not have an extensive
school library and so their choice for selection is limited (Coghlan, 2003).

An emerging body of research has shown the power stories have in
bringing emotions to life (Krznaric, 2015; Nikolajeva, 2013). One benefit of the story approach to
literature is that is the children learn to empathise with and discuss the
feelings of the characters and the various dilemmas they must overcome. ‘Ada’s
Violin’ is a book that can be used to introduce the concept for empathy to
children where they can empathise with the daily struggles Ada endures.

Stories often contain
an interesting storyline that can help extend and consolidate a child’s
knowledge on various topics. 

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