Literacy Theories: Types & Characteristics

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  • 0:04 Literacy Theory
  • 0:38 Maturationist Theory
  • 1:24 Emergent Literacy Theory
  • 2:11 Social Constructivist Theory
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

The maturationist, emergent, and social constructivist literacy theories have different perspectives on how children acquire literacy. In this lesson, we will discuss the main characteristics of each theory.

Literacy Theory

Education professionals agree that a balanced approach to literacy is the most effective way to teach children how to read and write. A balanced approach that varies teaching methods, nurtures a love for reading, and integrates different reading materials developed because of several independent literacy theories coming together. Literacy theory developed over the last hundred years from in-depth scientific and social research. In this lesson, we will explore three theories that are popular in the field of education: social constructivist, maturationist, and emergent literacy theory.

Maturationist Theory

Maturationist theory, led by Arnold Gesell in the early twentieth century, claims that children learn how to read when they have acquired all of the necessary cognitive skills. Under this assumption, cognitive maturity supersedes physical maturity. Parents and educators cannot do much in terms of reading readiness to speed the process up for a child.

The main characteristic of maturationist theory is that a child's reading readiness can be evaluated through a series of tests. Furthermore, it is understood that all children develop through a similar, predictable sequence of events at a pace determined by internal and external factors. Internal factors include genetics, learning styles, and personality. External factors include living situation, parenting styles, cultural backgrounds, and social experiences.

Emergent Literacy Theory

Emergent literacy theory was developed by New Zealand educator Marie Clay and changed educators' understandings of literacy acquisition. Clay's research showed that children do not go through a set sequence of skills prior to learning how to read and that reading readiness was an inaccurate term. Instead, her findings demonstrated that children entered literacy through the simultaneous development of reading, writing, and speaking skills.

The backbone of emergent literacy is an active engagement between adults and children in activities that foster literacy skills. For example, children exposed to reading and writing at an early age use those experiences to become literate themselves. They learn the conventions of different forms of literacy, and then independently apply those skills to reading and writing.

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