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Synergy: A Case Study of a Middle Child's Literacy Development

The analysis of how a middle child both learns from and teachers her older and younger siblings.

Alexis Birner

on 9 April 2010

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Transcript of Synergy: A Case Study of a Middle Child's Literacy Development

Synergy: “[A] unique reciprocity whereby siblings act as adjuvants in each other’s learning, i.e. older children ‘teach’ younger siblings and at the same time develop their learning” (Gregory, 2001, p. 309). “Like parents, older sibs may have authority, and may give nurturance, support, and care” (Ervin-Tripp, 1989, p. 185).

“Like peers, sibs share a generation- they are likely as children to play together, to share experiences and perspectives” (Ervin-Tripp, 1989, p. 185)
“Even more than peers, siblings close in age are likely to share a common ‘language’ and cultural ‘recipes’ ” (Gregory, p. 305, from Azmitia & Hesser, 1993).
Risha Almost 7-year old Indo-Canadian girl
Middle child; has an older sister and a younger brother
Bilingual in both English and Punjabi; lives in a joint family with her paternal grandparents
Grade 1 student
Loves to draw, but needs encouragement to practice her reading and writing, both in English and Punjabi
Described as “structured” and “anal” when it comes to learning
“Sticks to her siblings like glue”
Jivan 3 ½ years old
Youngest sibling
Least literate in Punjabi and English of the 3 siblings
Said to be closer to Risha than his oldest sister because she had ½ day Kindergarten last year, and because they love to draw and colour together
Started Preschool in September; disliked it at first, but now loves it
Described as a “quick learner”, especially with computers and technology
“Imitates his sisters”
8 ½ years old
Oldest sibling
Most literate in Punjabi and English of the three siblings
Grade 3 student
Enjoys writing and reading
Has moved on from colouring to reading chapter books such as Geronimo Stilton
Described as “patient” with her younger siblings and “scattered” with her learning
Context Middle-class neighbourhood in a suburb south of Vancouver
Variety of forms of environmental print in the neighbourhood, from 2 large shopping plazas, to vans in the area with print on the side, to their school within walking distance
Local library within walking distance, which children visit frequently
Community center which has a pool, preschool, and kindergarten, as well as adult classes
School in next catchment has a “Strong Start” program
Temples, churches and gurdwaras close to where they live
Environmental print in house includes newspapers, spelling words, planners, calendars, books,children's books and activity books; many were in Punjabi as well English

Environmental Print Rationale Frequent teaching at her school and neighbouring schools, which have many middle-class Indo-Canadian families
Interested in learning how siblings learn and play together
Noticed a gap in research on middle siblings, who are in unique position: have benefits of learning new skills from older child, as well as a young sibling to teach and practice existing knowledge on
Guiding Questions How are Risha’s literacy skills practiced or reinforced at home with her young brother? Is it through direct teaching or modeling?
How does her older sister help develop and broaden her understanding of literacy?
Does the use of multiple modes (such as dance, drawing or technology) play a role in her literacy development? How do Risha and her siblings use multimodal literacy practices to deepen their understanding of literacy?
Methodology 6 visits, each from 1.5 to 2 hours
Only weekdays
Field notes, observations, guiding questions, pre-planned interview questions for both the parents and the children, pictures, samples of work
Safe, non-judgemental error correction “[S]iblings are more likely to point out a child’s mistakes and show the right way” (Ervin-Tripp, 1989, p. 189). Mistakes were pointed out, but joked about rather than mocked or teased. Mistakes were quickly pointed out, but joked about rather than mocked or teased Contextual Learning Literacy is cultural practice and is socially situated (Gee, 1992; Purcell-Gates, 1996). Brought themes into her home; Risha both taught and practiced them with her siblings. Digital Learners
“As a socially situated practice, literacy appears in multiple forms” (Lam, 2000, p. 458). Implications for Teachers Make learning contextual; if students can identify with what they are learning, they are more likely to “invest” in what they learn
The benefits of pairing strong/weak learners together and “Buddy” classes
The inclusion of other modes, especially technology, as well as integrated units
Brought themes from school into her home; Risha both taught and practiced them with her siblings.
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