Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Using child psychology techniques for researching children's libraries.

This is a paper written by Lynne McKechnie of Western Ontario University. It is good evidence for an ethnographic study in CMLs and gives me good techniques for analysis of the observations that I will be doing. It is called "Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development - a useful theoretical approach for research concerning children, libraries, and information." and it is found in Journal of Youth services in libraries, Vol 11, No1, Fall 1997 pages 66-70.

Lev Vygotsky was a developmental psychologist and he believed that children learn thinking and understanding by practising it with a more experienced person until they manage to internalise the skill and do it themselves. Learning is interactive and a child needs a go-between to feed in knowledge at the correct level and pace to buffer the space between what they know and what they don't know. Lynne McKechnie used an ethnographic field study to find out how pre-school girls used public libraries. They were audio recorded in interaction with their mothers.

She found that using the library provided learning opportunities about how libraries work, and the acquisition of emergent literacy skills especially in one to one exchanges between mother and daughter, who were instinctively using the zone of proximal development. She quotes examples of her observations when the mother asks questions about the illustrations, reinforces the child's statements, repeats their statements to verify them, and gives them encouragement to explore and think for themselves. They guide them through the books, linking words with pictures. She concludes that if children need a human catalyst to help them learn reading skills, this affects libraries in the following ways,
  • libraries should provide spaces for story sharing, with a parent or carer
  • staff can identify supporting behaviour from parents that use it naturally, and teach the behaviour to other parents.
  • Library staff can learn to work with children in their zone of proximal development.

If this is done, "libraries will have a positive impact on children's lives."

The sort of modelling behaviour that Lynne McKechnie has researched is one of the things I need to be looking for when I do observation on Children's mobile libraries. Then I can assess the contribution that has towards literacy development.

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