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Major Theories of Literacy Learning
and Language Development
Kenneth Kunz,
Ed.M. Rutgers University
Reading Specialization
What is Behaviorism?
• Learning consists of the acquisition of new behaviors.
• Stimulus vs. Response
Skinner’s Learning Theory
• Operant conditioning
• Conditioning stimulus-response (S-R) associations
through reinforcement
• Shaping behavior through selective reinforcement
• Humans are active participants in their own
learning rather than passive participants.
»Jean Piaget- 1896-1980
»Assimilation &
• We learn from and with others (socially)
• L.S. Vygotsky-studied the importance of social
factors in cognitive development
The Zone of Proximal Development
• "the distance between a child's actual
developmental level as determined by
independent problem solving and the
higher level of potential development as
determined through problem solving
under adult guidance or in collaboration
with more capable peers"
David Wood (based on Bruner’s Theory)
The support and guidance provided by an
adult or more capable peer
The learner should not succeed too easily,
nor fail too often
Cognitive Behavior Approach
• Students are aware of their learning and set
goals and understand desired behaviors
• Self-monitoring occurs as students track their
• Often involves checklists, behaviormodifications, etc.
Reader Response Theory
• Transactional Approach: The reader actively
constructs meaning from the text and makes
connections to his or her own life.
• Rosenblatt (1978)
• Classroom uses: Reader’s Response
Journals, Post-It Notes, etc.
Reflections on Literacy Research: The
Decades of the 1970’s, 1980’s, &
• 50’s and 60’s
– Emphasis on Phonics, Skills, Little meaning or
comprehension work until third grade.
– Standardized testing
– Direct and Behaviorist Instruction
– Experimental and Control Group Research
-Dolores Durkin-Reading Comprehension
(Meaning and Understanding)
-Kenneth Goodman-Meaning from Print
-Marie Clay-Cognitive Processing
-Louise Rosenblatt-Transactional (Reader’s
Response Theory)
Research moves toward observable and describable
case studies and analysis of conversations.
Socio-Cultural Concerns: What different
languages, cultures, families, environments,
and socio-economic status (SES) issues have to
do with reading success?
Whole Language Approach: Children’s Interests
are Important (Developing a Love for Reading
(Marie Clay, Kenneth & Yetta Goodman)
Donald Graves: Writing Process Approach
• Marilyn Adams: Skill Development & Phonics
• Marie Clay: Strong influence on systematic,
intensive instruction
Where does that leave us now?
2000 to Present
Balanced Literacy
More direct instruction
More skill-based
More accountability
Scientific-based reading research (SBRR)
Why does the pendulum swing so much?