Chapter 3: Reviewing the literature

Activity 1: Rate the sources for a literature review

Look at the following website from RMIT University, Melbourne, which gives valuable information about how to evaluate your sources of information: (accessed 07-03-2022)

Then click on the following links about attitudes to breastfeeding in public. Using the RMIT guide, rank order the following sources of information with the highest rated source of information ranked as 1. Give reasons for your choices.

Activity 2: Structuring a literature review

The following paragraphs have come from a short literature review from the following article:

Brown, P. Byrnes, L., Watson, L. and Raban, B. (2013) ‘Young learners: aspects of home literacy environments supporting hypotheses about the structure of printed words’, Journal of Early Childhood Research, 11(3): 262–73.

Number the paragraphs in a way that makes logical sense. Check to see if you are right!




There is also a further body of research showing that fundamental to the development of these interrelated skills is the prior establishment of direct understandings of the purposes and functions of the printed word (concept knowledge), and that these understandings help to establish a platform on which later knowledge and skills can develop (Purcell-Gates, 1996). Work in the 1980s (Ferreiro and Teberosky, 1982) also established that preschool-aged children set up hypotheses about what letters, numbers and words are; how pictures and text are representative of each other; what the rules are about the letter content of words (such as the minimum number of letters and the variety of letters needed to form a word) and how words are separated from each other in the formation of sentences (procedural knowledge) (Raban and Coates, 2004; Ure and Raban, 2001). From this, it would appear that a model of early literacy needs to take into account at a fundamental level conceptual knowledge of literacy, and at a middle level, procedural knowledge upon which literacy knowledge can then develop in full. While this may suggest a hierarchy, it is probable that these three areas of knowledge are nested and continue to develop and inform each other in an overlapping manner (Clay, 2004).


In terms of parental interests around literacy, several different groups have been identified. In terms of reading in particular, some parents have been found to favour reading traditional texts such as fiction and non-fiction books, newspapers and mail (Traditional Literacy – Tr) (Kamil et al., 2000), while others show a preference for reading materials accessed on the computer (New Technological Literacy – NT) (Marsh, 2004). Yet others prefer to read written materials that help them to organize and inform the routines of their lives, such as recipes, shopping dockets, manuals and the like (Environmental Literacy – En) (Saracho, 2007). These preferences are also likely to be mirrored in terms of the topics and functions of parental writing. The home literacy environment (HLE) was described in terms of the parents’ literacy preferences (traditional, technological and environmental), the prevalence of their own literacy behaviour and the amount of time spent engaged in joint reading with their child.


Overview of the present study


The study reported here was part of a larger study (The Young Learners’ Project) investigating the factors affecting the development of early literacy in children prior to entering preschool and over the year before school entry. For the full study, the factors under scrutiny included the HLE, the preschool environment and teaching strategies and child factors such as their interests, orientation to learning, self-concept, symbolic skills (as evidenced in ‘pretend’ play) and their language and cognitive development. In the study reported here, the findings relating to the association between the HLE and children’s procedural knowledge are investigated.


Home literacy environments


Recent research into home literacy environments (HLEs) has investigated not only the amount of shared reading time that parents spend with their children but also their purposeful engagement (scaffolding) with the child around reading and writing (Dickinson and Tabors, 2001; Wood, 2002). The parents’ own literacy interests, practices and assets acted as models of literacy activities for the children (Hannon et al., 2006; Weigel et al., 2005, 2010). Recent views of children’s early literacy development draw attention to the potential benefits of rich HLEs, which provide children with models about what, when, why and how people use the printed word in their everyday lives (Neuman and Roskos, 1997) and that these varied experiences and routines should similarly be regarded as assets (Weigel et al., 2006b, 2010).


Children’s early literacy knowledge


It is widely recognized that young children make the transition to school education with varying degrees of knowledge and skill around literacy (Ure and Raban, 2001) and that their literacy knowledge at school entry is predictive of later school success (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1997). Reports from early years’ educators also indicate that there is some variation in children’s literacy concepts and understandings as they make the transition from home to the year prior to formal schooling (Raban and Coates, 2004). It is reasonable to hold that these varying levels of literacy concepts and understandings are a result of the learning that takes place in the home environment, during the years before formal schooling.


Success in literacy is arguably the most important accomplishment for children in literate societies. In a broad sense, the achievement of literacy enables us to make sense of our world, to organize our lives and to share experience across time and space while, in a narrower sense, it enables us to succeed in academic endeavour (Echols et al., 1996; Morrison et al., 1995; Werner and Smith, 1992). Research into the factors affecting the early development of literacy has been conducted from both these perspectives resulting in data that reflect either a sociocultural view of early literacy (Fleer and Raban, 2006) or data that focus on skill acquisition (Adams, 1990). The current article arises from a combination of these perspectives (Purcell-Gates et al., 2004).


Hannon, Morgan and Nutbrown (2006) report the use of the ORIM framework (Opportunities to read texts, attempt writing and to talk about literacy; Recognition of early literacy achievements; Interaction with more proficient literacy users and a Model of what it is to use written language in everyday life) (Hannon, 1995; Nutbrown et al., 2005) in their study of the effectiveness of a family literacy programme. The aim of the study was to investigate the efficacy of the ORIM framework in promoting children’s literacy through a parent involvement programme. The framework describes four aspects of parent support that foster early literacy in young children: the provision of opportunities for children to engage in literacy, recognition of the children’s literacy achievements, time spent in interaction around literacy events as well as modelling of literacy activity (reading and writing). Parent participation in the child-focussed part of the study was high, and many parents reported enhanced literacy development in their children and reported that they felt more confident in their interactions with their children around literacy events.


Children’s early print concepts


There is strong evidence that several factors in the years prior to school are critical to the convergence of a number of interrelated skills such as phonological awareness and decoding that are mastered by most children in formal school settings (Dickinson and McCabe, 2001). These include child factors such as language development (Dickinson and McCabe, 2001), cognitive development (Fellowes and Oakley, 2010) and children’s orientation to learning (Claxton and Carr, 2004) as well as home factors such as home literacy practices (Weigel et al., 2006a) and socio-economic status (Natsiopoulou et al., 2006), although the impact of the latter remains controversial.


Activity 3

Sage research methods content

Steward, B. (2014) ‘Writing a literature review’, British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67(11): 495–500.

This is an accessible text which stresses the difference between writing a literature review that underpins a piece of primary research and writing a literature review summarizing the state of play on a particular topic. You may be lucky and find a good, up to date, secondary literature review on your topic. Note, particularly, the bullet pointed list on page 498. The last item is: ‘What ordinary people are doing and whether practice matches theory.’ It is common for early childhood students to be conducting a practically focused piece of research. This is a reminder that one should look at ‘trade’ journals, such as Nursery World in the UK for articles that are relevant to the topic you are interested in.

Hu, J., Torr, J. and Whiteman, P. (2014) ‘Australian Chinese parents’ language attitudes and practices relating to their children’s bilingual development prior to school’, Journal of Early Childhood Research, 12: 139.

This article describes a study of the attitudes and practices of Chinese parents of preschool children in Australia relating to their children becoming bilingual in their home language and English.

  • Read the abstract and the discussion to get an overview of the content of the article.
  • Now read the whole article, making a note of the headings used. You will discover that there is no heading for ‘literature review’. This is not uncommon in journal articles. Each publication has its own house style and when writing for a specific journal, authors are expected to structure their articles to conform to this style. The literature review can be found in two sections: ‘Bilingual development in immigrant children’ and ‘Chinese parents’ language attitudes and practices’.
  • The literature review starts with a general introduction to the topic, giving definitions and stages of bilingual development. The section then goes on to describe the importance of the home environment in maintaining first-language development and the benefits to children and families of being bilingual.
  • The second section becomes more specific (less general) and looks at studies that report on the attitudes of immigrant parents. First of all, this section looks at immigrant parents in general and across a variety of countries. Then the authors become even more specific, looking to see what the literature tells us about Chinese parents and in particular Chinese parents in Australia. As in the first article we looked at, you can see we have a ‘funnel’ shape appearing. The authors look at a variety of research studies and discuss findings that indicate that (not surprisingly) parents exhibit a variety of attitudes, expectations and practices.
  • Note how the final paragraphs narrow the field down even more so that the research questions follow on logically from the literature review; it is as if the research questions have dropped out of the funnel. A well-constructed literature review, such as this, gives the impression that it took no time at all to write. In reality, it often takes several attempts to structure a literature review so that the ideas flow logically from one to another.