Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Rosalind Charlesworth

Second Advisor

Diane C. Burts


Concern has existed for several years over the classroom practices relating to the "whole language" approach as opposed to the "basal-based" approach relative to literacy development, especially with respect to the appropriateness of each method for use with minority and lower socioeconomic groups of children entering kindergarten. This study describes the oral language of both African American and European American kindergarten children from low and middle socioeconomic status families who are attending public school kindergartens, one using whole language and one a basal-based approach. The language during centertime of seventeen children from these two classrooms was audiotaped using wireless microphones over a period of six weeks in the spring of the school term. Qualitative research methodologies following techniques for both participant and nonpartcipant observations were implemented. Transcriptions were used to analyze the language according to the functions (Halliday, 1973), strategies (Tough, 1983), the Situational, Discourse, Semantic Model (Norris & Hoffman, 1993), and other recognized measures. Data analyses are presented in both descriptive and tabular form. Oral language of all groups classified was found to be in accord with the expectations of analytical models; virtually all the children studied were expressing themselves at the anticipated levels for their age. Even though there were recognizable differences in performance at particular points of measurement and levels of maturity, similar, somewhat parallel patterns were common to all groups. Contrary to what might have been expected by some educators, African American, lower socioeconomic status children actually performed at higher levels than European American, middle socioeconomic children in enough instances to suggest there was a similarity between the groups, particularly in the whole language classroom. There is evidence to suggest that, in some areas, the "whole language" approach encouraged a more mature, richer use of language than did the basal-based approach. This observation applies to both middle socioeconomic European American children and lower socioeconomic African American children. When children are given the freedom to express themselves in carefully planned, developmentally appropriate (Bredekamp, 1987) centertime activities, regardless of their racial or socioeconomic status, they will interact in a manner that advances their oral language capabilities.