How Drawing Can Support Writing Acquisition: Text Construction in Early Writing from a Vygotskian Perspective

By Mackenzie, Noella; Veresov, Nikolai | Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, December 2013 | Go to article overview

How Drawing Can Support Writing Acquisition: Text Construction in Early Writing from a Vygotskian Perspective


Mackenzie, Noella, Veresov, Nikolai, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood


Introduction

Early childhood is defined as the 'period of time from birth to eight years of age' (UNESCO, 2013) It is during this time that the foundations for literacy are established. Success in literacy learning is important in terms of success at school and opportunities in life generally. Writing is a key element of literacy learning. Writing is also one of the important ways humans record ideas, discoveries and stories, and communicate with one another. Recent research shows that in Australia, as well as in other countries including the United Kingdom (Anning, 2002; Coates & Coates, 2006) and the United States of America (Bergen, 2006), a formalised approach to literacy instruction in early years classrooms dominates. This research suggests that the emphasis in many school classrooms is on letters and words, print conventions and accuracy, with limited time for self-expression or text construction through drawing. This may be a response to the 'accountability movement' (Genishi & Dyson, 2009, p. 59), a consequence of a 'narrow understanding of literacy as reading and writing words' (Ring, 2006, p. 195) or a view of drawing as a time-filler, art or 'activity to encourage realistic representations of objects, people, places or events' (Einarsdottir, Dockett & Perry, 2009, p. 5).

Our interest in children's drawings is purely as they relate to text construction and early writing, not as a manifestation of children's fantasy or artistic capabilities. In the early stages of learning how to write, children may not have sufficient control of print conventions to enable self-expression using text alone. Therefore, we assert that drawing, as a text construction method, should remain available to children throughout the conventional written language-learning journey. In this way, written text construction is added to visual text creation allowing text production to be fluid and flexible.

Drawing and writing: What does the research tell us?

Dyson (2001) suggests that the deliberate act of composing begins with directly representative media, including play and drawing. Mills (2011) also argues that young children 'shift meanings across multiple modes long before they have mastered formal writing skills' (p. 56). While drawing provides children with the potential for rich expression and complex learning (Oken-Wright, 1998), talk and drawing often interact as parallel and mutually transformative processes (Cox, 2005). Research from the 1980s and 1990s reports a strong relationship between early writing and drawing (Caldwell & Moore, 1991; Calkins, 1986; DuCharme, 1991; Dyson, 1988, 1990; Kress, 1997; Norris, Mokhtari & Carla, 1998; Oken-Wright, 1998). More recent research has come to similar conclusions (Dyson, 2001 ; Genishi & Dyson, 2009; Jalongo, 2007; Kress & Bezemer, 2009; Mackenzie, 2011 ; Mayer, 2007; Mills, 2011 ; Ring, 2006; Shagoury, 2009). Drawing and writing involve the use of many of the same psychomotor skills and cognitive abilities (Jalongo, 2007), and are both systems of sign or mark making capable of carrying meaning. As drawing is a flexible, invented, personal symbol or sign system, it is unconstrained and does not require learned interpretation (Caldwell & Moore, 1991). In contrast, writing systems are closed systems determined by cultural context and constrained by rules.

Writing differs from oral language, because it leaves visible traces or marks (Tolchinsky, 2006). If writing is the representation of speech (Olson 2009; Vygotsky, 1997) in the ideal learning situation writing should develop at many levels spontaneously and simultaneously (Tolchinsky, 2006) with children building a 'symbolic repertoire' of which print would be one element (Genishi & Dyson, 2009). In this approach to writing, drawing is a form of self-expression in its own right and a means to add depth of meaning to early writing attempts (Clay, 1979; Dyson, 1986).

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