Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Six Words of Writing, Many Layers of Significance: An Examination of Writing as Social Practice in an Early Grade Classroom

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Six Words of Writing, Many Layers of Significance: An Examination of Writing as Social Practice in an Early Grade Classroom

Article excerpt

It was free choice activity in the classroom and six-year-old Charlie was engrossed in drawing a three-dimensional model of a stegosaurus. He drew a bit, sat back, looked at the model, then at his drawing, erased and revised what he had drawn, scanned his efforts again, and so he continued. Charlie persisted with this activity with intent focus for some twenty minutes.

The previous day, in free choice reading time, Charlie had been engrossed in a book about marine life. Skimming and scanning pages and deriving meaning from text, photos, diagrams and actions, he pondered what he read. He stopped and pointed to an illustration of a goosefish and exclaimed to himself, 'I tell you, that's weird! It's got something like a tree growing out of its head!' He read on then picked out the label 'Macau Shark' and slowly read it aloud, adding to himself, 'That sounds unusual. Ma-cau shark'. After reading a little more, he stopped and commented, 'I learned something. I learned that some fish have bigger gills than others.' After he finished the book, he took pencil to paper and began making a book about marine life, sketching from the book and copying labels.

In these situations, Charlie emerges as a literacy learner who focuses on and brings together a number of literacy practices--code-making as he draws and makes books; making meaning as he reflects on his reading, constructs ideas and recreates them in his own book; engaging with written texts for purposes of enjoyment and learning; and positioning himself as an intent, focused literacy learner and classroom participant.

Yet, earlier that week, Charlie had been embroiled in a conflict over a teacher-assigned literacy task that concerned drawing and writing about a 'favourite Pat Hutchins story'. There, he deployed literacy practices in ways different from those we see above--Charlie as an intent and focused literacy learner gave way to Charlie as a classroom participant impacted upon by a number of literacy and social concerns that he saw he had to contend with in that situation--as this paper will examine.

How might we understand how children are enabled and constrained to make choices as writers in their classrooms? This is the question that is our focus in this paper. We examine the choices that one child--Charlie--makes as a writer in his classroom, and the influences that his situation and broader cultural contexts have on those choices. We do so by focusing on one writing episode the 'favourite Pat Hutchins story'--and peel back its many dimensions of writing practices and contextual influences. Our purpose in doing this is to illustrate and understand some of the many complexities of writing at school that children are required to orchestrate, and the challenges these complexities may present to some children.

A social model of literacy

In order to address our question and fulfil our purpose, this paper examines writing at school in terms of a social model of writing that is based on Luke and Freebody's model of reading (Freebody, 1992; Luke & Freebody, 1999a, 1999b; Luke, 2000), and which has been further developed in terms of reading and writing in the primary school years (Harris, McKenzie, Fitzsimmons & Turbill, 2003; Harris, Turbill, Fitzsimmons & McKenzie, 2001). This model is shown in Figure 1.


These practices, based Luke and Freebody's word, cited above, are:

* Text encoder practices, where writers inscribe marks on paper, computer screen or other media, to construct a visual or written text

* Text participant practices, whereby writers compose meaning

* Text user practices whereby writers write for social purposes, such as to inform or to entertain.

* Text analyst practices, where writers reflect and construct ideologies in their writing and position their readers.

Surrounding these practices is context of situation. …

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