Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Developing Reading-Writing Connections: The Impact of Explicit Instruction of Literary Devices on the Quality of Children's Narrative Writing

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Developing Reading-Writing Connections: The Impact of Explicit Instruction of Literary Devices on the Quality of Children's Narrative Writing

Article excerpt

Abstract. The purpose of this collaborative schools-university study was to investigate how the explicit instruction of literary devices during designated literacy sessions could improve the quality of children's narrative writing. A guiding question for the study was: Can children's writing can be enhanced by teachers drawing attention to the literary devices used by professional writers or "mentor authors"? The study was conducted with 18 teachers, working as research partners in nine elementary schools over one school year. The research group explored ways of developing children as reflective authors, able to draft and redraft writing in response to peer and teacher feedback. Daily literacy sessions were complemented by weekly writing workshops where students engaged in authorial activity and experienced writers' perspectives and readers' demands (Harwayne, 1992; May, 2004). Methods for data collection included video recording of peer-peer and teacher-led group discussions and audio recording of teacher-child conferences. Samples of children's narrative writing were collected and a comparison was made between the quality of their independent writing at the beginning and end of the research period. The research group documented the importance of peerpeer and teacher-student discourse in the development of children's metalanguage and awareness of audience. The study suggests that reading, discussing, and evaluating mentor texts can have a positive impact on the quality of children's independent writing.

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Current government test results in the United Kingdom show a continuing gap between achievement in reading and writing. Despite some marginal development, writing continues to be an issue, with the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED, 2005) reporting that too many children are still leaving elementary school (age 11) below the expected level. The call for teachers to move beyond initial stimulus for writing to more explicit teaching and skillful intervention during composition has been a consistent message from research findings and inspection reports for some years. In its evaluation of the second year of the National Literacy Strategy, OFSTED (2000) confirmed that "improving standards in writing had proved to be challenging" and that "too much time is spent on children's practicing writing rather than being taught how to improve it" (p. 9). Myhill (2001) reiterated the need for more explicit teaching, saying that teachers rarely intervene, during composition, to help children understand how to improve their writing. Thus, despite the implementation of a National Literacy Strategy, a systematic approach to teaching writing, including opportunities for sustained independent writing, is not common practice in most British elementary schools.

The purpose of the study was to investigate whether, through explicit teaching and discussions of mentor texts in literacy sessions, children could develop their knowledge of how texts are crafted by accomplished authors. We then wanted to see whether children would use this knowledge during writing workshops to improve the quality of their own independent writing. Underpinning our classroom research was Vygotsky's (1978) contention that learning occurs within a social context, and through adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers. We therefore adopted a social constructivist position; our teaching approach was influenced by Bruner's contention that learning takes place most effectively by providing appropriate social interactional frameworks and by scaffolding through structured interplay between teachers and children. The call in the UK for more structured intervention to scaffold children's learning echoes those in the United States (De La Paz, 1997; Leavell & Loannides, 1993). Research in the United States has shown how the quality of children's writing can be improved through the explicit teaching of self-regulatory strategies and processes used by skilled writers (Anderson, 1995; Graham, Harris, & Troia, 1998; Tierney & Shanahan, 1991). …

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