Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Teaching Early Writers: Teachers' Responses to a Young Child's Writing Sample

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Teaching Early Writers: Teachers' Responses to a Young Child's Writing Sample

Article excerpt

Introduction and study context

Children usually start formal schooling in Australia between 4 V and 5 V years of age, although they may be a little older. They may, or may not, have attended pre-school or childcare, prior to school. The study discussed here focuses on children in their first year of formal school. The data analysis discussed in this paper was informed by the research question: What do teachers consider and value when analysing a sample of writing produced by a child in the first few weeks of the first year of formal schooling?

How young children perform in literacy is of interest and concern to politicians, the media educators, families and learners themselves. The introduction of high stakes testing (National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA), 2010) into Australian primary schools in 2008, placed a new layer of accountability on teachers and a new emphasis on measurable outcomes in school reporting. While the first round of NAPLAN tests does not begin until Year 3, anecdotal evidence gathered by the author when working with hundreds of teachers between 2004 and 2014 suggests that the pressure on teachers begins as soon as children start school. In addition, the introduction of 'My School' Websites in 2010 (ACARA, 2010) made what happens in schools visible to the community in a completely new way. This is consistent with the increased emphasis on testing and accountability in schools in the United Kingdom (Coates & Coates, 2006), and the United States of America (Genishi & Dyson, 2009; Hassett, 2008). The decisions teachers make, about teaching and assessment priorities, are influenced by their own beliefs about teaching and learning (Arbeau & Coplan, 2007; McCarthey & Mkhize, 2013), but they may also be influenced by the increased emphasis on accountability and high stakes testing (McCarthey, 2008).) It has been noted that children who enter school in an atmosphere of high-stakes testing 'often encounter an emphasis on correctness of form that casts doubt on the integrity of their personally invented messages' (Wohlwend, 2008, p. 43).

Successful engagement with literacy learning is essential to a good start to school, and a good start to school is important for continued school success and later life opportunities (Educational Transitions and Change Research Group, 2011). Research clearly demonstrates the power of the teacher to influence children's outcomes (Hattie, 2009). Learning to write is a critical component of literacy learning. The purpose of this paper is to examine early years' teachers' approaches to the analysis of a writing sample, collected in the early weeks of the first year of formal schooling. Through an analysis of the patterns of response, it is possible to infer the participants' beliefs and understandings about early writing development, and their response to the accountability agenda. A discussion of two bodies of literature will provide the theoretical framework for the study and the paper. I begin with the literature that discusses emergent writing, and the relationship between writing and drawing, and follow with literature, which discusses teachers' beliefs about early literacy.

Literature informing the study

Learning to write

Learning to write in a conventional form is a complex process which normally requires explicit teaching (Olson, 2009). It entails the interaction of cognitive and physical factors involving the hand, eye, and both sides of the brain (Bromley, 2007), and develops at many levels simultaneously (Tolchinsky, 2006). Learning to write in English involves mastering a diverse range of conventional forms and codes (including the alphabetic principle), and is challenging for young writers. Even though children's experience with print prior to school will be varied, (Barratt-Pugh, 2007) most come to school with the ability to talk, play, tell stories and draw (Genishi and Dyson, 2009) and in some cases have extensive experience of multimodal text interpretation (Anning, 2002). …

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