Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

The Discourse of Drama Supporting Literacy Learning in an Early Years Classroom

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

The Discourse of Drama Supporting Literacy Learning in an Early Years Classroom

Article excerpt


In 2007, a transition class was introduced across Queensland schools, removing the optional preschool year and bringing the age of school entry to 5 by the end of June. In that first year, the children attending were a half-cohort, aged generally between 4 years 7 months and 5 years 1 month at school entry. They were children who would previously have enrolled in preschool, but were now tackling a curriculum that, although still rich in play, put higher literacy and numeracy demands on its participants than the preschool curriculum. Teachers of the new class were encouraged, in their professional development sessions and the Early Years Curriculum Guidelines (Queensland Studies Authority, 2006), to employ an inquiry-based pedagogical approach. As a participating teacher and, at the same time, a post-graduate student undertaking a master's degree in drama education, I determined to employ dramatic pedagogies in my approach, embedding inquiry into these dramatic events. I would support the experiential learning with explicit teaching sessions in alphabetic skills, including a synthetic phonics program.

The two research questions that focused the PhD study of the year of learning were:

* What happens to young children's writing development when drama and dramatic play are privileged?

* What understandings of drama and dramatic play as pedagogies for written literacy are revealed when this approach is used?

The analysis of the discourse occurring during drama events was embedded in a self-study of my emergence as a drama /early years literacy teacher. The self-study was one of five case studies (the other four were case studies of children's literacy progress in relation to the pedagogy). These five studies formed what Stake (2005) calls a 'quintain': several case studies that illumine the whole multi-case. The discourse analysis provided valuable findings in relation to my second research question: drama and dramatic play as pedagogies for written literacy. I hoped from the analysis to be able to define the dynamic operating in the dramatic context that led to such enthusiastic, confident and sustained literacy activity among the children. Supplementing discourse analysis was the identification of elements of drama present in the situation, and an examination of the artefacts that children produced during and after the drama events, which I analysed through a socio-semiotic lens.

The aim of this article is to describe the pedagogical focus of one of the drama events I studied in depth, the oral and literary responses of the children that ensued, and the analysis of the dialogue that I made using discourse analysis tools, supplemented with the identification of dramatic features, and a brief examination of the writing behaviours in and after the event. The findings from this analysis and the discussion of the effects on children's oral and literary behaviour will potentially provide some insights into the possibilities of the dramatic approach in engaging children with the purposes and practices of literacy users. A fuller examination of the changes in children's literacy activity through the course of the year of dramatic pedagogy is dealt with in articles describing the children's cases studies.

Background research and theory

Discourse analysis comes from the field of functional linguistics research, particularly the theory and literature of Halliday (1973, 1978, 2004). Halliday (2004) defined children's language in terms of emerging modes of use or function, rather than Piagetian stages of cognition. He described the child as 'a semiotic being who is learning how to mean' (p. 26). He outlined a number of functions of language including interactional, informative, expository, instrumental, imaginative, personalheuristic and regulatory. Christie (2005), another theorist who worked within the functional linguistics field, believed that, as children progress into literacy, one of the most important tasks is the control of written language as a distinct mode of expression. …

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