Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

In Their Own Words: Children's Perceptions of Learning to Write

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

In Their Own Words: Children's Perceptions of Learning to Write

Article excerpt

Research into children's writing has concentrated more on the development of competence than on children's conscious understanding about the process of learning to write. However, teachers need information about children's understanding in order to establish a foundation for new learning. For this reason the research reported here is based on interviews with school beginners about their perceptions of learning to write. The children's responses, drawing on home and school experiences, reveal their developing concepts about the nature of writing and the strategies they use when learning to write. The study showed variation in metacognitive and metalinguistic awareness, and a high degree of concurrence between the children's responses and syllabus recommendations on teaching/learning strategies for writing. Some useful teaching/learning strategies for writing instruction in the first year of school are discussed.

Introduction

The diversity evident in the language and literacy experiences of preschool children has been increasingly documented by Australian researchers in recent years. The research illustrates how home and community practices can differ markedly from each other and from school practices (Ludwig & Herschell, 1997; Makin, Campbell & Jones Diaz, 1995; Makin, Campbell & Agius, 1996). When children begin formal schooling it is important that their experiences, understandings, and abilities with written language are understood and valued by teachers so that instruction is relevant and effective. One way of finding out how a group of school beginners understood the business of learning to write is explored in this study.

Interviews were chosen as the main method of investigation in order to focus on children's understandings about writing rather than on their ability to write. Conscious understanding by children of oral and written forms of language contributes to their ability to use language effectively, a belief underpinning some primary English syllabuses (see Department of Education, Queensland, 1994; NSW Board of Studies, 1998). However, accessing children's understanding about anything is problematic, as it requires them to have developed a degree of metacognition, which has been described as `one's awareness of one's own cognitive machinery and how it works, both in general and at the particular moment' (Meadows, 1993, p.78). The questions asked in the research interviews encouraged children to display knowledge about the particular task of learning to write and the role of helpers and helping strategies in this task.

Children's diverse prior experiences will, of course, result in variations in their ability to reflect on experience in this way. Nevertheless, through talking about writing it was hoped that children might provide some unanticipated insights into their own learning processes. These insights could in turn prove useful for teachers in planning appropriate teaching strategies for writing. As the examination of the children's comments below shows, their perspective on their own learning processes is worth the effort. Among other things, it provides an interesting point of comparison with the views of adult educators as expressed in the literature and in syllabus documents.

Research into children's understandings about any issue presents obvious problems, so it is not surprising that far more research has been done in the development of children's language competence than in the development of conscious knowledge about language (Sealey, 1996). Studies in early writing development tend to follow this pattern. They are typically based on samples of children's attempts to write and on observations of the process. Researchers usually draw inferences from these products about children's understanding of the process. Sealey (1996) points out that one reason for this imbalance in research focus is that it is easier to observe competence with language than consciousness about it. …

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