Children's Understanding of Genre
and Writing Development
Carol A. Donovan and Laura B. Smolkin
Children, like adults, write for a range of purposes (Bissex, 1980; Chapman, 1994, 1995; Dyson, 1999; Graves, 1975; Newkirk, 1987, 1989; Zecker, 1999). An important part of "doing school" is mastering the most frequently appearing generic forms (Cope & Kalantzis, 1993; Martin, 1989; Martin & Rothery, 1986). In children's everyday lives in schools, two genres receive the most attention: stories and informational texts (Kress, 1982, but see Dixon, 1987, for a different view). Stories expand from the folktale prominent in the preschool set to high fantasy and science fiction for gifted upper elementary students. Informational texts expand from concept books to picture information books, to science and social studies textbooks (with the occasional enlightened teacher using authentic materials and magazine articles).
In this chapter we have attempted to provide a comprehensive review of the literature on children's understandings of genre as related to Writing development. We believe genre knowledge develops prior to conventional Writing abilities and include studies of children's pretend readings, dictations, and oral readings of early Writing attempts to provide the broadest description of children's genre knowledge and Writing development. We begin by examining the theoretical models framing research in this area, and continue with the methodologies employed for collecting and analyzing data. We move next to the general questions that have been asked, then to the major findings to date in this emergent field of research. Finally, we consider implications for instruction and the important research still needed.
Theoretical frameworks in studies of children's genre knowledge and Writing development appear to be influenced by three major traditions. The rhetorical tradition examines the structure of language with intent to provide descriptive models. The social tradition acknowledges a shared structure of language, repeatedly pointing to the fact that language is never a solitary pursuit. The cognitive-psychological tradition centers itself in examinations of practical experiences to learn how individuals and/or groups make sense of their various language encounters. Generally, studies from this third tradition ground themselves not in a theoretical frame but in the review of related research. We have organized our review of framing sections by the tradition invoked, and present the major figures of the tradition cited by researchers of genre knowledge development.