A case study of learning to write in the early school years

  • Merle Dorothy Iles

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Models of language and literacy education in the recent past have tended to stress individual growth in learning language, often at the expense of perspectives that recognise the social nature of language and of learning. Currently, it would seem that there is a significant move in Australian language and literacy education away from individualistic models of language towards models that are primarily social in character. Genre-based approaches, among others, have contributed to the development of such models. This study takes up the theme of a social model of language and literacy, and of the pedagogical practices that have been derived from such a model. There are at least two sets of practices that are involved. Firstly, there are those practices that include the three-stage teaching or curriculum cycle advocated by genre theorists and practitioners in this country, namely the modeling or deconstruction of texts, joint construction of texts, and the provision of opportunities for independent practice. Secondly, there are the pedagogical practices that are more commonly associated with the Whole Language movement, especially as it has been recently reconstrued by its leading advocates in the United States as a philosophy of teaching and learning. 

    The report of this study takes as its particular focus the teaching and learning of writing in the early school years. The total teaching and learning program documented in the study was concerned with the teaching and learning of both narrative and factual genres, and indeed, with the teaching of reading, listening and speaking as well as writing. In fact, the total teaching and learning program was concerned with the building of socially valued knowledge and experience, and language was regarded as a key resource in this process. The teacher/researcher was constructed as expert, the children as apprentices, and the activity of teaching and learning as an interactional one, involving many levels of scaffolding of children's performance in contexts that were real and purposeful for the children concerned. The teaching and learning of, as it occurred in this study, was embedded in this total teaching and learning program. The study establishes that (i) young children are capable of producing coherent and increasingly competent factual texts in their first years at school, given appropriate levels of adult support and guidance; (ii) genre-based programs have a particular configuration of curriculum contexts, but need to be contextualised as components of broad, intellectually demanding, and language-rich curricula in the early school years; and (iii) constructions of learning and language as social interactional phenomena, systemic functional grammar, and genre and register theory have key roles to play as informing theories in the design and development of effective language and literacy education in the early school years. The study involved one teacher (the researcher) and a group of young children in a Queensland primary school, over a period of five semesters, as the children moved through Years One, Two and Three of the regular school system. As their class teacher over that period, the researcher was responsible for the development and implementation of the total class program for the children, and for their progress and assessment within that program. The study arose out of an earlier study completed by the researcher, as part of her work towards a Master of Education degree, under her previous name, Elms. In that study, the researcher examined the written texts produced by one young writer in her early school years (Elms, 1988). The present study provides a vehicle for commenting further on the relationships between text and context as they are realised in school settings. In particular, the report of this study expresses a view of what ought to be happening in schools under the banner of genre-based language and literacy education.

    Note: Please note that page 37, 117, 118, 119, 388, 389, and 590 are missing from original. Please note: Abstract -- "modeling" was a typograhical error from the original text
    Date of AwardMay 1995
    Original languageEnglish

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