Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Essay: How Children Learn about Writing?

How Children Learn about Writing Essay

My chosen genre for my piece of writing was a diary of my two week holiday in Corfu – Greece; I detailed my perceptions and experiences for each day throughout my vacation. The decision to create this form of written work was not reached easily. I was daunted by the fact that I was required to write a written piece of any genre without any specifications. I have never been the creative type and thus the notion of creating a fictional piece was out of the question. I tried to concentrate on what I knew about writing, but I had writer’s block, I was unable to conjure up any ideas. Throughout my academic career I have written many essays but the forum for my writing had always had a starting point – a question or idea at least. I made the decision that I needed to write about something of which I had experience of; Parker (1993) argues that when one has some concrete notion or personal experience of a topic a written piece is more easily produced. I finally settled on the decision to produce a diary, I was able to mould, detail and express my own personal experiences through written language. Each evening on my holiday I settled down to recall my thoughts, feelings and events of the day; I was in a quiet place with no distractions. The time I dedicated to writing in my diary varied, eventful days resulted in more time being spent recounting what had happened whilst those days where little occurred could only result in a lesser input from my part.

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The planning that I undertook to produce my diary did not take the conventional form that one uses to produce a written text such as a story, essay or persuasive argument, for example while I was aware of what the purpose of my writing was for, I did not consider other aspects in great detail such as audience or other features of form that other writers may employ. Planning on my part in this instance was that I observe – I observed the events of the day, other people and my own perceptions and feelings.

I had no particular audience in mind other than the teachers who would read this work and in a way I omitted some information so that it was suitable – something that I would not do if I had been writing a personal diary for no one else other than myself to reflect upon. I acknowledge that as a general rule diaries will remain as they are written, no editing, amending or adding additional information, however because this diary was to be read by an audience this rule did not apply. My diary was revised into a final copy where modifications had been made in places so that my experiences of the world (my holiday) could be made explicit in the minds of my audience.

The compositional aspects involved in writing my diary were somewhat different to those involved in writing a story, persuasive argument or an essay, for example my ideas were not acquired through secondary resources (books, internet, newspapers etc) nor were they a product of my imagination instead they were based on my first hand experiences and perceptions of the real world. My diary therefore was an entirely subjective, introspective product.

When writing my diary I did not consider organizational structure as such, I recounted my experiences of each day in some order (i.e. from when I awoke to when I went to sleep). It was easier to for me to articulate the events of each day in some chronological order as it gave me both a starting and finishing point, however entries of my thoughts and feelings were at times sporadic, thus creating a written piece that in places lacked firm structure.

Deciding what to say for me was relatively easy as I did not have to think up anything novel or creative, I simply had to say in the form of written language what had occurred each day. Knowing what to write had posed a great problem initially (as already noted), on deciding that I would write a diary I felt a great relief as I knew that I would always have something to recount. I found writing the diary uncomplicated as my word selection was informal, when writing the diary I found that I did not have to employ eloquent words, I was not writing to impress, I was simply writing for myself, keeping a record as it were of what had happened on my holiday and I how I felt. Although I have stated that I was writing the diary for my self, I did acknowledge that this piece of writing would have an audience therefore the level of explicitness that I included was more exaggerated and detailed than if I was writing solely for my self, I knew that this had to be done if my writing was going to be meaningful to my readers.

In all honesty when writing my diary I did not consider transcriptional aspects at all. If I was unsure how to spell a word or of punctuation and grammar I guessed, I often used abbreviations and though my handwriting was legible it was not my neatest. I feel that for the most part writers of diaries are more concerned with composition, the shaping and molding of words to represent their world over transcriptional aspects. The predominant reason that I paid little attention to transcription when writing my diary was that I knew that it would be word processed into a final copy, the computer would provide the appropriate facilities to rectify any spelling, grammatical or punctuation errors and it would be presented in a typed format thus ruling out the need for particularly neat handwriting.

The craft of writing is perfected by understanding the many processes involved, before one can even begin to consider putting pen to paper and write it is necessary to know the purpose of the writing and the audience for which it is intended. Often it is the case that children do not consider who they are writing for, instead they simply see writing as an exercise that is to be marked as right or wrong by the teacher, they generally do not see it as a tool of communication, or a method of shaping thoughts and ideas (Keith Stellard; 1988). It needs to be made clear to children that their writing can have a range of audiences and that they can write for a range of purposes, then writing may come to be viewed as a more enjoyable form of learning. In order to increase children’s awareness of the various audiences and purposes that their writing could have I would enable them to experience writing not only in a variety of ways but also outside of literacy hour; rather than just writing stories I would get them to write letters, menu’s for food technology, instructions for experiments in science, biography reports in history, whether reports in geography are just a few examples. I would then encourage the children to share their work with one another in pairs, small groups or to other year groups so that they could see that their own written work was not solely produced for the viewing of the teacher. Another advantage in making children consider the importance of audience is that they are more inclined to pay attention to the transcriptional features of their written work (Lorraine Dawes; 1999).

Getting ideas for my piece of writing was difficult and I am not a novice writer, children are likely to have the same difficulty when wanting to create a piece of writing, therefore I would have to give them the opportunity to develop their ideas before they undertook the task of writing. This could be achieved in the shared writing component of the literacy hour; here I would show children how writing can be used for developing ideas. Activities such as mind mapping or brainstorming can be modeled and used as a way to generate ideas in a number of areas, i.e. on compositional aspects such as structure, tone, characters or on transcriptional aspects such as spelling, grammar and punctuation.

After writing my diary in draft, I was required to make a number of modifications to make it presentable, it had to be redrafted, proofread and checked for any transcriptional errors, to enable children to become fluent writers this is something that I would have to teach them. The ‘process writing approach’ developed in the 80’s argues that the process of writing is more important than the finished product, that composition is more important than transcription and that the teacher should strategically intervene in the process of writing rather than making judgments of the end product (Rebecca Bunting 1998). Donald Graves an advocate of this approach details in his 1983 book ‘Writing: teachers and children at work’ how children should be given the opportunity to engage in prewriting activities such as brainstorming ideas, drafting, editing, proofreading etc. He also argues that children should be given the freedom to choose their own topics for writing, be enabled to reflect upon their work and be given the opportunity to share and collaborate on their work with their peers and teachers. Both the National Curriculum and the National Literacy Strategy emphasize the role that the teacher should play in teaching children the processes involved in writing. However as Lorraine Dawes (1999) points out this could pose a problem as there is simply not enough time in the literacy hour to cover all of this. While some aspects of the writing process can be addressed in the literacy hour efforts have to be made to form cross curricular links and time needs to be made for extended writing in the timetable. The process of writing can not be taught in one literacy hour; therefore I would spend time developing children’s writing in any given topic over an extended period. For example on any given project one lesson may be spent on generating ideas for a piece of writing, another to produce a draft, another to editing and redrafting and finally one to producing a final piece of work, this approach would therefore not only produce a final piece of work but it would also teach children that writing is a process with many elements.

I paid little attention to the transcriptional aspects of my diary because I knew that eventually it would be word processed, however I do acknowledge that this is an important skill that children need to learn. The teaching of transcription skills within the literacy hour is important for now I will only focus upon spelling. Children have different learning styles therefore it would be important that I give my students the opportunity to practice a variety of techniques. Within the word level work component of the literacy hour I could use any of the following to teach spelling, techniques to develop kinesthetic memory, visual memory or auditory representations. The first approach would encourage the children to internalize words by repeatedly practicing writing them, for example they could use their index finger to practice writing a word on any surface, essentially the “hands get in the habit of writing certain patterns” (Medwell & Wray; 2001), an advantage to this approach is that children could then take their spelling away and practice them at home alone or with their family, however Bearnes (1998) notes there are drawbacks to this approach, the main one being that the child may see it as a form of punishment. S. Thompson (1990) advocates the use of visual imagery in helping children learn to spell, here children learn to hold images of the letters or components of a word, though this can be difficult for some children. If neither of the above is successful then children could use auditory representations, for example children could be taught to pronounce any given word as it looks (Bearnes 1998), the main drawback of this is that children may become confused and think that this is how the word is really pronounced.

The potential for the use of ICT in English is great; there are a number of word processing programs which children can use to produce written work as long as the facilities are available. Most schools now have computer suites or at least access to one computer in the classroom. I would encourage the use of computers as they have great potential for children learning to write, firstly it allows them to attend to transcriptional aspects of their work much easier as there are spellchecker, grammar and punctuation facilities. It also allows for children to partake in what Graves (1983) calls prewriting activities, allowing children access to ICT facilities to produce written work enables them to use word processing to draft their work, it enables them to learn how to manipulate tools such as cut and paste, and highlights that writing is a process with many stages. In addition to this packages such as desk top publishing will allow children to turn their written work into books, pamphlets, newspapers etc, thus creating a professional look to their work. If children are given the opportunity to use ICT not only in English but across the curriculum for written work I am sure that they will see it as a more enjoyable form of learning.

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