ERIC Identifier: ED446341
Publication Date: 2000-12-00
Author: Lu, Mei-Yu
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading
English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Writing Development. ERIC Digest D159.
The purpose of this digest is to review children's writing development from
socio-cultural, generative, and developmental perspectives. The development of
children's writing has its roots in their social interaction with other more
competent members of the society through various meaningful, purposeful
activities (Haneda & Wells, 2000; Newman & Roskos, 1997). In a literate
society, children are immersed in a world of print. As they grow older, children
usually show an interest in writing if they have opportunities to observe other
people writing and are invited to participate in literacy activities, such as
making shopping lists and listening to bedtime stories (Bissex, 1980; Martens,
1996; Purcell-Gates, 1996). Gradually, children realize that both oral and
written languages are purposeful and meaningful activities (Bissex, 1980; Garton
& Pratt, 1998).
ORAL LANGUAGE, ART, AND CHILDREN'S EARLY
Observational studies of children's writing development reveal that
their early writing is usually accompanied by talking and drawing (Bissex, 1980;
Dyson, 1988a; McLane, 1990). Children usually use their drawing and talk to
support their early exploration and use of print (Dyson, 1988a). Children may
initially regard writing and drawing as the direct symbol systems in which
meaning is embedded (Ferreiro and Teberosky, 1982). Therefore, as children
write, they weave their drawing and speech into their writing to convey meanings
(Dyson, 1983; Gundlach, 1982).
PLAY AND WRITING DEVELOPMENT
In addition to speech and
drawing, play characterizes children's early writing development (Dyson &
Freedman, 1991; Newman & Roskos, 1997). Vygotsky (1978) proposes that
"make-believe play, drawing, and writing can be viewed as different moments in
an essentially unified process of development of written language" (p. 116).
Pretending serves as a bridge to literacy development (McLane and McNamee,
1990): (1) As a symbolic activity, pretend play allows children to develop and
refine their capacities to use symbols, to represent experience, and to
construct imaginary worlds, capacities they will draw on when they begin to
write and read; (2) As an orientation or approach to experience, play can make
the various roles and activities of people who read and write more meaningful
and hence more accessible to young children.
Clay (1975) points out that when children explore with written language, they
usually play with basic graphic features, such as the linearity of the print. In
the observation of her own son's writing, Bissex (1980) found that he mentally
manipulated and played with the arrangement of word strings (i.e., "You spell
book B-O-O-K. To write 'look' you just change one letter--take away the B and
add an L" [p.14]) while writing a song or lying on the bed.
CHILDREN'S NAMES: SPRINGBOARD TO WRITING
Children's earliest conventional written words are usually their
own names (Bloodgood, 1999; Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1982). While children's
names play an important role in expressing self identity (Garton & Pratt,
1998), they also affect children's early writing development. Research by Dyson
(1983) and Liberman (1985) suggests that young children often use their names as
a basis for their further learning in writing. When children are aware of some
letters within their names, they will begin to use these letters in their
writing (Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1984). In addition to their own names,
children use signs, captions, and labels in early writing (McLane & McNamee,
1990; Bissex, 1980). The signs, captions, and labels serve different functions.
They can be used to explain and identify children's drawings (McLane, 1990),
announce, assert ownership (McLane & McNamee, 1990; Bissex, 1980), and to
create an imaginary world (Dyson, 1988b).
LEARNING TO WRITE IN THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL YEARS
children advance in the elementary school, their writing undergoes changes. At
this stage, children may just explore and experiment with different forms of
writing which focus on the mastery, competency, and control of writing (Bissex,
1980). Children might repeatedly write familiar words/phrases (Clay, 1975;
Edelsky, 1986), or copy whole text/stories (Dyson & Freedman, 1991).
Gradually through exploration and experimentation, coupled with writing and
reading experiences at home and at school, children elaborate and refine their
old forms of writing, and new forms emerge (Kamberelis, 1999).
As children's forms of writing diversify, their awareness of audience
develops accordingly. In their early writing, children tend to write for an
immediate or specific audience, such as their parents, relatives or friends. As
new forms evolve from old forms, children apply both to achieve various purposes
In addition to changes in form and audience awareness, children's writing
becomes more coherent and internally cohesive during the school years (Dyson
& Freedman, 1991). Dyson and Freedman (1991) point out, "children become
less likely to make reference outside the texts themselves (e.g., to begin texts
with "This is") or to use pronouns without references (e. g., to use "He is"
when who "he" "is" is not clear)." Another change appears in children's global
structure of their written text; their text becomes longer and more complex over
time (Beach, 1996; Dyson & Freedman, 1991).
Studies on the development and the complexity in children's writing,
especially their story writing, have shown that before children start school,
most of them already understand the underlying features of storytelling
(Applebee, 1978; Martens, 1996). King and Rental (1982) investigated the
development of complexity in children's story writing during the first two years
of schooling. They found that as children's oral skill develops, the complexity
of their writing increased accordingly. With coherence and internal
connectedness, the development of writing continues throughout children's school
years and into adulthood.
Studies in children's writing development show
that learning to write is a socio-cultural, generative, and developmental
process. Children acquire written language as they actively explore various
forms and functions. They also interact with other more competent writers in
their community. Children also play with written language and weave it into
activities such as drawing, speech, and play. It is through the various and rich
literacy experiences that children become competent and creative members of a
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