Project 40 Essay 3

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Writing development as a necessary dimension of language and literacy education



4o logo 1972–2012

June 2013

Professor Frances ChristieEmeritus Professor of Language and Literacy Education Frances Christie

Reflections on writing in Primary English language education over the last 40 years, in the third of a series of Project 40 essays supported by video interviews and key PETAA resources.

Video interview   |  References and bibliography

Notes

1

This Association became the Australian Literacy Educators' Association (ALEA) in 1995.

2

This project is discussed in R. Hasan and J.R. Martin (eds.) (1989) Language Development: Learning Language, Learning Culture. Meaning and Choice in Language. Studies for Michael Halliday. Ablex: Norwood, New Jersey.

3

See, for example, all the following, addressing different aspects of writing:
Beverly Derewianka (1990) Exploring How Texts Work
Libby Gleeson (2010) Writing Like a Writer
Viv Nicholl-Hatton et al (2006), Writing (better) Stories
Mandy Tunica (1995) For the Love of Poetry 

The emergence of language and literacy education

Professional understandings about young children’s writing development have changed fundamentally over the last 40 years and PETAA is one of the significant organisations in Australia that have helped achieve the changes. In fact, since the inception of PETAA the profession of English literacy educators has come of age, though other organisations contributed to such a development, including the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (founded in 1964) and the Australian Association of Applied Linguistics (founded in 1976), the Australian Reading Association (founded in 1975) 1 and later on, the Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association (founded in 1995). Internationally the 1970s and the 1980s saw the emergence of a distinctive interest in language and literacy and in the new area of study in teacher education termed language and literacy education, in which writing and its teaching have an important role.

In the past, primary and secondary teachers had talked mainly of ‘reading and writing’, and while the word ‘language’, was well known, it was not used extensively in English curriculum statements or among teachers. As for the word ‘literacy’, its widespread use in the teaching profession is historically very recent. Though the word ‘literate’ is several centuries old, the noun ‘literacy’ dates only from the 19th century, according to the Oxford Dictionary. The word was not widely used until the 1980s (Barton 1994: 22–3), though thereafter it came into extensive use in Australia as elsewhere (Christie 2003). It is now a familiar part of the professional discussions of teachers, and by 1990 the world even celebrated its first International Literacy Year. An educational project directed by Halliday (Nuffield/ Schools Council Programme in Linguistics and English Teaching 1964–71) 2 led, among other things, to a literacy curriculum package for the very young, Breakthrough to Literacy, whose title emphasised the developmental shift for children as they moved from the world of the spoken mode of language — to ‘break into’ the written mode.

Why are the terms ‘language’ and ‘literacy’ important? I have three responses. Firstly, the term ‘language’ draws attention to the central resource for living and learning that is one’s mother tongue. Language plays a central role in all areas of life, in personal development and in learning. It is a fundamental tool for learning in schools, even in the digital world in which image, diagrams and sometimes sound are involved. Secondly, ‘literacy’ is important because it recognises the intimate relationship of reading and writing. Past practices tended to view the two as separate, though the best pedagogic research and practice stress the interrelatedness of the two. In learning to write and read, children learn to engage with the written mode, both in constructing meaning in their own written texts and in comprehending and interpreting the meanings constructed in the texts they read. Thirdly, use of the word ‘literacy’ acknowledges that literate language is different from speech. Literate language is not ‘better’ than speech, and speech is the primary mode, learned first and used most throughout our lives. But the two modes of spoken and written language are very different and it is in the critical years of a primary schooling that children start to master the literate mode. And it is here that PETAA has made its important contributions. Many PETAA publications testify to the educational importance of learning literacy, and writing in particular. 3

4
R.D. Walshe (ed.) (1981), Donald Graves in Australia: Children Want to Write, PETAA

5
Beverly Derewianka (1990) Exploring How Texts Work. PETAA

A model of language development

PETAA members were among those who in 1978 attended a conference devoted to the National Language Development Project. The model of language development adopted by that Project (1979), proposed by Halliday, stated that language development involves:

  • Learning language: for example, learning its meanings, its sounds, its vocabulary and its grammatical patterns;
  • Learning through language: for example, learning about the world and its relationships through the many activities in which language is used;
  • Learning about language: for example, learning about its meanings, its writing and spelling systems and its grammatical patterns.

Learning language in all three senses is essential to all school learning, though the third – learning about language – is in particular the responsibility of schooling.

The issue of teaching and learning about language was often seen as controversial in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly with respect to writing development, because, it was argued by some, it compromised the capacity of children to learn to express themselves independently. Like other arguments over language development – ‘whole language versus phonics’, or ‘process versus product’ – this was a very unproductive argument. As teachers and students together initiate writing activities in school, so too they engage in writing processes, shaping meanings, working towards purposes and creating different texts, or ‘products’. A false dichotomy was often made between ‘process’ and ‘product’. The dichotomy may have had some heuristic value, in that it allowed a focus on different aspects of learning to write, including the ‘writing process’, as James Britton and his colleagues argued (1975). However, for reasons Britton didn’t perhaps foresee, it proved in other ways unhelpful, creating a distinction that doesn’t really exist. What emerged from the debates about writing was a recognition that children need supportive work with teachers and their peers in learning to write, opportunity to share their writing with others and opportunity to draft and reshape their written texts in the light of feedback and discussion, as Donald Graves (1981) said in the course of visits to Australia in the 1970s and 1980s. 4 Moreover, in doing these things, they must learn to recognise different text types, their structures, purposes and goals. These are best learnt in working with models of the texts, as several writers began to state from the 1980s on (for example, Rothery 1984, Martin 1984, Christie 1984 and Bev Derewianka 1990). 5

6

Register and text types are discussed in Sally Humphrey, Loiuse Droga and Susan Feez (2012) (New Ed.) Grammar and Meaning

7

Jon Callow (2013) The Shape of Texts to Come Also see Jon Callow (ed.) (1999) Image Matters; Visual Texts in the Classroom
Maureen Walsh (2011) Multimodal Literacy: Researching Classroom Practice

8

Theories of early language learning are discussed by Robyn Cox (ed.) (2012) Primary English Teaching: An Introduction to Language Literacy and Learning, pages 1–10
See Jennifer Hammond (ed.) (2001) Scaffolding: Teaching and Learning Language and Literacy Education. This book offers an introduction to scaffolding in the tradition of Vygotsky.

9

Pauline Gibbons (1991) Learning to Learn in a Second Language
Marjorie Hertzberg (2012) Teaching English Language Learners in Mainstream Classes
Paul Dufficy (2005) Designing Learning for Diverse Classrooms
Brian Dare and John Polias discuss the needs of ESL classrooms in Jennifer Hammond (ed.) (2001) Scaffolding: Teaching and Learning Language and Literacy Education, pages 91–108.

Text, register, text types and semiotic theory

The terms text and text types, drawn from linguistic theory, came into language and literacy education from the 1970s and 1980s on, as did an associated term, register, while one other linguistics term – semiotics – has appeared in educational discussions more recently.

When we use language, either in speech or writing, we create meaningful passages of language or texts. Language is not learnt as isolated words: rather, it is learnt from the earliest months of life as a tool for making meaning and it always involves the creation of texts. Hence, when children take even their first steps in learning to write, they learn to create meaningful passages of language that are texts. Many past and discredited practices for teaching writing tended to focus on teaching the young to write isolated words and phrases while they mastered the writing and spelling systems; this was held to be a necessary step towards learning to write, as well as to read. But later practices, supported by the work of PETAA, have recognised that young children learn to write most effectively when they are engaged in working on the construction of real texts, normally with the assistance of teachers and others who scribe for them, and later by working on texts of their own as they are also taught, and learn, how to shape their letters and master the spelling system.

The term register refers to the different choices we adopt in using language in different contexts of use, depending upon (i) the topic or experience involved, (ii) our relationship with out listeners or readers, and (iii) the role that language plays in creating meaning: does it express all the meaning, so that it is wholly written language, or is it also constructed in image or diagram via hyperlinks to new texts, as in so many multimodal texts? As we make these choices in language, so too we create different text types – sometimes also referred to as genres. Even when very young, children begin to recognise different text types, and they can enjoy playing with them, modelling their writing on them, exploring their meanings and taking pleasure in sharing them. The current Australian Curriculum: English makes frequent reference to texts and text types, for the terms have become part of the professional discourse of teachers of English language, literature and literacy. They were not part of the English curricula of 40 years ago. 6

The term semiotics refers to the study of signing and its meanings, and though the term was not used by teachers in the early 1970s, it is an interesting indication of the times that the term now appears in a PETAA publication by Jon Callow (2013), who discusses semiotic theory to explain how visual texts work or ‘make meaning’. A language is a signing or meaning system, though there are many other ways to sign, like dance, music, gesture and the large range of digital and multimodal text types available today. As children learn to read and write in the modern world, so too they engage with a multiplicity of text types, verbal and visual. 7

Among the themes that emerged in language and literacy education in the 1980s and 1990s was the significance given to language and literacy as social phenomena. Just as language is learned in the early years of life in interaction with others, so the increasing evidence has been that throughout life, and certainly in schooling, we learn to use language and literacy in social processes, shaping the meanings made depending on social contexts and purposes. I have already alluded to the work of Halliday, whose functional theory of language is social, and who has written extensively on language as a ‘social semiotic’ (Halliday and Hasan 1985), though many others have been involved in discussing language as social, working from different traditions of scholarship. They have included for example, other linguists such as Gee (1992, 2007), or ethnographers such as Heath (1983) or Street (1995). Furthermore, the influence of the Russian psychologist Vygotsky (for example, 1980) has been recognised, with his attention to the significance of mentoring and scaffolding children in the social activity of teaching and learning. 8

One other theme that emerged in language and literacy education over the last 40 years was the increased recognition of the needs of children from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB). The Commonwealth government introduced the Child Migrant Education Programme in 1970, bringing in educational provision for NESB children and for their teachers, who had not always received adequate preparation for teaching English as a second language (ESL). Though the needs of migrant children were not foregrounded in the early publications of PETAA, over time PETAA has taken a role. PETAA has sponsored several publications for teachers of ESL, including those by Pauline Gibbons (1991), Marjorie Hertzberg (2012) and Paul Dufficy (2005). All these publications address the language and literacy needs of NESB children. PETAA has thus acknowledged that in modern Australia all teachers are teachers of English as a second language. 9

To illustrate some of the steps in learning to write across the primary years I shall briefly examine a small sample of children’s texts, drawn first from the early years, then the mid years, and thence the last years of school. Such a sample represents only a ‘snapshot’, though it provides some guide to what is involved in the developmental journey. A more comprehensive account of writing development, K to Year 12, is available in Christie and Derewianka (2008).

Learning to write in the first years

In the early years of schooling, learning the writing and spelling systems looms large for the young, and it is important that children develop a grasp of how to shape their letters and how to spell. Many children have commenced such learning before they start school; they are, for example, read stories by their caregivers, while many have learned to recognise the alphabet, and do some simple writing. Kress (1997, 1999) in investigating activities ‘before writing’ shows how, as they participate in drawing, cutting out pictures and related activities, children engage in semiotic or meaning making practices preparing them for the ‘breakthrough’ to literacy.

However, many children in Australia, less fortunate than those Kress alludes to, don’t enjoy the advantages of exposure to books. Tony Vinson (2010) recently reported that some disadvantaged young children in New South Wales pre-schools showed limited language capacity, at least for the purposes of schooling learning, while their apparent unfamiliarity with books meant they had little understanding of the uses or pleasures of reading and writing. Where children present with such disadvantages they will need active intervention and assistance from their teachers in developing an awareness of the values of reading books, of drawing and of exploring writing as their teachers scribe for them. They will in fact need a great deal of scaffolded learning of language and literacy.

Some early writing

Child's drawing with the text ‘I’m at the Dinosor (sic) Park/ I like Tyrannosaurys (sic) Rex’We can see the relationship between drawing and writing in Text 1, left written by David after a class visit to a dinosaur park, when he had been in school a few months. The words ‘dinosaur’ and ‘tyrannosaurus rex’ had been displayed in the room and explained by the teacher. David made a creditable attempt to spell them, while his control of letter formations, at this stage quite effortful, was also good. He enjoyed drawing and he completed his images carefully.

David’s language is simple, really like speech, and he drew it from the class readers he had been reading with his teacher, starting with I’m at….’, even introducing the apostrophe he had observed in the print materials. This opening enabled David to structure or order his little text, helping him to go on, independently, to write his second sentence, ‘I like the tyrannosaurus rex’, sharing his pleasure in the activity. 

Learning to order writing, sustaining the flow of information in written texts of several sentences and later of paragraphs, is quite demanding and it depends on developing new skills in control of written language. 10

10

Developing well organised texts is discussed in detail by Sally Humphrey, Loiuse Droga and Susan Feez (2012) (New Ed.) Grammar and Meaning, pages 124–158.

11

‘Theme’ is explained by Bev Derewianka (2011) A New Grammar Companion for Teachers, pages 143–148, and in Sally Humphrey, Louise Droga and Susan Feez (2012) (New Ed.) Grammar and Meaning, pages 132–141

12

For discussion of noun groups see Beverly Derewianka (2011) A New Grammar Companion for Teachers, pages 41–59, and Sally Humphrey, Louise Droga and Susan Feez (2012) (New Ed.) Grammar and Meaning, pages 38–46

13

The basic structure of orientation, complication and resolution is outlined in both Beverly Derewianka (1990) Exploring How Texts Work, and Libby Gleeson (2010) Writing Like a Writer

14

Kath Murdoch (ed.) (2002) Practical Literacy Programming

Annah Healy and Eileen Honan (Eds.) (2004) Text Next: New Resources for Literacy Learning

Though useful, drawing is not a necessary part of early writing, for young children can take up other options, depending on context and purpose. In one early classroom, for example, the children had made a ‘hairy monster’, created by filling an old sock with soil and placing it in water in sunlight, so that the seeds would germinate and grow through the sock, teaching some simple science.

The activity lends itself to writing one of at least two possible text types, a recount and a procedural text type, written by Tracey and Veronica respectively, both a little older than David (spelling has been corrected). The grammar of the two texts is again simple, evident for example in simple noun groups (a sock) but also in the series of language choices that open the sentences. These build a sequence of themes in each case that help direct the flow of information (though the numbers also helps to order the texts). Theme is what comes first in an English clause. Normally it is expressed in the subject of a verb, when it is called ‘unmarked’ or usual, as in We got a sock, but where it is expressed in some other aspect of the grammar, it is called ‘marked’ or unusual, as we shall see below in Text 3. Theme choices are marked in bold in the two texts. 11

  Text 2: A recount by Tracey
 Text 3: A procedural text by Veronica

  1 We got a sock.

  2 We put on the eyes.

  3 We put on the mouth.

  4 We put the seeds in the hairy monster.

  5 We put the dirt in.

  6 We watered it.

  7 We put the hairy monster down the back.

  8 We watered the next day.

1 Get an old sock.

2 Stitch on two eyes.

3 Stitch on a mouth.

4 Put some wheat seeds in the sock.

5 Put some dirt in the sock.

6 Water the dirt in the sock.

7 Place the sock in a tray in the sunlight at the back of the room.

8 Water the sock each day. 


Text 2 aims to retell a sequence of actions in their order, using the first person plural (we), the past tense (we got) and the declarative mood, as of one informing others. Text 3 makes no use of personal pronouns, so human identity is removed and it has no tense, for it uses the imperative mood (get an old sock) to direct the behaviour of others. The theme choices, as already noted, help organise and direct both texts, so that they are coherent and easy to follow. The noun groups in both texts are very simple, expressing clear if simple information; capacity to expand noun groups to express more information is a later development in children’s writing. In all, both texts reveal an emergent understanding of valued ways to express meaning in an English speaking culture. 12

Text 4, a narrative written by Tim, aged 7, shows good control of a familiar schematic structure, and an emergent control of the grammar of writing (though it lacks any punctuation!). His theme choices include three which are ‘marked’ or unusual, because they aren’t expressed in the subjects of the verbs, and they have an important role in directing the story forward. The first marked theme opens the orientation – in the ancient times – establishing time and context: the main character then appears – a minotaur that was very nice and kind and lived in a cave. A change in direction, marking the move to the complication, is signalled partly with the contrastive conjunction but, and partly with the marked theme shifting the time once more – one day. A crisis has befallen, because the minotaur has turned bad. But happily, as in most good fairy tales, the resolution achieves a happy ending with a further shift, partly through the additive conjunction and, partly through another marked theme, indicating another shift in time – one day, and we learn the witch turned him good again and made everything alive again. A state of harmony and good will has been restored. 13

Text 4: The minotaur, by Tim

  Orientation  In the ancient times there was a minotaur that was very nice and kind and lived in a cave
  Complication
but one day he stepped on a magic spot and turned bad so he started to kill the dwarfs and people
  Resolution and one day a witch came along and turned him good again and made everything alive again

Source: F. Christie and B. Derewianka (2008) School Discourse: Learning to Write across the Years of Schooling. Continuum: London, page 38

A very strong value attaches to such a narrative, much respected in English speaking cultures, suggesting that good triumphs over evil. Tim was proud of his narrative, which in one sense was original, though in another sense it derives from the wider culture in which he is participant. Stories like this were familiar to him because of the many stories read to him. Learning language in speech, reading and writing is learning culture, and the models available to young children are of critical importance as they grow into independence.

The last point is worth stressing if we recall the young children in Tony Vinson’s study, who had little or no experience of books or of reading or writing. Where children are read to regularly in the early years, they learn a lot about the literate mode. Children without this benefit are very disadvantaged. PETAA’s publications provide many resources and ideas to promote reading and writing activities across the years of primary schooling. Relevant strategies are outlined by Kath Murdoch and her colleagues (2002) and Annah Healey and Eileen Honan and their colleagues (2004). 14

15

Joanne Rossbridge and Kathy Rushton in (2011) Conversations about Text 2: Factual Texts, discuss factual texts in the primary years, demonstrating how functional grammar can be used to illuminate and understanding of them.

16

Mary-Anne O’Sullivan (1999) discusses creation of texts like Amy’s in ‘Illustrating the fact’ in Jon Callow (ed.) Image Matters: Visual Texts in the Classroom, pages 27–36.

Learning to write in the mid years of primary school

As children move up the school, their writing changes and the range of topics also expands. Among other matters, children start to research topics of various kinds, developing some skill in reading and writing factual text types. Here they must learn to select, interpret and evaluate information.

Consider Text 5, about Abel Tasman, written by Amy in Year 4. It is a biographical recount text (Christie and Derewianka 2008: 9), which outlines the details of a person’s life and evaluates his/her contribution. Amy researched her information, listing one source, also creating a map and other illustrative material. This is in fact a multi-modal text, its meanings constructed in image, map and verbal text.

Text 5: A biographical recount text about Abel Tasman, by Amy in Year 4

Year 4 project on Abel Tasman with text boxes on art paper with illustrations

Looking only to the verbal text, there are three elements: the first identifies the person of historical interest, the second outlines an important episode in his life, and the third evaluates the person’s contribution. Successful though the text is in some ways, it is at times a little disjointed, suggesting Amy has yet to learn how to manage the flow of information, moving coherently from one aspect to another. Control of the flow of information can be difficult.

In the first element Abel Tasman is identified in the opening unmarked theme position, for he is the important topic of this text: Abel Tasman was born in 1603 in northern Holland; indeed he is in theme position in much of the rest of the text. However, the next sentence is a little disjointed, because, though it may express relevant information, it isn’t introduced well and it tends to interrupt the flow of the historical details, which is indicated with dates using marked themes in two later sentences: In 1633 he joined … and … ; In 1635 he was put … Probably Amy meant to provide information about Tasman’s achievement in learning to read despite his poverty, though she has not controlled this information well. She offers a strong comment on Tasman: He was very, very, very good at his job.

  Identification of person

Abel Tasman
was born in 1603 in northern Holland. He learnt to read properly even though he was not rich. In 1633 he joined and helped a company in the East Indies. In 1635 he was put in charge of a lot of vessels. He was very, very, very good at his job.

The next element, signalled with another opening marked theme, on his journey of discovery, develops the account in another direction. The retelling of events is again disjointed, since there is a jump from the information regarding Tasman’s being in Mauritius and the Roaring Forties, in the first sentence, to the next where she says: They rammed right into Tasmania. The information doesn’t flow well here, though in other ways this element unfolds clearly, its sequence of events marked by regular use of the conjunction then.

  Episodes

On his journey of discovery
he started at Mauritius, then got swept along by the Roaring Forties. They rammed right into Tasmania but the funny thing was they thought there were giants there. Then they set off for New Zealand, but they were attacked by Maoris, lots of them. Then they sailed away in search of Chile. They came to the tropical island of Tonga before sailing home.

The final element, again thematising Tasman, evaluates his contribution: Abel Tasman is remembered … while the last sentence, detailing the names of ships, introduces information not relevant at this point: this is also disjointed.

  Evaluation of person

Abel Tasman
is remembered for discovering Tasmania (or Van Diemen’s Land) but he also navigated and explored New Zealand, Tonga and New Guinea. The names of his ships were the Limmen, Zeemeeuw and Bracq.

Overall, Text 5 shows some advance on the other texts displayed above, while it also shows evidence of some developmental challenges in control of writing as children grow. It represents a factual text type of a different kind and purpose from those examined above, and it also reveals a developing understanding of some culturally valued knowledge, and of how to research, interpret and evaluate such knowledge.

17

Response genres were originally named by Joan Rothery (1994) The Write it Right Project, Department of School Education, Metropolitan East Region, NSW Department of School Education.

Learning to write in the last years of primary school

Text 6 is a book review text type, one of several response genres (Christie and Derewianka 2008, page 61) and it was also written by Amy, in Year 6. Such a text calls for capacity to select appropriate detail from the novel, to interpret these and then evaluate it. 17

Typically, by this stage of schooling, successful students can write at greater length than younger children for, among other matters, their control of themes to direct the flow of information is better developed. In addition, older students have learned to exploit the resources such as expanded noun groups to express more information, thus giving their texts an enhanced density. Regrettably, space will allow me to display only extracts from the text, and I shall make a few observations about them.

A book review text type has at least three elements, the first of which introduces the book and its writer. Note the clever way Amy starts her opening element with a short sentence to attract attention: Space is big. Mature adult writers often demonstrate the power of short arresting sentences at strategic points in their writing. Then, its themes working clearly, the element provides relevant contextual information about the novel, its series and its author, in a manner designed to arouse interest, with its use of evaluative language to appraise, and using the first person pronoun to address the reader directly: You just won’t believe how hugely, massively, mind-bogglingly big it is.

Text context


Space is big. You just won’t believe how hugely, massively, mind-bogglingly big it is, as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” opens. It is written by Douglas Adams and is the first book in a trilogy of five. (Yes, I know it seems odd!)


The description element (where dots indicate text is omitted) moves between details of events in the novel:


It opens on a Thursday lunchtime, when the earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass … … … …


and comment on the feelings of the main character:

 

Sadly, however, this is not the end of it.


Capacity to compress details and events before offering interpretation and comment is a skill, and an important aspect of the literate abilities children need as they prepare to leave the primary school for the secondary years.

The information unfolds coherently, the various themes directing the flow, sometimes in quite long marked themes:


For Arthur Dent (the main character) who has only just had his house demolished to make way for a highway that morning,
this seems already too much more than he can cope with, [and]

The main character in the story is thrust upon ...


Moreover, the information is often expressed in quite long noun groups building some of the density characteristic of the grammar of written language:

 
  the very strange adventures that confront him …

  the answer to the ultimate question of life …

  worlds beautiful, and strange, brilliant, and baffling …


 Text description   


It
opens on a Thursday lunchtime, when the earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent (the main character) who has only just had his house demolished to make way for a highway that morning, this seems already too much more than he can cope with. Sadly however, this is not the end of it

……………………………………………………………………………..

The main character in the story is thrust upon the very strange adventures that confront him while travelling throughout the galaxy in hot pursuit of the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. There is one catch though! To find the answer, first you must know the ultimate question. He travels to worlds beautiful, and strange, brilliant, and baffling as he goes about his business.


Amy’s final element offers her judgment, showing a writer confident to address her readers directly and sharing her own view of the novel and her pleasure in it:

 Text judgment

    


I
hope you can enjoy the wonders and blunders of this amazing series. His home planet was destroyed, but there is still hope of building a new one!

I guess in conclusion, to find out exactly what happens, you’ll have to read the book! 


Looking back

This quick review of a small selection of texts suggests some aspects of writing development in the primary years. The texts represent a range of text types with varying register choices, so that they make meaning in varied ways. Children need to develop different skills and understandings in mastering all of them as they move through the developmental journey of learning to write. The process involves a movement from early simple texts with simple grammar, towards longer texts whose grammar changes as children learn to control the flow of information and to expand their meanings, using various resources such as the noun groups I have briefly alluded to.

In conclusion

Looking back over the last forty years I would note the following developments, to all of which PETAA has made a major contribution:

  • Language and literacy education is a major theme in educational planning and discussion and teacher education.
  • Language development is seen as involving learning language, learning through language and learning about language.
  • All teachers are recognised as teachers of language and literacy, for all teaching and learning involves using language and literacy.
  • Writing development is an essential dimension of literacy development, though it is intimately linked to development in reading.
  • Writing development in the primary years involves a developmental journey from early writing about simple topics using simple grammar close to that of speech towards the denser grammatical patterns characteristic of the written mode.

Frances Christie

Emeritus Professor of Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne
Honorary Professor of Education in the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney 
June 2013

Frances Christie’s major research and teaching interests are in English language and literacy education. Some recent publications have included:

  • (2005), Language Education in the Primary Years, University of NSW Press: Sydney.
  • (With B. Derewianka) (2008), School Discourse: Writing Development across the Years of Schooling, Continuum, London and New York.
  • (2012), Language Education throughout the School Years: A Functional Perspective in the Language Learning Monograph Series, Wiley-Blackwell: USA

References and bibliography

  • Barton, D. (1994) Literacy. An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language, Blackwell: Oxford UK, and Cambridge, USA.
  • Britton, J. Burgess, T., Martin, N., McLeod, A and Rosen, H. (1975) The Development of Writing Abilities (11–18), School Council Publications, Macmillan Education: London.
  • Christie, F. (1984) ‘Varieties of written discourse’ in F. Christie (ed.) Deakin University B.Ed. Children Writing Study Guide, Deakin University Press: Geelong, pages 11– 51.
  • Christie, F. (2003) ‘English in Australia’ in RELC Journal, 34, (1) 100–19.
  • Christie, F. (2005) Language Education in the Primary Years, University of NSW Press: Sydney.
  • Christie, F. and Derewianka, B. (2008) School Discourse: Learning to Write across the Years of Schooling, Continuum: London and New York.
  • Derewianka, B. (1990), Exploring How Texts Work, PETAA: Sydney.
  • Gee, J. P. (1992) The Social Mind: Language, Ideology, and Social Practice, (Series in Language and Ideology), Bergin & Garvey: New York.
  • Gee, J.P. (2007) Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses, Routledge: London.
  • Graves, D. (1981) (ed. R.D. Walshe) Donald Graves in Australia. Children Want to Write, PETA: Sydney.
  • Halliday, M.A.K. and Hasan, R. (1985) Language Context and Text: Aspects of Language in a Social-Semiotic Perspective, Deakin University Press: Geelong.
  • Heath, S.B. (1983) Ways with Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK.
  • Kress, G. (1997) Before Writing: Rethinking the Paths to Literacy, Routledge: London.
  • Kress, G. (1999) Early Spelling: From Convention to Creativity. Routledge: London.
  • Language Development Project Discussion Paper Number 1 (1979) Curriculum Development Centre: Canberra.
  • Martin, J.R. (1984) ‘Language, register and genre’, in F. Christie (ed.) Deakin University Children Course Reader, Deakin University Press: Geelong, pages 21–30.
  • Rothery J. (1984) ‘The development of genres: primary to junior secondary school’ in F. Christie (ed.) Deakin University B.Ed. Children Writing Study Guide, Deakin University Press: Geelong, pages 67–114.
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