By the time that children reach primary school they should be just ending the emergent phase when they are able learn the concept of a word and this growing understanding is reflected in their writing. At this stage they will be leaving spaces between the ‘words’ in their writing and are starting to understand the meaning of a sentence, invented spelling is also common.
While they are at primary school a student will move through the next few phases of the process. In the early phase the child will use visual information to help them read the printed words when reading, at this stage pictures are able to communicate more information to them than the text something that translates over to their own writing as they often draw pictures as they are able to express the ideas they want to convey more effectively through images, this is something that we can see some evidence of in the first writing sample. Hill (2006, p.288) says that ‘Children’s writing provides a window into their thinking and problem-solving. Drawing can also provide insights into the child’s knowledge of layout, book format and spatial awareness’.
In the transitional phase the children’s writing is gradually improving, they are able to write and elaborate on an idea and can proofread and edit their work. They can also use different strategies in their spelling such as using phonics and learn that sometimes words are not spelt with familiar spelling patterns so they have to learn to recognise how to spell these words.
Finally in the extending phase children are able to use a variety of text types which we can see by looking at the second writing sample which is an example of a recount of an event that she had heard about rather than an imaginative story. In this phase they are also familiar with editing their work something that the writing sample also shows.
This idea that learning to write is a developmental process is not the only idea about the development of early literacy another one is social constructivism, a view of learning that draws on Dewy and Vygotsky’s ideas. They view learning as being social, collaborative and active (Hill, 2006 p.3-5). Vygotsky’s most important idea was the one of a zone of proximal development (Hill p.4-5). According to Vygotsky a child has two levels of performance, one that they can reach independently and one that they can reach with assistance from an adult and the distance between these two levels is what he called the zone of proximal development. In Hill (2006, p.4) it uses the example of a child drawing a zebra to illustrate the idea of the zone of proximal development. In the example the teacher focuses the child on the colour of the zebra by asking the child questions and in this way they move the child to a level of assisted learning within the child’s zone of proximal development. This help from an adult will hopefully then lead to the child looking at other animals and using accurate colours when drawing them as well.
Of course this was not the only idea that Vygotsky had the other ideas the first of which was that children construct knowledge which means that that children need to be actively engaged in organising and exploring ideas. The second idea is that learning leads to development Hill (2006, p.5) again uses the example of the zebra saying that if a child is given a label this will accelerate their ability to understand the concept and that labelling when linked to experience can lead the child to label and classify other things as well. The third idea is that learning occurs in social context and that working in groups towards a common goal can be beneficial as you get the advantage of hearing different points of view. The fourth idea is that language plays a central role in intellectual development that it helps to refine thoughts.
Luke and Freebody (Hill, 2006 p.172-189) are other important researchers in the field of early literacy development they say that early readers take on four different roles when they begin to read, the role of the code breaker, meaning maker, text user and text critic. These four roles are all important and need to be learned so that children can become fluent and flexible readers. Code Breakers should be able to recognise and use features such as the alphabetic principle, phonemic awareness, sounds, spelling and conventions and patterns of the text. Meaning makers read to understand and comprehend what they are reading and a text user looks at the purpose and the features of the text while a text critic explores the intention of a text and how the text works on them and makes them feel. These different roles are used by teachers who find them useful in planning activities in shared book and guided reading.
In Literacy oral language is very important, in fact it is the base upon which literacy is built because it is the beginning of using language as a symbol for meaning. Snow, Burns and Griffin( Hill, 2006) say that one of the most important preconditions for literacy is a child’s language development. However while oral language is the basis for writing, the two are different as one, oral language relies on the context to make meaning while written language is removed from the context and needs additional information that is provided by the writer for the reader to make sense of it. (Hill, 2006 p.20) Research done by Anderson and Freebody says that large vocabularies are known to be linked to reading success. This research is not alone either as other studies suggest the same thing, a study done in the US by Dickinson and Tabors on Kindergarten students is supported by more research done by Cunningham and Stanovich years before. The findings all say that the ‘language and literacy skills in kindergarten are strongly related to later academic success’. (Hill, 2006 p.28)
Another way that oral language and written language is connected is through phonics. In order to be able to write a child must first have phonemic awareness (Hill, 2006 p.21). An interesting point is that children when first learning to write as will write words phonetically and this is a good starting point when learning to write however sometimes mistakes will be made because they cannot pronounce a word correctly or mistake which letters make which sound in a given situation such as using ‘ch’ at the beginning of the word Tuesday.
The last point that I will discuss in this essay is on my own reflections. Through the task of researching and writing both this essay and the analysis of writing samples from two different students I have learnt that it is not always easy to measure a student up against either VELS or WA First Steps Writing Continuum. This is because one sample of writing from a child is not going to tell you exactly where they are with their writing, to do so more accurately you would need to look at multiple samples of writing from them and also talk to them and see if they can comprehend and understand what they are doing. I also found that not all children learn at the same rate or the same way and that different things like their cultural and linguistic background and socioeconomic group, gender, or if they have any medical problems or disabilities can all affect how they learn (Hill, 2006 p.30-32).
So in conclusion we can see that for children learning to read and write are intertwined and that there are different phases of learning and development that they go through. Also to help them be effective teachers can use the ideas of Vygotsky and Luke and Freebody in their classrooms and to recognise that oral language and written language are related.
Hill, S (2006) Developing early literacy Assessment and teaching, Prahran Victoria, Elanor Curtain Publishing