Case Study of a Child

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A Case Study of a Child

This assignment will analyse and compare the writing of three primary school children. Child 1 is a five year old pupil in Year 1, Child 2 is a seven year old pupil in Year 3, and Child 3 is a nine year old pupil in Year 5. The varying and sequential ages of these three children were important in order to provide an illustration of the progressive developmental and achievement levels that are, typically, expected for a child at these ages. In order to conduct my research, I had to select my participants. I sought permission from the head master of the school then consulted with the teaching staff from each selected year group, asking for an indication as to which children were at the standard level of literacy and writing. I then sought permission from the children's parents. I chose to use children at this level in order to give me participants that were of equal ability and would provide me with a fair sample of writing.

When conducting my data with the children that were selected, I was allocated one-to-one time in the classroom environment. The children were provided with the paper, crayons and pencils needed for the writing task, where I then fully explained what I wanted them to do. I chose not to provide a rubber in the hope to how see if the children formulated any self-regulation, and to see if any changes/alterations were made to their work. By not providing a rubber, I would be able to distinguish how this was executed. I explained to the children that if they made any mistakes during the process, to simply cross out the word that they wished to change. The children were given the task of reflecting upon their most recent trip to the local supermarket. They were asked to give an account of where they went, what they did, and the different food and products they bought. They were also asked to explain how they helped their parents they were shopping with. The children understood that it was an independent task and fun task, however it was clarified that they would be able to receive guidance or support if they felt necessary.

It was evident that the children's level of writing and literacy skills did develop with age, for example the youngest participant, Child 1, demonstrated signs of adhering to the core learning literacy levels for Year One of the Primary National Strategy Framework for Literacy and Mathematics. The child was able to structure the text - in the form of a shopping list. There was evidence of mechanical and special control, albeit the child wrote down certain words that were incorrect. These however, illustrated the use of phonemic spelling for words such as ‘wer' and evidence of creative guessing for example ‘baygul' (bagel). Child 1 demonstrated the first of the four different levels in the Kroll's (1981) model of writing development. This level is recognized as ‘preparation' which involves the physical aspects of writing, the hand-eye coordination involved in controlling the physical movement of the writing apparatus, as well as the mental effort involved in forming this type of written expression (Kroll: 1981).

Child 2 demonstrated greater evidence of both mechanical and special control, and fewer errors than Child 1. Child 2 also showed evidence of improved syntax, letter formation and correct use of capital letters and punctuation, and adhered to the core learning levels for a Year 3 child. Child 3 showed further progression, through the use of paragraphs, punctuation - such as speech marks, and the use of imagination and humour to make the text their own. Much of Bruner's (1983) work highlighted the importance of stories and narratives within children's literacy learning, supposing that it provides meaning and organisation to experience. This is evident in Child 3's work, who has structured his own meaning and experience of shopping through the composition of a story. Child 3 had no difficulties with spelling and word selection, and even included an illustration. The continuous revision of his work led to Child 3 making any modifications needed in order to correct his work. All three children however showed great enthusiasm and were very eager to participate. The number of mistakes reduced from Child 2 to Child 3, due to the understanding of the correct rules within literacy, and the processes of revisiting and redrafting that became incorporated. From my data I concluded that all three children were achieving the strands of the PNS.

Following the collection of my data and its evaluation in accordance to the PNS, it is necessary to consider the theories and research that underpin the ways in which children are believed to develop in their language and literacy learning and how this has been put into practice. There are various considerations as to how children come to develop language, with both corresponding and opposing views being held. Language experts such as Piaget (1926), Skinner (1957) and Chomsky (1965) have provided a great impact upon the relative knowledge and understanding for the processes of language development in young children over the years, and have subsequently influenced the ways in which children are supported during their early stages of learning (Piaget and Chomsky cited in Donaldson: 1978) (Skinner cited in Mukherji & O'Dea: 2001). As these theories have provided such a significant impact upon our appreciation for the nature of language development, it is often questioned why these principal conceptions do not shape the learning of children in the classroom to a greater effect.

The ability to formulate speech and actively listen is vitally important in a child's means of communication and is essential for their development of language and literacy. Before the development of reading and writing, it is helpful that a child can speak enthusiastically and in return want to listen. Wyse and Jones (2001) assert that one of the most important aspects of a child learning to talk is the ability to hold a ‘sustained conversation'. In order for this to take place a child must also be able to identify and recognise the sounds and utterances of spoken language, in order to be able to process it and subsequently make sense of it. The significance of the ability to listen and understand is also identified during the pre-linguistic stage of language development, where a baby will return the caregivers' response through the production of cooing and babbling noises. During this period, the facet of spoken language is accompanied by the notable understanding and recognition that babies and young children need continuous exchanges of human interactions from the earliest start possible. Because of this parents and caregivers are identified as having a vital role in the development of linguistic skills in babies and young children, due to the constant stimulus of words, sounds and other forms of communication that shape a child's understanding of language.

Mukherji and O'Dea (2000) contrast Wyse and Jones' (2001) suggestion however, claiming that listening effectively to others is the most powerful method of communication. It is asserted that reflecting upon how to listen “improves our skills and enhances our communication” and allows us to communicate effectively, through the process of structuring ideas and choosing the right terminology (Mukherji and O'Dea, 2000:62). Although hearing is identified as a passive act, whereby individuals hear sounds and noises that are not necessarily wanted or intended to hear, it is however, also recognised as an active process, which involves analysing the words conveyed in order to form an understanding of what has been said.

Most children do not experience formal literacy until their first years within the school environment (Mukherji and O'Dea: 2000), and there is great debate as to whether this should be the case (Tizard et al: 1988). A study conducted by Tizard et al (1988), found that a quarter of the reception class teachers interviewed strongly disapproved of any attempts by a parent or carer to teach pre-school children how to read or write. The study also concluded that the rest of those interviewed also expressed doubts about the usefulness of children learning to read or write prior to starting school (Tizard: 1993). It was established that the common form of literacy teaching within the home was in fact inconsistent with the methods utilised by the schools. Therefore it was recognised parents are trying to help their children in learning to read and write before attending school, however doing so to little success.

The process of reading involves word recognition, whereby the reader must learn how to decode a text, and then form a graphophonemic relationship between the written text and spoken language. Not only that, but the reader must also possess a reading comprehension of the rules and guidelines of interpreting a text. This therefore means that they must be able to recognise and understand which manner to read the text, for instance reading any western language from left to right and from the top of the page to the bottom. In order to form these graphophonemic relationships, a child must therefore learn the rules of grapheme-phoneme correspondence. According to Peccei (2007) a grapheme is the written representation of a phoneme, which may consist of a single letter, or a combination of letters. It is considered that the ability to identify these visual features of graphemes is the first step in acquiring the written form of language (Peccei 2007).

Phonological awareness has been identified as a possible a barrier to the development of a child's learning of literacy. Many individuals have spent considerable time and effort into researching this area of language, in order to see why children struggle to such extent when making clear judgements about phonemes. Children learning the English language may experience great difficult in making these judgements due to different sounds that are represented by the same phoneme. An example of this is the differences in pronunciation of the phoneme ‘a' in ‘table' and ‘walk'. There are also certain words that cause confusion due to their ambiguity, such as ‘weather' and ‘whether'. These can be explored through homographs and homophones, which can cause great confusion not only for young children learning to read but for other, older and more experienced users of the English language, who do not have both meanings in their lexicon. Homophones are recognised as words that encompass the same sounds however have different spellings, such as ‘to', ‘too' and ‘two'. Homographs are the opposite of homophones, and are established as words that comprise of the same spelling, but which have different meanings. An example of this is the word ‘read', which can have meanings in both past and present tense. Goswami (2005) also highlighted that one of the main challenges for children learning to read in English is the fact that is recognised as the most complex language in Europe. It was established that these linguistic complexities were due to the consonant-vowel syllable structure of the language and the consistency of how the written symbols are pronounced (Goswami: 2005).

Work by Bruner (1983) emphasised the importance of narrative and stories within children's literacy learning. Stories can be verbal or written accounts of fictional or factual events, however all stories have the same particular role for children, that is to educate and entertain. Through stories children are able to construct meaning and form an understanding of the world, as well as being given the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the different structures, meanings and contents of various texts. The importance of stories was identified by Wells (1986), who's study considered the active and constructive nature of forming understandings of meaning. It was concluded that stories were “more significantly correlated to children's literacy acquisition than looking at picture books, talking about them or drawing and colouring” (Wells cited in Wyse and Russell 2001: 38).

When considering the development of writing, it is important to consider that the child's prior linguistic capacity forms the basis of this language development. Beard (1984) identifies that “the process of channelling spoken language competence into the production of writing can be seen as being made up of three basic components, ‘composing', ‘transcribing' and ‘reviewing'” (Beard, 1984:29). Put more simplistically, these three components refer to the pre-writing, writing and rewriting elements of literacy development. It has been considered that of the three, composing performs the central role in the production of written language (Beard: 1984), however the consideration for the process of transcription has been identified as the main area of interest for teaching practice and educational studies (Flower and Hayes: 1980).

Many development specialists have been interested in what has been recognised as the ‘pre-communicative stage' of literacy, where a child begins to form what is described as ‘scribbles' which is a random combinations of shapes and letters. Some experts however hold the opinion that these are not forms of pre-communicative language, but are in fact forms of emerging literature, that at the earliest stage of markings, do involve real reading and writing. These mark-makings have been recognised as the roots of literacy, which develop with the child's growing capacity into the ability to draw and write (Mukherji and O'Dea: 2000). Kroll (1981) proposed that there are four different levels in the development of writing. These determined ‘preparation', ‘consolidation', ‘differentiation' and ‘integration' (Kroll cited in Peccei: 2007).

Clay (1975) on the other hand, maintains that children's development is greatly influenced by the opportunities and experiences available to explore the written form, rather than the aptitude or age of a child (Clay: 1984). Through the exploration of writing, which in younger infants will be seen as scribbling, allows children to begin to associate hand and wrist movements, and the way that particular movements makes particular patterns on the paper. Children are also able to form an understanding of how to hold the writing apparatus, and how much pressure is needed to make a mark with different types of apparati.

The earliest form of literacy provision in the UK was established by the 1870 Elementary Education Act, which gave access to free education for children between the ages of five and twelve. Although this was seen as a step forward for the teaching of literacy, it was considered a very limited and somewhat monotonous curriculum (Wyse and Jones: 2008). Nevertheless there have been continuous alterations, modifications and improvements in the teaching of language and literacy over the years.

Until the Revised Code in 1862, the curriculum for children involved dictation, copywriting and learning oral work from memory (DES: 1967). Once the Revised Code came into place, the writing process became greatly correlated to the practice of memory, where teaching remained “as mechanical and routine ridden as ever” (Holmes cited in Wyse and Jones, 2008:7), and due to the focus upon tests and ‘payment by results', prevented the development of the curriculum. Through the Newbolt Report on ‘The Teaching of English in England' in 1921 the teaching of English as a subject became the focal point of the curriculum, where children's creative language skills and development of expression were encouraged (Board of Education: 1921).

Following this, the publications of the three Hadow Reports impacted upon infant, primary and secondary education, again focusing upon the subject of English and concentration upon the importance of literacy (Board of Education: 1931). It was emphasised that children's writing should be established through topics that were of personal interest to them. The Plowden Report on Primary Education (1967) placed the child as central to education, emphasising the importance of talk and the development of creative writing, drama and storytelling (Department of Education and Sciences: 1967). The Bullock Report on English in 1975 (DES: 1975) followed, which identified language as the most important part of the curriculum, The International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the implementation of the National Curriculum. The National Curriculum was introduced in 1988 in order to produce “the body of knowledge, skills and understanding that a society wishes to pass on to its children and young people” (CSFS: 2008)”. This broad and balanced curriculum was statutory within all educational settings, and strived to raise the standards of education for all children.

Through the development of the National Literacy Project (1996/98), the Literacy Hour was devised. The literacy hour reflects the importance of a child's capability to be literate from an early age (Mukherji and O'Dea: 2000) and includes various approaches to written aspects such as spelling, handwriting and letter formation. Through the success of the National Literacy Project (1996/98) the National Literacy Strategy was adopted (Department for Education and Employment: 1998). Conversely, it was established that the Strategy overlooked the importance of speaking and listening within the Early Years, however this was later reconsidered and put into place. The Early Years Curriculum now establishes that by the time a child leaves a nursery setting, their writing skills should have developed adequately enough to enter schooling. The problem identified with the National Literacy Strategy also was that children were no longer central to the education process (Wyse and Jones: 2003) and that teachers were provided with one model for teaching literacy. This, according to Reynolds (1998) “does little to take into account prior experience, background, interests and individuality of both teacher and pupil” (Reynolds:1998). Although the National Literacy Strategy was implemented within primary schools in England for over the best part of a decade, it was evaluated that it had little effect according to Boyle and Bragg (2006). It was identified that through continuous government intervention, and constant focus being placed upon language and literacy, there were in fact no improvements in learning and a contraction of the curriculum (Boyle and Bragg: 2006).

When the Primary National Strategy (PNS) Framework for Literacy was subsequently introduced in 2006, it dramatically reduced the number of objectives that teachers were expected to implement. There are however concerns that the PNS is moving back to the ‘copywriting' that was evident during the very first curriculum of 1870. This notion is upheld by such a respected expert as Rose (2005) who states that “One such obstacle is the fact that there is too much prescribed content in the current curriculum” (Rose cited in Kassem et al, 2006: 34), and Wyse and Jones (2008) who identifies that “the types of books children will study is prescribed, the type of writing that they will carry will be prescribed” (2008:18). The Rose Report (2005) concluded that the PNS will evidently impact upon the way in which children are taught the skills of language and literacy development: “The trend - usually motivated by the desire to strengthen particular aspects of learning - has been to add more and more content with too little regard for the practicalities and expertise needed to teach it effectively” (Rose: 2009).

The Cambridge Review by Alexander (2009) is the most recent report for the language and literacy learning within schools. The Review was accomplished in order to “identify the purposes which the primary phase of education should serve, the values which it should espouse, the curriculum and learning environment which it should provide, and the conditions which are necessary in order to ensure both that these are of the highest and most consistent quality possible, and that they address the needs of children and society over the coming decades” (Alexander, 2009: 04). It was found that children may benefit from delaying the start of formal practice of education until the age of 6, which would therefore extent the play-based curriculum and postpone the start of formal lessons.

In conclusion, when considering language and literacy development, it is evident that there are various diverse accounts of how this development can best be met. Many of the theories of language and literature development centre upon the teaching strategies and policies, such as that of the Primary National Strategy, have been implemented following further studies into how children learn best. Through different types of studies such as; longitudinal, cross-sectional, cross-cultural and laboratory studies, the ways in which children are perceived as developing will greatly underpin the work provided for children within education. The work of experts such as Bruner (1983) in this field, have and will continue to, influence the ways in which children learn within their formal education for many years to come.


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