English Language AQA A2: Child Language Acquisition of WRITING

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B. M. Kroll identifies four stages of development in children learning to write. Keep in mind that ages associated with stages are rough averages, and can vary wildly.

  • Preparatory Stage (<6 years) - learning physical skills and basics of spelling
  • Consolidation Stage (6-8 years) - writing reflects speech, short sentences with largely declaritive functions. Sentences linked with 'and', 'then', and 'so'. Sometimes sentences can be left incomplete
  • Differentiation Stage (8- mid teens) - awareness of differences between writing and speech develops. Complexity of sentences increases, with more sophisticated conjunctions. Range of styles for purpose and genre begins to grow
  • Integration Stage (12+) - personal voice develops along with adaptability to different audiences, purposes, and genre
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Barclay also identified stages of development, but hers were more focussed on the handwriting and spelling

  • Scribbling: Random marks on a page, shows motor skills to hold a pen and a knowledge of the fact that a pen makes marks, but little else
  • Mock handwriting: Often appearing with drawings, these marks appear like cursive writing, such as left-to-right wavey lines.
  • Mock letters: Children begin to make random letter-like shapes on pages. This is differentiated from mockhandwriting by distinct, discrete letters rather than drawings designed to appear like whole sentences or words
  • Conventional letters: Lettering becomes legible, normally the first word to appear is the child's name. Normally writing at this stage would be difficult to interpret by adults, because it resembles a long string of letters across a page with no spaces or punctuation, but the writer would be able to read it as words
  • Invented spelling: Letters begin to cluster together as words, but they appear unconventional. Often a child will not understand their own writing and ask for help by a parent
  • Phonetic spelling: association between phonemes and graphemes grows, and spelling becomes directly phonetic
  • Conventional spelling: approximate/phonetic spellings become more conventional, and begin to read as correctly spelt words
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Rothery designed categories for children's writing to help identify their purpose and genre at a sentence level, but can also be applied to whole bodies of text.

  • Observation/comment: an observation followed by an evaluative comment (mum bought me some books. I felt glad). Observations can also stand alone, but comments can not.
  • Recount: a chronologically organised sequence of events, normally cut into orientation/event/reorientation. A build up or setting, followed by an event or development, and a following reset to the norm  (eg "we went to the park, i saw a lion, we went home"). It's worth noting that this is more like a narrative genre than observation/comment/
  • Report: a factually objective description of events or objects. This differs from a recount because it doesnt need to be in chronological order
  • Narrative: different from recount because it includes a complication which has to be resolved. Normally split into orientation/complication/resolution/coda. Orientation gives the spatial or temporal setting, complicationa and resolution are kinda self explanatory, and the coda which identifies the point of the story
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Perera noticed that children's writing fell into two distinct categories, one more tricky to reach than the other

  • Chronological writing: writing appears in chronological order linked by dynamic verbs and temporal connectives
  • Non-chronological writing: more difficult to write for younger children, as it requires the writer to step back from their story and objectively rearrange the events in the order they wish it to be portrayed.

Britton split writing into three modes, which he used to categorise the genre

  • Expressive: the first mode to develop. The writer uses first person perspective to write about personal experiences. This mode is the most like speech
  • Poetic: Encouraged early on in schools, this mode introduces poetic/literary techniques such as rhyme, alliteraton, along with stuff like similes and metaphors
  • Transactional: Used when children begin to dissociate speech from writing, resembles essay style with an impersonal and formal register
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There are a range of things to keep your eyes open for in a text, and mistakes in or use of any of the following things are easy to talk about or use as evidence in a point

  • positioning of adverbials
  • use of marked themes (starting a clause with an adverbial)
  • use of the passive voice (this normally starts at about 8-12 years old)
  • recapitulatory pronouns
  • subject-verb agreement (errors normally up to age 9)
  • simple noun phrasess (obvs used largely by younger children)
  • use of me/I in coordinating positions
  • determiner errors (a/an)
  • frequency of modal auxiliaries 
  • relative clause frequency doubles between ages 7-10
  • use of connectives increases 5x between 6-8
  • subordinating conjunctions
  • Punctuation – full stop, colon
  • Order of the text
  • Tenses used
  • Paragraphs
  • Headings, sub headings
  • Anaphoric references – referring to the past - last week
  • Cataphoric references – referring to future – later on
  • Consistency of sentence lengths
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Emergent writing is classed as the first scribbles that a child makes on paper up until conventional writing

  • this begins at 'mark making': the very first marks on paper made by a young child with a pen, regardless of whether they look like letters or not
  • ligatures: the small lines of ink that join letters together in cursive script
  • directionality: the angle in which early writing is slanted
  • writer identity: a sort of idiolect for your writing
  • ascenders and descenders: ascenders are characters which extend above the normal height of letters, and descenders are the opposite. Are these being formed correctly?
  • spaces between scribbles suggest an understanding that each word has a discrete meaning, different from its neighbours
  • writing your name on your work suggests a sense of ownership on your writing, a pride taken in your own work
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  • Pre-phonemic: imitating writing, scribbling, mainly pretend writing
  • Semi-phonetic: Linking letter shapes and sounds, using this to write words (albeit incorrectly spelt)
  • Phonetic: understanding that all phonemes can be represented by graphemes is solidifying, and words begin to appear more complete
  • Transitional: A combination of phonetic understanding and visual memory for common unconventional letter patterns makes up this stage. The magic 'E' rule comes into play here
  • Conventional: most words spelt correctly, spelling development is virtually complete, and it will be consolidated with practice

There are also a key few types of spelling mistake demonstrated by children developing language. Some of these overlap, for example a mistake with salient sounds is also an omission mistake, but in my opinion try to spot the later mistakes in the list before applying the earlier

  • Insertion: adding extra letters
  • Omission/deletion: removing letters
  • Substitution: substituting one letter for another
  • Transposing: Reversing the correct letter order
  • Phonetic spelling: Using phonetic understanding to guess a spelling
  • Over/undergeneralising spelling rules: applying a rule where it's not appropriate or vice versa
  • Salient sounds: writing only the key sounds
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