Stord/Haugesund College 27.7.01. A preliminary draft
Creative writing on computers, grade 1-4. Playful learning in grade 2
The development for the 6 year olds in grade 1 is earlier described in my presentation at ICCP in Germany (Trageton 2001) In this paper I concentrate about the development in grade 2. The general description of the total project, however, is almost identical with the start of the earlier ICCP presentation. Thereafter this paper describes the development of the second year in the three-year project.
The computer revolution has changed society radically the last 30 years. The computer is ordinary furniture at home besides TV and video for 70-90% of the 6 year olds in grade 1 in Norway. The children have been consuming a huge mass of TV, video and computer games before starting school. But computer based learning still play a minor role in the Norwegian schools. Our Department of Education have now used a lot of money in material resources and teacher courses to inspire the schools on all levels to more focus on computer-supported and computer-assisted learning. In 1997 there were 30 students per computer in Primary/secondary School, in 1999 there was 15 students per computer, 2 computers as a mean in every classroom.
Computer-assisted learning is most usual at university, high school and secondary school. In lower primary school (6-10 year olds) “drill and practice” programs have been of some use. Erstad (1998) concludes that most of the IT innovation projects in Norway use a traditional view on learning, in contrast to the social- constructivist view in our new National Curriculum. Such projects therefore have little relevance to the local based, cross-subject learning our new National Curriculum from 1997 demand, because the program control the child, like the traditional teacher and standard textbooks. In contrast a simple word processor program is an open-ended tool where the student control the program. This is more in tune with a modern social-interactionist view of learning. The children can get a powerful typewriter for production of own thinking and meanings, instead of consuming the textbooks or adult constructed “pedagogic programs”. IT changes to ICT (information and communication technology).
The text program takes over as writing utensil instead of the feather pen from the 1850, the steel split pen from 1920 and the ballpoint pen from 1950. I guess that outside school the main advantage of the computer in society is in text production and reading, not the more complicated use of computers. Computer writing on word processors is the normal communication on most places of work today in contrast to the dominating handwriting 60 years ago. When our grade 1 students leave our compulsory school about 2010 the computer writing will dominate even more. The necessary computer competence at that time we know very little about, but I guess that a higher level of writing and reading will be a central factor to construct own meanings in the electronic networks, and read and chose among the huge mass of written information.
When the home and society outside school use the computer as a word processor, why should not the 6 year olds start their school writing with print letters instead of time consuming, imperfect handmade letters? In our project we start the writing process on computers for the 6 year olds, and delay the formal teaching of correct handwriting to the 8 year olds. For 6-7 year olds, handwriting is a hard, boring and difficult technical process. One reason is that the fine-motor skills are not fully developed at that age, especially among boys. Using the computer as a word processing tool is better for children (Keetley 1996). The children learn the same letterforms as they find in all reading books. The children can therefore concentrate on the content in their written message instead of the forms of the letters. The children are learning more central things in language: To talk, to discuss, to write and to read stories.
According to our new National Curriculum (L97), creative activities, play and work shall be the dominant learning methods for the children. Already after the first year in the reform, this was generally accepted in the schools in Norway (Trageton 1999, Helming 1999, Hagesæter1999)
Our new National Curriculum (L97) order creative activities play and work as main learning methods in the informal learning for the 6-10 year olds. This means not “free play”, but the teacher should make good frames and a cultural climate for structured play or learning-centred play (Moyles 1994, Trageton 1997). The Norwegian language curriculum is strongly inspired and influenced of the creative writing didactical research in the Trondheim area (Moslet 1999, 2000), where oral language and dialogues have got a more important position, and creative writing is knit tighter to the reading.
For twenty years my Workshop Pedagogy have been practiced in the Norwegian Lower Primary School (Trageton 1994). This pedagogy is inspired by The Laboratory School in Chicago from1896, (Dewey 1899), Integrated Day in England in the Primary Schools (Brown/Precious 1969), Gardner’s (1983) multiple intelligences, and Eisner´s (1996) stressing the different expression modes in concept formation. The children are representing their experiences in different expressive languages: Constructive play, dramatic play, drawing, writing, reading and doing maths around the same theme. I found that handwriting was an insufficient and unpractical tool for the little child to tell the long story about their experiences within the chosen theme. After the computer revolution and the word processor the situation have changed. Now you also can play easily with the letters!
The student start playing with the keyboard and produce an enormous mass of letters and letter strings in a short time. He will quickly learn 20-29 letters (or the letters most useful for his thoughts). Later on his letter strings can develop to millions of different personal texts in the different genres, without being bothered by the technical problems with more complicated computer program, often of less educational value for lower primary school. Oral language, text creating and meaningful reading have a central place in our new National Curriculum. The traditional focus on formal, mechanical training in writing and reading without meaningful context is strongly reduced.
But our project is not only about typewriting contra handwriting. It is not only better language learning. The 6-10 year olds in Norway have now an excellent tool to document the quality on the total theme organised cross-subject learning in lower primary school, where art activities, play and work are the dominating methods (Trageton 1997)
Earlier projects done by my students in postgraduate studies for lower primary school is the background for the project (Strand 1993), but these experiences need to be documented and evaluated in a more controlled research. My strategy is the opposite of the traditional practice in Norway where handwriting is learned first, and computer writing comes later, perhaps in grade 4.
1. How to use computer writing in language learning for lower primary school?
2. How to build up a database on Internet of the writings of the children through grade 1-4?
3. Will concentration on computer writing in grade 1 and 2 and delay formal handwriting to grade 3 give better results in Norwegian language?
Will that be true for both oral and written expression, and for meaningful reading?
Have computers in school learning effect? The consumer ideology.
In spite of 30 years innovations of computers in school, relatively few evaluations of learning effects exist. Forman (1998) criticise strongly the mindless “push and see” programmes without learning effect. Silvern (1998) urges educators to resist using computers primarily for practice and didactic materials, as trite electronic books and meaningless electronic drill- and practice worksheets. Surfing on Internet, where 95% of the information is commercials, may end up in wasting time, doing surfing and learning nothing (Wilson, 1997/98). The Observer 24.10.2000 are referring from an international research group concluding that especially programme packs with computer games and CD-rom for young children are destroying creativity. In Denmark Larsen (1998) criticise the similar “pedagogical programme packs” to be useless, old-fashioned, behaviouristic pedagogy in modern, electronic package. He regard only simple tool programmes useful for learnin
Healy (1998) has 30-year background for computers in school. She is scared of the blind beliefs of the worth of computers in school, and sums up varied reports about misuse of computers in schools overall in US. She refers to the reactions from therapists who warn against the damages on small children with one-sided consuming of adult controlled computer software, both at home, and now also an expanding area in school. This is like multiplying hundreds of TV channels, where the ”push and see” syndrome, and the switching from one channel to another destroy the concentration of the children. This tendency becomes strengthened in so called “pedagogic program packages” of behaviouristic type. Healy says she would not recommend to spend time at computers before 8 year olds, because it take time away from more valuable activities, where concentration is trained, for instance in a long-lasting constructive or dramatic play. However, heavy advertising of commercial “play and learn” programmes make just such programme packs common in preschools and lower primary schools, also in Norway.
Healy has found rather few evaluations of learning effects of computers in schools, and she refers to different authorities questioning the validity of many of these evaluations. Much of the research is sponsored by IBM etc. and is made of “computer people” and school bureaucracy interested in good evaluations. In spite of Healy and others sad results, the government, politicians, parents, and of course computer industry, TV stations and commercials all believe that computers in schools are necessarily good for modern learning. The child as consumer of pedagogical programmes has been dominating many of the innovation projects. According to Healy the most serious problem is that the huge investment in computers, give very little money and interest left for other valuable area of school, for instance further education of the teachers, the arts, play and books to the libraries.
Conclusion: Though the heavy advertising for such “pedagogic programme” packs love the word play, in my opinion this is very far from the spirit of play, where the child have the control.
Children as producers. The computer as a tool for creative writing.
In Norway the Department of Education have funded a long row of innovation and research projects. Now they are trying to inspire to projects with a more social-constructivist view of learning (Vygotsky 1978, Lave/Wenger 1991) where the child produce and construct his own knowledge together with his classmates as a common learning society (Ludvigsen 1999). Stord/Haugesund College is a national centre for use of information technology in learning. The department have funded a large project about computer based learning for our teacher students (2000-2003). The most important principle is simple; to use the computer to better written communication by knitting practice, theory teaching on campus, and own studies more together (Engelsen/Eide 2001). But Norway has few projects in lower primary school, and almost none about creative writing in lower primary school! (My project has been funded partly from the Department of Education, but mostly from Stord/Haugesund College).
Also internationally, there is surprising little research in this special area. For example in ERIC, the well known pedagogic database, I found 60 000 projects about computers in school, about 20 000 in primary school, but the combination «computer projects + primary school + writing» gave only 115 projects! Only 20 of these were for the age group 5-9 years. None of these had any contact with play research! I think that some explanation might be that the computer specialists are more interested in complicated use of the computers, eventually “playing” with complicated technology, and the teachers in lower primary school are more interested in the traditional handwriting than computer printing for 6-7 year olds. A lot of the 20 projects were related to the huge efforts made by WTR (“Writing to Read”) projects in many American States the last 15 years for the 5-7 year olds (for instance Willovs 1988, Chambless & Chambless 1993, Driscoll 1997, Singh 1997). My pedagogical view is quit similar to WTR. I believe like Chomsky (1982) that writing is easier than reading for most of the children. Therefore writing should come first. Through their own writing, the children also read and reformulate their own thinking. They learn reading through their own texts. Later they can also read and understand the thinking of other people in different types of picture/reading books.
But in contrast to WTR, teachers and children in my project are stimulated to use a more playful and informal approach to learning. WTR have also a much more complicated and costly technology than my project. We use old computers of different types, only with a text program. Therefore the schools get these computers very cheap or free. For the producers of computer hardware and software there is of course no business in using old, recycled computers and simple text programs. Maybe therefore they show little interest in research of my type.
Play – Writing - Computers.
Quite opposite the “child as consumer” attitude, a main characteristic of play is the child as culture producer (Huizinga 1938, Sutton Smith 1990). But there are relatively few research projects about play in educational setting in Primary School (except for instance Hartmann 1988, Hall & Abott 1991, Moyles 1994, Pessanha 1995, Trageton 1997, Lillemyr 1999) In US there is a long tradition for combining play and early literacy. Christie /Roskos (2001) makes a fine overview over the American research the last 10 years, and place them in a piagetian, vygotskian and the latest within an ecological frame based on Bronfenbrenner. Their view corresponds with the total learning climate I want in my project.
But what about computers? Will computer consuming only take time and energy from the more valuable play and learning activities? The big quantity of technological computer research projects in school in US is dominated of a consumer ideology. Rather few give an analysis about the relation to early literacy and play. But Liang and Johnsen (1999) give a good review over the relation between technology - early literacy – play, and conclude that computer software may give valuable development and learning for the 5-8 year olds also, if the children become producers in tune with play criteria:
I would add that for the 6-10 year olds not only the process, but also the product becomes more important for a long lasting high quality play activity (Trageton 1997, 2001). They have following demands to software:
Among very few programmes filling this criteria is tool programmes like simple word-processing most important. Here the children have billions and billions of possibilities to variable combinations and messages by only pushing 29 letters! In the same research group Youst (1998) stimulated the 5 year olds in kindergarten to produce multimedia books and e-mail in a playful way with drawing- and writing programs to develop communication ability. In the Nordic countries Nielsen (1998) have for 10 years worked in a similar way with playful activities in the Danish PEPINO project for 6-year olds in kindergarten. In Sweden Klerfelt et al (1999) have concentrated on the producer role and playful activities. But these experiments demand more complicated and costly equipment, and the child needs more complicated training before he can control the expression and communication of his meanings.
My intentions are to develop a simple low-technological, cheap, playful learning strategy for writing/reading in the ordinary schools in Norway. Engelsen/Eide (2001) stress ICT as catalyst for connection and communication between teacher students. The same goals are central areas for my 6-10 year olds.
I also try to map the development of spontaneous computer writing among children (Schrader 1990) and compare with the better-established research in the development of spontaneous handwriting (Sulzby 1997, Christie 1999).
Project description (1999-2002)
Ten classes (6 year olds) in different parts of Norway, three in Denmark, one in Finland and one in Estonia started in the project in the fall 1999. I follow these children for 3 years. They have in their classrooms 2-10 recycled, cheap or free computers, where only word processing is possible. The schools got old computers from firms, from community and from parents. All writings shall be done in printed letters. Formal handwriting, usually taught in grade 2 in Norway, is delayed to grade 3. Our assumption are that the children then will learn formal correct handwriting much faster than in grade 2. We spare time to more important areas in language education.
There should always be two children together on each computer. This will stimulate oral language and discussions, helping each other with technical and writing problems. Beneath I show one example of a classroom with only 2 computers placed in the middle of the room.
Here 4 of the children can use the computers at the same time. The rest of the class is divided in small groups in corners suited for theme work and play.
Fig. 1. Classroom organisation
They can play with clay, sand, blocks, rigid and flexible materials in the different corners (workshop pedagogy), they dramatize with their constructions, they make drawings, and use the computers when these are free. Classrooms divided in play/work corners are important for more informal, playful education. Earlier research showed 50% more theme work and play in such classrooms than traditional arranged (Trageton 1999)
The project is both descriptive and action research oriented (Elliot 1993, Mac Kernan 1998). Therefore the structure is relatively loose and open ended. We want to describe the learning processes to develop practice more in tune with our National Curriculum.
Problem 1 (see page 2).
Continuous process evaluation/discussions through 3 years in collaboration with the teachers in the innovation classes. Observations, notebooks/evaluations, interviews, video recordings and video productions of theme organised learning with focus on the resulting text productions on computers. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the development in the text productions of the children.
From grade 1 I have scanned 1500 texts/drawings to build up a growing database classified after school, grade level, sex and each student given an identification number. This database is on Internet, but at the moment only open for the members of the project group. Later it may be opened for all interested in the project. In summer 2001 I have scanned in all the texts from grade 2. Finally in summer 2002 I scan all the texts from grade 3.
Tests on language level after 3 year in the “experiment” classes and “control” classes. The big problem is that there is not developed valid tests or evaluation norms on the quality of oral language, written language and meaningful reading developed in relation to the demands in Norwegian language learning in our new National Curriculum for grade 1-4. Such tests/norms ought to be developed, especially writing tests.
As a background I first take a quick revue of the development in grade 1 (Trageton 2001). In grade 1 the children in all classes started spontaneous playing with the keyboard, and producing masses of letter strings. Some meaningful words and sentences with invented spelling emerged. In the end of the school year it could develop to small stories. In this informal way, they had really written themselves to reading like in the American WTR projects. The letter tests in the end of grade 1 told that most of the children now mastered most of the letters, a mean of 24 capital letters and 20 minor letters. The girls showed a bit higher scores than the boys. This is a higher level than the results of Karlsdottir (1998) who followed the same children from 7 year olds to grade 4 in reading capacity. Her conclusion was that the most important factor to predict reading level in grade 4 was the knowledge of letters in the start of school (at that time 7 year olds). The enormous production of letter strings on the computers in grade 1 has really taught the children “to be acquainted of the letters in their own individual speed” (L97: 117). Our National Curriculum says that in grade 1 the children should meet letters and texts in written language through stimulating dramatic play and a lot of picture/textbooks, and get help to write down their thoughts. It is very informal demands in grade 1. The formal reading /writing is expected to wait until grade 2. But “The computer kids” had already in grade 1 written small texts in invented spelling, assisted by the teacher. They had been writing themselves to read too early!
The start period of grade 2 became therefore radically different from the tradition with a common textbook for the whole class, learning one and one letter at the same time, and formal hand writing exercises. It became meaningless to follow a common textbook, where it is supposed that all children should “learn” one and one letter at the same time, when my letter test showed that most of the children already had learned most of the letters! On the schools where the tradition was a common textbook in grade 2, this became a great conflict, but most of the schools did not use a common textbook. Here there were no problems. The formal reading/writing in grade 2 became unnecessary and could be heavily reduced or skipped, because most of the pupils could already write and read small texts based on the local environment (situated learning Lave/Wenger 1991). The children simply continued writing and reading on very different levels. Children learn to write by writing, to read by reading. Quantity training is the keyword. In most classes the joyful writing and reading interest exploded in the beginning of grade 2. The children should not be disturbed by the same boring standard exercises for all students at the same time.
Standard textbooks and workbooks are stealing time from meaningful writing/reading in the language lessons. At the letter test in the end of grade 1, the children new some fewer minor than major letters. But now the small letters became most interesting. Why? “Capital letters are childish” “Real books use minor letters” “Minor letters is harder”. This was some of the answers from the children. With help of Cap Lock and Shift it became easy to convert letters from capital to minor letters.
Now I will give a glimpse from one of the classes after a month in grade 2:
The classroom is described on page 6. The recycled computers now with only a text program installed, is bought from the community for about 100 dollars each. In my project the number of computers in classroom varies from 2-10. The mean in Norway will in 1999 be about 2 computers per classroom. With such type of informal learning, when the main focus is on different group works, 2 computers function well, but I regard the ideal would be 4.
23 students in grade 2 start their day with a quick briefing in the assembly corner. The main matter is to discuss who should be the elected represent ant to go to a meeting 0945. After that they were discussing their theme for the period: I AND MY CLASS, and what the different groups have to do. Then the groups begin to work/play in the block corner, with rigid materials, clay, sand, drawing, playing with word cards, and 4 students in 2 pairs are working on the computers in the middle of the classroom. Throughout the 4 hours a day, computer groups are continually changing; so all the children have written their stories at the end of the day. A sort of “Workshop Pedagogy” (Trageton 1994) is practiced. The teacher has one assistant teacher 6 hours a week. This resource is used this day. That is important to strengthen the dialogue teacher /child, with the teacher as scaffolding the child (Vygotsky/Bruner).
The theme “I and my class” fill 70% of the total lesson time in 1 ½ month. (According to our National Curriculum cross subject themes shall dominate the learning in lower primary school). Just now it is the home arena and the pets of the children in focus. An example of a developing text:
Kari and Truls are working together. They have constructed a bed and a bird in rigid materials. Kari still use major letters: IEI LAGET EN SENG (I have made a bed) Truls: Now it is my turn. Kari: What will you write? Truls: I have made a bird. He looks unsure on the keyboard: Kari helping: It begins with a straight line (pointing at I). Truls writing: IEI (“I” in invented spelling). Teacher: What have you written? Truls (reading) iei (I). Kari helps Truls in sounding out: L-A-G-E-T (have made). Truls is writing with some help of Kari to find the letters on the keyboard. Truls reading: I have made… Kari: What have you made? Truls: Fugl (Bird). Kari: It begins with fffff (sounding). Truls: lllll? Kari: No fffff! You find it about here: (Circling movement over the keyboard F). At last Truls have written, “I have made a bird”, and are reading aloud. Kari: Now it is my turn: She writes down while reading what she is writing: “I was not allowed to play”. Truls: Were you not allowed to play? Kari: No, when I had made the bed ready and should play with the cat in the bed, then I was told to go to the computer.
This glimpse shows the importance of having pairs on each computer. The children have an intense dialogue, are helping each other’s both with technical problems, and in developing the content of the stories.
On the other computer another pair are developing longer stories of their pets. Each child need more time, but the writing goes here faster, with good responses from the onlooking and reading friend. The teacher may give extra responses when necessary to enrich the story further. Nina have earlier been in the drawing group and have made a detailed story of her smiling cat with her grandmother patting the cat. On the computer the text to the picture became such:
Fig. 2. Grandmother pat the cat
mia smiling soon healthy
she was sick
she has been bitten of
Nina are reading aloud. The teacher do not understand here written dialect version of “bitten” (bete). She must read once more: Teacher understands: Oh, she has been “bitten” (standard version). By whom have she been bitten? Nina: of the cat. Teacher (encouraging): That you must write! Nina write “of the cat” and read the story once more.
Her comrade Ida writes another story on background of her drawing. Sentence after sentence is gradually printed down with encouraging response from her pair comrade or teacher: What happened then? Why? What did the cat do? What did you?
She reads the total story with much engagement, especially at “nenenenenene” The teacher calls Kåre and ask him: Can you read the story? Kåre quickly understand the context “pets” and is spelling slowly but correct until the phrase nenenenenene… He sounds mechanical correct, but understand nothing. Teacher: No, I think this Ida must read this!
Ida (with a teasing tone):
Teacher (enthusiastic): That was the teasing meaning!
The major part of the project is to follow 9 different schools in Norway. But an interesting aspect is to compare with cultural variances in the three other countries. Common traits for the three other countries are that the 6 year olds are preschool children and in the second year of the project they had to shift institution to grade 1 in school (7 year old school start in these countries). It was greater problems with continuity in the project, because they both changed institutions and teachers. I have not so good documentation from these countries, but here follow small glimpses:
The new teachers had to build up the physical arrangements with computers in the classroom. This technical equipment was not ready before January in their 2 classes. Generally you will find a delayed development in relation to all the Norwegian classes. Here follow one example:
Fig 5. Danish example
ali baba andthe40 (robbers) once upon a time there was a poor
woodchopperas (invented spelling, not word division)
But in the end of grade 1 the two Danish classes had reached a relatively high level, but not so freely experimenting as the Norwegian classes. They were some more orientated against the formal aspect of writing. Denmark has the last 2-3 year had huge discussions about the low reading standard. Therefore the reading in standard textbooks has a very strong position, and often also the free writing have the textbook as an inspiration and starting point.
One class is in the project. The class have few children, as a combination of preschool class and grade 1. When I visited them to make video recordings I got the impression of a more formal teaching than I was acquainted with from Norway. But the teacher wanted to open for more creative learning methods. Here follow an example of the text of a seven-year-old boy.
Fig. 6 Estonian example
Above is the teacher’s translation in English. The teacher had also written the same story corrected to standard Estonian, so I notice that this boy are quit near standard spelling. Only few places he uses invented spelling. In relation to the other classes in the project, there is a very high complexity in the Estonian stories. The teacher says that it is usual that the Estonian children can read and write before entering school at 7-year age.
About 10 % of the Finnish people are Swedish speaking. The class in the project is Swedish speaking. The preschool class should this year begin in grade 1, in new localities, and a new teacher. But in this case the teacher could continue, because she took a further education in lower primary school pedagogic. She analysed 20 texts made in October in grade 1 (NB! like grade 2 in Norway). The texts were about children, families, friends, animals, friends, fairy tale, and one text about war. The text length varied between 8-28 words, the mean 18 words.
Because the child learn to write by writing, it is important to stimulate the child to write longer texts by good questions like: What happened then? Why? and so on.
Once upon a time there was a pig named babe babe went to eat babe eatsomuch
And babe was fond of food that he must go and laydown
In bed and sleep with the teddy
This child use invented spelling, but relatively near standard spelling. The teacher has in the red area at the left made a correct spelling of the story. This is the child’s homework as a reading text. For the reading it can be an advantage with such correction from the teacher. But it is important that the child do not regard it as a criticism, only an adjustment to make the interesting story easier to read, also for dad! These 2 pages can be the beginning of an interesting book.
In the later part of grade 2 in the Norwegian classes, newspaper production became exiting and very popular tasks. The typical tabloid newspaper has short sentences, big titles and huge pictures. This is a suitable level for grade 2. With computers as writing utensil the layout becomes more professional, and the children have to discuss letter types and size. One grade 2 class in Bergen played a newspaper office for two weeks, with drafting committee and groups of journalists who decided what stuff was important enough to come in the newspaper: News, sports, production life, entertainment and so on. At that time there was a great debate about a reality TV program named “Big Brother” and some soaps with much sex and crime. Leading school directors started a protest against these series competing with child TV time, and tried to force the TV stations to delay such programs to late afternoon. The children had in their newspaper to main news on the front page with drawings as illustrations:
1) Hotel Cæsar (the popular soap program) must be sent later in the afternoon
2) Eclipse of the moon
On page two the children had composed 5 different stories commenting soaps and crime films. Her follows one:
Fig. 8. Newspaper article
Hotel Cæsar is not suitable
for children we in grade 2 are not
allowed to look at of mum and dad
I do not show the elaborated drawing to this text. Page 3 was about sport, ski jumping, break dance and so on, page 4 presented constructions they had done at school: We have made a globe, computers, TV, aeroplanes, space rockets, etc. An article about the eclipse of the moon, a poem and a joke were also written. The last page showed a weather report and different cosy stuff. In my opinion the variation of this newspaper was better than our professional tabloid newspapers in Norway! The newspaper had also a strong local touch besides the national stuff. After printing 25 exemplar, the parents could buy a very good newspaper to read in the weekend. Here follow the lay out of the front page and page 7 in a 12 pages newspaper from another school. Different journalists had created four different stories in pictures and texts: Boat accident, train collision, school report and a football match. The front page to the left had a short message about helping Brasil, as an invitation to read a more elaborated article on page 2-4. It was info of a train accident, more stuff at page 6, and a survey over the other content of the newspaper like puzzles, jokes, comics and sport. The names of the journalists were very important.
To play a newspaper office with all different functions is a good way for elder children to strengthen the “Literacy through play” strategy (for an overview, see Christie 2001). Another good area strengthening literacy is playing all the functions of a publishing house. Many of the grade 2 classes have played publishing house the last part of the school year. To make longer stories and write books with drawings and texts have become very popular activities. A frame play (Brostrøm 1995) lasted for 2 months in one class playing “Publishing house”. The teacher was the director of the publishing house. She could be a very good consultant and critic of the first sketches of promising books. She asked the author to elaborate the ideas of the good story further on. She arranged conferences with all the authors who told each other about their book synopsis and discussed how to improve them. They got possibilities to test their sketches for other critical authors by reading their ideas aloud for the total assembly. But the director also demonstrated the high standard of the publishing house by denying to accept authors who come with too little elaborated books. She criticized their manuscript for missing the end of the story, or evaluated the front page not to be attractive enough, discussed layout and size of the letters. After hard work on the criticised areas, the director at last was willing to tape the logo of the publishing house on the book as an acceptance of the finished book. It was amazing to notice that the children accepted a rougher critic when the teacher was playing the director role of the publishing house than when she was only their classroom teacher! The books could vary from 4 to 20 pages, where the illustrations were as important as the texts. Here follow one example:
1. Once upon a time LITTLE BLUE 2. Then LITTLE BLUE made an experiment he were sowing some strawberry made such as things became small
seeds some weeks after they began
experiment all over he then there were so big strawberries that he could live
became very tiny. He screamed heeeeelp in the strawberry garden so he ate and he ate until
but nobody could hear it because he was he became bigger and bigger at last he was
totally alone himself, and he would not make it more for now he had stomach ache. THE END
Fig. 10. A storybook
What textbooks are best for 7 year olds?
Traditionally formal reading in Norway has started for the 7 year olds with ABC books (after lowering the school start this means grade 2). In reaction against the rather meaningless technical texts in the dominating phonic textbooks from the 1970ies, the modern textbooks have more “natural language”. But this is the author’s natural language, not the child’s natural language in a special class in a special environment. The problem many teachers now report is that these modern, but foreign texts become too complicated, and give no systematic phonic training or word recognition training.
By creative writing on computers instead of handwriting, you solve the problem. The children themselves produce more interesting textbooks for reading. By help of a scaffolding teacher they train themselves in systematic spelling and word recognition while writing. After corrections to standard spelling, the textbooks can be copied and supply every class with a mass of interesting reading books from their own well known context, and therefore more meaningful and easier understandable. In addition this should of course be supplemented with a rich classroom library and school library for easy books of professional authors on different content and levels.
The traditional writing of essays in high school and upper secondary school were earlier made ready as homework without comments from the teacher. The teacher assessed and marked only the finished product. A new orientation the last 20 years have focused more about the process in the writings. (Healy 19?, Krashen 19?). The teacher follows the writing process and gives response and advises to the student’s continual work with 1. sketch -> response -> 2. version -> response -> 3. version -> response -> final editing (Hoel 1995). With younger children in grade 1-4, this strategy has earlier been almost impossible. The motor problems with forming the letters take so much energy, that the teacher could not demand the student to make a second version of his text also. But with the word processor the situation have changed completely. Children have quite natural given spontaneous responses to their partner on the computer. The first sketch is easily revised to a better second version. Clever questions from the teacher can expand the original version; the child can make a new start on the story, or insert a forgotten important point in the story, without writing the total text once more as in handwriting. At last the child also can correct the spelling, make capital letters in the start of new sentences etc. In working with newspapers and books the children get continuous responses from their comrades, the teacher, parents and local society as inspiration to revise their writings once more. How can the teacher reach scaffolding 28 children in her responses? Here the pair group on each computer is central for dialogues and oral development. The students become “assistant teachers” for each other. Matre (2000) found that the dialogue between two 6-7 year old kids often had a higher quality than the dialogue child-teacher! This oral dialogue function as an inspiring response. In grade 2, the teacher can also give written response direct on the same computer (Hoel 2000:257-261)
The traditional literacy training in Norway start not in writing, but in the opposite end: Reading and reading problems were most in focus, often with a special standard textbook with the same exercises for all children. The traditional handwriting training was originally an own subject, isolated from reading. The technical problems in copying letters were the main task. It took therefore a very long time before the children could use these handmade letters for expressing their own meanings in writing. Reading books had no connections with writing books. They were regarded as isolated activities. (Lorentzen in Moslet 1999:109-147). However, our new national curriculum (L97) demands a closer connection between both oral and written activities: Combinations and interactions between listening, speaking, reading and writing are highly recommended:
Written: READING WRITING
Oral language is strengthened in this new curriculum (Hertzberg & Roe 1999). The children should learn language through oral and written dialogues in a social interaction (Lorentzen in Moslet 1999:109-147). The left side stands for impression or consumption, the right for expression or production.
“The students should every day talk something that somebody listen to”
(L97 p 116)
Strong demands! Here production comes first, because the meanings of every child is the most important, and easiest to start with! Active listening can be harder for a 6-year-old, full of own interesting stories! In reading and writing our new National curriculum focus more about the children’s production of meanings. Creative writing has a dominating place. Such focus reflect also that active writing of own text is easier than reading a foreign adult author’s text. The revolution announced in the above heading is simply to revolve the four components 180 degrees so the production components come first. These components are easiest to learn in a playful way, because there is not a single correct answer, but billions of different possible meanings.
Such a strategy would correspond better with what we know today about literacy learning.
Then it becomes easier to bind the four central components in literacy together in an effective way. The child as active producer of knowledge according to a social-constructivist view will be more visible. To write is easier than to read (Chomsky 1982) Therefore we start with the easiest. The reading research stresses the importance of decoding (Høyen 1996:223-234). But in my project coding of own thoughts came first, and so decoding of the same thoughts by reading them. This is easier than decoding foreign texts. But in grade 2 it is also important that the children are training their reading capacity on foreign texts. At first they read the books of their classmates within the same local context, later on from the rich classroom library and the school library.
Reading research has a hundred yearlong traditions, but it is only the last 20 years that writing research has flourished. And still the reading research gets most attention. While the international reading tests are dominating the research and public discussions, we have almost no international comparisons and public discussions about creative writing level.
Do the “computer children” write better than “handwriting children”? The general impression from the teachers in the project is that the computer children learned the letters in shorter time, and began to write meaningful sentences earlier already in grade 1, and made better stories in grade 2 than their classes they had before. In the end of grade 3, in May 2002, we also want to make some more formal evaluation. But the problem is that there is no accepted Norwegian or international evaluation instrument in this area. The American Writing to Read project used different scales. One of them is the following, where 6 was the maximum score:
Brostrøm (1998) use another scale for the development of the oral stories children create:
Can this scale also be used for written stories? Will the scale suit for all types of texts, or only fabulous texts? Christie (1999, 1999b) has for many years done much research about ”early literacy and play”. His scale for narrative complexity of dramatic play builds on Fein, Sutton Smith and Bruner. He use a more differentiated 6 graded scale some similar with Brostrøm:
1.Thematic Event sequences
Incomplete Story Narratives
Complete Story Narratives
Can such a scale be used on children’s texts too? Only on narrative stories? At Denmark Pedagogic University two researchers are working to develop a writing test or evaluation instrument both for fabulous and factual texts. Perhaps this is ready to May 2002?
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