Building strong writers: creating a balance between the authorial and secretarial elements of writing.
To be literate in contemporary times requires the ability to create and interpret 'oral, visual, audio, gestural, tactile and spatial patterns of meaning' (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012, p. 2). Writing is central to literacy, providing a means for intellectual inquiry and creative expression (Graham & Perin, 2007). It is a complex phenomenon, facilitated by the co-ordination of cognitive, linguistic and motor functions. Students who find the writing process difficult are disadvantaged (Cutler & Graham, 2008), as many of the tasks associated with learning across all subjects require writing. Indeed, students can spend up to 50% of their school day engaged in some form of writing from age eight (Bromley, 2007).
Building strong writing is essential for success in school and adult life; yet teachers of writing are faced with the dilemma of selecting an appropriate instructional approach in a climate of heightened educational accountability, rapid technological change and rich cultural diversity. Many teachers lack confidence in the teaching of writing and, as a consequence, writing sometimes drops off the busy classroom schedule in a way that reading instruction does not. Considering the numerous instructional approaches claimed to improve the quality of writing, with varying degrees of effect (Graham & Perin, 2007), we support a view of writing that acknowledges the writer's journey as unique, recursive and evolving.
Writing as process and product
The concept of 'process writing' was introduced in the 1980s and was predominantly influenced by the seminal work of Donald Graves (1983). Central to process writing is 'ownership' and 'voice' of the writer as connections are made and meaning is constructed through the crafting of text (Graves, 1994). The writing process is recursive rather than constrained and sequential. Teaching is designed around a cyclic process based on the experiences and approaches of competent writers. Teaching focuses on students' activity--prewriting, during writing and after writing--rather than the final product. When a process writing approach is adopted, the purpose and relevance of writing is foreground, while instruction and assessment include planning, composing, recording, revising and publishing written texts (Graham & Sandmel, 2011).
One or more components of the writing process may require instructional attention in order to improve the quality of students' written products. It is critical that writing instruction is informed by assessment systems that consider not just the product of writing, but also the process of writing. Consequently, assessment procedures should be situated within the context of purposeful and meaningful writing tasks. Graves (1994) emphasised that aspects of the writing process should not be taught as prescriptive stages, because writers apply different aspects of the writing process in unique ways. Further, as students move through a trajectory towards increased control over the writing process, their needs change across different elements of writing (Mackenzie, Scull, & Munsie, 2013).
Specific writing elements, including text structure, sentence and grammatical structure, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, and handwriting or word processing, require systematic consideration in the teaching and learning of writing. Each of these elements has been conceptualised as either 'authorial' or 'secretarial' in previous research regarding writing assessment (Mackenzie et al., 2013). Identifying particular elements of writing that require instructional attention is critical in scaffolding the development of writing. In doing so, teachers need to create a balance between the authorial and secretarial elements in the writing classroom. It has been argued that some teachers focus their attention on the secretarial aspects of writing and neglect the authorial role. In order to make judgments about writing quality and to make decisions about intended future learning for developing writers, consideration of each element is needed.
Authorial elements of writing
The authorial element of writing relates to the organisation of ideas and information to communicate to a particular audience. When writers take on an authorial role, they refine their craft through elements such as text structure, sentence and grammatical structure and vocabulary. Table 1 offers examples of authorial elements of writing.
Secretarial elements of writing
The secretarial role of the writer focuses on specific mechanical skills of writing, such as spelling, punctuation and handwriting. Table 2 provides examples of secretarial elements of writing.
Rather than discuss each element in depth, this paper highlights one authorial element (vocabulary) and one secretarial element (spelling) in order to demonstrate the importance of creating a balanced approach to writing instruction and assessment.
Authorial element: Vocabulary
Learning is fundamentally and profoundly dependent on vocabulary knowledge. Learners need access to the meanings of words that are used by adults (particularly teachers) and other students, as well as those used in books and multimedia, if they are to participate in their community contexts and learn effectively. The importance of vocabulary knowledge to school success in general and reading comprehension in particular, is well documented. Biemiller (2006) argues however, that the importance of vocabulary knowledge to reading comprehension has been underestimated, because it is not a prerequisite for many of the reading texts used in early years classrooms. It does become significant when the texts offered in Year 3 and beyond present children with more demanding and topic specific vocabulary. At this point, those students with rich vocabularies are greatly advantaged as vocabulary is the key to text participation.
When students read words, understand their meaning and can pick up on subtleties in text, they become text participants. Text participation becomes increasingly important as texts become more complex. It involves knowing the meaning of individual words and how their meaning is influenced by the words around them. Homographs (same spelling but different meaning and pronunciation) are a perfect example. Students need to know multiple meanings for words and know which is appropriate within particular contexts. For example the word house has different pronunciation and two different meanings in the following sentence:
We will 'house' the guinea pigs in their new 'house'.
Knowing words is multi-faceted and to really know a word a reader (or listener or viewer) must have 'knowledge of the multiple related meanings and shades of meaning for the word, knowledge of its semantic associations, knowledge of its meanings in different contexts, and knowledge of its different morphological forms (Kieffer & Lesaux, 2012, p. 348). Decoding skills, fluency skill and comprehension skills all draw upon students' known vocabulary. Students' vocabulary also determines the lexical sophistication and density of their writing. Lexical sophistication refers to the difficulty or maturity of words used, while lexical density refers to the balance between content words (e.g., house) and grammatical function words (e.g., the, is) (Hudson, 2009). As with reading, writing becomes more dependent upon vocabulary knowledge as writing becomes more complex and topic specific.
Children begin to understand the words used around them (receptive language) well before they begin to speak. Typically, however, by two years of age they will have a vocabulary of approximately 50 words and by the age of three children demonstrate an ability to comprehend and assimilate a new word after hearing it only once or twice (Hoffnung et al., 2013). This vocabulary grows to approximately 14,000 words that they can use (expressive language) by the age of six (Hoffnung et al., 2013, p. 269). The average school student learns between 5 and 10 words per day, a total of between 2,000 and 4,000 during primary and high school; however, a marked difference between the vocabulary knowledge of children from high and low socioeconomic backgrounds has been well documented (Berne & Blachowicz, 2008). This would suggest that the teaching of vocabulary is an equity issue and deserving of teachers' time and energy.
Building a vocabulary
To learn words means that students need to hear and use words in context on a number of occasions before these words will become resources they can access in their speech, reading and writing. As a consequence, the vocabulary modelled by the teacher will have great impact on students' vocabularies. However, building students' vocabularies requires more than just modelling. A teacher must be interested in words. They must be aware of the words they are using and the words that students are being exposed to through texts and multimedia resources. They must actively seek opportunities to discuss words and encourage students to do the same.
Vocabulary lessons should be planned and spontaneous. For example, a quick spontaneous five minute vocabulary or word cline lesson may encourage children to be more specific with word choices. A word cline is a way to build vocabulary by looking at words that fit into a certain category and organising them in order of how strongly or accurately they represent an idea. An example is shown in Figure 1.
Word consciousness may also be promoted through the use of puns, jokes, crossword puzzles, anagrams and word games. Explicit instruction and modelling will be important as will opportunities for definitional vocabulary work, which will require students to explore different aspects of words. This goes beyond the standard dictionary definitions to include opportunities for students to see how words can change meaning in different contexts (Hirsch, 2003). Contextual vocabulary work involves students in the use of words in context and provides opportunities for them to establish connections and make links with prior knowledge. Concept maps and other similar approaches (e.g., four square) help students learn word meanings conceptually. From a planned lesson perspective, interactive writing--where the teacher and a group of students (whole class or small group) share the pen--provides abundant opportunities for the teacher to think out loud, introduce students to new words and model processes for choosing words that are just right. Not all words are created equal.
Choosing words to teach
Choosing words to teach will be determined by need. Teachers who know their children well will be able to make decisions on the run, as opportunities arise, as well as plan lessons that will provide vocabulary scaffolds for new topics or concepts. When selecting texts, word conscious teachers will first read a text to themselves with their students in mind. They will make decisions about the appropriateness of the text in terms of the amount of potentially new vocabulary. What the teacher will be looking for is a text that provides some new vocabulary and some recently introduced vocabulary, surrounded by many well-known words. They want a balance of mostly known words with some new. They will then determine which new words are most important to comprehension. We can think about words in a number of ways:
Function words: There are approximately 100 'function words', which account for almost 50% of all words used in the English language. Function words contribute to the syntax of language rather than the meaning. They include articles, prepositions, pronouns, determiners (e.g., the, a, that), conjunctions, auxiliary verbs (e.g., be, have, do) and particles.
Commonly used words: The Oxford wordlist (Oxford University Press, 2008), available online for free, provides a comprehensive list of the words most frequently used by Australian students in the first three years of school. This list provides words in order of frequency and is a useful resource for teachers. However, a reliance on a list of this kind restricts students' comprehension and writing as they move into the middle and upper primary years.
Beck, McKeown and Lucan (2002), have provided a useful way of considering vocabulary instruction using three tiers of words:
Tier 1: These are the high frequency everyday words which are commonly used in spoken language and simple texts (e.g., run, happy, baby, dog). Most children have been exposed to these words before starting school, unless they are English Language Learners (EAL) with a background in a different language.
Tier 2: These words are often referred to as high frequency words for mature language users (e.g., coincidence, introduce). It is knowledge of these Tier 2 words that Beck et al. (2002) have argued have a powerful impact on language functioning and therefore should be the focus of classroom instruction.
Tier 3: These words are low frequency domain specific words (e.g., isotope, herpetology).
If we agree that Tier 2 words offer the best pay-off for students, an easy way to introduce Tier 2 words is through well-chosen texts which may be read by individuals. Texts that are more difficult should be read aloud to the whole class. The sometimes forgotten read aloud strategy requires the teacher to do the 'reading work', which allows the students to enjoy and learn from texts that may be well beyond their current independent reading level, but within their listening comprehension and interest level. These can be used to introduce students to many new Tier 2 words. Opportunities for discussion of these new words can follow and the teacher can then incorporate these words into conversations and class tasks. Students could be encouraged to make lists of the new 'cool words' to which they have been introduced, for reference when they are writing.
Secretarial element: Spelling
Spelling is one of the fundamental secretarial conventions of writing. It is the visible representation of 'word-level language using written symbols in conventional sequences (orthography) that represent speech sounds (phonology) and word parts that signal meaning and grammar (morphology)' (Garcia, Abbott, & Berninger, 2010, p. 63). Research has shown that if secretarial skills such as spelling are efficient, greater capacity in working memory becomes available for important writing processes such as vocabulary selection, planning and revising (Puranik & AlOtaiba, 2012). Indeed, evidence from a longitudinal study suggests that high-achieving spellers are more likely than low-achieving spellers (Years 1 to 7) to effectively 'translate ideas into written words and combine written words to generate written text' (Abbott, Berninger, & Fayol, 2010, p. 294).
Understanding and assessing phonology, orthography and morphology
Metalinguistic knowledge for teachers is crucial. If teachers are equipped with the linguistic language associated with spelling and if they are guided by a systematic linguistic framework, they can gain rich insights into their students' applied spelling. Teachers can achieve this by drawing on the phonological, orthographic and morphological components of spelling to qualitatively analyse the spelling errors observed in students' written draft texts.
Teachers may begin their analysis by determining students' capacity to produce phonologically accurate representations within monosyllabic words and polysyllabic words written in context. Table 3 summarises specific phonological features that can be assessed in students' written compositions.
In relation to one of the features in Table 3--regular consonant blends--it should be noted that the Australian Curriculum: English provides limited examples of blends and should not constitute a finite list. Comprehensive perspectives about blends and blending can be found in the literature (e.g., Cassady & Smith, 2004; Gries, 2004). It is important to acknowledge that phoneme blending typically involves making connections between two consecutive phonemes within one or two syllable words; however, the process of phoneme blending can also include multiple phonemic units across syllable or morphemic junctures in more complex words.
In Table 3, multiple phoneme blends is a specific phonological feature for analysis. It considers the cognitive demands associated with combining more than two phonemes (consonant and vowel sounds) and then accurately encoding (spelling) them in the context of polysyllabic words. Students might accurately represent phoneme blends in one or two syllable words, such as /br/ in bright and /lt/ in felt;., however, as students experiment with increasingly complex written vocabulary, a breakdown of phonological processing may occur when they attempt to blend two or more phonemes across syllables or across morphemes in the context of less familiar polysyllabic words, such as precipitation and congratulate.
Also in Table 3, the short vowelgrapheme is a phonological feature that is intended to focus on short vowels that are represented by a single letter only. The examples provided in Table 3 illustrate those lax phonemes that are represented by a single letter. It needs to be noted, however, that short vowels can also be represented as vowel digraphs, such as /ea/ in head. Vowel digraphs are less common, somewhat ambiguous, and require greater orthographic sensitivity than a single vowel grapheme when spelling. Therefore, errors observed with respect to vowel digraphs can be treated as orthographic in nature.
Specific orthographic features should also be considered when analysing students' contextualised written vocabulary. The orthographic component of analysis aims to explore students' sensitivity to letter sequences. Table 4 presents some examples; however, they should not be regarded as finite. Indeed, additional orthographic features may emerge through the assessment of students' applied spelling.
Additionally, teachers should examine whether their students are applying particular morphological generalisations in their spelling, as opposed to inappropriately relying on phonological spelling. Morphological features encompass the meaning of words and word parts. Etymological aspects (root words) of the English language, as well as homophones, can also be conceptualised in this overarching category. These are shown in Table 5.
Spelling error analysis of student writing
Figure 2 presents a student's initial written response to a persuasive task, requiring the writer to convince a reader which season of the year she believes is best. Students' written texts from the early grades through the middle years to secondary school can be assessed in ways that provide valuable feedback needed to guide the teaching of spelling for students.
An analysis of the student's persuasive text is documented in Table 5. Spelling errors have been identified and classified according to specific linguistic features, revealing particular aspects of spelling that need to be addressed.
Clearly, there is scope for this student to develop specific skills across the three spelling components. For example, when this student attempts to write complex polysyllabic words, such as pollenating and environment, a breakdown in phonological processing is evident. In addition, a range of orthographic errors are prevalent, while several morphological errors are also noted, particularly with respect to suffixes and root words.
Analysing the quality of spelling errors students make in their written texts provides teachers with useful information. In particular, a contextualised and systematic linguistic approach to spelling assessment has the potential to capture the individual complexities of students' spelling, providing rich insights into trends that may emerge. Importantly, such feedback is needed to inform teachers' instructional priorities.
Writing is an essential part of being literate and plays an important role in fostering thinking across many disciplines, as well as promoting social, emotional and cognitive development. Learning to write is a complex process and effective teachers acknowledge that writers' journeys are unique, recursive and evolving. Effective teachers are perceptive and adaptive to their students' writing trajectories, utilising assessment and teaching practices that support all children. They achieve this by identifying particular aspects of writing that require instructional attention, and they maintain a pedagogical balance between the authorial and secretarial writing elements.
Abbott, R., Berninger, V., & Fayol, M. (2010). Longitudinal relationships to levels of language in writing and between writing and reading in grades 1 to 7. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102 (2), 281-291. doi: 10.1037/a0019318
Akmajian, A., Demers, R.A., Farmer, A.K., & Harnish, R.M. (2010). Linguistics: An introduction to language and communication (6th ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York, NY: Guildford Press.
Beck, I.L., & McKeown, M.G. (2007). Different ways for different goals, but keep your eye on the higher verbal goals. In R.K. Wagner, A.E. Muse, & K.R. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Vocabulary acquisition: Implications for reading comprehension (pp. 182-204). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Berne, J.I., & Blachowicz, C.L.Z. (2008). What reading teachers say about vocabulary instruction: Voices from the classroom. The Reading Teacher, 62(4), 314-323.
Biemiller, A. (2006). Vocabulary development and instruction: A prerequisite for school learning. In D.K. Dickinson & S.B. Neuman (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (Vol. 2, pp. 41-51). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Bromley, K. (2007). Best practices in teaching writing. In L.B. Gambrell, L.M. Morrow, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (pp. 243-263). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Cassady, J.C., & Smith, L.L. (2005). Acquisition of blending skills: Comparisons among body-coda, onset-rime, and phoneme blending. Reading Psychology, 25(4), 261-272. doi: 10.1080/02702710490512307
Cutler, L., & Graham, S. (2008). Primary grade writing instruction: A national survey. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100 (4), 907-919.
Garcia, N., Abbott, R., & Berninger, V. (2010). Predicting poor, average, and superior spellers in grades 1 to 6 from phonological, orthographic, and morphological, spelling, or reading composites. Written Language & and Literacy, 13(1), 61-98.
Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for adolescent students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(3), 445-476.
Graham, S., & Sandmel, K. (2011). The process writing approach: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Research, 104(6), 396-407.
Graves, D. (1983). Writing: Teachers and children at work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Graves, D. (1994). A fresh look at writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Gries, S. (2004). Shouldn't it be breakfunch? A quantitative analysis of blend structure in English. Linguistics, 42 (3), 639-667.
Hirsch, E.D. Jr. (2003). Reading comprehension requires knowledge of words and the world: Scientific insights into the fourth-grade slump and the nation's stagnant reading comprehension scores. American Educator, 27(1), 10-29, 48.
Hoffnung, M., Hoffnung, R.J., Seiffert, K.L., Burton Smith, R., Hine, A., Ward, L., ... Swabey, K. (2013). Lifespan development: A topical approach. Milton, Qld: Wiley.
Hudson, R. (2009). Measuring maturity. In R. Beard, D. Myhill, J. Riley, & M. Nystrand (Eds.), The Sage handbook of writing development (pp. 349-362). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B. (2012). Literacies. Port Melbourne, Vic.: Cambridge University Press.
Kieffer, M.J. & Lesaux, N.K. (2012), Knowledge of words, knowledge about words: Dimensions of vocabulary in first and second language learners in sixth grade. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 25, 347-373. doi: 10.1007/s11145-010-9272-9
Mackenzie, N.M., Scull, J., & Munsie, L. (2013). Analysing writing: The development of a tool for use in the early years of schooling. Issues in Educational Research, 23(3), 375-393.
Oxford University Press. (2008). Oxford Wordlist: Comprehensive wordlist relevant to kids of today. Available from http://www.oup.com.au/media/documents/primary/owl/Oxford_Wordlist.pdf
Puranik, C.S., & AlOtaiba, S. (2012). Examining the contribution of handwriting and spelling to written expression in kindergarten children. Reading and Writing, 25(7), 1523-1546.
Tessa Daffern and Noella Mackenzie | Charles Sturt University, New South Wales
Tessa Daffern is a PhD candidate and subject coordinator in the Masters of Education at Charles Sturt University. She is an accredited provider of professional learning with the Teacher Quality Institute in the Australian Capital Territory, and regularly works with teachers in schools as a literacy consultant and presenter. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Noella Mackenzie is a Senior Lecturer in literacy studies at Charles Sturt University, Albury. Her literacy research informs, and is informed by, her ongoing professional work with teachers in schools and her university teaching. Noella has been recognised for teaching excellence in both school and tertiary contexts, through faculty, state and national awards. She is published in a variety of journals, including the Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood and Issues in Educational Research. Email: email@example.com
Table 1. Examples of authorial elements of writing (Adapted from Mackenzie et al., 2013) Authorial element Description of writing Text structure How information or ideas are organised in the text. This may include features of text Sentence and grammatical How sentences or sentence parts are structures constructed: For example, simple, compound and complex sentences. Vocabulary Range and precision of words. Table 2. Examples of secretarial elements of writing (Adapted from Mackenzie et al., 2013) Secretarial element Description of writing Spelling Accuracy of phonological, orthographic and morphological components. Punctuation Use of conventional and appropriate punctuation to indicate the structure and organisation of text. Handwriting/legibility Letter formation, size, spacing, position and placement. Table 3. Examples of phonological features Phonological Description Examples features Initial A single consonant letter log (l) consonants that is positioned at the computer (c) beginning of a word to directly represent the first phoneme. Final A single consonant letter lob (g) consonants that is positioned at the diagnostic (c) end of a word to directly represent the last phoneme. Common Two consonant letters that ship (sh) consonant represent one sound. kick (ck) digraphs Regular Blends of two consonants bright (br) consonant blends within any part of a one or felt (lt) (one and two two syllable word. Easter (st) syllable words) Multiple Blends of two or more precipitation (ipit) phoneme blends consonant and/or vowel congratulate (ngrat) (polysyllabic letters across syllable or pollinating (inat) words) morpheme junctures in polysyllabic words. Short vowel A single vowel letter that battle (a) grapheme is generally positioned at end (e) the beginning or in the missed (i) middle of a word to directly log (o) represent a lax phoneme rug / put (u) (Akmajian, Demers, Farmer, & Harnish, 2010). Table 4. Examples of orthographic features Orthographic Description Examples features Common long Common letter patterns that stripe (i-e) vowels represent long vowel sounds. moat (oa) Dipthongs The sound produced when one vowel shouted (ou) glides into another vowel. boil (oi) -r influenced Words containing vowel phonemes far (ar) vowels that are influenced because of service (er) the following letter -r. surprise (ur) Complex Consonant letter sequences stripe (str) consonant occurring in any part of a word. scratch (tch) clusters Letter clusters include several knotted (kn) letters that may represent one or more phonemes, including less common digraphs and trigraphs. Double letters at Letters that are doubled at the bottle syllable junctures point where two syllables meet. ripple Letter sequences Unstressed word parts that do not people in unaccented contain phonetic spelling doctor final syllables patterns. Table 5. Examples of morphological features Morphological Description Examples features Inflected A morpheme added to the end march-ed suffixes of a base word that changes dog-s the verb tense or number Derivational A morpheme added to the end domin-ance suffixes of a base word that affects prepara-tion the meaning and/or part of speech. Morpheme The unstressed syllable in opposition juncture schwa morphologically complex words (base word is oppose) vowels contains a reduced vowel sound. These words contain a phonological shift at the morpheme juncture. Homophones Words that sound alike but bear/bare have different spelling and meaning. Root words A unit of meaning often aud (as in audible) deriving from Greek or Latin means hear in Latin origin. Assimilated Also known as absorbed innumerable (nn) prefixes prefixes. The sound and spelling of the final consonant is absorbed into the initial consonant of a base word or root to which the prefix is affixed. Table 5. Spelling error analysis of a student's persuasive text Phonological errors Error count: 4 Linguistic feature Errors observed Initial consonants Nil Final consonants Nil Common consonant digraphs Nil Regular consonant blends (one Nil and two syllable words) Multiple phoneme blends infiament (environment) (polysyllabic words) perfit (perfect) pollanting (pollinating) Short vowel grapheme mach (much) Orthographic errors Error count: 12 Linguistic feature Errors observed Common long vowel patterns laves (leaves) bech (beach) outsied (outside) Dipthongs Nil -r influenced vowels propale (properly) Complex consonant clusters warks (walks) counld (could) hethy (healthy) Double letters at syllable polanted (pojjenated) junctures polanting (poUenating) Letter sequences in unaccented animles (animals) final syllables animlas (animals) verey (very) Morphological errors Error count: 7 Linguistic feature Errors observed Inflected suffixes moveys (movies) Derivational suffixes propale (properly) helthey (healthy) Morpheme juncture schwa vowels hethy (healthy) Homophones too (to) Root word holadays (holidays) nacher (nature) Assimilated prefixes Nil
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Daffern, Tessa; Mackenzie, Noella|
|Publication:||Literacy Learning: The Middle Years|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2015|
|Previous Article:||Essential, enjoyable and effective: the what, why and how of powerful vocabulary instruction.|
|Next Article:||Helping students become linguistic inquirers: a focus on spelling.|