Activity Title: Language and literacy in the 21st century


Part 1: Literacy and social responsibility:

Christie and Simpson discuss the crucial role oral language plays in literacy acquisition prior to and during the school years. They compare literacy learning and teaching in the past with the variety of texts, the increasing demands and the changing nature of literacy in the digital world. They encourage teachers to meet the challenge to support all students K-12 on their literacy journey.

In Part 2, Literacy and learning to write: the primary years and Part 3, Writing in the secondary years, Christie and Simpson examine and discuss examples of writing by young children and students, highlighting aspects of writing development and the contribution of background knowledge to the process.

In Part 4, Building collaborative relationships in teaching literacy (in the classroom) Christie and Simpson stress the important role of effective communication between teachers and students in shaping language and literacy learning.

Video 1: Part 1 Literacy and social responsibility



Assoc. Prof. Alyson Simpson: Fran, it strikes me that teachers and pre service teachers these days are faced by significant challenges to do with their concept of literacy. I think in the work that we’ve done over the last few years, the notion of oral literacy and its importance underpinning the work of literacy in schools that’s sometimes taken for granted, don’t you think?

Professor Frances Christie: Yes, I think language generally is taken for granted. It’s because it surrounds us; we live with it all the time; it’s a commonplace phenomenon in life and yet the significance of oral language is a basic tool for learning and literacy is a major resource that anyone needs to be a successful participant in modern society, that’s taken for granted – significance is not fully understood. And one interesting measure of the significance of literacy which I like to think about is if one looks at the evidence about the first free settlers who came to this country, not many years ago in the mid 19th Century. I’ve discovered when you look at the shipping records of ships like the ‘Ellenburg’ that arrived in 1853, the assisted migrants were asked to indicate whether they could read or write. And quite a significant minority said they could only read. I mention this because it tells you something interesting about how literacy was perceived at that stage. And in fact, as we know from the research that’s been done on it that in the 19th and early 20th Century, there was a lot of gainful employment available to people in many walks of life - ship building, farming, baking, cobbling shoes – all those sorts of jobs that were available to early settlers that required little or no literacy. But the fact is that in the modern world without a high standard of literacy then one’s capacity to participate in society generally is much reduced. So, the attitudes to literacy have changed very considerably and we need to bear that in mind. And you thought about literacy in the modern world, I know because you’ve done some research on it.

Alyson: Well, that’s what’s interesting to me of course, that you know we look at notions of literacy to do with traditional literacies. But if we’re not considering the way the demands of current texts make on students and teachers for teaching then we’re ignoring half of the work that we’ve got to do because if we’re only looking at print text. There is so much more now that the multimodal, multi-semiotic digital texts, etc, yeah.

Frances: I think that the magnitude of the change in literacy in the modern world is hard to really come to grips with. So, one of the issues to think about therefore is the issue of ... well is indeed ... literacy is something that is taught only in the first years of schooling which is still a common perception I think in the community. It’s obvious that in the first few years of school, kids need to take some basic steps in learning literacy, but it’s a serious misconception to think that the major learning tasks for learning literacy are all over by the end of three or four years of primary school. It’s a much more significant and much more demanding and ambitious exercise than that suggests. So, we really want to model literacy for all the years of school, K–12.

Alyson: Yeah, yeah absolutely and also that teachers are aware that for some students that they are privileged enough to start developing concepts of literacy before they come to school. So, not only is it the K–12 but, for the students that don’t have that background to build on when they come to school, they’re already behind the development that’s occurred.

Frances: In fact, it’s a good way to think about it learning literacy across the years of schooling is: there’s a developmental process to develop mental journey. The way I like to think of it so that you can say the nature of literacy that children need to comprehend and make sense of at age six, seven is totally different from what it’s like in late childhood, different in mid adolescence and different again in late adolescence. So, the differences, the variety, the differences the changing nature of literacy is a constant theme that really needs to be in the foreground of thinking for teachers. And again, of course because of the multimodal world, an enormous amount can be said about that in today’s world and you have a view about that too. .

Alyson: Well, you know as I mentioned before, sort of the notion of semiotic systems and the impact on classrooms, of digital technologies, the computers coming into the classrooms. But for some teachers, there’s not an awareness been built and for some students again back to the privileged social responsibility issue that we’ve talked about before. If students don’t have access to that, if teachers don’t have the awareness to work in those kinds of literacies then again we’re privileging a few and the notion of literacy and social responsibilities we’ve talked about is supposed to be: that literacy is made available to all in an equitable situation and so within multimodal text is just as important as traditional text. I mean, some of the research I’ve done shows that teachers are aware of the digital technologies, but very often will take traditional practices and kind of transfer them onto digital technologies without being aware of the richer developments that they could move towards.

Frances: Yes, I think that’s a challenge for teachers particularly some who are older who have been in the teaching profession for some time. They have to keep abreast of the significant changes which the multi literate, multimodal world opens up and that is part of the challenge for teachers keep contemporary, keep abreast of the significant multimodals changes that are taking place all the time. So, if we’re to kind of think about what the challenges are in teaching literacy today, there’s the age-old problems of dealing with the nature of the changing of the texts, the nature of the literate texts from age five, six to age twelve to age fifteen to age eighteen, that’s one theme. The other is the nature of literacy with increasingly multimodal texts as you’ve just been talking about that are part of the contemporary world. And the other is a real understanding that the various literacies that we teach in school differ so that the mystery of it is in a way that we have the same linguistic system. But we use it to make different meanings and to deploy the language differently in English, History, Science, Mathematics and so on. And to all of that now we add the rich dimension of the multimodal texts. So, it’s an interesting world, it’s an exciting world and I think it’s important for teachers to be aware of the excitement, the challenge, the variety that’s there and embrace that with pleasure and take excitement in the kind of literacy opportunities they can now offer children in the modern world.

Alyson: I agree with that. Thanks for chatting with me.

Frances: Thank you. Music .


Video 2: Part 2 Literacy and learning to write: the primary years



Professor Frances Christie: Alyson, I thought in this second video, we’d look specifically at some aspects of writing development, what I think of is the developmental journey from K–12 and it’s a journey, of course, in the control of literacy rather than writing uniquely but we’re going to focus particularly on writing development and on the enormous changes that take place across those years. In this video, we’ll say most of the primary school and, in a later one, we’ll look at the secondary school. We’re going to begin with the primary one, we might begin with some reflections on what some children, particularly those that are more advantaged and those who have opportunity to learn a little of spelling, can do even in the years before school and I know you’ve got a couple of texts that were produced in the preschool years.

Assoc. Prof. Alyson Simpson: Absolutely, the first text that we can look at, Fran, the writing isn’t all that accomplished but it says ‘Once upon a time there was a …’ and it’s the beginning of a very early attempt at narrative by a three-year-old who clearly has been positioned to be familiar with stories, familiar with the kind of language of stories and even familiar with the sense that he can write his own, so he had you know that chance to do it. And the next text that we will see is ... it’s a kind of a cross between a recount and a description I suppose because this is where a child has been given a pen and in the pen these moving, you know, characters. And she’s written this description and it says, ‘In this pen there are soldiers that march across the ground in front of Buckingham Palace’. So, the complexity of language there is developed quite a lot from someone who’s used a well-known structure ‘Once upon a time there was …’ and you see the length, the numbers of clauses that have been combined there to build this description so and this child was seven-years-old. So, there’s quite a leap there between the three and seven as we would expect but as, you say, I think both these children are clearly showing that they’ve got a privileged background, a literature full background and a background that’s showing them the world before they’ve even started school.

Frances: Yes, and they’re also telling you and me as, readers, how much cultural knowledge they’ve already begun to acquire.

Alyson: Absolutely.

Frances: And they’re entering into the mysteries of another kind of semiosis because really in the early years of life much of a challenge for children is learning different forms of semiosis or different forms of meaning making. And these are two children entering into some of the forms of meaning making particular to our culture. And so we can start thinking about the challenge for children once they enter the school years in mastering three different things which are enormously important for the first few years: mastery of the spelling system, mastery of your handwriting system which is not quite the same thing, and the grammar of early writing. And I like your instance of the child who begins with ‘Once upon a time …’ because immediately a child who’s doing this is telling you she’s acquired a cultural knowledge about how, in an English speaking community, we go about constructing narrative experience. And so typically the first text that children write in the early years, typically but not universally, will be recounts in which they retell sequence of events; procedures in which they tell us how you go about doing something; and narratives in which they tell us something more than this: a retelling of events or a construction of imaginative events and the building of imaginative experience. So, we’ll look at an example of a little recount that was written in the state of Victoria after the children have made a school visit to a place called Anakie Gorge. I won’t read it right through, but I want to pick up some of its simple grammar, its simple sequence of events which the texts you had also were characterising very well. The child begins: ‘On Wednesday we went to Anakie Gorge and when we went we went past Fairy Park and when we got there we walked down the path and we saw a koala and we saw a lizard and there was dead foxes hanging on the fence …’ and on and on the child goes. ‘And we walked on to the picnic place and then we climbed up the mountain …’ What’s the child doing? She’s doing very well, but it’s a sequence of simply linked clauses linked with conjunctions such as ‘and’ and there’s very simple development. The grammar is like the grammar of speech. When a child moves a little further forward, they can often turn that grammar of speech into something like a procedure as in the one that I’ve got here which is ‘How to Make Chocolate Eggs’ and the child lists ... lists of things we need and then a set of procedures how to make them: ‘Put water in the frying pan, put the bowl in the water in the pan, put the frying pan on …’ and so on a series of simple steps are unfolding for telling the imagined reader how to make chocolate eggs in that case. So, that’s a procedure. Each time the child is understanding a different aspect of experience and how to construct that. Then if we turn to the one of the ‘Minotaur’. This was written by a child of seven and there’s a lot of cultural knowledge going here. ‘In the ancient times,’ he says, ‘there was a minotaur that was very nice and kind and lived in a cave but one day he stepped on a magic spot and turned bad and so he killed all the dwarfs and people and one day a witch came along and turned him good again and made everything alive again.’ Now, I want to make a couple of points there: he does also have a sequence of steps as are linked, but one of the things that’s beginning to emerge is some capacity for building contrast between actions. ‘In the ancient times there was a minotaur that was very nice and kind … ‘but one day he stepped on a magic spot …’. So, he’s understood if you’re going to build a narrative, let’s bring in the contrastive problem which will then need some kind of resolution. The sequence of course is again linked, however, with some skill towards construction of the thing which is narrative structure. A clever thing to do for a child of six or seven. How do we model this it seems to me a great deal is dependent on teacher practice, collaboration? What would you say about that?

Alyson: Well, absolutely, I mean, the notion that the students could come ready for this kind of work I think they might come primed with cultural knowledge, with experience with texts but without explicit modelling in the classrooms so that the teacher shows all the children, you know, that notion we have that all children learning these concepts, models it for the whole class, works with joint construction and then encourages children to take on those new tools of language that’s you know the steps ideally we’d see. Yes.

Frances: I’d like us to move to another text and it’s one about a class social science recount that was written here in Sydney and it’s quite a long text, so I’ll only show bits of that too because it shows a boy ... he was in Year 4 as I recall it, at a very interesting transitional stage in his development, he’s beginning both to deal with personal experience and to deal with researched experience and there’s something about the structure of his text that’s changing. He begins by telling the reader: ‘I woke up excited, for today we were going to The Rocks and Hyde Park …’ And he goes on and talks about how he got himself ready for school ‘I immediately rocketed out of the bedroom and into the living room where I bolted down breakfast, then zoomed out the door and leaped into the car…’ Then he goes on and tells us about going around The Rocks after the class had arrived in The Rocks area in Sydney Cove and he builds in part commentary on what goes on on the day or part account of what went on in the day and part personal reflection on the events. He says: ‘… We piled into a room where the convicts were kept in Hyde Park and the guide told us that the convicts used to keep their possessions under the floorboards, but the problem with this was the rats …’ And on he goes and tells us about the rats ‘… If you put something thin on the floorboards the pests would slide it through the cracks on the floor …’ And so he goes on with his recount in which he is cleverly combining personal experience and researched experience. And again attitudinal expression is becoming more marked and, in fact, he interestingly concludes the text by saying: ‘… The most interesting thing I learned about Hyde Park was that the convicts weren’t always kept in gaols.’ Sounds like a small thing but he is using language now for reflection upon researched experience and he is constructing what is more than his own personal life, he’s beginning to reflect upon the lives of others in a manner which is showing some developing maturity. What we can say is that by late childhood and into early adolescence not only does the range of texts that students write change but the text becomes longer, they become often grammatically more complex and specifically they will develop larger what we call ‘noun groups’ or ‘nominal group structures’. ‘Sally’s Story by Sally Morgan is an autobiography about the life of an Aboriginal girl and her poor family …’ So, we have this large noun group, ‘… the life of an Aboriginal girl and her poor family …’. Again, the writer goes on ‘… This is the story of Sally growing up in a close-knit family and discovering her Aboriginal heritage and being proud of her background while living in a community with racist attitudes …’. Some interpretation of the story is being introduced ‘… In the story, we learn that family relationships are very important to her … We learn how her father’s war neurosis and battle with alcohol deeply affects her family.’ So one of the interesting developmental shifts by late childhood to adolescence is the capacity not merely to construct or reconstruct sequence and events but to intrude, response, attitude, judgement, evaluation into the text. And we can begin to look for that in the kind of developmental shifts that are taking place in the organisation. So that by Year 6, children can do many things developmentally that weren’t available to them at age six or seven, even the very literate children who enter school. What should the teachers’ perception be about this monitoring, developing control of literacy is absolutely critical across all the years of primary schooling and with a variety of genres or text types emerging as students go.

Alyson: Thanks, Fran, it’s always fascinating to hear you talk on this topic. I know you could talk a lot more on it, but thank you for that.

Frances: Thanks, Alyson. Music .


Video 3: Part 3 Writing in the secondary years



Professor Frances Christie: Alyson, I thought in this video we ought to say a bit now about writing in the secondary school. And an important point to start on is that we know and, this is regrettably an international trend a lot of children in many parts of the world, see an actual decline in their school performance with the entry to the secondary school. A lot of reasons for that but certainly one is that there is a significant shift in the kind of literacy that schooling requires with the entry to the secondary school and that is thought to be one of the reasons why school performance declines. This can be a major problem. It is in the States, currently. It is in parts of this country. So, I think we have to say that part of it is an aspect of coming to terms with what’s called ‘subject-specific literacies’, learning that the literacy of History is different from that of Science, different from English and so on. And the other, quite specifically related to the issue of subject specific literacy, the problem of mastering what we call grammatical metaphor. And I’m going to give you one quick instance that I like to use. If you imagine a child writing in a text: ‘The soldiers invaded the town and then destroyed all the buildings.’ You have two clauses there and they are linked overtly with the conjunctions ‘and then’. If you write using grammatical metaphor you turn the actions into a phenomenon and you remove the connection between the two clauses so you say ‘The soldiers’ invasion of the town led to the destruction of the buildings.’ Now, that sounds a simple example but it’s that which is quite fundamental in mastering much of the literate mode of secondary schools turning the actions of History, the actions of Science, the actions in a novel into the phenomena about which we then talk, discuss, argue. Many children don’t get that and it’s a significant problem.

Assoc. Prof. Alyson Simpson: Well, in terms of level of abstraction, it makes it possible for children then to create text that are so much more complex because like you know different to the earlier texts that we looked at ‘and then, and then and then’ child, the child is able to compact so much more meaning together that is the measure as we know of the child who is developing in their literate skills.

Frances: And I think you put your finger on the matter very nicely: it’s a move into abstraction, the move into the abstraction away from the immediacies of life and to reflection upon life and if we look just at some samples of a few texts: As part of a book review here, a child of twelve to thirteen in his first year of schooling giving a talk about ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ and he starts with his sentence: ‘Huck is an uneducated young rogue who gets up to a lot mischief and into a lot of trouble …’. Here you have this great nominal group, great noun group structure that he creates ‘… an uneducated rogue who gets up to a lot of mischief and into a lot of trouble …’. And he’s compressing a great deal of information into that. That is the other phenomenon that is an aspect of this grammatical metaphor. It’s the emergence of control of large nominal groups like that which can give you a compression of information. He goes on a little later: ‘The two themes that I have selected from the novel are friendship and racism …’. Again a shift into abstraction, a shift into moving away from the details of the novel to reflection upon its themes. This is harder than we think. Successful students master it well: poor students have a lot of trouble with it and there is an enormous need for the teacher to engage in modelling of appropriate text, group work, on whiteboard or whatever it happens to be literally playing with sentence structure in order to create that kind of abstraction and dealing with experience with which to build attitude, opinion, ideas. If we turn to a boy also in the junior secondary school who’s writing about everyday life in Egypt, the sentence structures are different because the information is different. It’s factual information. It’s not opinionated as in the review of ‘Huck Finn’. ‘Much of ancient Egyptian life occurred in their house, which was made of sun-dried mud called adobe because wood was in short supply in the desert …’. A simple series of clauses, not much grammatical metaphor there. It’s a simple reconstruction of an historical event and there is no attitude, no opinion expressed in that kind of informative factual writing. Whereas if you turn to a student say in mid-adolescence, who’s writing in Science ‘What is Down Syndrome?’. Again very different information, complex vocabulary now and a great deal of dense, written language. ‘Down Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder (that affects the genetic make up of human beings). It’s cause is directly related to a mutation or abnormality of chromosome 21 …’. And on the student goes. Now, the shifts are enormous and again, to go back to a point we made in an earlier video, we take literacy for granted but in every form: English, History, Science we’re looking at different meaning making, different forms of abstraction, different forms of discourse and they’re very demanding often to read and very demanding to write. Then, if we turn to the upper secondary school, again the shift is enormous. If we look at a student writing in the upper secondary school, and this is an examination text in NSW of a few years ago, a student writes: ‘On Giants’ Shoulders ‘ (a book that she had read) ‘… depicts the individual lives and achievements of 12 scientists as a collective imaginative journey over the last 2 500 years …’. It’s dense, difficult text. ‘… In portraying their separate lives as one story in a chronological line up, Bragg delineates the concept of a cumulative and ongoing journey, reflected in his thesis that Science is “an extended kind of continuous investigation”…’. Dense, difficult language, nothing like what the child of six or seven can write. Now back to some of the points that I made in the first place is that shift into the secondary school, the shift into the dense language of writing with large nominal group structures with complex grammatical metaphor functioning that it becomes increasingly a matter of learning a literacy of abstraction, of attitude, of evaluation where that’s relevant, not relevant in Science, of course, but relevant in other subjects. And this is a very demanding kind of discourse that the secondary school requires. I say this with some knowledge, I know secondary teachers have long had a view that literacy is something that takes care of itself and the people in the primary school as teachers oppose to teach it. The one thing we can say that research tells us overwhelmingly is that literacy is the responsibility of all teachers and is as much a feature of secondary for teaching and learning as it is for primary. We can turn to one other text, ‘History and the adolescent years’, a familiar text that’s written also for, a type of which is written commonly in our schools. ‘In the year 2005, when Australians all over the world will be commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign and the forging of the ANZAC tradition, they will be remembering a group of courageous and determined young people who knew the meanings of suffering and survival and the value of knowing true comradeship …’. Now, you could take that apart. We won’t be doing that but take it apart and look at every noun group structure there. Every nominal group is complex, it’s dense, it takes a great deal of research experience and it turns it into phenomena around which abstract ideas about historical events are constructed. So, I think there’s a theme that we have to really understand here and try to communicate to the people watching this video that literacy learning is lifelong, it’s certainly lifelong for schooling, literacy brought changes enormously depending upon context, purpose and the kind of genre that we’re writing and it also necessarily changes depending upon the particular subject one is teaching or learning. So, if there’s one theme we need to end on, literacy varies depending on context and purpose and I think teachers need to bear in mind the significance of context and purpose whenever they teach writing in any of their subjects because it will be a challenge for all students throughout secondary schooling.

Alyson: Absolutely and that takes us back to that original point we made, the social responsibility unless we bring that training through for all students then we’re not doing a good job. Thank you Fran, very erudite as always.

Student: So, we’ll put gold up there. I think gold because of the motivation for the Spanish to keep on going and defeating the Mayan. Music .


Video 4: Part 4 Building collaborative relationships in teaching literacy



Student: Idea of Mrs Dubose trying to perceive herself as bitter or angry all the time where it’s really, she really likes them and really enjoys their company like …

Professor Frances Christie: One of the very important points to bear in mind for teaching writing is always think about the importance of talk in the classroom as a necessary prerequisite to writing and as something that should accompany a great deal of writing activity in the classroom because so much of it we want to be collaborative in the best sense for collective building and sharing of knowledge and developing a shared sense of purpose and direction in the writing classroom. Don’t you agree?

Assoc. Prof. Alyson Simpson: Absolutely, absolutely. And it’s interesting I think so far Fran we’ve talked a lot about the role of the teacher in the importance of building explicit teaching and so on for the students but when we start to think about collaborative discourse and the importance of using oral language which is where we started to support children’s learning of writing that’s when we begin to understand that we can actually bring talk into the classroom that will support writing using the teachers, peer students and so on. And one of the best researches that I’ve been reading recently is Robin Alexander’s work. And Robin Alexander’s put out as you know these principles to do with talk and these core principles that inform our understanding about talk. When I’ve looked at classroom examples of talk you know we begin to understand how he refers to the notion of collectivity, so this wonderful sense of where teachers and students are able to work together towards some kind of a shared understanding and the importance of their work together does that building so the notion of collaborative discourse. His point of reciprocity and I love this idea, this idea that the teacher is part of the classroom and obviously an expert in the classroom but they’re not the only contributor to the conversation about the writing. So, in a sense there’s this trust if you like or confidence built up so that students feel able to discuss with their peers and their teachers their ideas and learn better ways of writing through that talk. There’s the principle of cumulation, this is a really important one because a lot of the teaching that we’ve talked about, we’ve talked about the change in demand and sequence of learning but if students don’t see and you’ve written about this I know yourself if students don’t see the connection between one learning episode and another and see how the learning about conjunctions in one week it may add to connections of noun groups in another week then that notion of cumulated learning is not built up so I find that a really useful one as well. His fourth discipline point the idea of support that there is not just explicit teaching but the encouragement, modelling, contexts in which children have the chance to articulate their ideas and be able to work them through with other people who give them positive feedback. You know critical warm feedback if you like but always that sense of you’re building a classroom of trust where children don’t mind trying ideas out. You know I find these incredibly useful principles. The last one that I’ll talk about today is purposefulness. This I think is one of the cores to engage in children into writing and caring about their writing. We talk a lot about authentic texts and having understanding social purpose. Understanding social purpose is one thing but having an actual drive to write for a reason. So, you know the child that was talking about I think in an earlier video a visit to The Rocks or something, you know there was a social purpose the text may have been used in a newsletter for school. Very early text that we didn’t use today where a child wrote a little note to his father where he’d made all the jigsaws up in the house and didn’t want anyone to tear them apart, knew that if he wrote a sign that says ‘Do not disturb’ which he didn’t quite know how to spell it was going to give a signal through to somebody you know that I’ve written a note and I want you to pay attention to this. So, from very early years to older secondary years, if students understand the purpose for which they’re writing then I think they’re going to be much more engaged in what they’re doing. So, you know these are very useful principles and they’re not used a lot I don’t think in educational materials but when I’ve spoken to teachers and when I examined the work that teachers do in classrooms and when you look at peer writing conferences or teacher-student writing conferences you see sometimes that the principles are active and when they are there’s some wonderful learning opportunities happening.

Frances: I agree.

Alyson: So, I’ve got an example to show today and what we’ve got is an example of a child writing a recount and later in the video we’ll see a transcript of the conversation with the teacher and we’ll hear the teacher and the student speak. But before I put them on the screen I just wanted to highlight the context of all this recount. So, the students were sent to a cross country carnival, the students had been given some quite explicit modelling before they’d gone to the carnival, not just for the racing obviously but the grammar you know what’s the social purpose, what are the key structures that have to come into this text. And then when they came back from the cross country filled with the excitement of what had happened you know the triumphs, the sadnesses etc, etc they had the structures to use. But it wasn’t just left there. So, what we see in the text and the recount, the student has written some quite interesting, technical features. He’s used successful words, he’s said things like using adverbs to describe the kinds of things that happened in the race. He’s managed to structure particular personal comment into some of the race commentary and all those kinds of things. But, it’s not a full successful text, so then what we see when we see the transcript now that the transcript’s onscreen what we’re able to see is the way that the teacher was scaffolding the student’s learning just that bit further. So, that kind of the modelling, the expert leader. So, …

Frances: And what this requires from the teacher is an ability to see a sense of direction where they’re going.

Alyson: Yeah, I mean when we look at the conversation to see the kinds of things that the teacher was saying the teacher has selected a few features they’re not going to try and run through absolutely everything but description for example so they’re reminding the child about the way that adverbs are used and why they’d be used in a recount, they’re reminding the child that setting the scene is important. But what I find is one of the really interesting structures that the teacher reminds the child of is the way that they’ve used the phases in the recount and that the child has made very deliberate choices in their writing to reveal the story in a sense to let the audience into some of the information. They haven’t done it in the way that all of the other children have and I think this is a measure of a child who is showing a fair advance in their understanding of writing because he decides he would tell about his involvement with the race before he’s going to tell the boring stuff and like we then got on the bus and then we had lunch and all those kinds of things. So, I think when we actually hear the conversation of the teacher and the child speaking you see this or hear this lovely, collaborative discourse that we’re saying is so valuable being constructed.

Frances: What I notice too is that he has quite a good developing sense of a meta language for talking about his writing, he’s aware of paragraphs, he’s aware of the use of adverbs and their purposes, he’s aware of what you should put in each paragraph as he sees it for this particular genre. So, there’s a meta language here for engaging with the nature of the writing task he’s doing which means that the discussion with his teacher is to that extent well informed.

Alyson: Absolutely and of course that wouldn’t have been effective unless that he’d had the explicit modelling upfront because he wouldn’t have known the language to talk about. So, you can see in terms of the principles there you’ve got this kind of cumulation happening because yes it was pre-empted and now we’re getting the results but we’re also getting the support that you know the positive work that teacher’s doing and so on and so you’re getting that all coming together. Now, this is an example of course of traditional print and we know the importance of working with traditional print. But I did want to speak a little bit also about the way that ‘talk’ and I’ll have to redefine that a little bit can be used with ICT to support children’s writing. Now, probably when computers were first introduced to schools the early use was very much about just typing of text through word programs etc, etc. It wasn’t the kind of interactive learning that we’ve come to know with computers now. So, the example that we’ll see onscreen soon is a few points from a particular interactive program run through the Department of Education called ‘Book Raps’. And through the book raps students are encouraged to write about their experiences from reading a book to other students who’ve read the same book. And there are prompt questions that are put online through the book raps and the questions of course their intention is to drive conversation in different ways. Now, this is fascinating because if you look at the prompts, the prompts work in a sense like the peer writing conference in a sense is that the teacher is prompting something to happen, similar function. But, you don’t have the immediacy because a prompt is there and students can refer to it at one stage or another obviously. So, when you look closely at the book rap prompts you actually don’t see in this particular instance I should say you don’t see quite so strongly the link of learning happening. So cumulation in these points you can see when you look at these points each point is asking something different and very few of them relate back to each other. Now, this is partly because it’s online and the teacher is not right there with them in the live chat room, it’s posted to a blog or … or wiki or something like that and the site is becoming more and more interactive, it’s absolutely wonderful, teachers don’t know about it they really should find out about it. But, in terms of a wonderful context in which it’s prompting children to write for a social purpose because they see their responses go online.

Frances: And a shared one at that.

Alyson: A very positive shared one. There is a reciprocity in the sense of the support from the moderator. So, there’s some strengths and some room for growth but as a way of integrating digital technologies realistically into a learning context. I find it a very exciting way. So, you know we’ve got traditional print, we’ve got the peer conferences and then we’ve got some wonderful online concepts like the book raps where students can write online.

Frances: So, one can only wonder at this stage where the rest of the 21st Century will take us because the possibilities for literacy learning are really extraordinary at this period in history. And I think the thing we’d like teachers to take away with them from this discussion is what an exciting world we live in and what exciting possibilities there are out there for learning and using literacy in many different contexts and for many purposes.

Student: What did you think about mine? I thought it was interesting how you captured Calpurnia’s perspective in the novel and how you stepped into her shoes and portrayed her maternalism and nurturing stance towards the children in the novel and … Music .