Drawing to support writing development in English language learners

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Guelph]On: 10 May 2013, At: 11:00Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Drawing to support writingdevelopment in English languagelearnersMisty Adoniou aa Faculty of Education , University of Canberra , Canberra ,AustraliaPublished online: 07 Aug 2012.

    To cite this article: Misty Adoniou (2013): Drawing to support writing development in Englishlanguage learners, Language and Education, 27:3, 261-277

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500782.2012.704047

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  • Language and Education, 2013Vol. 27, No. 3, 261277, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500782.2012.704047

    Drawing to support writing development in English language learners

    Misty Adoniou

    Faculty of Education, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia

    (Received 27 December 2011; final version received 14 June 2012)

    Writing is the dominant mode through which most learning and assessment is mediatedin schools. It is through writing that learners are most often asked to demonstrate theirunderstanding of learned concepts and share their understandings of these concepts.If English language learners are to succeed in English medium schools, they mustbecome proficient English language writers. In this article, drawing is presented as aneffective strategy for teaching writing based on the hypothesis that drawing and writingare comparable semiotic systems and learning is most powerful when these semioticsystems work together. It reports on a study involving children from a Year 3/4 class in agovernment Introductory English Centre situated in a primary school in Australia. TheIntroductory English Centres are for students who are newly arrived in the country witha language and cultural background other than English and who have limited Englishlanguage skills. The study found that drawing before writing improved the writing ofthe informational text types of procedures and explanations. A discussion is presentedfor why this may be so, along with recommendations for using drawing as a teachingstrategy when teaching English language learners.

    Keywords: classroom literacy; curriculum; writing; elementary education; functionallinguistics; semiotic modes

    Introduction

    In Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, classrooms have increasing num-bers of learners who are learning English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D).Whilst their numbers grow in mainstream classrooms, the English literacy outcomes for asignificant proportion remain poor, with this cohort of learners over-represented in the lowerquartile in national literacy test results (de Jong and Harper 2005). Mainstream teachersare struggling to meet the specific needs of the English language learners they have in theirclasses (de Jong and Harper 2005; Cajkler and Hall 2009; MacBlain and Purdy 2011). AsMacBlain and Purdy (2011, 383) note: teachers are now having to work differently andin ways which demand that they have a greater understanding of the complex needs of agrowing number of children. Therefore, it is crucial for teachers to develop knowledgeand skills to meet EAL/D learner needs, and that researchers provide tools and strategieswhich are both effective and accessible to mainstream classroom teachers.

    In this article, I report on a study that found drawing to be an effective tool to buildthe written English skills of EAL/D learners. I begin with a discussion of the role of bothwriting and drawing in schools, and then present a description of the relationship betweenthese two communication modes, before reporting on the study itself. The article concludeswith a discussion of why drawing works as an effective strategy for teaching writing, andpresents a series of recommendations for educators.

    Email: misty.adoniou@canberra.edu.au

    C 2013 Taylor & Francis

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  • 262 M. Adoniou

    The role of writing in schools

    Writing is the dominant mode through which most learning and assessment is mediatedin schools. Whilst there is considerable agreement that we live in a world where commu-nication occurs through multiple modes, including aural, visual and gestural (Cope andKalantzis 2000; Jewitt 2005), the written mode remains a key to success in schools (Millardand Marsh 2001; Wright 2003). National testing of written literacy standards in the UnitedStates, Australia and the United Kingdom (MCEETYA [Ministerial Council on Education,Employment, Training and Youth Affairs] 2008; US Department of Education 2012) en-sures that writing retains a privileged status in schools and curricula, and is likely to do sofor the foreseeable future. It is therefore important to identify ways to support learners tobe successful writers, even as we broaden our definitions of what constitutes literacy.

    Learning to write in either a first or second language requires the learner to learn aboutthe language system and learn how to make meaning with the language in different socialand cultural contexts (Gass 2008). Text structure, grammar and vocabulary choices areall made according to the purpose and audience of the text and all learners must developskills that will enable them to make effective language choices, and construct the valuedtexts of school if they are to succeed in the education system. However, the challenge forEAL/D students is compounded, as they are required to learn about how English changesaccording to context, audience and purposewhilst simultaneously learning the language andlearning their school content through that new language (Gibbons 2004). For these learners,becoming proficient in the academic genres of schooling, part of what Cummins (1979)has defined as cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP), requires between five andseven years of informed and effective teaching (Cummins 1979; Collier and Thomas 1999;Demie 2012). Collier and Thomas (1999) estimate that for EAL/D learners to catch up totheir mainstream classmates, they must achieve 15 months growth each school year for sixconsecutive years. Currently, results in national and international testing indicate that formany EAL/D learners, this is not happening, and in fact, the gap widens for a significantnumber of EAL/D learners (Thomson et al. 2009; Demie 2012). It is therefore important toinvestigate strategies which may aid EAL/D learners to develop skills in academic writingand contribute to the literature concerned with closing the achievement gap for Englishlanguage learners.

    Writing for purpose and audience

    The research reported in this article situates writing instruction within a social interactionistparadigm (ONeill and Gish 2008) based on the work of Vygotsky and Bruner (Campbelland Green 2006). A social interactionist perspective on writing instruction recognises thatwriting is a socially mediated activity. It is particularly appealing for teachers workingin culturally diverse classrooms as it recognises the differences children bring with themto the classroom, as well as what will be challenging for them in written English. Fromthis perspective, learning to write requires the learner to make meaning with the languagein different social and cultural contexts (ONeill and Gish 2008). When an EAL/D childenters school, a key skill is learning how the English language changes according to purpose(Gibbons 2004). It is possible, within any given culture, to identify accepted and predictableways inwhich language is organised to achieve a particular purpose. These sociallymediatedpredictable text structures are known as genres (Rothery 1984; Derewianka 1990). Genresare organised differently across languages; thus, knowing how to organise writing for

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  • Language and Education 263

    purpose in ones mother tongue may not necessarily support a learner when learning towrite in English.

    Much work was done in the late 1980s, in Australia in particular, to clearly identifythe various written genres that are privileged in schools and, therefore, the ones whichstudents need to have control over if they are to perform well in schools (Collerson 1988;Macken et al. 1989; Derewianka 1990; Christie 1991). An early list of school genresincluded recounts, instructions, narratives, information reports, explanations, discussionsand arguments (Derewianka 1990), but the list has expanded over the years to acknowledgea broader range of valued genres in the school curricula, most particularly by identifyingsubtypes within the previously identified genres (Unsworth 2001). These include biograph-ical recounts, historical narratives, poetry, newspaper reports, letters, advertisements anddescriptions (Wing 2008). In addition to differentiated schematic structures, each genremakes use of differing grammatical resources (Unsworth 2002). Language features thatdifferentiate genres can be accounted for across word level (vocabulary), sentence level(syntax) and text level (text organisation). The social purpose of the genre can be examinedthrough the register variables of field, tenor and mode (Halliday and Hasan 1985). Fieldrefers to the content of the text and its situational context what is the text about? Tenorrefers to the relationship between the participants in a text, either those within the text orthose between the constructor and the receiver of the text. Mode refers to how the text isbeing communicated, for example whether it is spoken or written (Macken et al. 1989). Ex-amining and teaching written texts in this manner constitutes a genre approach to writing,an approach that has come out of social interactionist theories of language development,and a systemic functional linguistic (SFL) approach to language analysis (Halliday 1985).It is this approach that underpins the writing instruction and assessment reported in thisresearch.

    The role of drawing in schools

    This study sought to examine the impact drawing could have on the quality of writingoutcomes inEAL/D learners.Drawing is not routinely used as an aid towriting in classroomsbeyond the early childhood years (Anning 1997; Coates 2002). Although many educationaltheorists (Grinnell and Burris 1983; Cambourne and Turbill 1987; Calkins 1994) havedescribed drawing as a useful support in the early stages of writing, once early writing isestablished, drawing often falls into second place and is even discouraged. This is largelybecause teachers largely regard the movement from pictures to words as one of intellectualprogression (Millard and Marsh 2001, 55). Wilks (2005) reports that many teachers seedrawing as a time filler and of less cognitive significance than other subjects. There isa perception amongst teachers that the disappearance of drawings from young childrenswriting is a positive event, or conversely that the persistence of drawings at writing time isa negative event.

    Vygotsky (1978) describes drawing as a pictorial language that allows children to findconcrete visual means of representing their thoughts. He writes: Our analysis of childrensdrawings definitely shows that from the psychological point of view, we should regardsuch drawings as a particular kind of child speech (Vygotsky 1978, 112). Yet in primaryschool, teachers spend little time observing children drawing or talking to them about theirdrawings. This is in stark contrast to the practices of preschool teachers (Anning and Ring1999; Coates 2002), which may help to explain why children make such prolific use of theirvisual semiotic repertoire (drawings) in the preschool years (Dyson 1983).

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  • 264 M. Adoniou

    Drawings are potentially an important mode of communication for children who arelearning English, particularly in their early stages where they have very limited controlof written English. Kress (1997) claims that by ignoring the communicative capacities ofdrawing, educators are failing to capitalise on an important learning resource:

    The visual representations which children produce as a matter of course in the early years ofschooling, are not developed and built on as a means for future communication use. (Kress1997, 153)

    However, some scholars have applied a Vygotskyian framework to describe drawingsas holistic reflections of experiential and cognitive language grounded in a sociocultural,historical and political context (Brooks 2004, 42). This perspective of drawing as a socialand communicative activity, rather than purely a solitary and self-expressive one, allows asocial interactionist framework to be applied to childrens drawings, as well as their writing.Observed through this common framework, the ways in which the two communicationsystems work together, their intersemiosis (Kress and van Leeuwen 1996), becomes muchclearer.

    Drawing for purpose

    Formany years in education, drawing has been described primarily as having self-expressivemotives (Lowenfeld and Brittain 1975; White 1994), which are a reflection of the childspersonality, intellectual maturity and emotional development (Walker 20072008, 96),reflecting a nativist perspective of learning. This perception of drawing as an expressiveactivity rather than a communicative one (Kress 1997) leads to teachers marginalisingdrawing as learners progress through to the later years of schooling. Drawing is increasinglyseen as a decorative, but not necessary, adjunct to writing and learners are instructed to geton with the writing, and they are allowed to do accompanying drawings if they finishtheir writing first.

    A social interactionist perspective on drawing, which acknowledges that drawing isinfluenced by the social and cultural contexts within which children operate, allows usto see that drawings can serve purposes other than self-expression. As such, childrensdrawings may differ according to purpose, and this may directly support their wri...

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