Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital informs the rationale behind this study, which can be broken down into three hermeneutic research questions to underpin the initial research (Bourdieu, 1973):
- How fixed are these notions of self?
- What are the implications of this study for classroom practitioners, as well as those engaged in research and policy development with and for primary school children?
- How might the information generated through this study influence the formation of classroom practises intended to promote successful writing in primary school children?
Bourdieu argues that education favours the cultural capital approved by the dominant culture, which may encourage a tendency for those who exist outside the dominant culture to become disadvantaged (Bourdieu, 1984:23). In research that predates even the inaugural National Curriculum (DfE, 1988), Kress warns teachers to take measures against the ‘norms of genre’ curbing children’s creativity and eventually controlling their writing, because ‘genres are not neutral in their cognitive, social and ideological effects’ (1982:11; Vincent et al., 2012). He further argues that children are socialised in particular ways by the texts they are taught to value and required to produce. Using Bourdieu’s theory of ‘cultural capital’ as a framework to explore black girls’ identity construction in the context of writing (Bourdieu, 1982:123) may provide teachers with an authentic insight to their experiences of the writing process and their lives outside of school. This, in turn, might encourage them to consider the importance of the cultural capital transmitted by the girls’ families and how this might impact on their development as writers (Bourdieu, 1984).
The girls’ identities as writers are fluid and largely bound up with school and family. The girls’ relationships with their audiences are significant and they seek approval of their writing from them. Therefore, the final chapter of this paper will explore ways in which primary practitioners and educational researchers might seek out more authentic audiences for children’s writing. In order that they might develop the understanding that writing is not merely the act of acquiring skills and knowledge but is a powerful transformative process of becoming (Brice Heath, 1983).
The girls’ perceptions of themselves as writers are fluid, which chimes with research discussed in the Literature Review section of this report (Wilkinson, 1986:8; Dweck, 2006:205). Charmaine spoke confidently about writing and demonstrated an awareness of her own capabilities and areas for development; and her behaviour during the writing task validated the traits she had previously acknowledged. Conversely, Lizzie’s ability to produce a written text during the second interview belied the lack of confidence she demonstrated in her own agency as a writer throughout. Shyanne, provided the most intriguing data, revealing definite notions of what the school expected in her writing, whilst offering a glimpse into the genuine written correspondence between her and her father. Therefore, it appears that the girls have the capabilities to engage with a wider variety of audiences and extended their understanding of how their writing can communicate meaning in the wider world.
The research literature indicates the importance of pedagogies that motivate, engage and commit children to writing, as well as enhancing their strategies for writing. Flexibility, creativity and adaptability in using a range of teaching pedagogies and resources that take into account different children’s needs and expectations have been reported as having a positive impact on children’s learning (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Predmore, 2005; Sachs, 2003). In the context of the primary school classroom, Sinclair and Johnson (2006) found that children knew where resources could be found and were taught how to use and access them.
Certainly, these factors impact positively on children’s learning in my own experience of working with teachers in a number of successful primary classrooms. However, in relation to writing on a computer, this study revealed that the girls did not always know where the resources were or even what they were. Moreover, their typing speed and ability to use functions such as Spell Check are currently rudimentary and as such do not effectively support their composition of a written text. Perhaps resources in the wider sense of the word are the key issue here and that accessing the physical resources on a regular enough basis for children to develop these skills across a primary school is a matter of money and timetabling.
There are a number of other implications for primary practitioners, particularly with regard to curriculum design, the types of scaffolds and messages employed to ‘support’ children’s writing and the importance of relationships. For example, the findings of this small study highlight the importance of children writing from a position of expertise (Heathcote, 2009:2) and of teachers sourcing authentic audiences for children’s writing. The girls describe in detail how the former strategy impacts positively on their motivation as writers and their understanding of how to produce quality texts. However, the findings also illustrate the girls’ knowledge about the world outside of their immediate frames of reference is fairly limited, and indicates a certain poverty of experience (Benjamin, 1999). They write for the people they are close to and their writing serves as a means of seeking their approval.
Ultimately, this study has confirmed the importance of children’s voices helping teachers to best understand how to support their development as writers. It also highlights the importance of developing effective frameworks for peer evaluation, encouraging writing communities where children are able to impact positively on one another’s writing development.
To access the complete study email nicola @ thewritingweb.org