What Is Writing? Why Do We Write?

Language merely reflects our way of trying to make sense of the world.

– Frank Smith

Writing is the meeting point of experiences, language and society. It is intimately bound up in an individual’s intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual growth. Such patterns are complex draw on several disciplines (including psychology and sociology) (John Dixon, p.85)

Teachers all have different philosophies on what constitutes writing and therefore will respond differently to: children’s writing, organising instruction and representing children’s development accordingly. Here are some common and influential views on what writing is and why we do it.

  1. Frank Smith (1982) says ‘writing touches every part of our lives‘.
  • One of the first reasons we write is because it is a tool for communication in culture. It gives us the ability to share information over time and space with multiple individuals (explaining, recounting & opinion).
  • It can also be used as a permanent record or as a statement e.g. in history, geography  & science genres.
  • The third cultural aspect for writing is artistry (narrative and poetry).
  • Finally, there is also the personal aspect to writing. Writing allows us all to reflect, express our perceptions of self, to socially dream or to be critical (memoir, diary, recount).

By writing, we find out what we know; what we think. Writing is an extremely efficient way of gaining access to that knowledge that we cannot explore directly. – Frank Smith (1982, p.33)

  1. Ivanic, in Writing & Identity (1998), states that writing is related to:
  • Writing about yourself (for yourself and others),
  • Writing so as to position yourself within an audience,
  • Writing just for yourself,
  • Realising who you are through writing.
  1. Gee (2004) points out that, in literacy, what is important is not merely language, and surely not grammar, but writing the ‘doing-being-valuing-believing combinations‘ which he called discourses. Discourses are the rules and standards of reason that organise:
  • Perceptions,
  • Ways of responding to the world,
  • The conceptions of ‘self, “

4. Kress (1997) & Dyson (1993, 2003) include representations such as:

  • Drawing,
  • Oral storytelling,
  • Model making,

An approach described as the “multimodal perspective”. Children come to writing and composing using an ensemble of resources that they then combine in written and oral forms.

5. Ruth Finnegan (1986, 2002) has looked at communication of all kinds, drawing on the broader conceptions of literacy and language of a variety of cultural groups and thereby questioning dominant literacy and linguistic cultural assumptions.

6. Ingold (2007) has taken writing quite out of the realm of schooled literacies by widening out the lens to things like:

  • Explorations,
  • Looking at lines,
  • Music notation and other entangled forms of inscription.

Included within that was writing within the tangled knitting on boats, within treaded lines on a footpath and within map making and drawn images.

7. Digital Literacy is communicating in digital environments. Digital literacy can include: technical-procedural, cognitive and emotional-social skills. For example:

  • Using a computer program as procedural skill (handling files and editing visuals) and cognitive skills (the ability to read visual messages like GIFs and emojis).
  • Data retrieval on the Internet (working with search engines, evaluating data, sorting out false and biased data, and distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant data).
  • Effective communication on social media platforms and blogs is conceived of as requiring the utilisation of certain social and emotional skills within writing.

7. Fairclough (1989) talks about writing being a tool for the production, maintenance and change of social relations and of power. Writing contributes to the domination of some people by others. Teaching this, according to Fairclough, is the first step to emancipation.

8. Martin & Rose (2008) define writing as the negotiating of different types of ‘meaning’ realised through language and the ways in which these meanings are typically written. They are focused on the genres of writing and the patterns that can appear in them. Learning these patterns gives you access to different types of writing and therefore different opportunities.

The National Curriculum (2013) has this to say about writing:

  • Children write so that they can communicate their ideas and emotions to others.
  • Writing is developed through spoken language and reading.
  • Pupils who do not have opportunity to write fluently and confidently are effectively disenfranchised.
  • Pupils need to understand grammar and linguistic conventions for writing (2013:3)
  • It is essential that teaching develops pupils’ competence in the two dimensions (composition and transcription). In addition, pupils should be taught how to plan, revise and [edit] their writing (DfE, 2013:5).

If you have time, you may want to read our article: What If Almost Everything We Thought About The Teaching Of Writing Was Wrong?

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are our own and may not represent our employer.**

References:

  • Dyson, A.H. (1993). Social worlds of children learning to write in an urban primary school. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Dyson, A.H. (2003). The brothers and sisters learn to write: Popular literacies in childhood and school cultures. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Finnegan, R. (1986). The oral and the written: Doing things with words in Africa. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Finnegan, R. (2002). Communication. London: Routledge.
  • Flairclough, N., (1989) Language & Power Longman Group: Essex
  • Gee, J. K. (2004) Situated Language and Learning London: Routledge
  • Ingold, T. (2007). Lines: A brief history. London: Routledge.
  • Ivanic, R., (1998) Writing & Identity Lonson: John Benjamins Publishing Company
  • Kress, G. (1997). Before writing: Rethinking the paths to literacy. London: Routledge.
  • Martin & Rose (2008) Genre Relations London: Equinox
  • Smith, F., (1982) Writing And The Writer HEB: New York
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