Why are almost a quarter of children unable to write effectively when they leave primary school?
Start by reading different books and texts.Over time, that’s a lot of exposure to the same words and sentence patterns. And a great number of them, by sheer repetition, will have worked their way into your mental schema for sentence structure — in other words, your tacit understanding of how sentences can be constructed.
According to linguistics researchers Dan Slobin and Thomas Bever, children build up schemas are ‘formed on the basis of linguistic experience and are used for recognising utterances as interpretable.’
As words and sentences pour in to our consciousness, we become attuned to a variety of sentence forms and build a map in our long-term memories of the rules for putting sentences together when we want to speak or write.
There are many reasons why children find it difficult to write, but let’s look at two very crude examples of hypothetical children who many of us will recognise.
Many primary schemes of work impose a very high cognitive load on pupils , both visual and auditory.
Most learning journeys, instead of moving from concrete to abstract, work the other way, from the big picture to the smaller details.
The starting point for these units is very often a huge, abstract idea such as ‘plot development’ or ‘creating characters that the reader can empathise with’. Multiple elements are presented to the children all at the same time.
While novice and struggling writers are trying to wrap their heads around such mysteries, they are also expected to use a whole range of grammatical devices successfully in their writing. In many unit plans, reference to these grammatical devices, the building blocks of language, will be fleeting — miss your chance to properly understand them and it may not come round again for a while.
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