This article reports the findings from the second year of a three year study following four children from a prekindergarten Headstart program through first grade. Grounded in the developmental theories of Vygotsky (1986), who has asserted the importance of social interaction and language learning, and Halliday (1975), who has provided a sociolinguistic framework for children learning language in social functions that promote meaning in their lives, it is an attempt to document the impact of oral language on young children's reading and writing. In the initial year of this study, we identified four children who demonstrated varying levels of Halliday's oral language functions and compared their use of talk with their understanding and performance of literacy tasks (Thomas and Rinehart, 1990). We used Halliday's (1975) seven functions: 1) instrumental, to have needs met; 2) regulatory, to regulate behavior; 3) interactional, to establish a me-and you relationship; 4) personal, to assert one's self in opinion and feelings; 5) heuristic, to ask questions fostering learning; 6) imaginative, to play; and 7) informational, to pass on information, to screen over 40 children to select subjects who displayed varying degrees of the seven functions. We selected four who provided us with varying uses of oral language demonstrated in classroom exchanges, classroom activities, writing activities, and reading activities. As participant observers, we collected over 36 hours of talk on audio and video tapes as well as hand tallied accounts from personal participation and observation. The selected four subjects were then ranked as numbers one, two, three and four with one representing full control of all seven functions. Subjects numbered two, three and four exhibited decreasing use of functions in social settings in the classroom with number four representing restricted use of language functions. In addition to the data collected in the classroom, we held interviews with parents in the first year of our study. The results of the first year indicated: 1) Subjects with the most developed use of language functions have the best understanding of the writing and reading process. 2) As oral language function use decreases so does the understanding of the writing and reading process. 3) subjects who are frequently read to have better oral language development. 4) Subjects who wrote/scribbled at home as part of adult activities had a better understanding and performance in writing. 5) Subjects who spent more time actively engaged with adults in talk had a heightened sense of language development. 6) Talk was necessary to help subjects begin and sustain writing. 7) Heuristic, interactional and personal language functions best served subjects' writing. 8) Understanding of and performance in print awareness tasks paralleled the level of use of language functions. 9) Classroom activities and time devoted to oral language growth promoted writing interest.
Thomas, K. F., Rinehart, S. D., & Wampler, S. K. (1992). Oral Language, Literacy and Schooling: Kindergarten Years. Reading Horizons, 33 (2). Retrieved from http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/reading_horizons/vol33/iss2/6