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How do children acquire knowledge about written language? Investigations of emergent literacy have shown that children's written language knowledge reflects their cultural environment (Clay, 1982; Kastler, Roser, and Hoffman, 1987). At home, children observe their parents writing grocery lists, letters to friends and relatives, and telephone messages, thereby learning the functions of written language as they are used in daily life (Morgan, 1987; Purcell-Gates, 1986). Independently, children experiment with their own messages, incorporating scribble, pictures and random letters. Often their written products mirror the functional writing their parents modeled (Rowe, 1989). In school, additional opportunities to learn about written language are presented. Some tasks are inherent to the school setting, such as reports and labels, while others resemble those practices at home (Dyson, 1984). Children in classrooms where traditional writing instruction prevails find constraints placed upon their writing by their teacher, such as topic, length and purpose.

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