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School to university transitional experiences of refugee background students: A journey of uncertainty and complexity June 23, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Loshini Naidoo

 The blog is based on a 2012 OLT (Office of Learning and Teaching) funded project “supporting school-university partnerships for refugee students’ access and participation in tertiary education”. The views in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.

 Australia has a long history of welcoming refugee communities into the broader social fabric and likewise of benefiting from the contributions made by these communities to Australian society. Refugee background students however represent a “high risk group which faces great challenges in terms of adaption to the school system, acculturation, social adaptation, English language learning, and eventual academic success” (Brown, Miller & Mitchell, 2006, p. 150). The adaptation to the new education system is further compounded for refugee background students by having spent prolonged periods of time living in refugee camps or in a transient existence (Naidoo, Wilkinson, Adoniou, Langat, Cunneen &bBolger , 2015; Ndhlovu, 2013).

Refugee background students, particularly those arriving from Africa, are a specific group with greater educational, welfare and support needs (Taylor, 2008). These include basic skills in reading and writing as well as the socialised reading and writing skills required to learn and communicate effectively. Thus, many refugee background students frequently find that they are expected to acquire social communication, academic writing and communication skills, while catching up to their native-speaking peers, who often themselves are still developing language competency (Naidoo et al. 2015).

Academic success and transition to university is dependent on the knowledge of engrained social norms that are often taken for granted (Trumbull and Rothstein-Fisch et al. 2014). ). No matter how natural they seem, these behaviours are culturally specific and must be actively learned by students (Nwosu and Barnes et al. 2014). Thus, many refugee background students who are not ‘fluent’ in the cultural practices of Australian higher education can often find the transition difficult (Naidoo et al., 2015).

The language challenges students face at university are connected to both their own English language proficiency, and also the very specific English language demands that university study and discipline specific study places upon them (Naidoo, et. al., 2015). University academic staff prioritise the dissemination of discipline based knowledge rather than language skills (Dunworth & Briguglio, 2011) and while academic staff are aware of the difficulties encountered by many international and some domestic students, they feel ill-equipped to provide English language support (Naidoo, et al, 2015).

Academic staff at university are concerned that generic learning support programs are inadequate to meet the specific language needs of refugee background students, and that scarcity of long term funding for specific programs limits their effectiveness (Naidoo, et al, 2015). A consequence of this outsourcing of academic language support is the disinvestment of responsibility by academics.

Alongside the need for explicit teaching of discipline specific content and language is the need to teach learning to learn cognitive and metacognitive strategies for the Australian university context. Cognitive strategies include understanding how to locate and select credible sources of information and metacognitive strategies include successfully planning assessment tasks that are appropriately structured to meet the needs of the discipline area (Hurst & Davison, 2005).

These culturally specific strategies are frequently taken-for-granted practices amongst university educators, and thus, form part of the ‘hidden’ curriculum. They present cultural challenges as what seems to be ‘everyday’ curriculum knowledge is actually part of cultural practice and is not necessarily known to English language learners.

Not having English language support that builds students’ capacity to engage fully within a discipline presents a distinct obstacle to academic achievement and the ability to manage the academic language registers of university (Naidoo, et. al., 2015). The current English language support strategies employed at universities are not directed at supporting the language acquisition journey of a student on a language learning progression, but rather with meeting more immediate needs around the submission of assignments.

The impact of an English language support program that transcends disciplines will create a new dialogical space to examine established power hierarchies and academic practices and will show institutional commitment to a more supportive, actively integrated language learning program at university that will enable diverse students to transition much more easily through university programs.

 

REFERENCES

Brown, J., Miller, J., & Mitchell, J. (2006). Interrupted schooling and the acquisition of literacy: Experiences of Sudanese refugees in Victorian secondary schools. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 29(2), 150-162.

Dunworth, K., & Briguglio, C. (2011). Teaching students who have English as an additional language: A handbook for academic staff in higher education. Milperra, New South Wales: HERDSA.

Hurst D., & Davison C. (2005). ‘Collaboration on the curriculum: Focus on secondary ESL’, in Crandall J., & Kauffman D (ed.), Case Studies in TESOL: Teacher education for ESL and content area teachers, pp. 41–66. Alexandria: TESOL.

Naidoo, L., Wilkinson, J., Langat, K., Adoniou, M., Cunneen, R., & Bolger, D. (2015). Case Study Report: Supporting school-university pathways for refugee students’ access and participation in tertiary education

Ndhlovu, F. (2013). Language nesting, superdiversity and African diasporas in regional Australia. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 33(4), 436-338

Nwosu, O. C., Barnes, S. and L, R. 2014. Where ‘Difference is the Norm’: Exploring Refugee Student Ethnic Identity Development, Acculturation, and Agency at Shaw Academy. Journal of Refugee Studies, p. 050.

Taylor, S. (2008). Schooling and the settlement of refugee young people in Queensland: The challenges are massive. Social Alternatives, 27(3), 58-65.

Trumbull, E., Rothstein-Fisch, C. and Greenfield, P. 2014. Bridging Cultures in Our Schools:New Approaches That Work. [e-book] A WestEd Knowledge Brief.

 

Associate Professor Loshini Naidoo is an academic in the School of Education, and a senior researcher in the Centre for Educational Research , at the University of Western Sydney (UWS), Australia.

We’re not talking to our kids: are we causing speech delay? June 2, 2015

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Primary Education, Role of the family.
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from Jane Hunter

A parent with a small child in a stroller is walking along the footpath with headphones in. The child is crying, the parent is oblivious.

A parent walks into a cafe engaged in conversation on the phone, with a child tagging along. The parent orders a coffee and a drink for the child. The parent sits down and continues talking on the phone. A tablet computer is pulled out of the parent’s bag and passed to the child. The parent continues talking on the phone.

A parent enters a doctor’s waiting room with child in arms, sits down; the child is placed on a nearby chair. The child is handed a mobile phone to play with, while waiting.

Is technology the villain?

As a parent and educator I encourage teachers to integrate technology in learning at schools. I have done a number of large studies in the area, and studies show educational programs on computers and other devices have great potential to improve early learning.

But primary school principals and early years’ teachers have expressed concern to me about the increased numbers of kindergarten students with obvious speech delays – so much so that in many schools speech therapists have been called in.

One inner-city Sydney school principal said:

From 62 kindergarten children this year, 11 require speech therapy. That is almost 18% of the cohort. While I am an advocate for using technology in education, I am very concerned about basic human skills like speech not being as developed as well as they could be when young children start school.

Are parents relying on technological devices to entertain their children – known as “pass ‘n’ play” – rather than direct conversation, story reading, playing games and make-believe, and other forms of quality interaction?

There aren’t enough studies on the effects of parents’ use of technology on children’s speech development to make definitive claims, but the fact that it has been raised by teachers and principals suggests we need to look into the issue more closely.

Pass ‘n’ play

This is just as it sounds: the parent passes the child a technological device to play with while in the café or in the doctor’s waiting room. While technology certainly has its place in childhood development, devices should be used as active tools providing quality interactions, not as pacifiers.

Parents should use the device with an educational app or game to question and talk about what is happening on screen. If technological devices are just “inbuilt babysitters” or “moment fillers” they are not fulfilling the educational capacity for which they could be used.

Similar fears of declining familial interactions were raised with the promulgation of television in the 1950s. The main difference here, however, is that these smart phones and tablet computers are carried everywhere we go.

What does the research say?

A UK study suggested “technology gadgets are blamed for a 70% leap in speech problems in the past six years”. In a follow-up article, a US paediatric speech pathologist asked whether technology is damaging children’s speech and language skills; it concluded too much time on devices is definitely playing a role.

When parents are endlessly busy on computers, phones, tablets and watching TV, that is time they are not spending interacting with their child. https://www.webchild.com.au/read/viewpoints/touch-screen-technology-and-children”>Brain scientist Dr Jordy Kaufman argued that in 2013 there were no scientific studies on the consequences of the use of technological devices by very young children. Research at the Swinburne BabyLab is being undertaken to fill this gap. Kerry Staples an early childhood specialist at the University of Western Sydney, adds:

We need some caution here – to say it’s all down to technological devices and parents’ overuse is too simplistic. Technology holds tremendous potential for young children but interactions between parents and children while using tablets and mobile phones is what I’d like to see more of.

Turn off the devices and talk

In his book Program or Be Programmed Douglas Rushkoff implores us to “not always be on”. Children do learn from TV and from using apps on devices and by using other technologies, but speech, language and social skills are learnt from real interactions with people. Technological devices can be used better, especially with young children.

This article was originally published on The Conversation in March 2014.

 

Dr Jane Hunter is a lecturer in the School of Education and an early career researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. The subject of her recent book, ‘High Possibility Classrooms’, is outlined in a previous blog post.

SPEAKING TWO LANGUAGES IS CLEVER? September 8, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education.
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Dr Jacqueline D’warte

Last week Bill someone not connected to academia or education asked me what I was researching. I explained that most recently, I had been working with students and teachers in two primary and two high school classrooms and we were studying the way students were reading, writing, talking listening and viewing outside of school and in their homes and wider communities. His response was: “Well if those kids speak another language (other than English) they don’t need any help, they are clever, they are smarter than Australian kids who only speak English, they will learn English really quickly”

I have continued to think about Bill’s comment and the assurance that being bilingual or working towards bilingualism provided obvious cognitive benefits. Unfortunately, evidence from my own research reveals that most bilingual students do not recognize or see the inherent value in the understandings, experiences and practices they possess. This was the case for the 5 classes in which I have recently worked, despite the fact that these students spoke 31 different languages and dialects and engaged in wide ranging multimodal activity. Speaking two languages is clever? Is the incredulous question I received from many students as we discussed how they used language/s in their everyday lives. I guess this is not surprising considering this is not something they talk about in school.

Australia’s significant history and ongoing presence of Indigenous languages is enhanced by the inclusion of people from countries from around the world. In 2011, Australian Census data report that 23.2% of people nationally and 40.1% of people in NSW speak a language other than English. Australians speak over 200 different languages. Ongoing scholarship across disciplines has made us increasingly aware that language is inextricably linked to students’ identities, experiences and most importantly, opportunities to learn. While recent editorial and new research into language learning with bilingual adults continues to provide evidence of the cognitive benefit of bilingualism, our National English literacy testing program (NAPLAN) provides little space for recognizing the linguistic diversity inherent in Australian educational environments.

While language and literacy-based practices are central to all school learning, and how language meets our academic needs is a key focus of English curriculum across school, few opportunities exist to explore the ways students use language every day in their homes and wider community. Recent work (Hull & Schultz, 2002; Lee, 2007; Compton-Lily, 2008; Orellana & Reynolds, 2008; Moje, et al., 2004) suggests that there are increasing connections between home and school language and learning experiences. A dichotomised view of language use at school and home may be a false one and new ways of thinking about variations across contexts are continually emerging.

What was most surprising about this recent work that engaged students in exploring their ‘repertoires of linguistic practice’ (Gumperz, 1964; Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003 Rymes, 2010; Zentella, 1997), was the multilingual nature of the everyday practices of all students both monolingual and bilingual. Monolingual and bilingual students were engaging in wide ranging online activity in multiple languages.  Students were speaking and translating in multiple languages and across modes but also skyping, playing online video games, downloading song lyrics and reading and viewing a wide range of audio-visual programs and texts in multiple languages. It seems that our classrooms are becoming truly global communities of multilingual, multicultural learners, whose linguistic and cultural resources and understandings are for the most part untapped in many classrooms.

Teachers are under enormous pressure to manage an already overloaded school curriculum, and meet ongoing assessment benchmarks, but they see students’ linguistic repertoires in particular as valuable cultural resources and funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992) that can be built on in school. Despite teachers’ best intentions, recognizing and building on the language, literacy, and cultural competencies that students develop in their everyday lives in service of classroom learning, can be a vast challenge. This research attempted to consider the broad language resources students already possess as a starting point in studying English.

Engaging students in studying their linguistic repertoires, enabled the students, teachers and me to see the value, complexity and power of everyday language practices. We could draw on them to listen, learn, think, and make meaning; we could build on them to further develop understandings and academic competencies. We moved beyond thinking about bilingualism as the process that only helps students learn and/or improve English.

Evidence from this work suggests students’ emerging awareness of their linguistic dexterity continued to have a powerful influence on achievement, self-efficacy and identity. Identifying and recognizing all students’ full linguistic skills and capabilities, ensures we both utilize a rich learning resource and underpin students’ academic language development with their foundational linguistic knowledge. It may also promote intercultural competencies and offer us new insights and understandings about how the world works. Then like Bill we may all come to realize that being bilingual is truly clever.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Cultural diversity in Australia. Reflecting a nation: Stories from 2011 Census. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/2071.0main+features902012-2013

Compton-Lilly, C. (Ed.). (2008). Breaking the silence: Recognizing the social and cultural resources students bring to the classroom. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Gumperz, J. J. (1972). Introduction. In J. J. Gumperz & D. Hymes (Eds.), Directions in sociolinguistics: The ethnography of communication (pp.1-25). Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Gutiérrez, K. D., & Rogoff, B. (2003). Cultural ways of learning: Individual traits and repertoires of practice. Educational Researcher, 32(5) 19-25.

Hull, G., & Schultz, K. (Eds.) (2002). School’s out! Bridging out-of-school literacies with classroom practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lee, C. D. (2007). Culture, literacy, & learning: Taking bloom in the midst of the whirlwind. New York: Teachers College Press.

Moje, E. B., Ciechanowski, K.M., Kramer, K., Ellis, L., Carrillo, R., & Collazo, T. (2004). “Working towards third space in content area literacy: An examination of everyday funds of knowledge and discourse”. Reading Research Quarterly 39(1) 38-70.

Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., and Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classroom. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 132-141.

Orellana, M. F., & Reynolds, J. (2008). Cultural modeling: leveraging bilingual skills for school paraphrasing tasks. Reading Research Quarterly, 43(1), 48-65.

Rymes, B. (2010). Classroom discourse analysis: A focus on communicative repertoires. In N. H. Hornberger, & S. L. McKay (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language education (pp. 528–546). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Zentella, A. C. (2005). Building on strength: Language and literacy in Latino families and communities. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dr Jacqueline D’warte is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

Mapping the early English speech of very remote Aboriginal children July 1, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Primary Education.
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 from Lawrence Kenny

“Dis one crying get football” (6 year old Central Western Desert child).

At first glance this description of a child upset because their football has been kicked into a creek on a family outing may appear clumsy and unsophisticated for a six year old speaker. However, for this very remote Aboriginal child this sentence is one of many milestones in their journey to becoming a competent and meaningful speaker of English. It is one of a number of major linguistic steps in their journey from being immersed and fluent in their own homeland Aboriginal language, to becoming a bilingual or multilingual speaker that includes English.

It is important to map the linguistic journey of these very remote Aboriginal English as Foreign Language (EFL) speakers as they are repeatedly identified and reported as having the poorest educational results of all Australian school children, yet they begin their Western education journey arriving at school being competent speakers of a very complex language system.

For many early childhood educators it is widely accepted that language is the key factor for all higher level cognitive functions and that language development and comprehension does affect the development of later literacy skills. As an early childhood educator in a very remote Aboriginal context for more than 7 years I have had the privilege of being immersed within a cultural and linguistic context unique within the wider Australian social milieu. During these 7 years I was involved for a year with the Indigenous Language Speaking Student (ILSS) program funded by the Australian Commonwealth Government. A major part of the ILSS program is the reporting and assessment of the English oral language abilities of 6 year old very remote Aboriginal children enrolled in the ILSS program.

During my year within this program it became apparent that there was no systematic or culturally appropriate method for the collection of English oral language data and, more disconcertingly, that no English oral language profile existed for these EFL learners. When educators and education systems within this unique educational context can understand and identify the development patterns and milestones in English oral language for these EFL learners, the better able all involved can cater for and to the education of these unique Australian EFL learners. 

It is important that education providers and curriculum developers in the Northern Territory and throughout Australia recognise that the education and linguistic contexts of very remote Aboriginal communities throughout Australia are extremely distinct from non remote Aboriginal and non Aboriginal communities. This distinction is important as it recognises that very remote Aboriginal children are English as Foreign Language (EFL) learners as opposed to English as Second Language (ESL) learners. The term EFL is distinct from ESL as EFL learners are not immersed within the broader social milieu of the language being learnt, whilst ESL learners are surrounded by the social and cultural elements of the language being learned.

Unfortunately this recognition is not apparent with the consistent application of mainstream English as first language and ESL developmental profiles in the very remote Aboriginal context. The application of these developmental models or profiles creates a language disparity and a deficit model for the assessment of these unique learners. This leads to a dislocation or a content/context divide that does not recognise the appearance and consolidation of emergent developmental behaviours and indicators for oral SAE that are common to very remote Aboriginal school children in their first few years of formal Western schooling.

The application of these developmental profiles is problematic as they are undertaken in mainstream urban and/or rural communities where SAE is the taken for granted first language, and they do not include many of the emergent developmental behaviours and indicators that are the foundations of more advanced SAE speech.

As the Australian education landscape undergoes a dramatic shift towards a National curriculum framework, a part of this new direction in the Northern Territory is the introduction of the Diagnostic Net for Transition to Year 9 (NT DET, 2010) [now called by NT DET the Diagnostic for Transition to Year 2]. The language profile within this document identifies six areas in the development of SAE oracy and although comprehensive, this developmental profile clearly reflects mainstream education developmental profiles and does not encompass any early and emergent language behaviours or indicators. These early emergent language indicators are what many very remote Aboriginal students display in their first few years of school, and this is the content /context divide for these English as a Foreign Language learners.

The T-9 Diagnostic Net provides an incomplete view of the developmental process as it begins with a description of learners that have mastered the emergent SAE oral behaviours and indicators. For example, the Transition speaking and listening profile describes students as speaking in sentences of four to five words and that they are able to join these short sentences using the words and, or, but, and because. This is the ‘expectation’ for these students by the end of their Transition year, which is the first year of school contact for many of these very remote Aboriginal children who are at least five years old but no more than six years old (NT DET, 2010, pp.30-31).

After their first year in Transition children move into first grade or year one and are now in their second year of schooling. Table 1.1 outlines the expected “grammatical markers” and “little words” (NT DET, 2010, p.30) that students must be able to use by the end of this year.

Table 1.1 Grammatical markers and little words
Present progressive Driving
Plurals Balls
Regular past tense she walked
Irregular past tense broke, fell
Possessive daddy’s…
3rd person present tense regular he works…
3rd person present tense irregular she does
Contractions he’s…, she’s…
   
Little words a, the, is, am, are

NT DET (2010) Diagnostic Net for Transition to Year 9. The Continua. Oral Language Development in the Curriculum. Speaking and Listening (p.30).

 The Diagnostic Net T-9 Continua (2010) does not cover emergent oral development as it begins with Transition students being able to speak and link four to five word sentences together by the end of their first year of school contact. The Diagnostic net then sees students progress to year one or first grade and depicts students using grammatical markers for tense and contractions in their speech by the end of this year of schooling.

The anticipated developmental progression over the first two years of school envisions these very remote students acquiring the previously discussed oral SAE abilities, yet does not acknowledge that beginning learners of a second language need time for exposure and consolidation in the learning process that may begin with an extended silent period before moving through holophrases and into the stages of telegraphic speech in their use of SAE (Ellis, 2009).

To conclude, very remote Aboriginal children in the NT arrive at school with little or no experience with English and the application of mainstream and ESL developmental models in the very remote Aboriginal context fails to recognise that developmental profiles must complement learners to be useful documents for teachers.

References:    Ellis. R. (2009). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. (2nd Ed). Oxford. Oxford University Press.    NT DET. (2010). Diagnostic Net for Transition to Year 9. Retrieved on the 29th September from http://www.det.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/13969/DiagnosticNetT9.pdf

Lawrence Kenny has two degrees from the University of Western Sydney, graduating in 1998 with a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood), and with a Bachelor of Education [Honours 1st class] in 2000. Lawrence is currently enrolled in the School of Education’s PhD program and is conducting research on the development of Standard Australian English in the early school years in four very remote Aboriginal communities in the Central Western Desert region of the Northern Territory. Lawrence is an employee of the Northern Territory Department of Education and Training and has worked as a teacher and teaching principal in this context for more than 7 years.

Categorizing knowledge from an evolutionary perspective: The example of speaking versus writing March 11, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Dr José Hanham

Learning to write is a complex and cognitively demanding process that is acquired often with difficulty. Learning to speak is also complex, but appears to happen effortlessly. Why?

Educators have long been interested (and perplexed!) as to why learners are able to acquire some types of knowledge with ease, and other types with great difficulty. We know that the ease or difficulty of acquiring knowledge is likely to be related to factors such as motivation and/or the cognitive complexity of learning tasks. Another factor, recently proposed by evolutionary psychologist David Geary (2008), is whether the category of knowledge to be learnt is one that we have evolved to acquire, known as biologically primary knowledge, or knowledge that is the product of our cultural inheritance, known as biologically secondary knowledge.

This distinction between biologically primary and biologically secondary knowledge is important in several respects. To begin with, there are different demands placed on a learner’s cognitive resources depending on the category of knowledge to be acquired. Acquiring biologically primary knowledge is usually unconscious, effortless and rapid – even when the knowledge to be learnt is complex. In contrast, acquiring biologically secondary knowledge is conscious, effortful and slow – with complex material severely impeding a learner’s ability to acquire knowledge.

With these differences in mind we can perhaps provide an “evolutionary” explanation in regards to why learning to speak is complex, but apparently not cognitively demanding. There is no doubt that learning to speak one’s native tongue is a complex process – one only needs to think of the vast array of cognitive, perceptual and motor skills involved in expressing oneself verbally. Yet, despite this complexity, very few conscious cognitive resources are involved in learning to speak. This is because learning to speak is a biologically primary form of knowledge – to reiterate, knowledge that we have evolved to acquire. Because learning to speak is innate or instinctual (Pinker, 1994), no formal instruction is required when learning to speak a first language. Although in many Western societies we give our pre-school aged children language lessons, this is not necessary for a child to learn how to speak her or his native tongue. In some societies children have very little verbal engagement with their parents or care givers, yet still end up being competent speakers (Harris, 1998). Indeed, children of profoundly deaf couples who do not have the benefit of being able to verbally engage with their parents also turn out to be fluent speakers of their native language (Harris, 1998). In general, the acquisition of biological primary knowledge, such as learning to speak a first language, occurs when we are very young, most often through immersion in a social context.

The differences between biologically primary and biologically secondary knowledge can also provide an explanation as to why learning to write is both complex and cognitively demanding. The complexity involved in learning to write is widely acknowledged by scholars working in the field of composition studies (e.g. Kellogg, 2001; McCutchen, 2000; Torrance & Galbraith, 2006). Writing often involves the learner managing a large number of cognitive processes including planning, generating language, and reviewing (Flower & Hayes, 1980). Unlike speaking, which we have evolved to acquire, writing is a cultural invention that has existed for the last few millennia – “far too short a time to be influenced by biological evolution” (Sweller, Ayres & Kalyuga, 2011 p.6). Because writing is a recent cultural invention, humans have not yet developed the necessary biological mechanisms to learn this cultural knowledge without instruction. This is important because during the 1970s and 1980s there was view espoused by some scholars that the mechanisms involved in learning to write were very similar to those involved in learning to speak. To acquire cultural knowledge, such as writing, learners have to rely on a cognitive architecture comprised of an apparently unlimited long-term memory and a limited working memory that can only process 2 to 4 elements of new information (Cowan, 2005) for 20 seconds without rehearsal (Peterson & Peterson, 1959). Because writing is a conscious process, this means that working memory is actively engaged in managing multiple cognitive demands. The multiple demands involved in learning to write often overwhelm a learner’s working memory, and as a consequence, many school children have difficulty becoming competent writers. Therefore, it is no surprise that researchers have developed research programs that focus on the demands placed on working memory as school-aged children develop their writing capabilities (e.g., Kellogg, 2001; Ransdell, Levy & Kellogg, 2002).

Using speaking and writing as examples, the differences between biologically primary and biologically secondary knowledge have important implications for instruction. Despite what some people may think, learning to speak a first language does not require direct instruction. Even in terms of grammar, many children by the age of three (Pinker, 1994) are able to verbally communicate complex and grammatically correct sentences without any formal instruction. Early childhood approaches to instruction often adopt discovery-learning methods, and perhaps these methods may be well suited for nurturing biologically primary knowledge, such as speaking. However, in terms of acquiring biologically secondary knowledge, teaching approaches that emphasise minimal instructional guidance may be ineffective. Learning to write will require teaching that takes into account the limitations of working memory. It is important to point out that may scholars working within the field of composition already acknowledge the importance of explicit teaching (e.g. Graham, Harris & Macarthur 2006) and the need to design instruction that does not overload working memory as learners develop their writing skills (McCutchen, 2000). The contribution provided by Geary’s (2008) distinction between biologically primary and biologically secondary knowledge is that we now have an evolutionary perspective that adds to weight to claims that formal instruction is not needed when learning to speak, but it is necessary for learning to write.

In my next blog post I will discuss one of my current research projects on the use of worked examples for improving students’ essay writing capabilities. This research is being carried out in conjunction with my colleague Dr Wayne Leahy (Macquarie University).

References:  Cowan, N. (2005). Working memory capacity. New York: Psychology Press. Flower, L. S., & Hayes, J. R. (1980). The dynamics of composing: Making plans and juggling constraints. In L. W. Gregg & E. R. Steinberg (Eds.), Cognitive processes in writing (pp. 31-50).   Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Macarthur, C. (2006). Explicitly teaching struggling writers: Strategies for mastering the writing process. Intervention in School and Clinic, 41, 290-294.     Geary, D. C. (2008). An evolutionary informed education science. Educational Psychologist, 43, 179-195.     Harris, J. R. (1998). The nurture assumption. New York: Free Press.    Kellogg, R. T. (2001). Competition for working memory among writing processes. The American Journal of Psychology, 114, 175-191.   McCutchen, D. (2006). Cognitive Factors in the Development of Children’s Writing. In C. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.) Handbook of Writing Research (pp. 115-130). The Guilford Press: London.    Peterson, L., & Peterson, M. J. (1959). Short-term retention of individual verbal items. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58, 193-198.    Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct, London: Penguin.    Ransdell, S., Levy, C. M., & Kellogg, R. T. (2002). The structure of writing processes as revealed by secondary task demands. Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 2, 141-163.    Sweller, J., Ayres, P., & Kalyuga, S. (2011). Cognitive load theory. New York: Springer.   Torrance, M., & Galbraith, D. (2006). The processing demands of writing. In C. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.) Handbook of Writing Research (pp. 67-82). The Guilford Press: London.

Dr José Hanham is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. His previous post on this blog was on ‘human cognitive architecture’.

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