What do Grade 1 learners write? a study of literacy development at a multilingual primary school in the Western Cape
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Research shows that there is a literacy crisis in many South African primary schools, especially in the Foundation and Intermediate Phases (Grades 1 – ). The latest Annual National Assessments (ANA) results released in 2011 indicate that learners performed below the acceptable literacy levels as the national pass rate for Grade 3 learners was 35% and was 28% for Grade 6 learners (ANA, 2011:6). Research on literacy focuses on reading and there is little known about how young learners develop writing skills. This qualitative ethnographic study investigated how writing skills are developed in Grade 1 learners by looking at the writing processes as well as the teaching methods used by teachers to develop learners’ writing skills. The research also analyzed the texts produced by Grade 1 learners and the languages used in their written texts. The sample group in this research was the Grade 1 learners to a multicultural school in Cape Town. Data were collected by means of classroom observations, interviews and document analysis. The thematic arrative approach was used to analyze data and the analysis was informed by the Writing Developmental Continuum model and the Multimodal Approach to literacy in order to gain a better understanding of how young learners use language and other forms of writing such as visuals and gestures to onstruct and convey meaning. The findings of this research show that Grade 1 learners make use of semiotic resources including the language(s) available in their immediate context to create multimodal texts that incorporate both visual and written features. This shows that young learners represent their world experiences through interpersonal and experiential meanings in language(s) exposed to them. The teacher has a big role to play in developing learners’ writing skills and has to employ a variety of pedagogical strategies that support learners to move through the different writing phases before they develop into early writers. The study concludes that writing is not a linear process but it is a gradual process which depends on a variety of resources and factors which build on learners’ prior experiences and creativity.