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A Portrait of a Child as a Language User Essay

‘A simple definition’ of language ‘might be that it is “a system of symbols and rules that enable us to communicate” and that ‘words, either written or spoken are symbols’ and ‘rules specify how words are ordered to form sentences’ (Harley, 2008, pg. 5). However this can be debated and as a result ‘many linguists think that providing a formal definition of language is a waste of time’ (Harley, 2008, pg5). ‘There is no human society that does not have a fully developed language; being human and being a language user go hand in hand’ I have chosen Bella, aged 6 to be my focus child.

She is articulate, cheerful and a friendly. She is inquisitive and has a dynamic view on life. She listens well in class and understands what she has to do, and can work both independently and in a group. She enjoys and excels in her artwork. Socially she is very comfortable around peers, adults and communicates to either with respect and consideration. She is able to express her feelings easily. She comes from an English speaking background with no discernible accent or dialect.

I am interested in her reading skill set- the strategies she uses to sound a word and her interpretation or ‘ideational function’ of the text. She enjoys the visual stimulus of the illustrations. She reads her school reading tree books with her mom daily and enjoys looking through the books at school. Literacy is very important part in Bella’s school where ‘good teachers give pupils many opportunities to do independent, silent reading in a school which is richly stocked with books and where teachers and children discuss their books they have read’ (Collins & Safford, 2008, pg. 17).

If I use the bottom up approach to reading, she does ‘use phonics to the exclusion of all other cues in reading’ (cited by Atkinson, 2013, pg. 8). Because she tends to sound out each grapheme- using synthetic phonics, before blending a word, unless it is a very simple three letter word she recognizes- she sometimes loses the meaning of the text. I have observed this by asking her a specific question regarding the text on the page she was reading and she couldn’t remember what she had just read.

She tends to rely on print cues and not her prediction of the situation. If I used the top down approach; looking at the title and illustration on the front cover, discussing what the book is about, what genre is it familiar to, letting her open the book and scan the illustrations throughout the book. If I actively build on what she could see in the illustration- to stimulate her thinking before we approach the text- she would approach and read with familiarity, and have a better understanding.

When she does get stuck on the text I get her to come out of the small shapes and look at the illustration, talk about what is going on in it and what she thinks may happen next, she then goes back to the text with more confidence of what the words may convey. In Winnie’s Midnight Dragon she substituted ‘midnight’ for ‘magic’. She did not self- correct as ‘magic dragon’ makes syntactic and semantic sense. It was only when I prompted her did she use her synthetic phonic knowledge to blend the letters.

For the sounding of midnight she pronounced it as ‘midnig-herty’-she used her knowledge of graphemes but not of the sound of the phoneme trigraph ‘igh’. She had to be reminded of the sound ‘igh’ makes, I explained that the ‘g’ is silent and we discussed ‘that English is a crazy language- the most loopy and wiggy of all tongues’ (Lederer, 1989, pg. 3). The word ‘high’ she pronounced as ‘hing’ but went back to self-correct as her cue was semantic and she knew the sentence didn’t make sense.


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