Faculty of Education - Theses

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    Biliteracy development through early and mid-primary years: a longitudinal case study of bilingual writing
    Aidman, Marina A. ( 1999)
    This thesis reports a five-year study of bilingual literacy development. Utilising Systemic Functional Grammar (Halliday 1994) and genre and register theory (Martin 1992; Martin & Christie 1997), the study analyses daily literate production of a simultaneously bilingual child in the majority (English) and minority (Russian) languages, from pre-school through the first four years of schooling. The longitudinal case study is complemented with comparative analysis of texts written by the child's class peers. Until recently, bilingual studies have focussed on children's developing oral fluency, whereas emergent biliteracy has received marginal attention, being largely limited to learning to read. This study examines the patterns of early biliteracy development, including the influences of minority literate practices on the majority language writing. The study demonstrates that the child's control of writing developed significantly in both her tongues, showing a movement from early scribbles, to typically congruent choices, to emergence of abstraction and metaphor. The scope of fields explored included fictional and non-fictional (both personal and "researched") topics. The choice of themes was influenced by the school curriculum expectations, as well as by the child's interests and reading experiences in both her languages. Majority writing revealed considerable development of English genres promoted at school, whereas minority writing was more advanced in types of texts linked to family values and interests. The study thus establishes a taxonomy of the child's emergent written text types in English, and reveals her successful development of control over the genres characteristic of the English-speaking literate culture. In her minority language, the child constructed texts drawing on personal experiences, such as personal letters, as a means of maintaining personal communication with relatives and Russian-speaking friends. Also, the minority literacy came to be used as a tool for academic learning in familial contexts. It is argued that minority literacy learning has influenced the child's learning to write in English. Thus, the patterns of the child's familial language uses on some occasions stimulated the emergence and development of some English written text types. In addition, the topics explored in reading and talking in the minority language were sometimes drawn upon in English fictional and factual writing. The study also provides examples of direct scaffolding of English written genres in the process of child-parent conversation, by largely using the child's family language. It is argued that scaffolding resulted in more mature text construction, via the joint negotiation of meaning. The study shows that the child's English writing performance was comparable to, and on many occasions superior to, that of the better-achieving monolingual students in her class. It is therefore suggested that development in literacy in the child's minority tongue enhanced her English competency. Overall, it is argued that learning to read and write in both her tongues allowed the bilingual child to participate effectively in the literate practices of the majority and minority communities. Her progress in developing biliteracy was to a considerable extent a result of the cognitive and linguistic stimulation which the child had available in the home.