Apprentice story writers: Exploring young children’s print awareness and agency in early story authoring

Cremin, Teresa (2016). Apprentice story writers: Exploring young children’s print awareness and agency in early story authoring. In: Cremin, Teresa; Flewitt, Rosie; Martell, Ben and Swann, Joan eds. Storytelling in Early Childhood: Enriching language, literacy and classroom culture. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 67–84.



This chapter examines the contribution of Vivian Gussin Paley’s (1990; 1992) storytelling and story acting pedagogy to young children’s growing word and print awareness and their agency in early story authoring. Whilst many scholars have asserted and documented the value of Paley’s approach for children’s oral development and narrative comprehension (e.g. Cooper, 2009; Nicolopoulou, McDowell and Brockmeyer, 2006; Nicolopoulou, Cates, de Sá and Ilgaz, 2014), considerably less attention has been paid to its potential contribution to children’s early writing and their development as authors. In telling their tales to an adult, children watch as the adult scribes their spoken words and later they participate in bringing their own and others’ written tales to life through enactment. This close observation of adults’ writing, coupled with their active participation in the acting out of their peers’ stories were salient features of children’s participation in a recent UK based study of the approach upon which this chapter draws. In half the settings, children (aged 3-6 years old) initiated their own writing activities, authoring and co-authoring their own tales with friends and scribing their peers’ stories for later dramatisation (Cremin, Swann, Flewitt, Faulkner & Kucirkova, 2013). The agency and intentionality shown by these young authors was marked; they seized opportunities to write their own narratives and to scribe others’ tales and in the process learnt about writing through their authorial engagement.

Anchoring the work within a sociocultural approach to learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Vygotsky, 1978) and literacy (Barton, Hamilton and Ivanic, 2000) the chapter begins by discussing children’s early authoring and the concepts of intentionality and agency from different ontological perspectives. It argues that children’s early authoring needs to be viewed as a socially situated act of meaning making, and recognizes that reading, writing and oral language develop simultaneously, not as discrete entities (Bloome, Carter Christian, Otto and Shuart-Faris, 2005; Rowe, 2003). Related research on the writing practices associated with Paley’s (1990) storytelling and story acting approach is also considered. The chapter then details the ethnographic data collection tools which enabled close documentation of the writing experiences of the children who participated in the UK instantiation of this approach (see Chapter 2 for more detail on the methodological approach). Data are drawn predominantly from two of the six settings involved in the study: a primary school and one of its feeder pre-schools, located within half a mile of each other in a semi-rural, suburban context in southern England. One class in each setting was involved, with children aged three-four, and four-five years old respectively. Specific, local enactments of learning-to-write practices that were evidenced during the use of the Helicopter Stories in these settings are examined. The chapter explores the ways in which storytelling and story acting enabled children to learn about writing and prompted some to scribe others’ tales spontaneously as well as author their own. Importantly, it argues that this playful pedagogic approach creates a possibility space for young apprentice writers, one which not only draws attention to the written word enabling children to observe its use in a meaningful context, but which may, in some settings, also serve to motivate their engagement in self-initiated and purposeful writing activities and become authors.

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