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Functions and genres of Chinese ESL children's English writing in school and at home Sze, Sin Heng Celine

Abstract

Drawing on a sociocultural perspective of genre as a social action situated in a particular context, this study examines the functions and genres of four second-grade ESL (English as a Second Language) children’s writing at home and at school. The two boys and two girls were born and raised in Canada, speaking English at school and with their siblings, and Cantonese at home with their parents who were immigrants from Hong Kong or China. A total of 67 pieces of school writing and 54 pieces of home writing were collected over a five-week period. Findings show that home writing exhibits a wider range of functions and genres than school writing. In the home context, the participating children wrote for more personal purposes, to entertain themselves, or to engage in social interactions with a real audience. In contrast, school writing narrowed the children’s choice of functions because of the teaching context, teacher expectations, and instructional objectives. Similarly, there was a greater variety in home genres, including greeting cards, diaries, notes, poems, and jokes in comparison to school genres that were confined to stories, journals, and list items. There was a strong relationship between the enactment of specific functions and particular genres while personal and social functions were more prevalent in their home-based than in their school-based writing. Qualitative analysis of the children’s writing shows that they constructed meaning with written language in individual ways in their enactment of functions and choice of genres and the use of different modes to represent meaning. The study suggests that teachers should be aware of the value of the writing opportunities and contexts children have at home and, therefore, incorporate such home experiences into classroom teaching. It also has implications for parents to conceive writing as a sociocultural as well as language practice, and to recognize the role of the home environment in their contributions to their children’s constructing meaning with written language. They should be aware of the need to build on the children’s interests and needs while encouraging them to write, and to make connections with school in working towards their writing development.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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