A constructivist perspective: The child's voice in written expression

Janice McDonnell-Hartwig, University of Pennsylvania


This case study focused on the voice of the child as he/she developmentally and cognitively constructed meaning from the beginning of written pieces to the end. It assumed the sense of the constructivist in that prior knowledge and meaning are created by the learner in response to encounters with ideas, people or things and are brought by the student to the learning situation. Five fifth grade elementary students were targeted. They were chosen from end-of-year documentation over a period of five years, standardized achievement scores, and individual interviews. The research was conducted over a five-month period during the 1997–1998 school year. It drew on official school documents, collected student writings, interviews and observations of the students. Ethnographic methods were used to gather information. The central question of the study was: What are the perceptions, thoughts, and reactions of the student as he/she engages in developing a written piece? Other relevant questions were: (a) How does a student react to a writing assignment? (b) What steps does the student take as he/she formulates a plan of action? (c) How does the student proceed once the plan is in place? (d) How does the student interact with the teacher before, during, and after the task is assigned? (e) What, if any, extraneous factors influence the student's attitudes towards written expression? (f) From where do students get their ideas to construct a written piece? Some findings were: (1) Children build on both positive and negative experiences in their lives and use portions of these at various times in their written work. (2) Children require time to express their thoughts to other adults or peers because it helps them to put their framework of ideas into a writing perspective. (3) Children imitate, writing that is modeled for them. (4) Some children who do not have positive experiences in their life rely on imagination. (5) Continued development of the writer is achieved when writing is done on a regular basis. (6) Teachers' attitudes affect the final product of the child. (7) Teachers require training on how to teach writing to students.

Subject Area

Elementary education|Language arts|Rhetoric|Composition

Recommended Citation

McDonnell-Hartwig, Janice, "A constructivist perspective: The child's voice in written expression" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9963094.