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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Developing awareness as a reader and writer

The concept of awareness is central to understanding the nature of literacy learning. Students are not always aware of how to use the knowledge and skills they have acquired in literacy activities. Sometimes they may have developed awareness but may not yet be able to put it into words.

Children enter school with varying degrees and kinds of awareness. Some children arrive with a high level of general awareness of written forms of language, some have awareness of certain forms of language, and some may have little awareness of the ways in which they themselves and other people use language. Teachers need to ensure that their instruction and their planning of activities build on the awareness that different children bring.

Children develop social understandings as part of their critical awareness. They need to become aware of the ways in which texts shape values and position audiences. Children can be helped, from the very early stages, to think about what they are reading or writing, for example, to consider an author’s choice of language and how it affects the reader.

In order to be able to read and write fluently, students need to develop awareness in each of the three aspects identified in the framework on page 24: learning the code, making meaning, and thinking critically. The kinds of awareness that literacy learners need to develop include:

  • print awareness (awareness of the basic conventions of print) 
  • phonemic awareness (awareness of the separate sounds within words) 
  • phonological awareness (this more general term describes awareness of the whole sound system of language) 
  • awareness of the forms and structures of different texts 
  • awareness of purpose and perspective in written text 
  • awareness of the thinking processes associated with comprehension 
  • awareness of ways of using strategies for reading or writing, together with their own prior knowledge, to make meaning.

As students develop their knowledge and strategies, they build awareness of the uses of written language for many purposes. They become aware, for example, that they can use writing to express emotion, to empathise, to argue or persuade – or simply for pleasure. Similarly, they learn that texts can have many purposes and forms and can give great satisfaction and enjoyment. All this enhances students’ ability to comprehend and to think critically.

Beginning readers and writers demonstrate their awareness of:

  • sound patterns when they identify phonemic similarities in rhymes or alliteration 
  • phonics when they make explicit the relationships between sounds and letters 
  • directionality when they write and read across the page and start again at the left-hand margin 
  • narrative organisation when they predict what might happen next in a story 
  • features of factual text when they attend to or use headings or picture captions to build meaning 
  • letter forms and individual words when they identify details in new text, such as words that begin with the first letter of their own name 
  • syntax when they apply logical rules to form words within sentences (for example, by ending a present participle with “-ing”) 
  • chronological sequencing of text when they use connectives such as “then” and “next” in their writing 
  • language used to convey emotions when they identify words that express emotions, such as anger or excitement 
  • the use of inference when they come to a conclusion of their own about a character in a text.

Students develop their awareness through many literacy activities and interactions with the teacher and their peers. Teachers should consciously build learners’ awareness by noticing what the learner is attending to and interacting with them to support their learning. An effective teacher knows how to “catch the child in action”, as Marie Clay has put it. Chapter 4 discusses some ways of doing this.

Teachers should help their students to identify the knowledge and strategies they use and to deliberately control their use of them. Students do not always develop such awareness automatically. For example, it’s necessary to teach students to crosscheck when they are reading or writing. Students also need help with what to do when they are “stuck”. Handing the responsibility back to the student obliges them to think about what they know and can use and helps them to take increasing responsibility for their own learning (see the examples on page 130 in chapter 5).

Published on: 08 Apr 2016