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Extracurricular writing and rewriting: linguistic and cognitive aspects1

Jacques David

Résumé

This study is based on research data aimed to describe the writing process of 8-11 year-old pupils (cycle 3). For that purpose we collected a corpus of over a hundred extra-curricular texts: tales, autobiographical stories, diaries, poems, riddles, jokes, terms of mathematical problems … and even a play. Those texts which were collected with the pupils’ consent and were used as bases to a study of the different procedures involved in (re)reading and rewriting. In this article, we will only present a part of a much wider analysis of the variations and deletions that were listed and of the metalinguistic reflection at work in those texts. We will focus on a few spelling and composition problems. Our research work is situated in the domain of linguistics and psycholinguistics and is therefore intended to contribute to the reflection that was set up over the past few years and deals with a didactics of writing that would take into account those original extra-curricular productions and promote their emergence or even their regular practice

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1. Reference frame framework

1.1. From research focused on the writing process…

  • 1 Originally published in Repères, 23, 2001, 33-53.

1For over twenty years, an increasing number of research works have focused on the writing process and distinguished what fell within the study of “outcomes” – in other words the traces or results of writing in the form of more or less perfect compositions – from the analysis of cognitive mechanisms that generate these very compositions. The research works that seek to describe writing processes belong primarily to the paradigms of cognitive psychology (Fayol, 1997, Piolat & Pélissier, 1998) and sometimes consider its neuropsychological consequences (Zesiger, 1995). The subject of these research works is not the results of written production but the different procedures used by learning or expert individuals. Their methodological procedures had to be changed. Indeed, until the 1970s research in psychology, which was still largely inspired by the constructivist model, inferred the existence of writing skills from the analysis of completed composition (Simon, 1973). The objective was then to describe psycholinguistic procedures that were as close as possible from the linguistics constraints at work in written language: sentence building, pronoun choice and verb functioning while relativising the written norm towards promoting the study of the writing process and its different stages.

2Nowadays, there is an attempt at a more direct approach to writing without going through the stage of interpreting written compositions. Piolat and Pélissier (ibid.) illustrated that the cognitive approach had sought since the early 1980s to scrutinise the writing processes (on-line method) instead of focusing on results, i.e. writing outcomes (off-line method). However, this evolution has had a number of consequences. While on-line methods relative to the “collection of data synchronous with text composition” invalidated the methods to interpret written compositions, these methods also overlooked the analysis of the “different linguistic levels of written texts” (ibid., p. 229). What is suggested in this paper is that the analysis of writing cannot be isolated from the study of existing linguistic constraints.

3Other researchers shared this viewpoint, especially M. Fayol (ibid.) who went as far as arguing that it was necessary to complete these real-time methods through empirical studies that do not oppose linguistic factors to their processing in a written production task. This research orientation is still in its early stages. Further research in the field is necessary to measure precisely the impact of all linguistic constraints on the acquisition and implementation of such a complex skill as writing.

4As can be seen, there is little point in opposing the study of written production among experts and learners to that of linguistic components whether it is about the mastery of translation or the global structuring of a text. It is true for the study of spelling acquisition, punctuation, tense-verb cohesion suggesting discursive phenomena that linguistic descriptions and modelling take increasingly into account. If we intend to go beyond our current ignorance of how such complex linguistic operations are generated, we must elaborate coherent explanatory models and identify detailed procedures. The study of pupils’ texts goes hand in hand with the study of the cognitive process.

1.2. …to research focused on pupils’ texts

5Most research seeking to describe children’s (or teenagers’) texts generally has a didactical aim. It is also the result of a work based on the establishment of a synchronous (more frequent) or diachronous (less frequent) corpus. In-school or in-class writing is the most convenient place for data collection simply because it is the place where young writers (in large numbers) can be very productive. In this sense, we will refer to pupils’ texts and not globally to children’s texts even if what is under scrutiny here are schoolchildren’s extra-curricular texts (see also Penloup et al. 1999 about lower secondary school pupils).

  • 2 To these studies, it is necessary to add those based on corpuses of spontaneous texts or corpuses g (...)

6The study of curricular or extra-curricular pieces of writing is far from being completed probably because apart from the writing collected, other data are included: the various aids (copybooks, notebooks, binders, loose or assembled sheets of paper); illustrations (photos, vignettes, glued objects) and the different variants of corresponding rewriting; but also researchers’ observations on pupils’ behaviours and increasingly the comments made during or after writing (Jaffré & Ducard, 1996; Bousquet et al., 1999; David, 2003) and our own research in the following pages2).

7However, the first large-scale research linked to this paradigm originates in Fabre’s studies (1990). His study corpus of over 300 drafts written in the different classes of primary schools (over 6000 variants or deletions) is worthy of the analysis of the different rewriting operations made by the young writers. Beyond his quantitative results, Fabre validated previously made linguistic assumptions in a theoretical framework – genetic criticism – that had been little explored until then (Hay, 1979; Grésillon, 1994). Thus it highlighted the fact that pupils’ deletions reveal the acquisition and implementation of particular metalinguistic operations in connection with language, with the text in preparation, both in terms of content and linguistic organisation and, finally, with their relation to the other, i.e. the drawn or actual reader.

8The descriptions derived from these founding works reveal that the production of a pupils’ text cannot be reduced to one single component. In fact, any curricular or extra-curricular, draft or completed, secret or published writing is the sign of a fundamentally metalinguistic complexity. Indeed, the study of the variants and deletions indicates that these writings pertain to a specific type of expression in which reflection is crucial and enunciative and linguistic constraints are necessarily combined. This genetic approach inspired other research, sometimes as large-scaled, looking into particular genres (Bucheton, 1995; Tauveron, 1995; Bonnet, Corblin & Elalouf, 1998; Boré, 1998; Fabre (dir.), 2000; Penloup, 2000) or genres produced in particular learning contexts with more or less didactical aims (Barré-de-Miniac, Cros & Ruiz, 1993; Plane, 1994; David & Plane (Eds.), 1996; Plane & Turco (Eds.), 1996; Reuter, 1996). These different researches adopt approaches that often fluctuate between descriptive neutrality – linguistics, socio or ethno linguistics – and the assessment of teaching-learning plans. However, beyond methodological differences, linguistic focalisations differentiate between these works. Some are definitely centred on the morphosyntactic and lexical components of the written compositions; others disregard that level to focus only on enunciative and textual aspects. Very few of them show the interconnections between these different components. New research must therefore open up to this necessarily complementary nature of the writing processes, which, to our mind, is inherent in any writing task and indivisible in terms of acquisition.

9More specifically still, a very few studies examined the extra-curricular writing practices of junior high school pupils (Bonnet & Gardes-Tamine, 1990; Blanc, 1996; Penloup (Ed.), 1994 and Penloup, 1999) but none – as far as we know ‑ described those of primary school pupils precisely. Research into junior high school pupils’ writing practices reveal that they write a great amount of texts and open up to quite a great variety of genre. These findings – these were very often unsuspected practices – show that children and teenagers have engaged in writing beyond all curricular expectations and practices. Their approach to writing thus falls into the scope of the relations to others and/or themselves. The expression of thoughts, emotions, feelings, and small or big “stories” abundantly feeds their personal writings. A detailed description of the writing processes at work is now necessary. It might also be necessary to include them in a didactic of writing that could be extended to other areas than the school environment.

10The focus below is on extracurricular writing practices among 7 to 11-year-old pupils in cycle 3 (the final key stage of primary education in France). The purpose is to show how they manage to jointly cognitive procedures adjusted to extensive linguistic knowledge.

2. Primary school pupils' extracurricular writing

  • 3 We are very grateful to the two teachers of this class, Catherine and Gérard Rault. Without them, t (...)

11The texts behind this study were all collected in the same class3 of cycle 3 with 28 pupils: six pupils in CE2 (8/9 years old), sixteen pupils in CM1 (9/10 years old), and six pupils in CM2 (10/11 years old). There were eleven girls and seventeen boys. The school was located in a semi rural area and welcomed children from heterogeneous socioprofessional backgrounds: most parents were employees (secretaries), some were junior or senior managers, and several were teachers while a few of them were farmers or farmhands.

  • 4 Actually, eleven boys and two girls told us they had never produced such writings or had not kept t (...)
  • 5 These words on schooling do not mean that the teachers of these classes dismissed written productio (...)

12Originally, the research project aimed to describe the various representations of writing and identify the major conceptions underlying any composition, whether produced by expert writers (parents, professionals) or by themselves, at school or outside school. It was when we interviewed each of the twenty-eight pupils that we realised some had extra-curricular – sometimes intensive – writing practices. Indeed, many (fifteen out of twenty-eight or 53.6% pupils of the class4) told us they wrote trivial or “unimportant” “things” (their words in inverted commas). The status of these writings was generally of relative legitimacy. Some even declared that “that’s not writing…it’s just for fun, that’s all…It’s a game…nothing serious…It’s not like homework or exercises5”. However, among these twenty-one pupils, nine (eight girls and one boy) admitted to regular practice both in terms of quantity, variety of identified genres, and engagement.

13The corpus is thus composed of 118 very diversified (nineteen different genres going from tales to terms of mathematical problems, including diaries, travel notebooks, poems, songs, riddles and even a play) texts (corresponding to about 701 pages).

Order number

Textual genre

Number of texts

Number of pages

1

joke

2

2

2

travel notebook

9

178

3

song

8

8

4

reading account

1

2

5

tale

20

59

6

riddle

1

1

7

documentary

1

2

8

problem terms

2

3

9

1st person fiction

4

15

10

3rd person fiction

2

7

11

games

18

18

12

diary

1

7

13

caption

5

5

14

play

1

25

15

poem

21

20

16

advertisement

4

8

17

recipe

1

2

18

autobiographical story

16

38

19

sport report

1

1

TOTAL

19

118

401

Table 1: variety and number of textual genres against the number of texts and pages

2.1. What status is to be given to these documents?

  • 6 Only one female pupil refused in writing to hand in her diary. As a justification, she wrote: I don (...)
  • 7 We told pupils their texts were for “science” and promised they would be anonymised. Therefore, non (...)

14All the writings were lent by cooperative6pupils. However, five of them (five girls) told us that they normally would not let anybody read them, which revealed the secret, intimate and unpublishable nature of their writings. The others, who gave less legitimacy to their compositions, were not embarrassed at all to give them, even to offer them to us7.

15Two types of behaviours must be distinguished: while some (the five girls we have already mentioned) are eager to preserve the absolute privacy of their writings, the others did not give them for reading to their parents, brothers or sisters or to their teachers either; the reason they mentioned was that their writings lacked interest or credit to be put in the hands of adults (“I don’t give them to the teacher…Even my elder sister does not read them…It’s stuff for my friends but not for my parents wouldn’t be interested …). In addition to these justifications, they made comments on likely imperfections that could have resulted in criticism from these very adults (“because it’s not always properly written... I didn’t focus on spelling… There are probably mistakes… I haven’t made a clean copy [of the stories]). However, these writings are sometimes passed round between friends and the object of direct correspondence in the form of borrowings or loans during chance meetings in school or out of school.

2.2. How should they be classified?

16There was also a great variety of media to these writings: a) eighteen copybooks of different formats preferably with lined or small-squared paper; b) six sets of white, lined or squared sheets that had sometimes been torn out of copybooks but had always been bound together; c) two notebooks that were more or less full and complete; d) two note pads; e) only one binder (for details, see table 2).

17The nine pupils who were the most engaged in writing preferred fine, sometimes costly copybooks thus showing they could distinguish curricular writing activities from those performed during leisure time. One of the nine pupils had her own secret diary with a lock and key for more privacy such as can be bought in shops and which had been offered to her by her parents. Once again, there seems to be a distinction between those who showed specific and assumed interest in writing and the others who did not grant it the same sustained and regular importance or who favoured a speedy performance and focused less on form and the choice of writing medium.

Order number

Writing aids

Number

Number of texts

Number of pages

1

copybook

18

46

275

2

stapled sheets

6

44

82

3

notebook

2

8

19

4

note pad

2

16

19

5

ring folder

1

4

6

TOTAL

5

29

118

401

Table 2: variety and number of aids compared to the number of texts and pages

18Particular attention was also paid to writing tools, but by a few pupils only: fountain pens with inks of original colours such as pale or turquoise blue, sepia, etc. One of them even used a ballpoint pen with several cartridges that she had just been offered, to write a play in which each character (plus the narrator) was identified by a specific colour. Most other pupils used ordinary tools (ballpoint pens) that were traditionally used in class or at home.

19At first sight, we were surprised both by the quantity of these extra-curricular writings and by the variety of textual genres. As far as the quantity of texts is concerned, some remarks should be made. First of all, let us note that the five most productive pupils (in bold in table 3) wrote seventy-four texts or 63% of the whole, which represents 239 pages or nearly 60% of the whole.

Anonymised first name

grade

Number of texts

Number of pages

Ama

CE2

18

30

Amo

CE2

8

19

Cot

CE2

16

33

Mil

CE2

2

5

Sol

CE2

2

28

Clé

CM1

11

87

Dol

CM1

12

30

Hol

CM1

7

48

Jer

CM1

8

27

Két

CM1

17

59

Oré

CM1

4

9

Col

CM2

5

11

Jen

CM2

1

2

Map

CM2

3

7

Sib

CM2

4

6

Table 3: distribution of the number of texts and pages written per pupil

20Overall, the texts spread rather evenly from October to June, given that school breaks are not always the most favourable periods for intensive writing. On the other hand, one of the most decisive factors in increased extra-curricular writing was the field trip made to Charente-Maritime by all pupils. During this trip, several of them wrote letters, postcards, and notes that they did not always keep. Above all, they wrote “travel notes” on a more or less regular basis and illustrated them with drawings, postcards, and cut out photos. These “logbooks” - which were most often written in copybooks - were enriched with comments, notes, and illustrations and read by others, provided that the pupils involved accepted to take part in such logic of exchange, of course.

21As far as the genres are concerned, (Table 1) we can observe a great variety. This variety is reflected either in the choice of different media for different genres: one copybook for the novel, another one for the tales, a third one for the poems or by the choice of a single copybook or set of stapled sheets for the same genre: jokes, riddles, songs, poems...

    • 8 The ratio between the number of pages and the number of texts should be relativised because the for (...)

    The autobiographical stories are the most numerous (twenty-six travel notebooks, diaries and life stories for a total of 223 pages8, or 55.6% of the whole pages) but the proportion of travel notes (178 pages) accounts for the importance of this category compared to the rest.

  1. Fictional genres (tales, first person fictions or “autobiographical fictions”, third person narratives, plays) are also important. Even if they only represent twenty-seven texts out of 118, it represents over a quarter of total number of pages (26.4%).

  2. There are twenty-nine poetic texts (poems, songs) over 28 pages (or almost one page per text and 7% of the whole) often with drawings and illuminations.

    • 9 This category may seem heterogeneous; in fact, unlike the other categories, it is composed of homog (...)

    Humorous and/or playful texts9 (twenty-four jokes, riddles, terms of mathematical problems, games, recipes) are also presented here over the same number of pages (or 6.4% of the whole).

  3. Finally, a series of informative texts whose elements although rather varied as far as their form is concerned, often prove singular (twelve reports, documentaries, photo captions, advertisements, news reports for a total of 18 pages or 4% of the whole).

2.3. What is specific to these documents?

22Although we grouped texts together – some would say in an arbitrary or unfounded manner – we may note a great discrepancy between invented or created texts and those which are based on already written references or sheer copying. In their works on junior high school pupils’ extra-curricular writing, Penloup et al. (1999) noted that copied texts made for a large part of their corpus (15% of the interviewed pupils declared they practised copying). In our own study, the gap in numbers was particular wide: our pupils preferred to make up stories in the form of autobiographical stories, fictional narratives, poems and humorous or playful texts. When they drew on already existing writing, they tended to augment them like Ala (see text 3), who has a passion for animals in general and endangered species in particular. Her text, like so many others, is heterogeneous from the genre point of view, and, reveals a very specific work of re-creation, since it is an adaptation – and therefore rewriting ‑ from encyclopaedic data. These texts, which are based on accessible references, point to an important rewriting work on the part of the pupils. The same is true for informative texts like (news) reports or kitchen recipes in the sense that genres are mixed. Két’s recipe (see text 1 below) is indicative of this mixture because it is based on a specific experience – making a hazelnut cake with three of her friends. In some other cases, the text was written from memory like in the joke noted by Amo (see text 1 below). Although one might consider the joke was heard in the first place, its writing too pertains to original transcription.

23In fact, each of these collected writings shows this is not copying, mere, even partial, reproduction of the source texts The pupils in our study seem to view writing mainly as a creative activity. We have of course asked them about this aspect and their interviews have confirmed their writings. During each interview, we asked them what they copied or noted in their copybooks, notebooks or stapled sheets of paper that was not their own creation. Only one pupil showed us copy work, and yet it was limited to a single love poem, written in a copybook and having no continuation.

24How therefore is it possible to explain such a gap between our corpus and that collected by others at the junior high school level?

25Firstly, the population of pupils under scrutiny seems to be relatively homogenous from a sociological perspective. They are similar to primary and lower secondary education pupils described in other ethnolinguistic studies (Barré de Miniac, Cros & Ruiz, 1993; Lahire, 1995) who have a positive attitude to writing. The social and cultural background of their families seems quite homogenous. Our pupils are very close to subjects who experience writing in an unrestrained way, especially at formal level. Indeed, their parents and above all the two teachers of their class viewed writing-related learning outcomes open-mindedly and granted particular attention to the impact on readers, to enunciative relevance, and to the adjustment of writings to collective instructions or to individual projects, without ever interfering with text composition. However, it does not mean that they paid no attention to translation as we shall see later.

  • 10 We cannot detail the practices of written production developed in this class. However, we described (...)

26It seems accordingly that a “type” of pupils corresponds to a “type” of teaching-learning. These two types, equally open one to the other, improve the continuity we have remarked between curricular and extracurricular writing practices. Indeed the latter, those produced outside school and identified as extra-curricular writing by the pupils are often inspired by the former, curricular writing10. For example, specific curricular work on a poetic form such as Haiku but also on a project or topic (press articles, famine in the world, endangered species) makes pupils feel like writing texts of the same genre or on the same topic once they have left class. Thus at some times in the school year, the pupils – and more particularly the youngest ones in the third and fourth primary classes – composed short poems, then advertisements or news posters, and later documentaries such as Ama’s.

27A detailed description of these processes demands an adapted methodology because statistical data and our typologies would be irrelevant if they were not completed by qualitative analyses of the writing problems faced, the solutions found and the procedures that have been or could have been used.

3. Towards an adapted methodology

  • 11 We relied on protocols already used in previous and current research (Jaffré & Ducard, 1996; David (...)
  • 12 We did not limit our study to these sole writings, even if our project here bears essentially on th (...)
  • 13 A few videos were made but more for training needs than as part of the following framework analysis

28As soon as we started collecting texts, our methodology changed towards a “naturalist” approach in the sense that pupils were required to comment upon their own compositions11. We asked them questions about their extra-curricular12 writing during recorded13 semi-directive interviews conducted by ourselves ten days at the latest after their writing. In fact, this approach is hardly an obstacle to classroom organisation or pedagogical planning.

29We thus established a dual corpus with pupils’ compositions on one side and pupils’ self-explanations on the other side. It is mostly on the basis of these self-explanations or “metagraphic explanations” (from now on ME) that most decisions made are best interpreted. These ME are first copied out and categorised and then analysed in terms of procedures or strategies related to one or other linguistic problem. To make data processing easier, we have chosen the sequence as a unit (SQ in our corpus). To each linguistic problem (verbal homophony, pronominal anaphora, and tense-verb agreements) it associates one or several problem-solving procedures (for example implicit vs explicit revision, alterations or not but also the type and dimension of this alteration such as substituting a word or a morpheme or adding a syntagm or a sentence). Each sequence takes the form of (a series of) ME limited to solving the identified problem and procedure.

30As can be seen, this methodology leads to qualitative data processing in the first place even if it subsequently allowed the statistical processing of hundreds of collected sequences. In fact, as interviews were based on one or several problems that were identified in the texts ‑ and sometimes on pupils’ achievements ‑, we cannot therefore suggest any conclusion as to the developmental reality of the procedures implemented prior to their exhaustive description. Only the presence of series of sequences of the same type over a given period can open up on a genetic model of writing that would overlook neither the level of cognitive constructions nor that of linguistic functioning.

  • 14 See the volume of Études de linguistique appliquée (David & Fayol (Eds.), 1996) and our chapter in (...)

31In addition, this methodology was useful to get a more direct access to cognitive functioning and to avoid interpretations, even extrapolations based on surface traces as is often the case in most studies of the same components14.

32However, while the interest of this methodology is to maintain pupils in their school environment in order to assess actual or potential learning procedures accurately, we are fully aware of the fact that our interviews might have impacted learning in progress. Indeed pupils were asked to comment, explain, or even argue for their graphic solutions. As a result, they are trained to revise their writing which, in turn, makes for more accurate (re)writing acts and more generally metalinguistic capacities. These interrelations have obviously been taken into account in our data analysis and are at the core of our pedagogical suggestions.

4. Extracurricular writing and rewriting

33Are there such things as writing and rewriting procedures specific to extra-curricular compositions? We wondered if that question was relevant because it could have been taken for granted that personal or private writing or a piece of writing that is not subjected to adult – if not peer - reading does not have the same level of perfection as a composition handed in to one’s teacher. At first sight, it would seem obvious that a pupil between 8 and 11 who is already clearly aware of writing constraints in his / her dominant tongue, who already has more or less precise conceptions of the spelling norm and who at best has already understood the need for a language that can be read or communicated to others, should pay less attention to his/her “intimate” or “private” texts than to those written in class. We actually expected such effects, which would have brought discredit to the former compared to the latter. As shall be seen, it was not the case at all.

4.1. About the relevance of spelling procedures

  • 15 They have already been more or less described (for a census of these works, see Jaffré, 1992).

34The extra-curricular texts collected for our study were all surprisingly readable. None of them was impossible to decipher. Of course, translation problems and alterations were numerous but misspelling did not prevent their comprehension. Their features, underlying rationales, graphic solutions were as standardised as their own curricular compositions or those of pupils of the same age15. In this regard, Amo’s text is a case in point. It was a joke he heard and copied out after a discussion with a female friend.

Une fdanme amemene esa chinene chez un

horloger mesieur ma chinne est mala)

[malade]

« mais madame je suis horloger et pas vétérinère »

« Justement ma chinne sarrête toute les six minute »

Text no 1: extract from the notebook “Joke” – Amo (CE2: 9; 1 year)

A lady brings her dog to a clockmaker’s sir my dog is sick

“But, Madam I’m a clockmaker, not a vet”

“Precisely my dog stops every six minutes”

35In this text, no element is missing; the sentences can be understood and the whole text is coherently organised. The interview that followed offered the opportunity to clarify effective spelling procedures he used, especially through deletions.

SQ 1 : Amo (CE2 : 9 ; 1 year)

Extraits observés : « ... sa chinene... ma chinne... ma chinne... »

Amo : (montre sa chinene) je me suis trompée je croyais qu'il fallait deux n mais il fallait un e pour faire [jɛn] c'est comme pour une - au féminin ça fait pas [jɛ̃].

Amo : (montre la deuxième occurrence : ma chinne) j'ai oublié - il faudrait mettre un e comme au début et là aussi (montre la troisième : ma chinne).

Observed extracts: chienne”= « female dog » written « ... sa chinene... ma chinne... ma chinne... »

Amo: there (showing ‘sa chinene’) I made a mistake I thought it needed two n but it needed an e to make [jɛn ] it’s like unein the feminine it doesn’t go [jɛ̃]

Amo: there (showing the 2nd occurrence: chinne) I have forgotten – it needed an e like in the beginning and there too (showing the 3rd one: ma chinne).

36The discussion also revealed that the same procedure had been extended to other grammatical categories, even if there is a semantic logic behind the explanation: the prototypical “e” of the female gender does not directly pertain to the agreement rule of the corresponding gender.

SQ 2 : Amo (CE2 : 9 ; 1 ans)

Extraits observés : « ... malad [malade] »

Amo : malade c'est au féminin - aussi il faut un e c'est la chienne qui est malade autrement on croit que c'est le- le vétérinaire qui est malade.

Observed extract: “…malad [malade]”

Amo: malade it’s in the feminine - so it needs an e the female dog is sick otherwise you think the vet is ill. (NB: “malade” in French is always written “malade”…).

37These ME are similar to those we studied in the curricular compositions of pupils of the same age, whether it be specific training to written production or text enunciation in subject-based teaching (Jaffré & David, 1999). As can be seen, the identified procedures are gradually building into a whole system. They reveal the development of a cognitive logic, sometimes by trial and error but always in line with the linguistic problems at stake.

4.2. About the density of rewriting operations and procedures

38We were struck by the density of deletions in most texts. While pupils were used to revising their compositions simply because interviews involved sustained metalinguistic activity, the signs of this activity are still significant. For example, in Két’s text, deletions were the sign of rereading at several writing stages and of a more or less extended nature.

Text n° 2: extract from the file “recipes” (stapled sheets) – Két (CM1: 8; 11 years old).

CM2: HAZELNUT CAKE

One pot of plain yogurt

2pot[s] of flour

3 eggs

2 pot[s] of sugar

1 pot of crushed hazelnuts

1 packet of baking powder

1/2 pot of oil

Bake 30 minutes

Mark 7

Recipe by marie-pierre-hélène

Audrey

Everybody loved them when

we ate them in the afternoon

  • 16 According to the distinction made by the researchers of the institute for texts and modern manuscri (...)

39Most deletions (seven out of eight) corresponded to post-writing rereading (from now on labelled as reading variants16). There were also four additions AU[X]... pot[s]... pot[s]... thermostat[s]... and three substitutions tout[s]... régaler[és]... manger[és].... Only one change in determiner (un instead of la) was made while writing the text.

40We have also observed that those reading variants highlight significant adjustments that mostly bear on how number is marked. However, a finer linguistic analysis shows that these alterations concern the classes of nouns, determiners and verbs alike even in their past participle forms. The interview over this text revealed that these variants were not suggested haphazardly but had been carefully thought-about and deliberately chosen according to a logic Két could justify.

SQ3: Két (CM1: 8; 11 years old)

Extraits observés : pot[s]. . . pot[s]. . . tout[s]. . . régaler[és]. . . manger[és]. . .

Két : j'avais oublié les S-- un peu partout à pots, et puis à tous, et puis à régalés et à mangés

Ad : pourquoi mettre un S à ces mots

Két : et ben je crois que c'est parce qu'il y en a plusieurs plusieurs pots - - plusieurs *tout[s] le monde - -

Ad : et pourquoi un S aussi à régalés et à mangés

Két : je sais plus parce que c'est des verbes qui sont conjugués - - on peut dire à la place vendu ou pris donc c'est É-S et pas E-R

Ad : je suis d'accord pour le É et le S mais le S alors il veut dire quoi - on l'entend pas non plus dans vendu ou dans pris

Két : - - ben le S c'est comme ici (Két montre tout[s]) c'est parce qu'il y a beaucoup de monde qui s'est régalé et qui a tout mangé.

Observed extracts: pot[s]… pot[s]… tout[s]… régaler[és]… manger[és]

Két: I had forgotten the S - - nearly everywhere with pots and then with tous and then régalés and mangés

Ad: why add an S to these words

Két: well I think that’s because there are many many pots – many tout[s] le monde - -

Ad: and why an S to régalés and mangés

Két: I don’t remember - - because they are conjugated verbs - - we can say vendu (sold) or pris (taken) instead so it’s É-S and not E-R

Ad: I agree with the É and the S but then what does the S mean – you can’t here in vendu (sold) or pris (taken)

Két: - - well the S it’s like here (showing touts) that’s because a lot of people loved it and ate it all.

41The MEs put forward in this sequence are borrowing from psycholinguistic principles that have already been described in relation with other pupils of the same age (Jaffré & David, 1999; Brissaud & Sandon, 1999): the semantic-referential iconic mark of the plural (the S as the graphic sign of quantity added); the use of this prototypical sign in other grammatical categories, even if the corresponding agreement is not always required (see the example of the determiner (tout[s]); finally, the return to a semantic explanation when the agreement rule of the past participle is obviously inaccessible (even if the homophony between é and er of these past participles had been perfectly identified and corrected according to a very effective analogical procedure).

42Once again, rewriting variants, the types of corrections and deletions confirm the accuracy of the reflexive work. This was absolutely not a composition written haphazardly just as ideas and words met. Spelling calculations were not made during writing (see the little number of variants of that type) but during rereading. MEs confirmed and shed light on the pupils’ intellectual progression. They showed that procedures were developed and functioned effectively while others emerged and possibly combined with the previous ones. The developed knowledge is actually part and parcel with the time and task that made it necessary, i.e. revising the text. They cannot all be summoned up at the same time, at least not within the same writing movement.

4.3. From translation to text coherence

43Correction procedures ‑ mainly those corresponding to reading variants, as we have just seen ‑ show writing and translation do not occur at the same time. That does not mean they are detrimental to each other. In fact, we have observed that during the various revisions, whether they occurred during rewriting done by the pupils on their own or after the interview, whether they might end in alterations that were actual or not, valid or invalid, coherent or out of touch with reality, in-keeping with the norm or idiosyncratic…, surface processing could never be opposed to in-depth processing. Any real problem was identified and solved in most cases, even if the solutions were not always in keeping with expectations. These solutions revealed capacities to grasp both global coherence and local dysfunctional local phenomena. Ala’s text is a sign of this dual aptitude to take both translation and writing into account.

Les animaux menacés

Dans les forêts les renards ne sont plus

[à cose]

nonbreus malgrès des pièges et les pattes

coupée. Ou alors les chasseurs [les] tue[nt] avec

leur fusies. Tuer dans les l’aeque [fleuves] c’est

tuer le crocodile du ml souvent il

[les chasseurs]

les tue[nt] pour la peau selement.

[…]

Text no 3: Text no 3: extract from the file: documentary (stapled sheets) – Ala (CM2: 8; 9 years old)

Threatened animals

In the forests there aren’t many foxes any more

[Cos of]

Despite traps and cut legs

Or else hunter kill [them] with

their rifles. Killing in the [rivers] it means

killing the Nile crocodile often he

[the hunters]

kill them only for their skin.

[…]

44Deletions and here additions and substitutions of morphemes or lexemes affected by number agreements les chasseurs [les] tue[nt]...; il /[les chasseurs] les tue[nt] (hunters kill them) could let us think these are mere surface alterations aiming at strictly spelling arrangements. In fact, these accurate rewritings are the result of a much larger scale reflection that affects both the semantic cohesion of the text and the agents’ number agreement chains. The subsequent interview confirmed, if needs be, the scope of the metalinguistic work accomplished.

SQ 4 : Ala (CM2 : 8 ; 9 ans)

Extraits observés : « les chasseurs [les] tue[nt]... il / [les chasseurs] les tue[nt] »

Ala : j'ai écris les à coté (en fait elle a inséré ce pronom entre chasseurs et tue[nt]) parce qu'on savait pas que c'était les renards qui étaient tués - j'avais oublié de le mettre avant

Ad : et là alors pourquoi tu as ajouté N-T

Ala : parce que c'est au pluriel j'avais aussi oublié le pluriel à tue[nt] quand j'ai mis les j'ai vu qu'il manquait le nt à tue[nt]

[...]

Ala : là aussi je l'ai écrit en dessous (elle pointe il remplacé par [les chasseurs]) parce que j'avais oublié de dire que c'était les chasseurs - mais c'est pas les mêmes chasseurs alors il faut le marquer - c'est pas les mêmes que ceux des renards.

Ad : donc c'est d'autres chasseurs qui les tuent ces crocodiles.

Ala : oui (elle relit sa phrase :) le crocodile du nil souvent les chasseurs les *tue - ah j'ai encore oublié le E-N-T à *tue (elle l'ajoute).

Ala (CM2 : 8, 9 years old)

Observed extracts : les chasseurs [les] tue[nt]... ; il /[les chasseurs] les tue[nt] ( = hunters kill them)

Ala: I wrote them on the side (she actually inserted this pronoun between chasseurs (hunters) and tue[nt] (kill)) because we didn’t know the foxes were killedI had forgotten to write it before

Ad: and then why have you added N-T

Ala: because it’s in the plural I had also forgotten to put tue[nt] in the plural when I added les (them) and saw that [nt] were missing to tue[nt]

[…]

Ala: here too I wrote above (she points to il replaced by [les chasseurs]) because I had forgotten to say that it was les chasseurs (the hunters) – but they’re not the same hunters so you must show it – they’re not the ones that hunted the foxes.

Ad: so different hunters kill the crocodiles.

Ala: yes (she rereads her sentence:) le crocodile du nil souvent les chasseurs les tue - ah I’ve forgotten the E-N-T again to tue (she adds it).

45The MEs given after writing this text throw light on the explicit procedures underlying the acting subjects’ different agreements and adjustments. In this case, this female pupil has understood that the hunters of the first and second sentences were not the same. She therefore developed arguments going further than a mere local arrangement, limited to the verb number agreement. Indeed, while grammatical subjects are identical, acting subjects are completely different. The MEs given here have shown that Ala is capable of linking up complex morphosyntactic markers. Even if, in the 1st case, we cannot be sure the calculations were triggered by subject noun group les chasseurs (the hunters) rather than the plural complement les (them), that she had inserted. In addition, the rereading she did during the interview led to a new variant, coherent with the agreement with the subject noun group les chasseurs (the hunters) which replaced the subject pronoun il (he) she deemed to ambiguous.

46What other conclusion could we therefore draw but that it seems difficult to separate complex spelling problem solving procedures ‑ such as verb number agreement, as is the case here ‑ from referential calculations spread over many utterances and sometimes the whole text.

47In this respect too, extra-curricular writing is not much different from curricular writing, whether it be composed by the same pupils or pupils of the same age. Both pay the same particular attention to the organisation and translation of their texts whatever the situations and enunciative challenges.

Conclusion

48Our study was intended to show that extra-curricular and curricular writing was → were? similar both in terms of discursive relevance and spelling or writing adequacy. For that purpose, we drew on the joint analysis of surface rewriting variants and MEs and we explored language facts that were specifically limited to psycholinguistic procedures acquired or emerging in the writing-rewriting work. That’s why, from our point of view, the study of the completed texts or of those in preparations and of the comments made by the pupils has a heuristic value. These MEs are evidence, if needs be, that these writing procedures are accessible to the subjects’ awareness and result from describable cognitive work.

49These very observations, which, of course, are not limited to the phenomena and examples studied here, also indicate that the knowledge developed by pupils is never ex nihilo creations. As a result, we may affirm that their linguistic knowledge and their writing capacities do not result from random or imposed discoveries but rather from the gradual and regular development of procedures that were partly described in this article. The pupils appear to proceed from successive organisation and reorganisation of coherent processes that are adjusted to the linguistic problems that were met. Thus, as we have seen, all managed to find operative solutions. But beyond the solutions found, it is the capacity to reason, exploit the variations of written expression and extend or restrain rules, in brief to unfold extended and coordinate metalinguistic activities that proves the pupils are never passive when learning.

50What should be inferred in terms of learning? What didactical suggestion could be made?

51First of all, it seems absolutely necessary to take into account the representations built by pupils and based on the different writing tasks but also on the linguistic subjects addressed: units and their categorisations, regularities and variations, syntactic functioning and textual organisations.... If it is true that pupils do not develop new knowledge ex nihilo, teachers must then assess existing conceptualisations, and those which are accessible The joint study of the writing-rewriting procedures and of MEs seem to us an appropriate means to achieve it.

52Furthermore, the extra-curricular writing analysed here shows the continuity of learning outcomes. Writing abilities do not diminish when there are fewer school constraints. As a shift from curricular to extra-curricular activities and vice versa is conceivable, pupils should be encouraged to write in all life situations to show that this activity extends beyond school.

53It is a fact that the study of the different textual genres would be of better quality if personal writing could be mentioned, if not exhibited just as curricular writing. Text-classifying or sorting activities would be better understood because they would be based on a real writing activity, not just on reading. The Pupils would then be able to put forward arguments based on personal writing experiences. Better still, the pupils who write intensively out of school would have the opportunity to see their writing valued and recognised institutionally. In this perspective, fiction, which is often reduced–deliberately or not – to the reproduction of stereotypes, would also be of better quality if it could have new sources of inspiration and more particularly these original writing experiences. The purpose is not to bring to school and even less to assess writing that usually only makes sense in intimate, personal uses or within secret communication with others but to show that such compositions exist and even form genres (correspondence, diaries, etc.) and literary practices (rewriting one’s own texts for example) that grow according to periods, authors and readers’ interest.

54Moreover, it seems important to bring pupils to question all their own writing practices and not only curricular practices, which they spontaneously scrutinise. This personal examination is often crucial for some pupils who are reluctant to recognise their work, recognise both as finding again or coming back to their texts and as granting them some value. For these very children, putting into words their personal paths or even their family stories, in such a relation to writing, can, in many cases, be enough to alter deeply-anchored representations and rehabilitate “ordinary” genres or practices, that had been hidden behind cultural imaginative world built at school. The objective will therefore be to show that any written production has a meaning and can make sense according to the uses and contexts of how they are produced and received, whether it be a series of jokes, riddles, songs..., whether they be invented or copied out, or a collection of tales or poems, a novel, a reading report... which are usually better appreciated at school.

55At the teaching level, we believe that this research on extra-curricular writing and its connections with curricular writing can help teachers to implement writing activities which will fall in the framework of rewriting. For that purpose, the collection of texts and drafts we have collected can provide the basis for the development of better adjusted knowledge, whether to learn about the basic principles of writing of one’s language or about particular discursive functioning. Teachers will then be in a position to lead their pupils to identify accessible linguistic phenomena and build dynamic knowledge that will enable them shift from one operation to the other. It could take the form of the analysis of one word before inserting it in a text or a sentence or of thinking about a language fact from semantic, spelling and enunciative points of view. We have shown that the spelling agreement phenomena in French required such cognitive processes.

56Finally, pupils should be able to understand the connections building up intuitively discovered or academically taught knowledge. For that purpose, they will have to proceed by trial and error, by writing and rewriting, by gradually adjusting their reasoning to the different linguistic phenomena at work in the composition of their texts. To do so, it is necessary to increase their metalinguistic knowledge, which involves constant discussion with the other pupils and their teachers, who themselves conduct in-depth reflection both on text functioning and the genesis of writing and on writing functioning and the genesis of texts.

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Notes

1 Originally published in Repères, 23, 2001, 33-53.

2 To these studies, it is necessary to add those based on corpuses of spontaneous texts or corpuses generated by reproduction, dictation, reminder that seek to describe accurately the genesis or psychogenesis of written language among young children (especially the original works of Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1979/1982; Ferreiro, 1988/2000; these works were taken up by others, especially in France: Fijalkow (dir.) 1990; Besse, 1995; Jaffré, 1992; and David, 2001)

3 We are very grateful to the two teachers of this class, Catherine and Gérard Rault. Without them, their pupils would certainly not have been so committed in writing activities. Even if they were surprised by the range of texts collected and by the interest shown by their pupils in these extracurricular productions, they largely contributed to the collection of such a corpus.

4 Actually, eleven boys and two girls told us they had never produced such writings or had not kept them.

5 These words on schooling do not mean that the teachers of these classes dismissed written production, quite the opposite - but pupils did not perceive its academic character, as we shall see further down.

6 Only one female pupil refused in writing to hand in her diary. As a justification, she wrote: I don’t feel like sending you my diary because there are many very personal things. And also my mother does not agree.

7 We told pupils their texts were for “science” and promised they would be anonymised. Therefore, none of the first names mentioned further down corresponds to those of pupils. These texts were returned to their authors after they were reproduced.

8 The ratio between the number of pages and the number of texts should be relativised because the former sometimes contain only a few words, like in photo captions, but can also contain hundreds of them, like here in life stories.

9 This category may seem heterogeneous; in fact, unlike the other categories, it is composed of homogenous productions, whether a notebook, a copybook or even a set of stapled sheets. In addition, these narratives are usually referred to as such in pupils’ comments.

10 We cannot detail the practices of written production developed in this class. However, we described them elsewhere (Boré & David, 1996).

11 We relied on protocols already used in previous and current research (Jaffré & Ducard, 1996; David & Jaffré, 1997; David, 2001, 2003).

12 We did not limit our study to these sole writings, even if our project here bears essentially on this type of production. We would also like to compare these original texts with those written as part of classroom activities.

13 A few videos were made but more for training needs than as part of the following framework analysis.

14 See the volume of Études de linguistique appliquée (David & Fayol (Eds.), 1996) and our chapter in Fabre (dir.), 2000 for an outline and a discussion on the different methodologies used to study writing acquisition.

15 They have already been more or less described (for a census of these works, see Jaffré, 1992).

16 According to the distinction made by the researchers of the institute for texts and modern manuscripts (ITEM-CNRS) and reported by Grésillon (1994). This distinction was extended to pupils’ rough drafts by Fabre (1990) and by ourselves in various studies (David, 1994) and in the present contribution.

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Référence électronique

Jacques David, « Extracurricular writing and rewriting: linguistic and cognitive aspects », Repères [En ligne], Hors-série | 2013, mis en ligne le 12 septembre 2013, consulté le 22 septembre 2017. URL : http://reperes.revues.org/507 ; DOI : 10.4000/reperes.507

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Auteur

Jacques David

Université de Cergy-Pontoise et IUFM Centre de Recherches Textes et Francophonies« Langage, Société, Communication et Didactique »

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