Student education around the world has been disrupted by the Covid-19 crisis. In France, distance learning imposed by incarceration has thus increased educational inequalities linked to the social origin of children and adolescents. Aside from the digital divide related to the material conditions of equipment, differences in language use, oral and even more written, have undermined the possibility of educational continuity for children from the most popular backgrounds.
Training, assessments, exercises: These remote activities recommended by the Ministry of National Education, possibly with sufficiently old students, can be based on the common experience developed in the classroom with the teachers, or in certain cases on the skills of the teachers. parents. In contrast, in the CP classroom, with six-year-old students who are not yet able to read and write, how can you practice writing outside of the classroom if the kids haven’t mastered the basics? Especially if the parents are not fluent in French?
Read more: “Les Héritiers”: what Bourdieu and Passeron taught us about opportunity inequality
The two months of incarceration in the spring of 2020 reminded us of the complexity of writing and usage: writing has many components, material, graphic, linguistic. If we want true equality between children from different socio-cultural backgrounds, all of these must be taught by a knowledgeable adult.
Teaching, supporting learning to write, requires real professional skills: ways of saying and doing, ways of displaying and approaching knowledge, which the educational sciences, inspired by ergonomics, call “professional gestures”.
bounce back from error
The digital tools offered by the Ministry of Education (digital work environment, academic mailboxes, various padlets) implied an inhibiting use of writing for some parents, who did not master their language codes or spelling standards. The use of YouTube channels created especially for the occasion or applications such as WhatsApp has made it possible to be as close as possible to their daily lives and to retain oral language as a means of communication despite the distance.
However, many obstacles have arisen in learning to write since classes no longer bring together the children within their walls who used to stand shoulder to shoulder.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about school expectations and teachers’ expectations of writing is that children need to master spelling and spelling very early, in the first grades. For example, the writings of the students during incarceration were often erased, corrected or even rewritten by an adult before being sent to the teacher. But by making mistakes disappear, we erase the exact spot where education should focus and prevent learning.
Read more: Covid-19, what education continuity teaches us about school
Indeed, the way of dealing with mistakes is a fundamental professional gesture that serves the learning of students. Learning to write a text requires making mistakes, understanding the reasons for failure thanks to an adult explaining how to overcome obstacles, the procedures to get there: do you have to pronounce the word to be able to write it? Do you have to know it by heart? Can what has been written enable a third reader to understand what we wanted to express? What is correct, incomplete or incorrect when testing products?
Read more: Self-esteem and academic difficulties, a vicious circle?
If some had forgotten, the confinement reminded us of the obvious: the classroom is a place where individuals, teachers and students share space, equipment, the position of bodies and objects. The entry into the written world is characterized by learning to use writing media and the accompanying tools: notebooks, sheets, books, lines, paper or colored pencil, pen.
In the classroom, the six-year-old tames this new lexicon, supported by the teacher’s professional gestures that will help to pick up the correct notebook, open the correct page, isolate the line and then reformulate the instructions, making sure that the pencil is well sharpened or the pen is the right color.
The simultaneous presence of bodies makes it possible to best learn how to trace a letter, observe the adult hand tracing, and listen for verbal cues. Even with audio and video support, the trainings give heterogeneous results depending on the support from the families, depending on the learner’s degree of appropriation in the classroom habits, which have not yet been created for everyone during the year of CP.
Surrounded by his peers and the teacher, the student gradually begins to speak a school language, he can mobilize other resources.
How to remember the fact that the letters C and H are pronounced next to each other as “ch” as in “cat”? On the walls of the CP classroom, the phonological displays are visual aids that make it possible to associate a drawing of “cat” with the two letters CH, drawn in script and italics, and make the teacher’s verbal and body language explicitly the how to use them, by words and by gestures at what point, drawing attention.
Learn with peers, from peers
One of the greatest assets of the school is that it can learn with many other people of the same age. Classmates play a fundamental role in learning to write, as we write to be read. The relationship to knowledge is symmetrical with that of classmates, everyone feels, traces, inevitably makes mistakes, which makes it possible to desacralize mistakes and learn by commenting, arguing, proposing solutions. It is still necessary for the teacher to initiate these exchanges, while the course remains focused.
Research in the field of didactics shows the importance of ‘feedback’ in the learning process of the complex and very powerful cultural tool that is writing. How can the child build landmarks, situate itself in the long appropriation of this tool, be sure of what it already knows, rely on it to continue to conquer writing? Language feedback, whether verbal or physical but always explicit, are professional gestures that teachers cultivate in their own practice and develop in the same way in their students. The workshops and writing sites allow learning for older students, from 10 to 12 years old.
Read more: “In extenso”: Why are we still learning to write by hand?
But also from the first grade, the words or small texts produced by the children can be given to their classmates to read: the class tries to understand the ideas, reports on what has been written and what is not legible, indecipherable, incomprehensible is. This device for writing and proofreading, combined with the professional gestures of the teacher, fits in the tradition of pedagogue Célestin Freinet, who saw education as a means of emancipation and gave a central place to the writings of students.
Thus, the child writer can put his writing at a distance, learn to read again by seeing his essay through the eyes of others. He recognizes his mistakes and his successes in those of others. If the child does not do it or does not do it consciously, it is up to the teacher to point it out, to explain. All this oral language, created around children’s writings, groping and gradually more confident, is a source of learning and evolution.
Learning to write in all its complexity
Because the difficulty of learning to write or read lies precisely in the complexity of writing. This complexity is obvious to the adult trying to get a six-year-old to write: at that age, the child doesn’t always know how to trace the letters in the right direction, to link them together.
Sometimes he doesn’t hold his pen properly, he doesn’t know what to do when there’s no more space on the line. He did not always understand the alphabetical principle, the fact that any sound one pronounces can be translated by one or more letters. He knows even less that many words, in French, cannot be written by listening to the sounds that compose it, because they are too irregular: one can listen to “caravane” to write it, but not “today”, which you will have by heart.
Read more: Why learning to write is so complicated for kids
Some children just don’t dare to write because they can’t write yet, or because their parents can’t. Some write without realizing that their writing doesn’t answer the question asked, putting themselves “off topic”.
Thus, the teacher’s role is to propose a progressiveness in the sum of the knowledge to be mastered, be it the graphical, semantic or affective component. It offers a space where children can construct knowledge together, where writing is no longer an object of inhibition or even fear for anyone, but on the contrary a means of expression and emancipation that will make each child a reflective and rested individual.