Philip Durrant

Title: Corpus research on the development of children’s school writing

Abstract: Since at least the 1940s, researchers have been interested in studying the development of children’s language writing through quantitative analysis of texts. The need for research of this kind has become pressing in England in recent years due to an increased curricular emphasis on explicit teaching of the linguistic features of writing. The current National Curriculum states that students should be taught to ‘draft and write by: selecting appropriate grammar and vocabulary, understanding how such choices can change and enhance meaning’ (DfE, 2013a) and specifies the ages at which children are expected master specific features of written grammar and vocabulary (DfE, 2013b). A convincing linguistic research base against which such policies can be evaluated does not yet, however, exist.

The Growth in Grammar project was developed in response to this need. It uses corpus methods to understand the linguistic development of English children’s language throughout the course of their compulsory education. Our team at the University of Exeter has collected a corpus of educationally-authentic texts from children in schools across England from ages six to sixteen with the aims of understanding what distinguishes texts written at different ages, at different levels of attainment, and in different genres.

This presentation will give an overview of the last six decades of research into how the language of children’s writing develops and discuss the Growth in Grammar project, focusing especially on methodological issues involved in creating and analysing a child learner corpus and on what our results are telling us about written language development.