Young children’s writing in the 21st century

The challenge of moving from paper to screen

Authored by: Clare Dowdall

The Routledge Handbook of Digital Literacies in Early Childhood

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138303881
eBook ISBN: 9780203730638
Adobe ISBN:


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To be a writer in the digital age invokes an enactment of identity that is at once active and relational (Gee 2017). We are writers in the active sense when we choose to write and find pleasure and fulfilment in the act; we are writers in the relational sense when we are categorized as writers by ‘others’ with whom we have relationships – our parents, teachers, assessors, readers and even policy makers. For very young children, and those firmly established within their education systems, being a writer usually invokes both of these enactments of identity, as the full gamut of material, agentive and structural influences mesh together to enthuse and/or dissuade young children from composing texts for themselves and others (Dowdall 2006). The aim of this chapter is to capture the challenges experienced by a group of early years educators as they work to help young children begin to develop their writerly identities and behaviours (Whitehead 2004) in the digital age. For many adults, writing is a necessary skill, an asset and a source of enjoyment. Recent research in the US reports that screen-based habits, communication and authoring are increasing exponentially among young adults in the digital age (Brandt 2015). In England, over 50% of children aged 8–18 surveyed recently report that they enjoy writing (Clark and Teravainen 2017). However, despite this observed popularity, it is noted elsewhere that writing continues to receive less attention than reading in the schooling literacy literature (Gardner 2018), and in a recent systematic review of literature about teachers as writers, the literature finds that teachers are reported as having “narrow conceptions of what counts as writing and being a writer” (Cremin and Oliver 2017). This chapter seeks to focus on the views of educators working with the youngest children in formal settings, as they embark on becoming writers in the digital age, and in so doing, contribute to the literature that explores what it is to be a writer in the 21st-century textual landscape.

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