Sharing meaning, creating culture: Peer interactions in literacy learning

Year: 1994

Author: Ruge, Jenny

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Our schools are shaped by theories of cognitive growth which place the individual at the centre of importance. However, if children are not considered as solo entities embarking on the learning process by themselves, but are viewed as a group negotiating and sharing meaning within the context of their own cultures, including the culture of the classroom, then we can conceptualise social interaction as a means for creating new cultures rather than transmitting existing ones. There is a need, then, to explore the nature of peer interaction not just to define or describe ways in which children assist each other to learn, but to determine the effects of social interaction on the learning environment.

This paper examines the nature of peer assistance in young children's self-selected writing tasks, and the role of social interaction in literacy knowledge construction. It maps the patterns of interaction evident among a group of Year 1 students, and describes differences in the teacher's and students' perceptions of interaction in the classroom. Based on extensive observations in a Year 1 classroom, the study highlights the importance of encouraging and facilitating literacy interactions among peers. It also discusses some of the difficulties involved in conducting classroom-based research, and the wealth of data that can be obtained when such difficulties are overcome.