How it’s right to write: Capital or lower case letters in Australasian and Swedish preschools

Year: 2019

Author: Margrain, Valerie, Mellgren, Elisabeth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This research investigates traditions and theories guiding early childhood education (ECE) use of capital and lower-case letters in Australasia and Sweden. Nine higher education academics were purposefully recruited and interviewed about their writing practices, beliefs and theories: five interviews in Sweden, two in Australia, and two from New Zealand. Australian National and Swedish Research Council requirements for ethical practice were followed, including pseudonymisation.

Findings indicated consistent difference between Australasian and Swedish perspectives on how both adults and children should use capital and lower case letters (for example writing the name Ella or ELLA). Each group thought their own way was the right and usual way. All Australasian respondents indicated that use of a capital letter was to only be used at the start of a name or start of a sentence, even for and by very young children. They used terms such as ‘appropriate’, ‘conventional’, ‘right’, ‘correct’ and ‘obvious’, taking the view that ECE should follow school traditions to support children’s transition, and written text must follow the model of book-reading. However, Swedish participants all indicated that the full use of capitals was the more common way text was used in Swedish preschools, both as modelled by teachers and used by children. Rationale included that it is physically easier for children to write in block strokes, that teachers followed the way preferred by children, and that there were many examples of capital letter word use in wider society, especially in advertising. These contrasting perspectives can be connected to theories of literacy as social practice (Barton & Hamilton, 2010), and ECE/school traditions.

The study has relevance for socially-just and inclusive teaching as we reflect on differing cultural traditions, assumptions about what is usual (or right?) in literacy traditions, how we enculturate children and families into writing, how we accept differing preferences and support individual learning. Increasing globalisation means that families enter preschools and schools with culturally diverse literacy traditions and it is useful that we critically examine our literacy practices to ensure that there is a focus on participation and inclusion rather than to limit right ways to write.

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Mellgren, E., & Margrain, V. (2015). Student teacher views of text in early learning environments: Images from Sweden and New Zealand. Early Child Development and Care, 185(9), 1528-1544.