Cognition, computers and creative writing
This thesis describes a teaching scheme for creative writing that takes account of a child's developing cognitive abilities. It first provides the means for a child to explore language and gain sufficient understanding of linguistic concepts and processes to be able to control the acquisition of new writing skills. This is a preparation for the second part of the scheme, in which a child applies this understanding to her own creative writing. The child is given practice in generating and transforming text at different structural levels, and in selecting text forms that are appropriate to the audience and function of the writing. Computer programs form an integral part of the scheme. They provide representations of two abstract systems - a generative grammar and an associative network - which the child manipulates to investigate language structure and plans. The programs also offer a dynamic medium for text creation and revision. The teaching scheme was tested with six eleven year old children who visited the University for 29 sessions of 60-70 minutes duration, over three school terms. It was presented to the children through written worksheets, containing language exercises, writing activities, and instructions for the use of the computer. The children were set pre and post descriptive and narrative essays. The same essays were also set for a control group of children who followed normal classroom teaching for the period of the project. The main method of assessment was a feature analysis of the essays. They were examined for the occurrence of 'mature' and 'immature' linguistic features, at the word/phrase, sentence, and section level of text. The presence of mature features indicates that the writer is able to reflect on the form of language and can create text to a well-structured and coherent plan. During the first part of the scheme, the children formed into two distinct groups. Two children performed poorly in all activities that involved the understanding and manipulation of language. The four remaining children performed well in these activities and enjoyed the experience of exploring language with the aid of a computer. These four children w^ere taken on to the second stage of the scheme. An analysis of the pre and post essays showed developments in the writing ability of all four children. Each child, however, gained a different set of skills, and appeared to be using the writing projects to explore a particular aspect of style. We suggest that such explorations are valuable, enabling a child to discover the constraints and possibilities of creative writing.